Saturday, June 30, 2012

Life as a farm girl: "Curiouser and curiouser"

Note to readers: after spending several hours over several weeks compiling my long overdue first farm blog, I somehow deleted the whole gd thing, less the first five lines. There was cussing and there would have been crying if there hadn't been a distractingly funny pun-athon going on at the dining table. This one is less poetic and definitely less enthusiastic, but here it is anyway; twice as long, because to misquote Mark Twain, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

For a long time, I've had an affinity for Alice in Wonderland. Even as an adult I will read it on occasion, and I always appreciate Alice's well-mannered tenacity and courage in a new and marvelous but sometimes scary place.

After four weeks, the best description I have for my life here is this: this is Wonderland, and I am Alice.

The landscape is unreal. Straw-colored hills dotted with lichen-covered trees surround the valley, grape vines stretch out as if to grab hold of you, and crops grow at three times the rate I'm used to in temperate Seattle. Stone fruit is in season, cucumbers and peppers are already being harvested, and the tomato plants are heavy with green fruit.

Every day I meet new and different people: organic farmers, beekeepers, sheep herders, wine makers, natural builders, and musicians of every kind. Everyone seems happy, and the baseline level of attractiveness starts around a 6.

People wear Carhartts and hats of all kinds and often go barefoot. A truck isn't complete unless there's a dog hanging out an open window, and people wave as they drive by. I talk to plants and animals, and sometimes they talk back. I'm browner and leaner, and my arms and legs are covered in scratches and bruises from blackberries and goat hooves.

I live in a tiny one-room house surrounded by grape vines and decorated in a multitude of patterns and textures. My light source is a many-colored Medusa lamp. My neighbor is a rooster who crows on no schedule.

The temperature is different here. In Seattle, an 80 degree day is hot. Here it's been in the high 70s and low 80s for over a week (unseasonably "cold") and I feel a chill in shorts or the shade. When the thermostat hit 105 a few weeks ago I not only bore it, I almost enjoyed it.

Every morning I wake up not knowing what the day will hold, except that I will work hard, interact with a powerful community, and eat gourmet food one to three times before I lay down tuckered out at the end of the night. The first week I was good about writing a journal each night, but on day 8 I dropped the ball and never picked it back up. I don't even find the time to read, one of my favorite pastimes. There's just too much to do! Frankly, I'm overstimulated. 

It's impossible to describe a day in the life here, so here's a laundry list of some of the things I've done or helped do since arriving, some on a daily basis:
  • Feed, help milk, and generally tend to goats (turns out I'm not as interested in milking as I thought I was, but I do love drinking the raw milk)
Alex mending a fence a baby goat managed to get through while Kelly keeps them occupied and Garth looks on
With Honeypot, my favorite goat. She's half La Mancha, a bully, a prima donna, and she's always hungry. I love her.
  • Separate kids from their mamas (they didn't cry as much as we expected them to, but we gave them lots of lovin' - they're like pets here)
Kelly carrying Truffle, one of Honeypot's kids born on Easter when I was visiting
  • Help slaughter a goat (possibly a blog post unto itself)
  • Feed chickens, collect eggs, clean the chicken coop, and wrangle chickens back into the coop when they escape
  • Feed caged and wild birds; fill bird and bee baths (there are hives EVERYWHERE around here)
  • Feed, walk, and love the dogs (Chinle and Lucy, two happy girls)
  • Tend to vegetables, including planting starts and transplanting seedlings; watering and laying drip irrigation; weeding and pruning; trellising and staking; harvesting and eating
Kelly plays with a snail; Dan and Alex strategize pepper cages
Jay harvests from the loquat tree
  • General beautification including weeding, deadheading, and pruning, plus clearing out the many overgrown beds around the property (my favorite job of all - thanks for the ornamental garden skills, Mom!)
One of many views of the garden
  • Help in Doc's gorgeous vegetable garden
  • Process huge quantities of peaches, nectarines, and apricots (eat; freeze; dry; blend)
Processing fruit in the outdoor kitchen
  • Scrub and ready various water receptacles for use (outdoor pool, hot tub, and outdoor soaking tub)
  • Create art and work on projects (so far I've spray painted two of the fire pit chairs and helped, briefly, with the foundation for a cob building project)
  • Drive for Meals on Wheels in Ukiah (every Thursday with Doc)
  • Help Jini plan and throw parties, meals, and events of all kinds
  • Cook. With a strong crew of chefs, abundant and fresh ingredients, and enthusiastic eaters, every meal here is an occasion.
  • CLEAN. There is always something to be cleaned around here (a lot of living happens in this house).
  • Swim. This is a very important job. So far my favorite spot is Lake Mendocino, but I'm looking forward to trying the Eel and Russian Rivers when it gets consistently hotter.
View of a vineyard from a family friend's swimming pool
  • Whatever else comes up. (Someone needs a ride into town? A neighbor needs help in the garden? 
  • Grandkids need watching? Trampoline needs to be jumped on? We're on it.)
Stephanie demonstrates static electricity on the trampoline

And here's a partial list of events I've attended (and sometimes helped throw or host):

  • Mendocino Bee Club meeting, where Jini explained the benefits of bee bread, pollen, honey, and even venom (there's nothing bee products can't cure!) and then showed us how to make salve out of honey, honeycomb, and coconut oil
Jini, Alex, and Kelly prep for the bee club meeting
  • "Anarchist Cafe" meeting, party, and concert
  • Acupuncture and cupping for a wrenched back due to something called "manual labor" (I love you, Community Acupuncture Ukiah)
  • Creek walking with Jini's grandkids to catch water skippers, tadpoles, and baby salmon (after "pimping" Jean's garden, a 97-year-old sheep farmer who lives alone and is a total badass)
  • Garden party for the Mendocino Garden Club at Jean's (I helped host the party and was invited to informally "join" the club - I'll make my own flower arrangement for the July meeting!)
Flower arrangements partly visible in the background
  • Taste of Redwood Valley (Designated Drivers ate for free! I haven't been drinking but I do love being surrounded by vineyards and wineries)
Peter enjoys his first sip at the Taste of RV
Kelly and I smile big at the Frey vineyard
The group enjoys the Frey vineyard's many selections
  • "Save Hendy Woods" benefit concert and dance at the Grange in Boonville
Highway 128 on the way to Boonville
  • Lobster and champagne brunch at Doc's for Father's Day
  • Solstice Celebration at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland, which Jini helps run. (Charlie, Stephanie, and Alex played live music, which was going swimmingly until the sprinklers came on and soaked the amp and other equipment)
Jay looks on as Charlie, Alex, and Stephanie prep the stage
Stephanie and Alex, et al
Jay, Kelly, and Janet (Jini and Phoenix in the background)
  • Birthday party for neighbor and beekeeper Eric
Eric at his party with Doc in the background

Even though there's always something to do and someone to meet, my favorite times are the nights when it's just the "family" at home having dinner together, playing board games, eating homemade ice cream (courtesy of punster Peter), going in the hot tub, star gazing, laughing. It's not quite downtime, but it's close.

The last few days I've been under the weather, and in some ways it's been a blessing since it has forced me to stop everything and rest, giving me time to be contemplative (and write this blog - twice). I'm past the hyperactive honeymoon phase, and now I'm going to focus on balancing self-care with productivity. After all, if I'm going to last long in this "land full of wonder, mystery, and danger!" I'm going to need my wits about me. Unlike Alice, I'm in no hurry to leave.
Happy face

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Seattle spring highlights

Well, I'm not in Seattle anymore but here are some fun things I did during my six weeks of spring there.

*Worked a ton at the Miller Community Center Garden to get it ready for its new managers (the control freak in me is still having a hard time letting go of that one).

*Helped throw a wedding reception for my cousin Hana (during which I left my iPhone at a Safeway and magically got it back).

*Went to Vashon.

*Spent a sunny day a-boating with Nick, Jacob, and Abby. We went to Blake Island, a first for me. It was relatively empty when we got there and we had some privacy laying on the grass near the water. I must have been laying down for a long time because when I popped up we were suddenly surrounded by people who had arrived to camp for the night (some via kayak).

*Saw three SIFF movies: King Curling (weird but funny); "FutureWave" shorts (a set of pretty interesting short films whose makers were all under 18); and As Luck Would Have It ("La Chispa de la Vida"), a Spanish flick that was very good but at times hard to suspend belief.

*Went to a comedy show followed by a random costume party with my sister, who did something cool to my face to make me costume-y:

At this party I ran into someone I hadn't seen since high school who wasn't particularly nice to me back then (in a way in which teenage boys excel), who ended up randomly apologizing for not being very nice to me 14 years ago. Unexpected closure!

*Got my hair whacked off. It was the longest it had been in 10 years. It doesn't look as good as it could have here because it hadn't been brushed in a few days, but regardless, the "tail" definitely had to go:

*Celebrated toddler J's 3rd birthday! I made a photo book in honor of the occasion documenting his "early years." It was a labor of love but definitely worth it. Here he is refusing to let go of his beloved red balloon, even while eating:

*Spent a lot of time with Amber - special shout out to her, a girl who always finds time to hang out and make mix CDs for friends. One night she made an incredible authentic Korean dinner, drawing on her experiences living in South Korea. We also went to the Greenwood art walk, saw a SIFF film, braved the long wait for Delancey pizza, spent a little time in her garden and admiring her bees, and said goodbye over homemade smoothies. Unfortunately Amber is always taking photos so I never do when we're together. (Amber, can you please send me some so I can post one of you??)

*Went to Folk Life for the first time in a decade. I was pretty much over it after about 7 minutes inside (so crowded!) but I did hang out for a few hours on the grass outside the festival with some friends:

(Had a lot of meals with a lot of friends. Practically every day in my calendar is marked by a breakfast, lunch, or dinner, sometimes two in one day. There's nothing like leaving town to feel popular!

Although Seattle isn't currently where I live, it'll always be home.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Goodbye Seattle, Hello California (CA road trip revisited)

Well, I've officially left Seattle. Earlier this evening I drove to Robyn's new apartment in Portland and I'm currently camped out on her awesome leather chair, whining about not wanting to blog. Bug blog I shall! Forgive me in advance if it gets a little muddled; I'm doing about 4 blogs in one here.

I always leave Seattle just as something exciting happens. I moved to Philadelphia right after the smoking ban passed, only to go to a city where you could still smoke in the bars (yuck). This time I'm at least leaving a new perk that California already has: liquor in grocery stores! As of June 1, Washington state got out of the booze business. Here I am on the first day (my mom was very good natured, if not a little embarrassed, about taking this picture of me). The checker said they'd already sold 70 bottles and it wasn't even 4:00 pm.

Tomorrow I'm picking up another farm intern and we'll drive the rest of the way together. The weather in Redwood Valley has been nothing but sun (sometimes VERY HOT SUN) for weeks. In some ways, I find tomorrow's rain forecast - my first day in the state corresponding with its first rain in weeks - a welcoming omen, like "Don't worry, Elizabeth. We'll go easy on you." Have I mentioned I'm a bit worried about the heat? I get hot on 67 degree days. No joke.

So, since I never actually finished blogging about the road trip that kicked this move off, here's a semi-quick revamp.

Despite my well-laid plans to spend the summer in Seattle, my trip through California and visits to the last two farms on my tour de force revealed to me that I was ready to jump into this new part of my life right away. 


When I last left you, I think it was a Thursday. On Friday morning (April 6), I headed to a family farm in Petaluma not too far from where Meagan lives. From the first handshake I was in love. It's their first growing year and it will be a very small but dense operation. The wife/mother is the primary farmer and she is full of enthusiasm and determination; the amount she has accomplished in a few short months is amazing. While there I helped shear one of their Angora goats, and before I left we'd agreed that I would be back in September for a three-month internship. Score! I had finally found exactly what I was looking for, a farm to work on in the fall.

San Francisco

Walking - or rather driving - on cloud nine, I made my way the 30 minutes southwest to San Francisco to meet Meagan and two of her friends on vacation from a diplomatic posting in Sierra Leone. It was a gorgeous and totally clear day so we headed to Golden Gate Park so Mark could see the cherry blossoms in the Japanese gardens (he insisted he had never seen them before - I guess they don't have cherry trees in France). Here I am with Meagan and some blooms:

From there we headed to Rob's house to freshen up for dinner, a late-night affair at Don Pisto's in the North Beach neighborhood. It was a long but satisfying day, and I'm not sure I've ever had a better night's sleep on a relative stranger's couch before.

The next day I met up with my high school friend Casey, who has lived in SF for several years. He took me to his favorite taqueria in the Mission where we ate these awesome tacos made of a soft shell wrapped around a hard shell. Genius!

It was another sunny and clear day (what are the odds of two clear days in a row in SF?) and Casey, being a nature lover and a Parks department employee, took me to Bernal Heights park to enjoy its panoramic vistas:

Continuing our park tour, we went to see the "Painted Ladies" (as featured in the opening sequence to everyone's favorite childhood show, Full House):

We lazed in the sun for awhile, catching up and trying to think of interesting things to tell each other about people we knew way back when. It was really nice to see him and I'm glad we'll be living near each other soon.

Redwood Valley

The very last WWOOF site I visited was on Easter Sunday, a tiny self-sustenance farm in Redwood Valley, about 20 minutes from Ukiah. I had been invited for an Easter party and to spend the night, and I'd drive to Portland the next day to stay with Robyn before heading back to Seattle and flying almost immediately to Philadelphia.

Redwood Valley is gorgeous, and the farm is magical. While I was there, baby goats were born:

In addition to holding the babies, I helped "spring clean" and then throw a fun party. I met incredible people from the community and harvested edible flowers to add to a homemade iced tea. I took a late-night hot tub with the matriarch of the farm, during which she easily convinced me to come back. So that's where I'm going tomorrow! I won't say too much more about the farm right now but I will definitely be writing dispatches as I'm able.

Monday morning I left for Portland, winding through massive redwoods and, in one case, literally through one: 

I wish I had more time to spend in the forest, but I did stop for a quick jaunt through the trees:

By the time I got to Portland, I was hungry, tired, and grouchy from spending all day in the car. Luckily Robyn had pre-purchased a burrito for me and I destroyed it in about two minutes. Then she put me to bed. 

The next morning we went to Fuller's diner in the Pearl district for a cheap and cheerful breakfast before heading to her office (also in the Pearl) so I could meet her boss and see where she works. It's always nice to see people in their new spaces and I'm happy that she's doing so well down here. I don't have a picture of us in Portland, but while I was in Seattle I spent about 12 hours helping her clear stuff out of her apartment:

I was on the road by 10 am and rolled into Seattle before 1 (I made damn good time the whole trip). 2,981 miles later and I was back where I started.

I met Amber for lunch at her new house in Greenwood and then watched her do some gardening, after which I rolled up to LFP where I hung out with my parents and remained prostrate on the couch for about 7 hours. (Who says you can't go home again?) I left for Philadelphia the next day, but that's another blog entirely.