Herbs and Hearth and Heart

Recently, one sparkling morning about three days ago, whilst the sun was busy illuminating strands of gossamer web that ran between thick rows of Italian kale plants, a friend dropped by from down the road. She came to lend me a well-loved book and to give the exquisite gift of an antique honey jar. She came in a rust coloured wool sweater, with bright eyes and an even brighter smile.  She walked over to me, bubbling over with the light of the new day, and then with tremendous heart and genuine curiosity, she  asked me, “How are you Nao?” And she asked me in such a heartfelt way that I actually paused to consider her question, for her penetrating and loving gaze, demanded more than a “fine thank you.”












And even though it was only a brief moment before I offered her my response, a profound recognition dropped into my cluttered morning mind. For when I opened myself to her question, a warm wave of ease washed over me, and I said:

“You know, I think I am content.”  (You see, contentment for me is not something I am very familiar with. As I have mentioned on many occasions, I still have a long way to go on the road to peace. eh eh)

But, what I can tell you is this, what I felt in that moment, was not really a feeling at all, because it was more than that, it was more expansive than a feeling. It was bigger than happiness or sadness. It was bigger than “how.”  Yes, on this particular sunny November morning, it occurred to me that contentment is not the same thing as happiness at all. Contentment is not attached to an outcome or a goal or a feeling or an idea. Contentment has nothing to do with when, or how, or why, or should. It is rather, a sort of ease-fullness, a kind of acceptance, a celebration of all that IS. It is perhaps what the wise ones call wholeness. And so, you may well be wondering, what this contentment I speak of actually looks like, and if I were going to answer that question honestly, I would have to say it is many things, but it is especially the warmth emanating from Mark’s brick oven, as it burns through the afternoons, curing the inside of the dome and sending its orange brilliance into the world.












Mark is now an official fire keeper. He stands for hours watching and feeding the flame, sipping strong cups of sweet tea, smiling from the inside out.
















And while his oven burns, the fire calls his greater vision forth and he imagines homemade pizzas and loaves of  steaming bread coming out of his earthen creation, on long wooden peels. There are still a good few months to go before it will be completely finished, and so there is time to daydream as he goes.

As a matter of fact, it was just this sort of visioning that brought Mark across the garden toward me wearing a pair of old green gumboots, a sense of purpose in his stride, to say, “I need a herb garden.”

“Oh,” I said, “we have a herb garden.”

“No,”  he said, “I mean a really big one. I need herbs for pizza and sauces. I need herbs for breads and soups.  I need enough herbs for you and I and all of our guests.”

“Oh,” I said, it sounds like you need a herb garden.”

“Yes,” he said, “that’s what I said.”

And so, with the guidance of Mark’s wise horticulturist father, plans are being made to create “a big herb garden.” A 600 square foot bed just for culinary herbs, for rows of oregano and tarragon and rosemary and thyme and parsley and cilantro. The digging has already begun and I spent yesterday taking rosemary cuttings and making divisions of thyme and oregano plants from my current herb garden, for this inspired new plan.












I put little rooted bundles of aromatic greenness into pots which I then buried in our vegetable garden until next spring.  Later, once they have established, we will move them to their final location.




































And as I spent the afternoon in the fresh and invigorating company of thyme and rosemary, I recognized that contentment has a smell too. The next day I found myself jarring the herbs that we dried this summer. And although we shall miss their presence in the living room, hanging from the stairwell rafter, we will enjoy the flavour they will be offering our winter meals.











I sat at the table in the fading afternoon light and I de-stemmed them, I crushed their scented leaves in between my fingers, and the room smelled like a country hillside in Greece. I was sure I could hear the bells of sheep clanging in the distance and there was the faint smell of Mediterranean sea air coming from somewhere. I labeled and shelved each jar. I did this with tenderness and appreciation and gratitude, for there is something about a process, about an experience that takes you from start to finish, that is a marvelous thing. There is something about growing a plant and harvesting it and drying it, before adding it to soup, before taking it into these hardworking bodies.












Yes, contentment today is the warmth of Mark’s fire, it is the smell of Mediterranean herbs on a winter’s day and the illumination of a glistening strand of spiders web, in a garden of kale, that just begs to be picked and eaten by the basketful.












Blessings and Gratitude to each of you, thank you for your company on this journey.

Nao, Mark, Gus and all at  Honey Grove.

And of course, if ever we should need reminding of this thing called contentment, we can always go and ask Guru Gus, who seems to have this down better than anyone I know.









Kubla Khan and A Visit From Dad

Last night, Mark went to town, he went with his curling broom to throw heavy stones on ice, to use his strategic mind for something other than brick-oven-building. He went to have a night off and to sip a dark ale in the company of good friends. Meanwhile, back at home, my old cat Venus and I warmed our bones by the fireside, she purred and I read Kubla Khan. Gus snored beside us, not a fan or Coleridge it seems. You see, I am an unabashed romantic and sitting next to a warm fire, on a winter’s night, always inspires poetry. That particular poem is like a spell for me, by the time I arrive at the second line, “A stately pleasure dome decree,” the edges of my world become blurred and all things begin to open and soften. It is as though the opium induced dream that brought Kubla Khan to Coleridge, has a way of reaching down through the centuries, intoxicating and enchanting all who read it.  And while the fire burned and Venus purred, I fell in love with the melody of those words all over again, with the images that spiraled off the page, filling the room with their presense and lulling me into my own dreamscape, “And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree; And here were forests ancient as the hills, Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.”  











I had to read it three times! For having read it once, I could not help but want to read it again, to taste it’s intoxicating beauty just one more time.The third time I read it, I simply did so for good measure, because I have always been one to put great emphasis on the number three, for reasons I cannot explain. What happened next, is not particularly interesting or surprising, but worthy of recognition, for I learned something about myself last night, about the creation of Honey Grove, and the dream that urges Mark and I on. I became aware of the romanticism that drives us, of the feeling we so very much want to capture, by having our country-smiles photographed, against a back drop of summers bounty (and now I am laughing my head off at our sweet, somewhat naive, dedicated enthusiasm).



















Photo by Jaime Kowal

By the end of the third time through Kubla Khan,Venus had stopped purring and was fast asleep. The fire though was still wide awake, the hot orange embers their own kind of poetry, and although I was under the spell of the poem, I was not ready for sleep, and so I turned over the page and began to read about the the life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I recalled afternoon lectures, in University classrooms, 15 years ago already. I saw myself there, 20 years old, wide-eyed and ready to learn, my mind bound to a firm commitment “to make something of my life,” eh eh. I remembered my professors, in their brown shiny shoes, touching on the utopian ideals of the romantic poets. Yes, it became clear to me, one sunny day in September 1998, in a class dedicated to Wordsworth, that there were others, poets from 200 years ago, who had the same inspired notions that I did, and that they too, had fallen completely and madly in love with the earth, with the mountains and the rivers and the daffodils.












And even though I was aware that a utopian society was an impossible dream, I liked the beauty of it. I liked the poetry and the stories and the imaginings of a more natural earth-centric and just world. I liked these ideas in the same way that I like our vision of Honey Grove, because I see now, that it was within the warm folds of a romantic dream that our vision was first born, that the dream seeds were nourished and ignited and sent into being. And furthermore, that romanticism has been shaping me since the very beginning.



















The inspiration that fuels Honey Grove is the same inspiration that first propelled my mother and father into their dream, when they began to homestead, in the mountains of BC’s wild interior, in 1978. My father, without a high school education, but a team of horses and a loved and worn copy of Waldens Pond~By Henry David Thoreau, set out to make his dream come true. He and my mother set out in the same way that Mark and I have, with a dream wrapped in the soft folds of what some might call “a romantic ideal.” And although my parents life did not go exactly as planned their intentions were pure and true, and this, this is what inspired a life-long love of the earth in their children. Yes, my dear Dad, a beekeeper, a homesteader, a gardener, a retired horse-logger, a sheep farmer and a dreamer, just came to visit us on Honey Grove for a week. And so, perhaps it is no surprise, that on the day of his departure, I found myself wandering through the landscape of the romantic poets, and of my own childhood, remembering wagons filled with wild-flowers and buckets of honey for sale.












Remembering how my sisters and I would help in the hives when we were children and that my love of honeybees began a long time ago.











And sometimes I have to laugh because not so much has changed between now and then.













There are still piles of firewood in orange wheel-barrows and colourful headscarves.












Yes, looking back it is no wonder that I see the world through a pastoral lens of rose-coloured hue. That I can sometimes be a hopeless romantic and that the very thing that inspires me most, also causes me the greatest pain. My romantic nature will often disappoint when the world proves to be less golden, less rose coloured, when I loose 6 hives to wasps (as I did this fall) and when one of my ducks dies in my arms from some unknown ailment, that I can do nothing about. The whole thing is worthy of a good-old-fashioned poem. Oh the beauty of wholeness. Yes, my dear dad came to Honey Grove this week, and helped us in more ways than I can begin to say.  Together we built shelters for beehives, to keep off the driving rain.















































And we built new boxes for the chickens.












And a fancy new perch.












And the sun came out too, making everything sparkle and glint, in perfect pastoral light.












You can see The Honey Grove  “pleasure dome ” glowing in the distance.












Yes, I have come to the conclusion that there are worse things to be than a romantic. I think I shall always choose to wear my rose coloured glasses, to be in love with the earth and the beauty and goodness of this human experience, because, quite frankly, I am not sure there is any other way.  And now, it is time to begin another day, my rubber boots are waiting for me by the door and my gloves have dried out by the fire. I can hear Mark, he is upstairs shaking the butter jar. And Dad, if you are reading this, Thank You, Thank You for being the beautiful and inspiring one that you are.  I love you.

Sending Blessings from Honey Grove~Enfolding sunny spots of greenery~

Nao and Mark and Gus and All at Honey Grove.




The Pathway to Honey Grove

If you were to come up the path to Honey Grove today, you would notice that there is a crispness in the air, the sort that turns your breath into mist and urges you to pull your wooly hat down below your ears. The smell is earthen and wet and the webs made by spiders are glistening and dripping. The alder leaves that lay along the forest floor are now offering their musky and resinous perfume to all the passersby, who, with each rubber-boot step unknowingly participate in their decay, crushing and releasing the wild magic of regeneration, of endings and beginnings, of mist cloaked and fire stoked November.












You would notice too that there are puddles to step over, or to splash through, depending on your footwear and your mood (of course if you are Gus, the desire to splash through a puddle is neither dependent on mood or footwear. For him, puddle splashing is always considered to be, a good plan). High above you in the fir trees overhead you would hear the local ravens making sounds that caw and clink and croak, and if you listened for long enough, you might be surprised at the musicality coming from this chorus of shiny black wings. I have hypothesized that it could very well be the raven’s song that makes the orange mushroom come up above the ground, if for nothing else than to have a better listen.












Of course you may not be coming up the path to Honey Grove today, but if you were, these are the things that you would see. You would see that we have planted 10 new blueberry bushes, which the lady at the plant nursery assures me will be laden with berries come next July.












And you woud notice that we have planted them in a circle, because after a while, one gets tired of rows. You may also notice that these fat little bushes have been mulched with straw and fire-ash and something that I can only describe as a kind of prayer (which despite the fact that you cannot see it, remains very present). In the background you will notice a white dog listening for the sound of rabbits hopping through tall grass.












If you were to go past the vegetable garden, you would most likely find me, wearing layers of colourful wool and digging. I could be digging any number of things, it might be compost, or it might be dahlia tubers, or, as was the case yesterday afternoon, gladiola bulbs, which have  now been dug up and stored for winter.
























Still though, not all the flowers are resting just yet, some are still very much alive. They are like the last ones to bed after a good night of fine wine and dancing. The ones who gather to philosophize after the music is over and the candles have burnt down to stubs on the table. Some of you will know that there is a glow that comes just before the fade to darkness, and that it is a light like no other.












Take this calendula for example, a little disheveled, but illuminated with the spice of a long and lustrous season. It is a bedraggled sort of beauty I will admit, but who can resist (truth be told, bedraggled beauty is my favorite kind).












Yes, somehow the ones that go on blooming have a brightness made even brighter against the starkness of the approaching winter.












But, despite winters imminent arrival, not all things in the garden are bothered with his coming just yet. In fact some things are positively thriving, like leeks.
















And Kale.












And Chard.
















And Beets.











And Cabbage.
















And Winter Greens.
















And Fennel Bulbs.



















And autumn raspberries. Oh autumn raspberries,why is it that I have not heard of your existance before now? (Thank you Mark’s Dad Trevor, for telling us that there even was such a thing!) And, how is it that their sweetness has become even sweeter since the first hard frost we had 3 nights ago? Most days, you will find me here, squatted down by these bushes like a hungry bear, hands covered in dirt and the sweetness of berries on my tongue.











Speaking of sweetness, our blessed bees are all tucked in now. Each hive has been wrapped and insulated and the bees are snuggled up inside. I can see them there warm and dry in my minds eye, enjoying the fruits of their labours, just as we are enjoying ours.











Yesterday, the bees and I spent a marvelous afternoon together. It was that enchanted time of day just before dusk (the in-betwixt time) when all magical things happen. I put on a pink knit hat, an alpaca shawl, a pair of wool socks and a swedish sweater, and I went to sit in the bee yard to read aloud to the bees. To those walking their dogs and riding their horses past the beeyard it must have been rather an odd sight, to see a bundled up woman, with huffed up glasses, reading a story to her beehives, cackling and cooing and grinning away, like a good and proper lunatic. eh eh. You will not be surprised to find out, that the story I chose to read, was the latest tale written by our dear friend Sylvia Linstead (who, bless her, spent a week on Honey Grove last month, writing about bees and all matter of enchantment). And well, if you have not guessed it by now, I do love a good tale, and, I could think of nothing better to offer our beloved bees, than a good-night-story (the best part of any tucking-in as far as I am concerned). I wanted them to have something to dream about this winter, a story to build comb around, a story to wrap them in, like a blanket, all huddled together beneath the whimsy of words carefully crafted, in the honeycomb warmth of one another.










And while I am busy in the garden, or reading to bees in a pink wooly hat, or harvesting kale, Mark is still hard at work on his oven.
















Which now looks like this.










And although there is still a roof to build and another layer of aesthetic cement plaster to smooth over the whole thing, it will be ready to fire in a weeks time!  Mark is positively sparkling with anticipation and who can blame him. It is a marvel of a thing, this oven of his, a feat of engineering fueled by inspiration and dedication and muscle and will. We may not see it complete for another month or two, but we will be enjoying bread within the week. So there you have it.  A little window into Honey Grove, and now I must leave you, for Gus has reminded me it is time for our afternoon walk, time for our adventure through the woods and down the alder lined pathways, where orange mushrooms pop up to listen to the symphony of ravens.  Caw, Clink, Croak.

















Blessings from the fireside~Nao, Mark, Gus and all at Honey Grove.