On Endings and Beginnings

And so it is that all things appear green and growing once again. There are apple blossoms on the orchard trees.

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And tulips in the garden.

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There are dandelion leaves for supper and one hundred shades of green that cloth the land in all directions. There is bird song in the morning of an orchestral nature, and there are bees humming through the afternoon. There is life.

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And where there is life, then there must also be death, for these are two parts of the same whole, or so the wise ones say. I mention this now because it feels important. Walking down to the garden barefoot after the long winter I find myself standing on the threshold of another spring, and as I come through the garden gate I am in deep awe of this recognition, that life brings death, and death brings life. For the first time it is a felt sensation, and the awareness is alive in my whole body, no longer just an idea, but a pulsing living truth. And those roses, the ones rambling along the old fence, the ones I love so much, they are nourished by the compost of decay.

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Yes, it seems that everything is dying into life, the seed to the plant, the plant to the flower, the flower to the fruit, the fruit to the seed, and on it goes, a big mysterious and unbearably beautiful cycle.

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Before me, in the soft light of dawn, my eyes rest upon the various gardens that I have planted in honour of the ones that I have loved and lost over these past years. On this new day I am struck by the beauty that they offer the world. I am awed by the life that has grown out of death. And oh the love that swells in my heart to see those blooms, and the tears that come.

Over the past two years, 7 beloved people in my life have passed away. Some of them dear family members, some beloved friends and some profound teachers. I have heard that sometimes it goes this way, and over the last short while, it has been this way for me. I am not sure why I have chosen to write about these things today, for it is not my usual style to share the more difficult aspects of being alive. Someone, not long ago, said to me, “you are always so cheerful Nao, does everything always go your way? The question found me speechless and for a moment I was unable to respond. This must have concerned my well meaning friend, for she then said, “no, I mean this as a compliment, you are always so happy, you are so lucky, good things happen for you.” And I had to laugh then before there was anything to say, because I was thinking to myself, oh goodness, what sort of impression am I giving the world? And even writing this now, sends me into fits of uproarious laughter, for although I do feel lucky and although many good things do happen, they really do, it is, I promise you, not the only way it goes for me, although my cheerful smile can deceive even myself at times.

Cheerfulness, for me, is a kind of well developed muscle, and it is very different from happiness which swoops down on a regular basis and cracks my heart open in surprising and unexpected ways. Happiness happens every morning when I let my ducks out of the coop and they race across the paddock to their pond wagging and quacking like upright wine bottles on legs. I am not sure why this is so funny to me, but every single day it takes my legs out and I find myself cackling like a wild witch at the edge of the wood in sheer delight of ducks. And when I go back toward the house to put the kettle on, holding big green duck eggs in my hands, what I feel, is happy.

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Cheerfulness is also not Joy, and Joy (according to the mystics of the world) is always present, unbounded and infinite, our true nature as the Buddha says. Yes, cheerfulness it is another creature entirely, and one that I would like to put to rest, for the effort that it can be to maintain, oh heavens above! I mean what a lot of work, the sheer athtleticism involved is really too much sometimes. Yes, this cheerful muscle of mine is perhaps a wee bit over-worked, and the truth is, even here in blog land, my posts are geared toward sparkling representations of the many good and new things unfolding, but today, these two things no longer feel separate, and I can feel an urge toward wholeness, toward offering you a more rounded-out glimpse of farm life. In the midst of all the life and growth here at Honey Grove, there has also been loss, 7 significant endings, and these came before some of the beautiful beginnings.

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One such beginning is the opening of Mark’s new bakery, which he moved into just three short days ago. He is now baking beautiful bread in his shiny new Italian oven. And although it will be sometime before he is running at full capacity, he is at last working from his new space! We will continue to sell our bread at the farmers market, and it won’t be long before you will find us in the local health-food store too. We will keep you posted over the next month as to how things are unfolding.

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And while Mark is baking bread for the market, Katie is baking muffins, savoury and sweet varieties which are incredibly delicious and nourishing too. Do try one next time you are at the market, you won’t be disappointed, I promise. They are wonderful!

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And when she is not in her kitchen creating a thousand inspired things or teaching the local people of this country community how to make pasta and pair wine, she is out in the woods collecting elder flowers for elder flower syrup.

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As for me, I am far from the kitchen and have moved back into the garden almost full time.

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I spend my days planting and weeding and mulching, and these days, I am lucky enough to be picking tulips alongside my beloved dog friend, who is convinced that everything I do is wonderful. Bless him. I feel the same way about him.

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And there will be tulips at the Market for another week!

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And while I am putting tulips into colourful bouquets, Cohen can be found in the shop, or behind a skill saw at 7 in the morning, or swinging a hammer with a pencil tucked behind one ear and tape measure in his pocket. For while his salumi cures in the cellar, he has graciously accepted the roll of Honey Grove builder, and for this we are all grateful.

Otherwise, when we are not digging earth or mixing dough, or sawing wood, we are all of us, processing 7 cords of firewood for next winter, which is quite the job and causes every muscle in the body to ache. Still though it has to be done and the thought of a blazing wood fire on a cold winters day really does help keep the momentum going.

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Well, I must pause there, for the sun is up now and the another day is before us. I best be off, the rooster is reminding me it’s time to get the chickens up.

May this find you in the midst of a beautiful day~

Nao, Mark, Cohen, Katie, Gus and All at Honey Grove

October on Honey Grove ~

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And so we find ourselves in the beauty of another autumn, among the fallen leaves and the rose-hip hedgerows.

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Waking to mornings on the edge of frost, there is no denying that summer has left us for another year, and winter is well on his way. And oh, how I love this time of year, for at long last there is a pause.

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The last of the root vegetables have been stored away, and the cellar is full to the brim with jars of tomatoes and summer peaches and dill pickles and sacks of potatoes and onions. Squash of every kind line the counter tops waiting to be turned into hearty soups and stews, and Cohen’s prosciutto legs, hang from the cellar ceiling, the invisible and transformative alchemy of fermentation hard at work.

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There are 25 chickens in the freezer, 10 litres of sauerkraut in the crock and 6 cords of firewood, stacked, dry, covered and ready to burn. Meanwhile, outside the door and down in the veg plot, winter crops of kale, turnips and leeks do not seem to mind the cold and the pelting rain. Sometimes I think they are growing more vibrant by the day, filling our baskets and our bellies with no sign of slowing down.

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And so the bounty of another season continues, but unlike the bounty of summer, much of the outdoor work has been done, and so one can go inside on a blustery day, sit by the fire and simply put the kettle on. Books can be opened and pages read, and occasionally, walks can be taken, up in the alpine, in the middle of the afternoon.

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There is, finally, some rest to be had. And I say “some” rest, because, as you well know, we never really come to a full stop here at Honey Grove. We are like the bees in this way, who, although they are tucked into their hives now (with plenty of honey stored) are still taking short flights on bright sunny days.

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And although the outside work may be lessening, Mark is still baking his beautiful bread, spending 40 hours a week in the bakery, where there is no slowing down for him. And Cohen is spending long days processing his pigs, with the exciting news that he will soon have some of his salumi products for sale, at the Comox Valley Farmers market. I will share more about this soon.

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And speaking of the Farmers Market, you can still find Katie and I there, every Saturday, even in the pouring rain, under a blue tarp, doing everything we can to keep Mark’s bread warm and dry.

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Katie, always looking much more stylish than I, eh eh.

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And speaking of Katie, she has been busy too. Making all sorts of old-world delights, from boozy Irish Christmas cakes, to Italian Nocino, a spiced green walnut liqueur.

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And one night, a few weeks ago, she made tortellini; for tortellini in brodo… A famous dish from Bologna, which was, absolutely incredible.

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The truth is: we live to eat here at Honey Grove, and almost everything we do has something to do with food, growing, creating or eating. Below is an image of  the perfect late afternoon snack, Mark’s sourdough toast with HG honey and duka. Yum.

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And now, I must be off, for the day is beginning and I can hear the rooster crowing, telling me that the hens are ready for their breakfast.

May this find you in the midst of a beautiful day~

Nao, Mark, Cohen, Katie, Gus and all at Honey Grove.

PS- Gus has just reminded me that one should always take walks in the middle of the afternoon, regardless of the season, or how many seemingly important things there are to do.

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Harvest at Honey Grove ~

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And just like that, we are standing on the threshold of another autumn, and the alders that line the wooded path to our house, are already beginning to let down their leaves.

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And for reasons both known and unknown there is an invitation to breath deeply now, for the relief of this seasonal transition is palpable. The fullness of summer is already beginning to lessen and there will soon be time to pause again. Time for gentle walks through the mountains with a thermos of sweet tea, time to slow down and turn our gazes skyward, up toward the Canadian geese, as they begin their v-shaped journey south. The afternoon light has already deepened, and these days, when you find yourself eating a perfect apple, down in the orchard with your beloved dog friend, you notice that everything appears to be more golden.

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And you wonder if there is something held within that apple that makes all things appear more luminous? Can the colour of a season be contained inside a fruit?

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And perhaps this is why you feel like a character in a old-time story, standing in the place between summer and autumn, in a pool of late afternoon light (the kind that could very well be spun into gold) because picking an apple and eating it beneath the very tree it grew upon, is a timeless thing to do. But, I get ahead of myself, because before there were apples, before the leaves began to fall, we had August, and what an August it was. First of all there were figs.

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And Katie, having lived in Italy for many years, might just love them more than all of us combined.

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And while the figs ripened on the tree, the tomatoes ripened on the vine (and like never before).

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And after canning tomatoes and freezing tomatoes and canning them some more, they are still coming in, and will be for another month I expect. There really is nothing quite like a vine-ripened tomato, and it is possible that we have enjoyed them at every meal time since they first began to turn red and sweet. Come to think of it, I cannot think of a meal we have had recently that did not include tomatoes, or green beans for that matter.

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And while the garden grew up around us and everything came into fruition at once, other things happened on Honey Grove. Our dear friends Zoe and Ken got married here for example.

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And although we do not normally host weddings, we could not help but host this one, because these two people are very dear to our hearts, and so Cohen and Katie made all the food, including this exquisite cake, made by Katie’s fair hand.

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Oh and believe me it tasted as good at is looks. And while Cohen and Katie catered, Mark made his beautiful bread, and I arranged flowers for the bride.

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And a harvest crown for her head.

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Part of the crown was collected from the wild hedgerow, and part from the bounty of the Honey Grove flower garden. And speaking of the flower garden, oh my stars, it was really something to behold this year.

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You can hardly find Senay hiding in the blooms~ Yes, our beautiful niece Senay, bless her, she came all they way down from her mountain home in the Interior of British Columbia, to spend two glorious weeks on Honey Grove with Auntie and Uncle, and what a time we all had!

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We got a tremendous amount of work done too, like canning dill pickles (which Senay happens to be an expert at, as she lives on a homestead with her family, and she and her Mom can dill pickles every summer). So together we got the job done.

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And Mark wasn’t baking that day, so he helped too.

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I must admit it was fun to have his help, for we see so little of Mark outside of his bakery, where he continues to create his beautiful artisanal loaves, that continue to sell-out in 20 minutes at the Farmers Market each week. Luckily, I had Senay to help me with bread sales during the busiest markets of the year.

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Meanwhile, back at the farm, Cohen and Katie have been harvesting fennel pollen to sprinkle on a myriad of culinary delights.

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I made them promise that they had to leave some for the bees though, who need all the support they can get after such a wet July. Our bees made such a small amount of honey this year (due to all the rain early in the summer) that we left them with most of their harvest and just took a very small amount for ourselves. It was not a fantastic honey year, but the bees are healthy, and this is always the most important thing.

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Still though, if the honey harvest was small, the potato harvest was enormous, and there are 200 pounds of potatoes stored away in the cellar now.

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They are lined up in large paper feed bags next to the sauerkraut, which is bubbling away, after a phenomenal cabbage harvest.

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And while the sauerkraut ferments and I continue to can more tomatoes and Mark continues to knead bread, Cohen and Katie have just adopted a new kitten, who they have named Beemo! And so I introduce you to the newest member of Honey Grove, who is adapting tremendously well and keeping all of us highly entertained. Meet Beemo, and get ready to fall completely in love.

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And now I bid you farewell, as I head out into the garden to gather a basketful of basil, for there is pesto to make and freeze~the harvest is not all in just yet.

Harvest Blessings from all of us at Honey Grove. May this find you in the midst of a beautiful day~

Nao, Mark, Cohen, Katie, Gus and All at Honey Grove.