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

On Reverence~

There was a time, in the not so distant past, that I believed I knew where my food came from. I  thought that because I grew up on a farm and that I witnessed the cycles of birth and death from a very young age, that I had some kind of privileged comprehension about what it means to “live on the land.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truth be told, I realize now how arrogant this assumption was. I thought that because I watched my father slaughter animals with his kind hands, in quick and reverent ways, that I must also inherently know something about what it means to take the life of another being to sustain one’s own. I thought that because I grew a garden, and that I went to the farmer’s market on Saturday’s to source local free-range organic meat, that I understood something about what it means to farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the past 48 hours, the only thing I know for sure with regard to this topic, is that the sacredness that is a result of taking the life of another being to sustain your own, cannot be put in the category of “thought.” For this experience belongs in the category of the profound. It belongs in a place of heartfelt reverence that surpasses any and all notions of “thinking.”

2 days ago, we took the lives of three of our precious male ducks and all that I “thought I knew” about “the cycles of life and death” dissolved. I held each one of our beautiful ducks through their passing.I wrapped each one tightly in a blanket and I whispered a prayer, while Mark and our dear friend James took their lives swiftly and lovingly. I can honestly say that it was a sacred act, and I believe with all of my being that such acts should be nothing less. I cannot imagine taking the life of a being in any other way.

I will also say that I cried hard, harder than I even knew I would, but it was the only way for me.  I had to let those tears come. I had to forget everything everybody else told me about “how I should be” in that moment, and I had to let myself feel.  All week I told myself I was going to be strong, but before I found myself in the actual moment, I thought that strong meant something else. It was not until I allowed those tears to come that I began to see that strong is not about holding it all together. Strong is not about being upright and without feeling. Strong, at least for me, in this moment, had to do with facing the honest truth of what was asking to be expressed, and allowing it. After my tears, I was able to hold each one my ducks with the calm and steady love required to honour their sacrifice.  And I did.  And they went.  And it was profound.  And the gratitude that I feel for their sacrifice cannot be properly articulated on this page.  And I do not know if I will grieve as much next time. The experienced farmers say, “it gets easier,” perhaps, but surely it will always be sacred, for this is the only way such a thing should be.

Before that day, before I found myself there holding my ducks in their death, I did not believe I could do it. For the past several months, I tried to convince Mark that we should keep all our ducks as pets…”and then what,” he said tenderly? “Do we buy our food from the farmer down the road?  What is the point of that,” he honestly asked me? “Is this not what we came here to do, to grow our own food and raise our own poultry and to give the animals on our land the best life possible?  And have our ducks not seemed happy bathing in their pond and digging for slugs? They have had a good life,” he whispered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And as I stood in our kitchen, tears welling up in my eyes, I could feel the truth in Mark’s words, and I felt myself nodding in agreement that “yes, they have had a good life.” I recalled the summer afternoons I spent with them, feeding them kale and holding them in my arms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so, on the Winter Solstice (a sacred day for us here at Honey Grove) there will be a feast in honour of this good land. In honour of the ducks who gave their lives. In honour of our honest attempt at a homesteading life. In honour of our trials and tribulations, our joy and our pain. One of the ducks will be roasted and some lovely friends will be gathering to join us. We will raise our glasses to our ducks, to their good lives and to the lessons they have given us. Every part of their bodies will be used. The carcasses will be made into soup stock and Mark will render all that good fat for inspired french dishes.  I have kept the feathers for sacred art projects. The livers are being made into pate, and Gus has enjoyed a gizzard or two. Otherwise, it snowed at Honey Grove and it sparkles and crunches beneath our feet. It is a proper winter wonderland and we are all rather enchanted by it.  The cottage is full of guests, those who are  looking for a country Christmas. Yes, Honey Grove is alive with holiday charm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are gingerbread coming out of the oven.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And wreaths being made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But mostly there is tremendous respect for cycles of life that bless this beautiful farm.  Which reminds me, on the day that I went to get the ducks for their departure, I found our first egg in the duck house.  The girls have been laying ever since. Such poetry as this, it leaves no room for anything but awe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Blessings to All, and Thank You for being a part of our journey,

In Gratitude, Nao, Mark and All At Honey Grove~

 

Broken Spectacles

Rose coloured spectacles have always been the lens through which I have viewed the world. Thus far in my life, I am not someone who has the ability to see the world with crystal clear clarity. I am, for better or worse, a romantic at heart.  And, this pastoral perception is not something I can get away from, it has been this way for as long as I can remember, it is, I think, a part of who I am. Unlike most teenagers, I spent my adolescent years wearing long skirts from other centuries. I carried a leather bound collection of Keats’ poetry around with me and I played my guitar in fields of daisies singing century old ballads.  When everyone else was thrashing in the mosh pit to Nirvana, I was at home watching period dramas and dreaming of  a dapper fellow with a lovely accent to sweep me off my feet, to look deep into my eyes with loving adoration and to call me Lady Nao forevermore ( hardly the sort of suitors that were lining up in my small hometown in British Columbia’s Interior).  But, I digress.  I suppose you wonder where on earth this confession has come from and how it fits into a farm blog…well I will explain and it goes like this: You see, from time to time (as the nature of being of alive would have it) my rose coloured spectacles sometimes fall off, and when they do, they shatter into a million pieces, and it is some time before I can put them back on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This week, my pastoral perceptions of farming where shattered and I debated long and hard about wether or not to blog about it, but Mark has encouraged me to share our experience as it is a real part of the lifestyle we have chosen.  Yesterday, in the early morning I went to feed and water and adore our baby ducklings. I do this every day while Gus pees on trees nearby and I listen to the song of the birds in those trees he is peeing on.  What I found when I opened the door to the coop I was not prepared for, and, it brought me to my knees.  In the night while we slept, through a hole ( 1.5 inches in diameter)  in the bottom of the coop floor, a mink got into the coop.  And, he did what minks do, he killed every one of our baby ducklings.  He drained their blood and left their bodies scattered on the coop floor.  There is no need for more details, except to say that the heartbreak that has followed is deeper than I can articulate.  We buried them in a ceremonial way. We tucked them into the earth with layers of their favorite grasses and clovers.  I sang an ancient song to them that I have done since the first day that they arrived.  I cried long and hard and I am still weeping.  The local people, the farmers who know about these things, they are not surprised, but even in their seasoned way, they extend their deepest compassion.  With humble words they explain that one cannot raise livestock without experiencing things such as this from time to time.  In my mind I know what they speak is truth, in my heart, it does not make me feel better.  I just keep seeing my baby ducks swimming in their pool and wondering what I could have done better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And while I work through my heart-break, Mark is doing what men so often do.  He is figuring out what to do so that this “never happens again.”  He is buying live-traps and renovating the coop.  He is making notes and learning from mistakes and making sure the other animals are more than safe.  He is being rational and strong despite his own sadness.  He is being honerable and I feel blessed to have him alongside me on this farming journey.  And still, while we grieve, there are other things happening on Honey Grove too.  Although there is death, there is also life, everywhere you look things here are glowing with life force. The flowers in the garden are blooming and the bees are bringing lots of nectar home.  One hive of bees decided to swarm 50 ft up a tree 4 days ago…but that’s another story.  I will say this though, it’s a good thing for neighbors with tall ladders and a good thing for all that tree climbing experience gleaned from a childhood spent on a forests edge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Otherwise, entire dinners are being eaten from the garden and sometimes salt shakers are taken down to the veg plot so that we can eat cucumbers right there on the spot, because taking them all the way back to the house seems too long a time between vine and belly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And there have been apiary tours with shining fascinated children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh and Hobbit Hill is in full bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I must go, my sprinkler needs changing.

Thank you for being there, it is a blessing to know it.

In Gratitude and Sadness not yet turned Acceptance,

Nao, Mark and Gus~