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.









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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.




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