June 9th, 2015 §
today, banging out 1,000 words about a lawnmower for Horticultural Mechanisation Principles while trying not to giggle. If my writing professors could only see me now, I’m sure they’d be proud of just how eloquently I can describe the sinuous curves and shiny bonnet of a brand new ride-on. To say nothing of the stunning sense of power felt under the seat as one shears through acres of green Scottish turf.
If this horticulture career fails, maybe I can get a job writing copy for John Deere?
January 17th, 2015 §
Even though I now live 3,570 miles away from my farmdog, I think about him all the time, especially when I see a black and white shepherd here in Edinburgh—which is about every day given that this is the land that originated the breed. Ancestors of the English Shepherd went to the New World with the colonists, where they were developed into all-purpose American farm dogs.
Interestingly, the breed “English Shepherd” isn’t known as such here in the U.K. unless dealing with a specialist breeder. A quick glance around the internet reveals that some U.K. breeders are importing English Shepherds from the U.S. for their breeding programs, touting the benefits of these “American” dogs. What goes around, comes around, right? Here’s the clearest explanation I’ve seen of the origins of the breed and how it developed. Right now there are only three U.K. English Shepherd breeders listed on the U.K. English Shepherd Club Web site. Maybe Tuck has a future here as a stud dog?
As much as I am sure he’d like that, Tuck is doing great living with my parents, where he has everything he needs plus the added benefit of canine cousins. Tuck grew up a wild child in a Free Union holler’, homeschooled by an eccentric and reclusive single parent—this new socialization is good for him. As dogs do, he’s adapted to and accepted his new reality without a backward glance, which is all I could hope for. Happy fourth birthday, farmdog.
Past birthdays: Third birthday, second birthday, first birthday.
(Thanks to Dad for the photo, and all the regular updates.)
January 11th, 2015 §
Each year, in the coldest and darkest days of winter, I have to make an effort to keep my spirits up by noticing beauty where I can. This year is no different, and is perhaps compounded by Scotland’s incredibly few daylight hours. It’s unnerving to look up at noon to see, when it’s not raining, sleeting or snowing, a weak sun barely clearing the housetops. It makes me feel like I’m on a different planet, and maybe I am.
I go outside as often as I can, and walk for miles around the city. Thankfully the city cooperates, and where natural light is scarce cheerful electric lights and fires have blazed all winter in what seems a concerted effort to beat back the dark. Here’s some wintery color and light that have caught my eye these last few weeks.
December 31st, 2014 §
I’ve never lived anywhere that celebrates the New Year over three days, but that’s the case here in Edinburgh. The festivities kicked off last night with a torchlight procession that attracted 35,000 people who carried long wax torches from the medieval part of the city down the Mound to Princes Street. Amazingly, no one appeared to get burned and nothing other than wax and paper went up in flames. Which is quite something for what was basically a city-wide river of fire shepherded by Vikings.
Initially my companion and I were spectators, but some departing revelers gifted us with their extinguished torches. From the curb I hailed a stranger to light my torch, and with that sharing of flame I stepped into the flow.
Everyone looks beautiful in firelight, and cheerful. No doubt part of that was because of the clear and not-too-cold weather, which in Scotland at New Year’s is indeed a gift. The best part of the night for me was seeing the faces around me lit with love, joy, and companionship. At my farm I lived a long time in isolation, and to see and be part of such collective emotion is powerful and affecting. In many ways moving to Scotland was a personal fight to regain connection with other people, and carrying a flame in this procession became a very literal manifestation of that intention.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Scotland without a bagpiper in a kilt.
The evening ended with fireworks on Calton Hill, which we watched from a sea of torch-bearing processioners. This town shoots off fireworks without hardly any excuse, and ever since October there has been a marked increase in the festivals and fire-bearing festivities. It appears to be an active rebellion against the winter days that start to dim around three in the afternoon, and further proof that a Pagan heart still beats in this ancient land.
I love it, the mix of old and new, the smearing of religion into custom into celebration and back again until everyone is just walking together toward a sky full of wonder.
I’m headed out now for even more fireworks, but I wanted to wish all of you a very happy new year. If there was ever a year of radical change in my life it was 2014, and though it certainly wasn’t easy it was exactly what I needed. I hope that 2015 brings good health, inspiration, joy and wonderful new possibilities, for all of us.
December 25th, 2014 §
My first Christmas in Scotland brought the gift of a crystal-clear day amongst so many full of rain, hail, and grey clouds. I walked six and a half miles around the quiet city today, rambling up the Salisbury Crags for a great view of Edinburgh in all directions from the Pentland Hills to the sea. Spot Edinburgh Castle below, and the three spires of St. Mary’s Cathedral to the left, marking the neighborhood where I now live.
The extremely low winter sun, when it’s actually out, makes for some pretty light—caught here on the native gorse (Ulex europaeus). It’s a devilishly spiny shrub that’s been used as hedging to contain livestock. This guy was on my last i.d. exam, and it was nice to see it in flower today.
Wherever you are rambling today, I wish you all a very merry Christmas.
December 16th, 2014 §
on the top shelf of an Edinburgh garden superstore.
August 25th, 2014 §
I am writing to you tonight, and it’s the last night I’ll sleep at my farm. At least for a good long while. Not to worry: I am on to a grand new adventure that includes higher education, expatriation, creative passion, and the pursuit of yet another great, big project. I plan on sharing full details soon, and I’ve already written several posts in an attempt to tie up the lessons of last five years of my life with a tidy little bow.
But tonight I am walking through a house that’s half empty, awaiting the movers in the morning. In the past few days I have felt my spirit draining from this home, a second skin that I designed and built and lived in and loved even before it was realized. It is wrenching to leave this place, where every inch of house and land hold vivid memories and lessons that I can only hope will make me stronger, more empathetic, and more resourceful in the future.
My heart is breaking into a zillion pieces. I am a turtle whose shell is being removed, but it was my own choice to do the removing. After building an entire ten-acre habitat, I am traveling into my new life with nothing but two suitcases.
But I am so damn happy. I am so proud of what I have done here. I am so amazed at the kind of person living here has shown me to be. I am so grateful for everything that I have been given, and all that I’ve learned. I am so thankful for my parents, who made every bit of this possible and who continue to support and love me while selflessly encouraging all my crazy ideas.
Tonight I ventured in the dark to the end of the driveway to stuff one last garbage bag in the can. As I walked back toward my house, which looked so warm and friendly lit from within, I crumbled inside thinking of how I was leaving the place I’ve most loved in my entire life and how a ten-year dream was ending. But then I turned on my heel toward the hayfield in the front yard, and up above me was a vast clear sky full of brilliant stars. The Milky Way galaxy stretched right across the farm like a painter’s pale white stroke, and here and there I could make out faintly blinking lights from airplanes traveling high above.
All the people in those pinpoint flickers are going somewhere else. And so am I.
August 21st, 2014 §
Last weekend I picked what felt like about 50 pounds of tomatoes. I have only ten plants, but it’s been an unreal tomato season here—the best since I’ve started the farm. I have no doubt that it correlates with our cooler-than-usual summer. When tomatoes are exposed to the high temperatures (day/night temperatures of 95/80°F) that are common during a typical Virginia summer, it significantly reduces the number of pollen grains that each flower produces and releases and decreases the pollen’s viability. No pollen = no fertilization = no tomatoes! But this year, which has been cool enough that I’ve had my air conditioning off more than on, with night time temperatures regularly in the 50s, has kept the tomatoes happy and pumping out fruit.
I recruited my mom to help me process these beautiful tomatoes, and we made a good team. She washed and scored each tomato with a knife. Then I dunked them for 30 seconds in boiling water before plunging them into a cooler water bath. I slipped off the skins and chopped/crushed each tomato to pulp before adding it to one of three stockpots I had bubbling on my stove. With fistfuls of basil, a couple of heads of roasted garlic, and a bit of salt, the tomatoes cooked down into a sweet, beautiful, nutritious sauce free of pesticides, preservatives, and all the other frightful things that show up in commercial sauce (e.g., high-fructose corn syrup).
It’s not clean work, and it’s hot standing over boiling water for a couple hours. But I know that last year when it was brutally cold outside and I opened up my freezer to find containers of homegrown, homemade tomato sauce, it made winter just a bit more bearable.
August 15th, 2014 §
Yesterday I took some time to clean all my garden tools. I soaked them for a few minutes, then scrubbed off all the caked-on red mud and chicken manure. I took a wire brush to the rusty spots and today I will apply a thin coat of oil to stop any further rusting.
As I cleaned I remembered all the hours of hard labor on this farm, working alone and getting to know my own physical limitations and the strength of my willpower during the days spent forking mulch around my trees and turning compost, cutting new furrows into the spring garden, and sweating through the tear-inducing frustration of trying to pick-ax a planting hole in dry, red clay. There are so many stories behind each of these tools. There’s the hand maul that finally did in my rotator cuff while I was splitting wood during this winter’s polar vortex and the elegant little hand weeder that was a gift from an exboyfriend who did more than any one else save my parents to support my farm dream. I don’t ever want to lose my favorite short-handled red cultivator, which I bought to use at this farm’s predecessor, my community garden plot in Arlington, and that’s almost always at hand. And of course I’ve prepared homes for hundreds of trees and plants here using that one shovel and a couple trowels.
For historical perspective I’ve kept a couple of delicate “Lady Gardener” tools that I was given as a skinny kid who just wanted to dig in the dirt. I guess I’m not a lady gardener now that I’ve graduated to the man-size tools, but if you’ve ever seen me caked in dirt, sweating and bleeding and cursing as I try to bend the earth to my will, you’d know that anyway.
This humble little collection of steel and wood is what brought Bonafide Farm to life. The least I can do to thank my tools for their service is give them a garbage can bubble bath and a little hot-oil rubdown.
August 12th, 2014 §
Last week the house got a major upgrade in that one of the two entries now has proper steps!
Yes, I am embarrassed to admit that for more than four years I lived with two cinder blocks and a couple paint-stained board as my only way off the back porch. It was one of those things, of which there are myriad when you build your own house, that get left to the last minute because I couldn’t decide on a design while the contractors were on the job. The contractor left, and I was left with a precipitous drop off the porch onto a wobbly 2″x6″. I adapted, and managed to navigate the tricky board/door combination okay, and as these things happen when there are a zillion other projects higher in priority, it just became normal. If a bit kountry.
But last week, thanks to a few day’s hired labor, I now have a proper set of stairs at the back of the house. I had a flash of inspiration last winter when I realized a simple set of stairs wouldn’t suffice in this situation. It would have been too hard to stand on them and open an out-swinging door. So I came up with this idea to make essentially a mini-deck, which gives plenty of room to operate the door and also all sorts of nooks for sitting, potted plants, English Shepherds, etc.
In time the new pressure-treated wood will weather, and then if I am feeling ambitious I can paint it to match the house. But for now I am thrilled with how it turned out. I keep going in and out the door so easily that I laugh with delight, remembering how annoying it was before. I grilled out last weekend and didn’t burn myself opening the door like I did on the fourth of July! Now if I just had a nice stone patio for my new steps to connect to. It’s in the master plan…maybe in another four years!