After several wet weekends in the woods with Judith's super generous family, we have a platform! We know that right now it looks like a strange houseless deck in the middle of the woods, but if all goes planned, this will be a sturdy little foundation for our tiny cabin come April.
Last weekend we cut down a tree.
We're pretty sure it's the first tree either of us have ever cut down, and even in the midst of a densely wooded forest, we still found ourselves welling up with feelings of sadness and regret at cutting short (literally) a beautiful life.
But we did it anyway—cut it down—because it happened to be standing on top of what seemed to be the only flat-ish section of the meadow (it's really at the edge of the meadow, and is, as it turns out, not even remotely flat).
Why do flat land and trees matter? Because we've decided to build a tiny cabin.
As far as the woods is concerned, the two of us spent the last half of 2015 mulling over the unfortunate conclusion that, due to major dry rot, mold, half-assed construction, and animal infestation, the original cabin on our forest property is unsalvageable (yes, it's hard to believe, and we agree, it's a real bummer). And when it came down to it, neither of us was feeling up to the financial and physical task of rebuilding an entire structure, on weekends, while sleeping in a small backpacking tent in relentless, rain-pelting weather.
So, we're starting small. Really small. 12x12 tiny off-grid cabin small. And we're really excited about it. Even if it meant cutting down a majestic tree.
Next up is building a platform for the cabin to sit atop, so stay tuned!
We’ve been planning to spend the upcoming long-weekend out in Cloverdale, camping, cleaning up guano (if you've been following our story on Instagram, you may have heard about the discovery of a bat family in our cabin), and finishing up some demolition inside the cabin. At some point yesterday, though, we looked at each other and admitted we weren’t really looking forward to heading out of town for a weekend of roughin’ it. It’s not that we don’t want to go—there are truly few places we would rather be, and we love getting out of the city—it’s just that our lives have felt pretty chaotic this summer. For one reason or another, our jobs have both been quite demanding lately and we feel perpetually behind on gardening, housework, and personal projects we’re both trying to keep up with in our free time.
Plus, the oven portion of our 1950’s Westinghouse range stopped working a few weeks ago, and we’d like to make time to procure a new oven over the weekend before autumn arrives and with it all of the seasonal baking we like to do. After a long talk last night, we decided we could really use the time at home in Portland to get our bearings before another work week, so we’re truncating our trip to a one-night stay.
We sometimes feel like we’re living a double-life, and that these two lives are sort of at odds with each other. We have tried to turn our Portland home into a place where we are able to grow and cook a great deal of food, make household goods (like soap), brew beer, keep hens, and build things. We believe in and very much enjoy this way of being in the world, and we intend to continue down the path of becoming self-supporters—building an off-grid homestead in Cloverdale and eventually moving there one day.
For now, however, we spend the majority of our time working 9-5 jobs. We know that in order to purchase all of the infrastructure needed to run a successful off-grid mini-farm, we need a sturdy reserve of cash to draw on and a contingency plan for any glitches that will inevitably arise as we begin to work in earnest on renovating the cabin, building fences and outbuildings, restoring the water system, installing solar, and all of the countless other projects that will need to be completed before we are equipped to subsist off our 5 acre plot.
We feel lucky to have jobs that pay us well in an economy where that is not the norm, we just struggle with dividing our attention between our long term vision of homesteading in Cloverdale and the day-to-day existence of working in front of computers for hours on end, commuting in traffic (for Judith), going to the gym (so we don’t become useless blobs), cooking dinner, and keeping up on things around the house and the garden.
We sometimes talk about what it would be like to just throw in the towel right now and just “figure it out,” quit our jobs, pitch a wall-tent in our woods, and just start ripping down walls. Ultimately, though, we know that slow and steady is the best way for us to set up a sustainable homestead where we will actually succeed.
Even though growing food is one of the most ancient human practices on the planet, it never seems to get old to us. Without fail there is always a new discovery, or challenge, waiting around the corner, especially when you begin to believe that you’ve mastered some aspect of the art.
For relatively new gardeners like us, this abnormally hot summer has made us feel particularly aware of our horticultural shortcomings. Many of the lessons we have learned through flops and failures of the past haven't helped us out-wit these new tribulations that seem to be cropping up (no pun intended) this year.
Record temperatures in spring and early summer resulted in the sweetest strawberries and raspberries, pea plants that were taller than we were, and beautiful hordes of lettuces. It also meant that all of our fresh crops were ready at the same time, and our usual plans to “cut and come again” were foiled. Feeling desperate when so many of our beds started turning up empty after we pulled out plants that went to seed, we began to purchase starts wherever we could find them, since we didn’t have the time or conditions necessary to begin more of our own summer crops from seed.
We rejiggered our growing calendar and layout to get crops into the ground that could withstand the heat, and those plants that did survive and sustain themselves have required what feels like excessive watering, or have been covered in Cabbage Whiteflies. Even our tomatoes, which we were sure would do well in the hotter, drier climate this year, have lost most of their flowers due to heat, or have battled for nutrients with tree roots that have covertly impeded upon their bed (a situation we weren’t aware of until too late and that we’ll have to rectify when we turn the bed over).
That said, we seemed to have made some headway and in conjunction with a break in the heat, our garden is exploding with produce right now. Currently, we have no need to purchase any produce whatsoever, with kale, chard, beets, carrots, cucumbers, summer and winter squash, green and shelling beans, rhubarb, as well as many cooking and medicinal herbs readily available just outside our front and back doors. We feel truly wealthy in the variety and quality of food available to us, and very lucky to have the water, soil, and seeds or starts we need to grow it.
And, as much as we have felt out of our element this summer, our commitment to grow more of our own food is buoyed by the realness of the endeavor. When you walk by our yard and see all of our little beet seedlings laying lifeless in the 5 o’clock sun (they’ve since come around and are healthy), or our bean plants winding around themselves in a chaotic wad of un-trellised vines (we finally trellised them), there is no way to mask the inexperience or irresponsibility of the situation. Your mistakes are right there along with your successes for anyone and everyone who walks by to look upon. And as such, there isn’t much in the way of metaphysical distraction that can deter from the pure loveliness of pressing little seeds into freshly laid compost and watching them sprout in a few days’ time, or biting into a freshly picked and salted tomato, or peeling a clove of your home grown garlic come January when the ground is stiff with frost.
1. So, even though there's a cabin on the property, we've opted to set up a campsite instead of sleeping inside since learning that our little structure is already pretty crowded with existing tenants (bats, mice, and squirrels to name a few).
2. It's been incredible to observe the seasonal changes in the forest landscape since September of last year. The meadow has already filled in significantly this spring, becoming wilder with each visit—the grass is now up to our armpits and hot pink foxgloves teeter in the breeze.
3. Last time we were locking up the cabin on our way back to Portland, the door fell off of its hinges. We rigged up this makeshift door from plywood to "secure" the structure (which is pretty useless considering how much nature has already taken over the inside of it).
4. Our primary focus at the property thus far has simply been cleaning up all of the debris that was left inside, and around, the cabin. Judith's dad helped us haul away a ton and a half (literally) of junk earlier this year, but honestly, we're just getting started.
5. Lastly, some heavy duty demolition over the spring has revealed dry rot in many of the structural components of the cabin, so we've got some hard decisions ahead of us.
When we bought our home in Portland two years ago, much of its charm was buried beneath dirty carpet, wallpaper, vinyl linoleum, and dingy paint. Even though we only had half a notion of what the process would eventually entail, we wholeheartedly embraced the challenge of peeling away some of the layers our little house had accrued since its construction in 1951, especially given that these “features” were probably what allowed us to afford the home in the first place.
From the day we moved in we have been swept up in working to transform our house and its surrounding yard into a place we love to live, as well as a way to subsist more self-sufficiently in the world. We’ve painted every wall and every piece of trim, ripped up and replaced carpet, refinished the hardwood floors, remodeled the kitchen (with help from a great contractor), and finished many other seemingly insignificant (though somehow always challenging) projects.
In February, though, after doing some demolition on the cabin up in Cloverdale to see what exactly was underneath those mysterious walls (turns out dead rats, beer bottles, hand tools, rotten studs, and filthy insulation) we started to feel a little overwhelmed. There were still a number of loose ends that needed to be tied up at our Portland homestead, and it was becoming all too clear that our forest house was not just a cosmetic fixer but instead more of a complete structural overhaul that will take years if not decades to complete. So, we decided to pull back and devote the spring to finishing what we had started in the city.
After six weeks without a shower, many hours of YouTube videos, and less money in our pockets, our list of projects in Portland has an end in sight. We have a freshly DIY remodeled bathroom, two guest rooms (that we’re thinking about renting out on Airbnb), a working hall light, matching door knobs, and most importantly, a house that is organized and ready to support all of the day-to-day tasks we are trying to keep up with.
We’ve realized in all this that the projects never really end when you own a home—at least for us, which probably has everything to do with our approach to stewardship—but we’ve got to say, we’re feeling quite a bit more knowledgeable and very excited for what is next to come. So, here's five important lessons we learned from DIY remodeling, just in case you’re gearing up to do any home work in the near future.
Always double (or triple or quadruple) the time you think you’re going to spend on a project. It always takes us MUCH longer to complete a project than we think it will. As much as possible, try to plan on things going wrong.
Professionals are professionals for a reason. We’re all about learning new things and doing things on our own—it’s kind of our MO—but it’s important to know when to call in the plumber or the electrician or the general contractor. These people have licenses and tools and experience that can save you, and they deserve every penny you pay them, especially the good ones.
Eat before you start working. Also, eat during work (snacks and beverages both, please). It will save you plenty of unnecessary arguments.
Don’t shout. Believe us, you’ll never want to yell at your partner or yourself more than when you accidentally compromise a copper solder inside a freshly tiled wall that you spent the last seven evenings building, and to which you now have no access, and you can’t turn the water back on until you fix it and it’s 6 PM on a Thursday night and you haven’t had a shower in your own home in six weeks. But try as hard you possibly can to walk outside, sit down, have a beer, and remember that some people don’t have a shower at all and everything will be okay, because you’re calling a plumber in the morning.
Want to see our space for yourself?
When we met in the fall of 2008, one of the first discussions we ever had was about one day living in a cabin. At the time, we did not know that we would eventually marry each other; the idea of living an uncluttered life and doing without what we didn’t really need was something we each wanted to talk about independently. In the passing years, we have read broadly and have refined and expanded our initial thoughts about living self-sufficiently, and bit-by-bit we have begun to give it a try.
We started out pretty small at first—planting a few vegetable starts in pots at various apartments and making bread—and then started to tackle some harder projects like paying off our credit card debt, and declining expensive outings to save money and ween ourselves off a consumption driven existence. All the while we’ve been trying to get to the heart of what’s really important to us.
At some point we knew that if we wanted to start growing more of our own food and providing for ourselves more of what we use on a daily basis, we would need a little land and place to work. Even though we dreamed of moving to the country, we realized that living in the city was necessary for us if we didn’t want to commute an hour or more each way to work every day. So, in 2013 we bought a small house in SE Portland and since then have worked hard to transform it into a modest urban homestead. Every hour we’ve spent working on our homestead has made us more confident that we want to continue down the path of self-sufficiency.
Our long-term goal, we realized, was to find a small patch of earth outside the city on which we could establish a small-scale homestead/farm that we would operate together. We spent lots of time talking and strategizing about what we would ideally want and need on this piece of land—from water and sunlight, to acreage and location. The more we have experimented on our urban 1/12 acre, and the more we read and reread books like Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Good Life and John Seymour’s The Self-Sufficient Life and How to Live It, the more we’ve come to appreciate what we could do with a little more space. So we began to casually look around at land and land prices and what was available on the market.
What we didn’t know when we started exploring this idea was that we would find something far quicker than we expected. For better and for worse, as a couple we make decisions by deliberating for weeks and months (and sometimes even years—which tests the little patience Judith had to begin with) by trying to look at our decisions from as many angles as possible before we act.
But nothing could prepare us for stumbling across a little run-down, off-the-grid cabin surrounded by five acres of woodland near Cloverdale, Oregon. It seemed like it had just been sitting there for fifteen years (which it had), waiting for us to find it in the forest. So after seeing the property several times and having many serious and lengthy conversations, it became clear that we should go for it.
We have to admit, we are still pinching ourselves. We feel a deep sense of good fortune and gratitude to have found such a special place to work on and slowly overhaul into a living, working homestead, and to have had the resources available to us to pursue this path without compromising our, or anyone else’s, well-being. We won’t ever stop feeling lucky.
That said, there is a lot (and we do mean a lot) of work to do and many years in front of us before we will be ready to uproot ourselves from the city and begin subsisting in the forest. There’s a good bit of dry rot present, evidence of rodent inhabitants, faulty water and septic systems, leaks in the roof, and a whole host of other issues to be resolved before we can even begin to think about implementing the infrastructure we would need to make an earnest go of it out there. We aren’t intimidated, though. Not really. We knew the challenge before we accepted it, and we think we have a good plan. We’re sure we’ll make plenty of mistakes, and learn a great deal in trying, but there is really nothing else we would rather do with our time and resources—and no one else we’d rather do it with than with each other.
Our friends Deborah and Ian have been housesitting a mini-farm in Oregon wine country for the last few weeks, and we boldly invited ourselves out to spend the afternoon with them.
The countryside looked impeccably green today (as it usually does) against the gloomy Oregon sky on our drive. We arrived at the farm around one and drove up a dirt road, at the top of which a herd of pygmy goats, alpaca, donkeys, and a llama stood grazing. A huge fluffy white Great Pyrenees romped and barked around the herd as we approached, and a pretty fox-dog ran and jumped at the driver-side window as we pulled into the gravel driveway.
Deborah and Ian invited us into the house for freshly roasted coffee and we warmed ourselves by the woodstove. Then we booted up for a tour.
The “farm” is located on a section of Soter Vineyard, and is occupied by a couple who are working to transition the vineyard into a bio-dynamic operation. They also have a small CSA, and preservation business called Republic of Jam.
Hoards of chickens (there were about 60, we learned) roamed about, pecking and running underfoot as we followed Ian and Deborah around the yard. We peaked into the kitchen garden next to the house and found garlic and onions buried under dirty oak leaves, and admired the enormous garden plot, which stood in the distance at the bottom of the hill.
Then, the most exciting part of the day happened. We slogged through the barnyard and through a gate into the animal pen. A tiny pygmy Nigerian goat named Ethel pranced over to us, followed by her mother and 10 or so other goats of various sizes and breeds, along with the two soggy grey donkeys. Deborah picked up Ethel and held her, so we naturally wanted to try this out, as well. I picked her up and she nibbled on my hair and nuzzled my face, which was endlessly entertaining and made us want to take all of the goats home. We petted all of the animals and gave everyone a bit of hay. Then we headed inside for lunch: a beautiful loaf of Irish Soda Bread (Deborah is a native of Ireland), slabs of aged cheddar cheese, and a winter squash soup made from squash grown on the farm.
We stayed on the farm until dark, taking a long walk and then sharing some wine together. Then we headed back to Portland, satiated by our afternoon in the country with good friends, good food, and the cutest little goats we’ve ever seen. All in all, this was a lovely way to spend the Winter Solstice.
We headed out of town last Friday afternoon to see if we could spot some early fall mushrooms with our friends Jon and Vicki. Jon drove us up a beautiful curvy road to some of his secret hunting grounds near Corbett, Oregon, where he thought we might be able to gather chanterelles and perhaps some lobster mushrooms.
Jon pulled off onto a generous shoulder just past some clear-cut land. After assembling our baskets, buckets, knives, and guidebooks, Jon led us down a dirt road to where the trees started to grow up around us on both sides. We soon abandoned the road for the forest, cutting up a fairly steep embankment and onto the squishy decomposing forest floor. It smelled like new dirt and the sun revealed dust and spores hanging in the air.
We still haven’t had much rainfall yet this autumn, so the pickings were somewhat slim. Jon found a few scattered chanterelles as we made our through the trees. We walked for what felt like an hour before we spotted a large brainy-looking fungus (a cauliflower mushroom) in a spotlight of sunshine, just where the forest met the stumps of clear-cut.
Buoyed by this victory, we ducked back into the forest to keep looking and found ourselves traversing a steep southern slope. Suddenly Jon stuck his hands and knife into a hole and brought out a beautiful chanterelle. Soon all four of us had spotted bits of orange hiding beneath mossy loam and pine needles. Using our knives or sticks, we unearthed a few modest handfuls and put them into our receptacles. We crouched and scooted ourselves along the ground now, looking and looking, but only happened upon one more small cluster.
On our way back to the car we spotted an old yellow logging truck, and other metal debris in the forest.
On Sunday we cooked up this first humble basketful of mushrooms with butter, garlic, lemon zest, and cream and spooned it onto crostini. The forecast predicts rain this week. With any luck, we’ll be back in the forest in a few weeks to look for more. In the meantime, we’re investigating preservation methods and collecting recipes. Let us know if you have any tips!
When we first moved into our house in April 2013, the backyard was an RV parking lot and the front yard was a shapely lawn. What we saw, however, was the perfect canvas to establish a small urban homestead—a space that would allow us to start working our way slowly toward producing a good deal of what we consume.
A large part of our motivation for buying a home was the ability to begin providing more of our food and resources through our own human power. When we were searching for the right property, two of the most important criteria were growing space and good light. We only have one large tree on our lot, and fortunately it only shades our garden beds for a small part of the day for only part of the year. The rest of the yard is virtually unobstructed, and we have taken advantage of this by putting in a total of twenty-six raised garden beds and eight whiskey barrels.
We chose to install raised beds for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that we both understand and appreciate alternative methods of urban gardening, a large factor that influenced our decision was the hard-packed, rocky RV pad that covered most of the backyard. Instead of digging down and tilling the entire square footage of the yard—which likely contained glass particles and gasoline and oil residue—we decided to build upward by installing cedar raised beds that would allow for two to three feet of soil above the ground (where the beds themselves sit, we did dig close to two feet down, though, moving the river rock and old soil and replaced it with topsoil and compost).
Another reason we decided to go this route was tidiness and organization—with such a small area for growing (our lot is about 1/12 of an acre, including the house and garage), we needed to use the space wisely and deliberately. We have a garden plan wherein we have numbered each box. This has helped us establish a crop rotation schedule, and keep track of what has been planted where and when. One other positive aspect of the boxes is cutting back on pest problems. For instance, we have stapled copper tape on the perimeter of each box and it has greatly reduced the slug issues we used to experience. Plus, also, at the end of the day we really like the look of this arrangement.
What's your favorite garden arrangement? Let us know in the comments.
We get really into autumn at our house. We love the crisp cool weather, the changing colors, getting to wear sweaters and boots, drinking cider and pumpkin ale, harvesting up our fall crops, and staying cozy in our house. Evan’s birthday is in October, and it’s also when we met, so we try to take advantage of every fall-like activity we can think of to celebrate the season, like visiting the pumpkin patch and watching Halloween movies and sitting by fires with spiced beverages.
This last weekend, the first official weekend of fall, we drove out to Kiyokawa Orchard in Parkdale, Oregon, to participate in one of our favorite fall chores—apple picking. Kiyokawa is a vendor at the Montavilla Farmer's Market where Evan, and our good friend Kelli, are on the board of directors. Kiyokawa is a special apple grower, with wonderful, and sometimes rare, heirloom varieties. The owner of the orchard, Randy, was kind enough to give us a tour of all the different fruit grown in the orchard. As he told us about the history of his family's business, founded in 1911, he encouraged us to try whatever variety stood out to us. I was particularly thrilled to hear that one of the Kiyokawa Orchards is located on a piece of property in the little town of Dee, Oregon, where my grandmother, Violet, was born in 1920, and where Randy's father was born in 1923. Perhaps they were neighbors?
We had a great time touring the rows of beautiful apple trees, set at the base of Mt. Hood. After picking about 25 pounds of our favorite varieties—Pink Pearl, Crimson Crisp, and Zestar to name a few—we loaded up and found a lovely little picnic spot down the road in Parkdale. We now have a freezer full of applesauce, dried apples, apple pie filling, and plenty left to snack on.
Notes from our Ledger
25 pounds of Apples for $57 from Kiyokawa Orchard in Parkdale, Oregon.
It was during summer last year—our first in our little house and yard—that we really started to attempt to shape our daily activities, habits, and tasks around the seasons. We were in the middle of a pretty amazing to-do list, then: an exploding garden to manage, an older house to update, warm days to take advantage of, and invitations from friends who tend to disappear when the days get short and cold. We were both working full-time, and I had taken on a handful of weddings in an effort to get more floral design experience under my belt, so every spare moment seemed packed with obligations—fun or otherwise. By mid-August we were both more than a little overwhelmed and I was starting to consider what it might take to abandon it all and become a professional hermit.Read More
The thing about getting this place started (organizing the garage with efficient, cleaned-up hand tools; covering the garden beds with poultry wire so neighbor cats don’t defecate in the freshly-planted radish rows; getting a sturdy chicken yard established before we raise a few pullets) is that it seems there’s always something else to finish off first, a lengthy list of chores that need doing before we can actually begin doing what it is we want to be doing. These are lingering, frustrating tasks—the type of work you must slog through with optimism that a day will soon dawn in which you have what you need in its rightful place, ready for your earnest, diligent maintenance.Read More
Today, garlic and onions that we had sowed last fall came to full fruition and were ready for a summer harvest. After carefully—and somewhat ceremoniously ('cause we're nerdy like that)—digging the little bulbs from their south-facing beds in the front yard (and one less successful barrel-full of onions in the back), we laid each one in the sun to cure.* In their place we planted brussels sprouts, rutabaga, parsnips, turnips, and beets to overwinter.
*In retrospect, laying garlic and onions directly in the sun isn't the best method for curing. Turns out that if the sun is too hot, the bulbs essentially get roasted and end up rotting during storage (which sadly happened to us the year we tried that method). A better way to cure your allium crop is to hang the harvested bulbs by their stems in a warm, dark place with decent air flow, and let them cure for about 3 weeks—then braid them all together and hang them somewhere in your kitchen for convenient use throughout the year.
As Portlanders, we cannot help but love those years that moody hot days magically raise us from our watery winter graves in as early as the month of April. Unexpected early-spring warmth, however, often results in crops ripening much earlier than expected. When we devised our fruit picking strategy over an early spring dinner with Kelli and Larren a few months ago, we had marked this weekend for strawberries, but as we are learning, nature is far from predictable and we missed strawberry season altogether (aside from our own small harvests which have been perfect for daily eating, but not substantial enough for jamming and preserving). But we were in luck of a different sort, though, because when we arrived at Sauvie Island Farms yesterday we were met by some of the largest, plumpest raspberries we had ever seen.
Over the course of two hours out at the farm, we gathered about 36 pounds of berries between us, half blueberries and half raspberries. Kelli and Larren live only a few blocks from us and we have been lucky to be able to trade and share homestead tools and equipment between our households as needed since we both moved into our respective homes last year. Even before we lived in the neighborhood, our families were in the habit over the past few summers of using a big water-bath pot I received as a gift some years ago and making jam at our little apartment in NW Portland.
When we arrived back at our house from the farm, the lady-folk proceeded to pick a classic raspberry jam recipe from one of our favorite canning books, Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan, and Evan and Larren headed to the Wolford's to brew a fresh batch of kölsch.
A couple hours of cooking and a few raspberry rosemary gin cocktails later, Kelli and I were ready to seal our jars of raspberry jam, raspberry rosemary syrup (which we are over the moon about), and some of the lavender syrup Kelli made earlier in the week.
A few weeks back we began the construction of a chicken yard in which to house our previously purchased chicken coop and future chickens. We framed it out, which took the better part of a weekend, after which we stepped back and then decided to undo what we had done and go at it again, this time setting the roof up at about a 9 degree angle sloping yard to alley. About that time, though, we realized this structure would be far more permanent than we first imagined. This brought about the discussion of our aging chain link fence–which does little to hide the snarling neighbor dogs–against which we were going to set the yard. That’s when the project stalled. We figured if we were going to do things right, we ought to first get the fence situation squared away, meaning we had better build it before we finished off the chicken yard. At that point the seeds which we had started in the garage made clear to us that in the time we had deliberated about the fence, spring had come and with it the constant needs of seedlings.
Sleep is gathered hard in my eyes and hangs there. It’s early still, but maybe not early enough if I’m going to do this right. Last night I should have gathered the last of the paperwork to file our taxes or spent time working on our budget. I’m of the opinion that a trustworthy budget is one of the keys to freeing ourselves from the constraints and instabilities of a waning society. But I was outside instead—the sun stayed above Mount Tabor until close to 7:30—building a chicken run. The thing about getting this place started (organizing the garage with clean, efficient tools; having seeds started under a warm light by late winter; covering the garden beds with poultry wire so the neighbor cats don’t shit in the radish rows; turning the cover crop under early on so that it can properly decompose beneath the surface; getting a sturdy chicken run established before we take on the raising of a few pullets) is that it seems there’s always something else to finish off first, unlimited chores that need doing before we can actually begin doing what it is we want to be doing. Lingering, frustrating tasks—the type of work you must force yourself to slog through with optimism that a day will soon dawn in which you have what you need in its rightful place, ready for you to use with earnest, honest labor. You know as well as I, though, that that day is merely a wavy and illusory ghost on the road in front of you. And that day is not today. This day is real. It is hard and true beneath you.
The hummingbirds have not yet arrived. Or if they have, I have not seen them yet. We stowed the feeder in the garage over the winter, along with geraniums, the Adirondack chairs, and the fire pit to keep them out of the weather. The geraniums died and I’d imagine, too, the feeder froze in its glass once or twice when the lows dipped to twelve for those few days in December. But the feeder was unreachable, behind the rubble of kitchen remodel riffraff and piles of tile and the small stack of birch logs we acquired from our neighbor when they brought their old tree down. Thankfully the feeder had not burst. I lazily re-hung it sometime in February, but it hasn’t had any visitors since last fall. Yesterday, therefore, I rinsed it clean of the ants that had braved the heights of the gutter and feasted on the simple syrup and placed it back on the corner of the garage that overlooks the garden. Between the bees and the butterflies and the hummingbirds, my eyes have a full spring to-find list.
It has been a wet week and a half and it doesn’t look promising for the next week and a half either. The radishes we planted two weeks ago are sprouting fine, though. And we’re still eating off the spinach plants in the front yard every morning. Judith makes smoothies for us before work: spinach, blueberries (picked over the summer and frozen since), banana, carrot juice, apple juice, and occasionally kale. There are only two stalks of the Redbor kale in the front that have overwintered, but there are close to ten spinach plants producing sizable leaves. As such, I only harvest the kale about once a week. There are still two cedar barrels full of leeks grown from last autumn, so some of them went into a soup with potatoes for lunch today. Using the wet weather to our advantage, we set the four seed trays—that we started when we planted the radishes—in the garage under plant bulbs, rather than keeping them on the kitchen table in front of the window. Progress comes slowly, but progress comes.
Oats for breakfast with almonds or currants. Coffee from the stovetop; roast the beans in the garage. Better even, someday: tea, leaves grown out back. Letters to New Hampshire and Colorado. Pine tar soap and wool socks. Trade your dress shirts for a canvas coat and cut your hair yourself. Go outside. Smell the air. Look at the soil. Listen to the geese. They flew by last night, just before midnight, pulling behind them the new year stretched across the sky.