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.

Autumn Tales and Other Good Things~

These days, the woodland path to Honey Grove, might possibly be, more enchanted than ever.












A mist has rolled in and settled in our valley and all along our coast line, it is grounding planes and causing a chorus of fog horns to sound their haunting tones, waking us in the early hours before light. Sometimes, later in the day, the October sun manages to lift the fog and for an afternoon the most exquisite golden light filters down from above, making everything look as though it belongs in an old fashioned hand-bound book, with gold lettering on the side. Yes, it seems we are caught in another Honey Grove fairytale over here, only this time, we are not alone.












You see, while we are on the subject of fairytales, I must tell you about our new and dear friend Sylvia Victor Linsteadt, a writer of tales and a weaver of magic (and wool too) who has just spent a week here at Honey Grove, writing in the cottage. Some months ago (way back in the early spring, even before the daffodils were up) I discovered Sylvia’s work through one of my favorite blogs The Hermitage by Rima Staines. Without hesitation, and driven by a kind of forward momentum that is more a feeling than a thought, I ordered a 3 month subscription of her stories (which arrive every new moon, in a hand-stamped brown envelope, complete with beeswax stamps). The envelopes, are magical in themselves, and I often set them on my kitchen table, propped up against a potted vase of poppy pods, just to admire their old world charm. Eventually though, I have to open them, because you see, the stories inside are even more whimsical than their envelopes. After reading the first few sentences, the sharp edges of these modern times dissolve, and a landscape unfolds from a world existing parallel to this one; a world that seems ever so close and faraway at the same time~just East of the Sun and West of the Moon. And, once you begin to turn these pages, there is no going back.
















Sylvia, is a true teller of tales. She weaves whimsy with wildness in a way that can only be described as a kind of fairytale alchemy.  She re-writes old fairytales from around the world, setting them in North America, in places she has been and walked and explored and loved. All of her stories are rich with the ecology of the land that inspires her, with the plants that grow there and the animals that live there. Every page is alive with folklore and myth and magic, you can smell the woodsmoke from around her campsites, and taste the blackberries from the Meadow Beyond The Meadow (one my favorite tales written by Sylvia).  And so, all of this is to say, that when Sylvia wrote to me in high summer (when I was shelling baskets full of peas and braiding plaits of garlic and catching swarms of bees) to say that she was hoping to write a story about bees, and,”What did I think about her coming to Honey Grove in the autumn to get closer to bees and to write?”  Well, I simply said, “YES!  Do! Come!” And again, I found myself riding that same wave of forward momentum, following a feeling that was rising up from my belly through to my heart, causing my head to nod accordingly. The rest, as they say, is history.  For Sylvia did come, and she did spend time with the bees, and, she did write!












In fact, in just two short weeks there will be another fairytale arriving in my letter box, and this time, it will feature bees! I cannot think of anything that I might like to read more than this, a story steeped in the myth and mystery of honeybees, a story that takes place in the landscape of my homeland, of Honey Grove and the wild places and spaces that surround us here.
















Whilst Sylvia visited, she spent the days gathering threads for the tale she was weaving. Sometimes she worked along side me ( bless her for that, for her help was greatly appreciated) planting hundreds of baby clover seedlings in the lower field, and wrapping the beehives for winter. Other times we explored the forest together, along with Gus, in layers of skirts, collecting baskets of moss and pine cones.












Wearing red coats so that we might be visible to nearby hunters.
















One afternoon we spent hiking in the alpine. We drove up into the mountains west of Honey Grove, high up above the fog we went, to the golden landscape of alpine meadows, glowing rust colored in the fall.












For those of you who come to stay at Honey Grove, this mountain that I speak of  is very close by, and in the winter months you can be skiing or snow-shoeing within the hour. From cottage doorstep to mountain peak is a 30 minute drive. And while we walked, we talked of the things that inspire us, of the things that open our hearts and break them too. We had strong sweet tea and banana bread on a sloping stone, beside a looking glass lake. Mark took a nap there and Gus glistened in the sun, like a white dragon, or so it seemed, to these fairytale wanderers.












Yes, it was a magic infused week in Sylvia’s whimsical company, we have indeed met a true kindred spirit, and we are all looking forward to many more years of long wooded walks and heartfelt conversations.
















Otherwise, if you are a lover of stories, if you are enchanted by landscapes of otherness as I am, I cannot encourage you enough to wander over to Sylvia’s online home, here and here to learn more about her work, I promise you, you will not be disappointed. These stories are also for sale in our farmshop, available for guests who want to sip sweet honeyed tea, curl up under a warm blanket, and settle in for a magical adventure. Of course, you might be wondering what else we have been doing other than reading stories and taking leisurely strolls in the mountains. Well, I can assure you, a lot! Mark has been working hard on his oven, which now looks like this!
















And I have been sewing wool pillows for beehives, to keep the heat in during the damp dark winter months.












Which end up looking like this when they are complete, and then they fit in between the inner cover and the lid of the hive, before the whole hive gets wrapped in black tar paper.
















I am happy to report that the bees are all wrapped up and tucked in for winter now, which is a good thing, given that there are such a lot of other things to be getting on with.  Thanks to our marvelous student helper Alexia, the garlic has been planted.












And the apples picked.
























And half a trailer of aged organic steer manure has been dug into the veg plot. Alexia has been such a blessing here at Honey Grove, I cannot thank her enough for her hard working hands and deep love of the earth. With her wonderful help, we have been able to keep the winter garden tidy and tended.












Much of it steeping in compost, awaiting the spring. Speaking of spring, I am still saving seeds over here, one of my favorite tasks.












There are few things in this world that I enjoy more than putting little pods of pure potential into brown envelopes for next year’s planting. If ever you are in doubt that magic is afoot, I recommend considering a seed and the miraculous invisible mystery contained within it’s tinyness, that causes it to grow a stem and then a flower and then a fruit…filled with more seeds… ( it works for me every time)

And while we are on the topic of growing, look at Arabella’s babies now!












And there you have it, another chapter in the story of Honey Grove.  May it find you in the midst of a magical day, doing something you love. Let there be a cup of sweet honey tea in your very near future and dear friend to share it with.

Blessings from the Honey Grove Hearth~ From the woodlands edge, where eagles sit in fir trees and spiders make webs between thistle stems.

Nao, Mark, Gus and All at Honey Grove.