whether the weather

farming, patience, almost springThe snow here has given way to rain, rain that has been strikingly absent for us during this dry and crisp winter. And this morning, as those drops fall heavy on the house in a strong, beating rhythm that awakened us to our day, as I sit here with my coffee and listen to the the sound of water tapping metal, steady and sure, I notice the comfort it brings, the relief. Coming to this valley, lush, green, and moist, I didn’t know whether I would be one to hate the rainy season or not. Would I fall prey to despair, saddened by so much grey? Or was it really that bad?  How wet was it? Were these just exaggerations, weather tales lengthened by the human imagination, tricks of the mind, the way we seem to never recall weather accurately?

I’m not sure what the truth about the weather here is, nor if there really is ever any truth to the weather, but I do know that a lot of people come out here and feel like they are home, and that I am one of them. The grey, monotonous sky offered itself to me in a warm embrace. The fog laying on the hills, the Douglas fir rising predictably from the hilltops, it all said yes to me.

And although I know place isn’t the beginning or end of our happiness, it feels good to feel at home in your landscape.

All the early plantings we sneaked in the ground in January did not weather this last bit of weather so well. As my husband says, though, seed is cheap. We will replant.

I keep thinking about the home I left behind me in Nebraska. I am surprised at the very visceral feeling of discomfort the thought of frozen ground gives me. Maybe I am not all that strong after all, abating melancholy in such a dreary place, if I feel stricken down, now, at the thought of not always being able to touch the earth, feel the dirt,  I realize that I have become dependent on the land. To feed me, even now, in what is for us a harsh winter. I am under-evolved, slave to the soil, the life that doesn’t stop living itself out here.

Part plant myself, perhaps. I can’t remember how I survived anywhere else.

But we do, and we can, anywhere.  What people don’t always realize about all this rainy weather out here, unless they work outside or with the natural elements, is just how often the sun still does come out. But it catches me, often at sundown on many a wet, winter’s day. As if to say, it will never be all this way or all that way; it will, however, always be okay.

Or, rather, that it will always be.  And that, itself, is good enough for us all.

farming, pacific NW, Oregon, sun, rain, weather, mindfulness

all tucked in

winter, farmDecember is the sweetest.

We are all tucked in.  Cozy, warm.  Together.

Harvests are on hiatus.  We have a minimum of morning chores to tend to.  Feed and water the hens and the growing pigs.  Feed and water–and play–with the small chicks in the greenhouse.

Mostly, we sit by the fire and play games and read stories.  In this down time, we reweave the strings that hold us together that we inevitably stretch thin in the hay days of summer, all of us throwing ourselves outward, even as we are always all here, on this farm and in these days, with each other.  Because summer is its own wild beast of living.

And so winter.

We take this time and use it to tend to each other in our winter ways, and the whole, wonderful cycle works, for us.

This winter we have been simultaneously blessed and cursed with clear skies and cold temps.  Without our covering of grey skies and Pacific Northwest rain, we are getting full on that metallic tasting winter air that so many others hold on their tongues always through this season.  I love it.  I hate it.  I can step outside and feel like I am, for a moment, tucked away in the mountains of Colorado or out in the wide open countryside or quiet plains town of Nebraska.  This kind of winter feels like home to me, as much as I am ultimately a part of this lush, temperate valley now.

It was single digit cold here last night.  That is more cold than we are used to.  We all are weathering this fine, although we have used more wood than ever for this time of year and the water to our house is frozen.

No matter the temperature, though, these cold, slow days are so full of time, there is the feeling one could get so much done.    I could get a lot of things done.  Things that would make me happy, things I have been waiting all summer to get to.  On top of that, there is all the extra things one could do, to celebrate.  But instead, in December, I sit.  I wait.

I have learned so much about letting go, it is ridiculous.  Every day, we must wake up in the morning and remember what matters, and so much of it, doesn’t.

I have learned that the sweetness of this month isn’t in the doing, that it is in the waiting.  In the quiet and the stillness.

In our home, there are all the inevitable squabbles of four children inside so much, the eruption of bodies needing to move more that turns our small home into a wrestling ring or race track every evening before bedtime.   The frequent sighs of boredom, the excited as well as impatient expectancy of Christmastime.

But there is a softer side to all of this too.  There is more skin time, more snuggles on the couch.  There are news ways of playing, discovered.  There are knitting needles in my lap, slowly working again towards the only gift worth giving my dear husband, my heart poured into some thing to keep him warm while he works.

I do get itchy, who doesn’t?  I want the new year to start, all fresh and full of promise.  As always, as everyone, I have big plans.

But this last beautiful month on the calender is for the waiting.  Expectantly, hopefully.  Equal parts joy at the dusting of snow and ice to play on as well as trembling and fear, the desperate desire for the return of the sun.

All the work of December is done on the inside.  There is only the barest perception that it’s there, but it is some of the most important work we do of the year.

Fueling our lights for the new. 

All tucked in.  Warm, cozy.


The slow waking

IMG_0714IMG_0721There is something about January that quiets me.  It’s like all that beginning energy that comes with the flip of the calender page and the excitement of planning for a new year through the holidays hits the wall of the slow, short, and still days of this first month, and with that bang, a hush falls.  Last year I didn’t get around to this space from the solstice through Chinese New Year, this year even longer.  What have I been doing?!

Truly, January, and February are the two months my children get nearly all of me as we cram in, more dutifully, our school work for the year than we do at other, busier times of the year.  The farm is sleeping.   The world, really, is too.

And so, I guess, I find myself hibernating even when my to-do list is quite long.  And almost like clockwork, the halfway to spring mark arrives with the first of February (Imbolc, as it was once called, now, roughly speaking, Groundhog’s day), and the energy inside my beating heart and outside in the pulsing earth begins to pick up speed.  I never really think of this quiet time as the doldrums, but this year it felt a bit like that.  Probably because I had my own set of expectations for those “lost” weeks that didn’t fit with the rhythm of the seasons, outside or in.  I think next year I will be more gracious with myself and accept that I too, might need to winter in January.  I guess that means I will either need to get some of my winter “office” work done in December or be cool with putting it off until February.  It seems there is a pattern forming…

Nevertheless, the point of this story is that things are picking up again around here.  Coming back to life.  Warm, sunny days too good to be true.  New growth on old winter produce, so tasty!  And new growth on brand new baby seedlings.  The cycle starts again.  And that it does, every year, again and again, that is so completely refreshing.


We started the year with three days at the beach.  It was just what we needed because up to the holidays, the farmer had been working hard and long since about this same time last year.  A real getaway!  We wrote down those things we wanted to let go of from 2012, as well as those things we wished to bring to the new year, on tiny scraps of paper and threw them in the fire.  We held each other close and watched the sun set on a pivotal year in our lives, not our hardest or most challenging, but the first in a long while to redefine us.  We really are excited for the clarity this year brought us.  And we feel so positive about 2013, even though we have come to it with these whispering footsteps, and here it is, almost March already.

February sun here in the Willamette Valley is tricky, because the rain begins again, in earnest, and lasts sometimes way too long.  Still, it fortifies us.  We’ve been soaking it up, working outside, steeping tea leaves in it.  The truth is, even with all the rain to come, the season has changed.  The nettles have sprouted, the greenhouse is full, we are harvesting both the first rapini and sprouting broccoli from overwintered plants as well as the first baby arugula leaves from brand new plants.

sweet sunny babysun tea in winter!fresh green!Our plates feel fresh again!  So does my mind.

I can’t help but worry if it is wrong to let myself slumber so?  It feels so contrary to much of the modern impulse to be busy all the time.  But really, I have been busy; I am the mother of four after all, come winter or summer.  But to let the tempo of the natural world resonate within us, that can not be all bad.  And perhaps, for better or worse, that is part and parcel of being farmers, of living close to and working the land.  One of those things about this farm life that can be both overly romanticized–because I really could have got a lot of things done in these last many weeks–or rightly praised.

That judgement I cannot make definitively, I can only say that for me, it simply is that way.  And that for me, it feels right.  The seasons have always been my guide, marking the passage of my time here on earth, entwined tightly with all the memories I have laid down, I can’t help but live by them.  I swore to always live somewhere with all four of them, distinct.  And here, they are, albeit in a way quite different from my Midwestern home.   And here, on this farm, they mold me more than ever.

So now, we are waking up again, bit by bit, to the new year.



Learning under water

It was a stormy day yesterday, and the rain fell and fell and fell.  And so, this morning’s sun slowly rose over a flooded veggie field.  I could hear the arugula calling out, “hey!  we’re under water here!  Hope you enjoyed our time on your plate!”  The rest of the veggies didn’t even write a letter.

Truth be told, the Asian greens were already too soggy for harvest last week.  This field is wet all winter long and well into the spring, so it is never a surprise when this happens. But that never makes it any easier to watch all that growing food go under overnight.

Most everything growing there was well harvested though.  The arugula would have kept on going for a while, and there were some good Chinese cabbages we lost.  But between the deer eating all the other cabbages and the fall broccoli and what we pulled out ourselves, it was all okay in the end.  The frisee was looking really good and was fun and it isn’t planted anywhere else on the farm, so I will miss the pretty, spike-y spunk it added to the salad mix.

The real bummer was that the strong winds ripped a corner of our greenhouse plastic off. Those end walls we meant to build on it all summer; well, we never got to them.  So now, we will take all of the plastic off  and re-use a portion of it for the smaller propagation greenhouse we need to build this winter.  And then we will have to buy new plastic for this one.

A good lesson, all of it, always, this weather.  We could easily come away from these things feeling like we can never catch a break from it, never win.  It is a formidable foe.  But the beauty of being six years in and having this element of nature challenge us over and over again is that we had the choice from the beginning to decide we could just let it roll off our skin instead of sticking.  And we had the choice to decide that instead of caving in, we could just keep learning from each event as it happened, adjusting as best as we can to face the next round of winds as at least as well as we did and hopefully better.

Those were our choices, are our choices.  That is how we weather all the storms around here, big and small.  With a grain of salt and goggles if necessary.

Gathering the last bits of summer and the freshest bits of fall

Now two weeks ago, after turning what ended up being my last large harvest of ripe tomatoes from the canning garden into salsa, I dashed down to our lower field to see if I could find a few more tomatillos to turn into my favorite tongue plucking, smother your eggs in the morning, salsa verde to tuck away for the winter.  The harvest was scant, I got only three pints more in the end.

In fact, I kind of thought I would be gathering all kinds of the last bits of summer during that harvest.  Maybe I would find a little more zucchini to shred for the freezer, some last beans from the rows the farmer was done harvesting from to pickle.  I was still in the throes of preserving summer for winter and the squirrel in me was working hard.  But really, there just wasn’t much left.  And just like that, the summer crops of my own, grown for putting up in the winter were frozen or rain split and the crops here were bare or past their prime.

What I did gather that day, aside from that small bit of tomatillos, was broccoli raab and a few different Asian greens for our plate that night.  You see, although the earth is on its way to the dying part of the year and the summer plants are on their way to decaying, the color of autumn eating here s a luscious, healthy, happy green color and the taste kind of has a bite like those sour tomatillos.

These crops are so beautiful right now.  Well before the hardest weather of winter leaves them a bit tattered and thick skinned and some of their heat and bite in flavor turns to sugars to protect them from the cold, they are incredibly tender and bright and mouth waking right now.  This “new” growth, while so many other crops are looking so much the worse for wear and a farm and garden are looking bedraggled and worn, kind of brightens both the fields and the kitchen.  Shines in its own unique fall green kind of way.

In all things, a silver lining?