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


Crab said...

This sounds exactly like I would have dreamed! Can't wait to see you in all of your farm glory!

Anonymous said...

It sounds idyllic. Nature has a way of grounding us. You sound very happy, so that makes me happy. The pictures are great. Go pet those cute goats for me! Love you much and miss you more. Mom

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