The Marvel of Mastery~

There is a little farmhouse down the way. In it, live two lovely people and a number of small dogs greater than 10. The walls are hung with unusual instruments, all of them old and brought from faraway places. There is not a bare space on wall or shelf that does not contain something stringed or bellowed. There is you see, an old-world-charm about these people and their home, about the giant teapots that steep the strong black tea they to serve their guests, that take two hands to hold and pour. And, every month this little house and the two people who live in it host a gathering, in which traditional folk musicians from around the world are invited to play intimate concerts to the local community. Mark and I have attended several of these evenings and they are positively transporting. Being in this little house, while a fiddle is playing to the dusk settling over the field beyond, is like being in a 16th century British pub, in a small village, on the edge of a meadow.
Truth be told, I sometimes wonder if these people and their farmhouse exist at all, but each month we receive another e-mail inviting us to attend another concert, and more often than not, we go, for how could we not? Last month we went. We scrubbed the dirt from beneath our fingernails and we went to see a pair of young musicians play Irish music. And play they did, but nothing could have prepared us for the skill with which they played, for the music that flowed from their fingertips and filled that whimsical room and the field beyond. They were masterful in their musicianship. Their ability was remarkable and their passion could be felt in every note. I can still hear their music, on a summer’s eve in my own garden, as the sun sets over Honey Grove, for that fiddle has entered into my heart and stayed there.
The next morning, after the concert, Mark and I sat in our own little farmhouse, sipping tea from a much smaller teapot, and as we held those warm cups against our chests, we entered into a conversation about mastery, about giving oneself to a craft, about practice and discipline. What arose next was a profound respect for the combination of dedication and heart that propels a human being into mastery. We discussed our own passions and heart-songs and the honing of our Honey Grove skills, and we laughed hard at the long way we still have to go, at the life-long learning we have signed up for, by moving to this land to live our dream.
Baking bread and brewing beer
and keeping bees
and growing gardens, these are also crafts.
They are practices that take years and years to learn, and a lifetime to master, and we (Mark and I) are little more than keen students at this point. Every time I open a beehive or plant a seed in my garden I learn something new, and Mark says it is the same for baking bread and brewing beer. Yes, I am not sure there is an end to the learning or the wisdom gleaned from experience. And so, all of this is to say that Honey Grove is not only our passion, but it is also our practice, and oh how very much there is to learn. The books on our shelves can point us in the right direction, but they cannot make us accomplished gardeners or bakers. Watching u-tube videos about sourdough culture or queen rearing cannot teach us the secrets of artisanal bread baking or masterful beekeeping (and despite how obvious this is to acknowledge, we seem to live in a culture that attempts to convince us otherwise).
I do not know for sure, but I wonder if becoming truly skillful at something has as much to do with the wisdom of the body, as it does the mind. That is to say, that the body has to be involved as much as the mind does. That the hands learn how to bake bread as much as the mind learns the recipe. That the fingers learn the musical notes as much as the eyes learn how to read the music. It is after all, the hands that plant the seeds and dig the compost, and the muscle that lifts the honey-super and gently lowers the frame of bees back into the hive.
And after dancing for over 30 years of my life, I have learned something of the alignment that comes to mind and body after many years of practice.  And if I where to say what this was, I might say that it has something to do with becoming a gateway for the inspiration and the passion to flow through. I think passion needs a way into the heart, for it is through the heart that passion activates the body and engages the mind, so that we might bring something beautiful into the world. And when we apply ourselves to one thing for a very long time, this gateway becomes finely tuned, a clear channel through which passion can be expressed with ease and skillful grace, and this to me, this is what mastery is.
And speaking of mastery, Mark’s Mum and Dad have come to join us for the first weeks of summer, all the way from England they have come.  Each year they come to Honey Grove for 3 weeks to visit us and to help us with our current gardening and farming inspirations. And we could not be more blessed to have their wisdom and incredible support. Mark’s Dad has 56 years of horticultural experience, imagine!  He is a retired adviser of the Royal Horticultural Society of England, and his knowledge of plants and trees and planet earth is astounding.
I can ask him the latin name of any plant I see in the hedgerow, or forest, or garden, and he can tell me what it is and about the conditions in which it grows, as well as the pests that plague it. He has taught me more about gardening in the past three years than I could ever have hoped to learn from any book or course, and in my humble Honey Grove opinion, there is no greater gift.
And Mark’s dear Mum, well she is a master of another sort. She is perhaps one of the most skillful homemakers that ever there was! When it comes to making jams and sewing curtains and hemming trousers and darning socks, one could not hope to find a better teacher. She could sew with her eyes closed and watching her skillful hands at work on the sewing machine or with needle and thread, you soon recognize that it is her hands that hold the knowledge of these crafts. Her hands know how to thread the machine, and wield the scissors, and stitch the fabric just so.
When she is teaching me the very basics, she often laughs and says, “Oh, I am afraid I forgot to show you how to do that beginning stitch, it is just so natural to me that I do not even think about it.” She also, puts down her sewing to make delicious puddings and do a bit of weeding.
And so, together, with Mark’s Mum and Dad, we are spending our early summer days in the most wonderful school of all, on the land that we love, learning from two masters. Otherwise, the bees have found the blackberry flowers…
And the phacilia flowers.
And there are strawberries growing absolutely everywhere.
And the currents are coming into their sweet tart perfection.
Meanwhile, we are eating new peas and spicy greens and baby beets and the most wonderful kale.
Oh, and there is of course another kind of master here on Honey Grove, one who spends his days playing in the tall grass.
And if he is not chasing rabbits (which he cannot catch) or napping in the sunshine, he is overseeing all Honey Grove activity with a loving and watchful eye.
Reminding us, as he does, of the secrets of the Universe, which are, incase you have forgotten: “not to worry and all you need is love.” Now, I must be off, for there are lessons to attend in the garden this morning!
Bright Summery Blessings and thank you for your company.
Nao, Mark, Gus and All at Honey Grove
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The Queen of Honey Grove

Last night, I dreamed I received a red sealed envelope, hand-delivered to me, from The Queen. The envelope contained a letter, written in elegant script and signed by The Queen of Honey Grove Farm. It appeared that she, and her royal entourage were soon to visit us. According to the letter it would be on Tuesday afternoon, around tea-time. We (Mark and I) were to be available for any questions that the queen might have, in our finest clothes of course, having scrubbed the dirt from beneath our fingernails and wearing shoes. The wearing of shoes, seemed to be of the utmost importance.

My first thought upon opening the letter was, “Oh dear, I will never get my fingernails clean,” and my second, was to wonder, what sort of questions she might possibly have? Moments later, as if studying for an entrace exam to Harvard, I found myself rapidly preparing answers for the infinite possibility of questions that The Queen of Honey Grove may or may not ask. I began to sweat. My head was spinning with compost techniques and beekeeping practices and tomato fertilizer recipes. If only she would come on Friday I thought, then at least I would have more time to prepare. Luckily, before the dream turned into a nightmare, I began to realize the hilarity of the task I had set for myself and the sheer impossibility of my undertaking. To have the correct answer to ANY and ALL of the questions that The Queen of Honey Grove might ask…Imagine! Even the chickens had a good-ol-cluck over this one. “You’re kidding they said, are you really trying to find the answers to all things within the farming/beekeeping/horticultural-universe? Good gawd girl, take a dust bath, you’ve lost it.”

Thanking the chickens for their insight, I began to see that it was a rather tall order. And then, just like that I woke up, from my dream yes, but from something else too, something I can only describe as a “self-created-illusion-of-pressure.”  You see, I am beginning to recognize, that I have lived most of my life, as though the Queen of Honey Grove IS coming to tea on Tuesday. There is a strong and over-powering belief system that all things must be perfect for her arrival, all gardens weeded, all chickens laying, all bees thriving, all fruit trees fruiting, all dishes done, and everyone happy, healthy and well (the happines part being essential). Ohmygawd that was fun to write! What is it about writing something down that makes the most serious thing take-your-knees-out-funny? Please bare with me while I laugh my head off for a good-long-while. There. Okay, the hilarity has passed, for the moment at least, but I do hope it will return. Please, (and I say this on my knees now to the greater powers that be) I ask, “let there be many more times in this good life in which I will be able to see the humor in my painstaking addiction to perfection. Let me have the good sense, from time to time at least, to go down to the garden to collect a bowl of salad greens without weeding for another hour, at the end of the day, before dinner.”

And so, if you have been wondering where we have been, then you need not wonder a second longer. We have simply been preparing to be visited by The Queen, this, despite the fact, that she does not actually exist.  Yes, our days are full and long and non-stop, fueled by a combination of inspiration and invisible-time-lines that have something to do with imaginary queens. (oh I do hope you are laughing at the delightful pair of sweet fools we are, such dedication, such heart, such foolishness) eh eh. But, sometimes, at the end of a long day we have the wisdom to take a pint of Mark’s ale down to the orchard with us, and we sit there, in our hammock and watch the bees come home at dusk.

And in the afternoon we have been known to go for a river swim, or to sip a cold drink in our new reclining chairs. Last friday night, we even had a spontaneous campfire sing-along with our dear friends under a starry sky. So all is not lost. And a few nights ago, Mark fired up his oven with the sole purpose of making dinner in it, all this, simply because he could not resist the urge to try it out, even though it is not yet completely finished, because of the myriad of other things that ask for our attention each and every day. And what a delicious dinner it was. The smell of the laburnum tree wafting over us, as we cut into our local free-range chicken and wood-fire baked root vegetables, before tucking into our just-picked-garden-salad (complete with wild-rose petals and baby dill and all the sweetness of Honey Grove).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks ago, we even paused long enough to offer an apiary tour to a group of young Waldorf school children, and what a time we all had!

There is nothing like sitting and with honeybees, on a sunny day, in good company.

But now, I must be off, back to work. Hopefully though, with a bit more ease, and a lot more humour. And so I bid you farewell.

Blessings and Gratitude Always,

Nao, Mark, Gus and All at Honey Grove.

P.S- Gus would like it to be known that he does not believe in the hierarchical structures of any kind. He has no interest in Kings or Queens or Governments. He still holds true to his one and only secret of the universe, which is “not to worry, all you need is love” (and several ocean swims a week).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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