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

Dandelion Days ~

I am not sure who first decided that dandelions were undesirable, but what a good deal of confusion this has caused. Ask any child or honeybee or wise-woman what they think of dandelions and they will tell you something very different (and just for the record, dandelions aside, I am convinced that the world would be a much better place if we gathered more of our information from these three sources, the child, the honeybee and the wise-woman).

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The child will tell you (and without a moment’s hesitation) that dandelions are beautiful, soft yellow lion’s manes that bring the spring fields to life and a vitality to the heart and soul. The bee will tell you that they are incredibly nectar and pollen rich and absolutely essential to the hives at the start of the year. And the wise-woman will heal your liver, lower your blood pressure, and support your digestion with her brews and tinctures. Why we are encouraged to spend our days killing them and not cultivating them, has always been a mystery to me?

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Yes, here on Honey Grove we love dandelions, and we believe there should be a special day set aside just for them, one in which everyone everywhere wears bright golds and yellows, and goes around writing songs of praise and making inspiring dishes from their leaves and flowers and medicinal roots. We would call this day, International Dandelion Day. And who could resist? I mean just look how the bees are celebrating, and their celebration lasts much longer than a day. It’s more like a kind of holy festival that lasts for weeks, more like Dandelion Days. Yes, at long last, that old familiar honeybee hum is back on the land all around us, and when you walk down the path into the lower field it soothes the heart like nothing else. Oh bless them, those bees and the dandelions they’re on.

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And while the bees are busy gathering dandelion nectar, we are busy with the many tasks of spring. There are gardens to plant and beds to prepare and seedlings to sow and fruit trees to mulch, and on it goes, the list lengthening along with the days. Luckily, I have some wonderful help this year and her name is Sage. Sage has come to Honey Grove for 8 weeks to study organic gardening and beekeeping alongside me, and what a gift she is at this wildly busy and full time.

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Together we are getting the seeds into the ground and peering into hives.

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Having Sage here this spring is an extra blessing, as Mark now spends his days off the farm, in his new town bakery, for the Italian oven has finally arrived! There is of course, still the business of getting it up and running, fine tuning the recipes, and settling into to a new rhythm, but it’s happening day by day, and Mark is still full of inspiration and enthusiasm. I will endeavour to keep you updated as things unfold. It’s all very exciting and busy beyond imagining.

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You can however, still find Katie and I at the Comox Valley Farmers Market, every Saturday morning, with fresh loaves straight out of the oven. We are hopeful that it will just be a few weeks until Mark is baking all of his beautiful bread in his fabulous new space  and we will soon have bread on the market table for more than 20 minutes!

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Otherwise, please forgive the space between posts these days, but there is less and less time spent in the house or near a computer. Our days here are packed full of tasks with the arrival of spring and the opening of Mark’s new bakery and there is not a moment to spare, or so I can easily believe. It’s a good thing our wise Gus is here to remind me that this is never a truth, and that there is always time for leisurely walks and cups of tea and rests by the fireside with toast and marmalade.

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Now, I must be off, for the kettle is whistling and the rain has stopped and once my tea is poured, I shall be out the door.

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

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

Spring? We hope!

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Well at last, and only three days ago, she came. She arrived one sunny morning, just after the last drop of snow had melted.

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She arrived after several days of constant rains, when temperatures finally warmed enough for the snow to stop, for it snowed right through the first week of March. Yes, Spring, she is finally here! (Although I hesitate to shout it too loudly for fear that I might frighten her off. But surely crocus are sign of Spring?)

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And yesterday the bees were out collecting hazel and alder pollen.

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And crocus too.

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Gosh, it’s been so lovely these past few days, I even planted my peas, although I did think to cover them with a bit of fleece, just in case the weather turns cold again, for what a long long winter it has been.

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But while the snow fell down and piled up outside our door (for nearly 4 months) we were as busy as bees in our Honey Grove hive. And when we are not shovelling pathways and digging beehives out of snow drifts and pushing snow of barn rooftops (for fear that they might collapse under the weight of it all) we were planning the coming year with endless mugs of tea by the fireside.

And what a year it is going to be! Perhaps I should tell you the most exciting news of all (for this has always been my style, as I can hardly wait to share those things that are bursting forth from my inspired heart). So without further aideu, I must begin by telling you that Mark will be expanding his bakery, and that he is currently setting up a bakery in the nearby town of Courtenay! It seems that Mark has outgrown his humble basement bakery here on the farm, and that his little brick oven simply cannot hold the number of loaves he wishes to bake and sell.

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Our dear Mark works over 40 hours a week to make one hundred loaves of bread, all of which promptly sell-out at the Farmers Market in less than an hour.

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This being said, the only way for him to meet the demands of the community, and to earn a living-wage, is to move to a bigger space and to invest in some finer equipment. Currently he spends 90 percent of his time getting his oven up to temperature, and although it sounds poetic to bake bread in an outdoor wood-fire oven, it is not so very practical (especially, as we discovered this winter, wading through 3 foot snow drifts, during a power outage, baking bread with a head torch). Mark has come to realize that he would like to spend his time and energy baking bread and creating new inspired loaves as opposed to managing fires in all kinds of wild weather.

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And so, very soon, our baker-man Mark will be baking bread in his new space, in his brand new Italian oven, which is traveling to him now, coming on a boat, from far across the sea. If you would like to follow him along on Instagram, you can do so here. But for  now, I will leave you with a little shot of his new space, on it’s way to becoming the Honey Grove Bakery.

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Meanwhile back on the farm, plans have been made for a nut orchard to be planted. And our neighbour, has been by with his very large machine to clear a ragged patch of alders, so that we can start planting hazelnuts, which will be underplanted with another acre of nitrogen fixing bee forge.

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We are still aiming to be as sustainable as possible here on Honey Grove, and growing nut trees is an essential part of that plan. Nut trees, especially walnut and hazelnut, grow exceptionally well on Vancouver Island, and yield nuts within 5 to 10 years. We will share more about this over the coming months. For now, we have a patch of good earth that is ready for planting.

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And while I am clearing land with my trusty hound

 

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and doing the odd little dance here and there….

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Cohen is busy building a beautiful new maple-wood bar for the wood-fire brick oven.

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And look how beautiful it is already!

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Although Mark will no longer be baking his bread in the farm oven, we will continue using the brick oven for our own bread baking, pizza nights, herb drying and family dinners.

Katie is busy too, working on the farm, helping to get the gardens ready for spring planting. She is moving compost and digging steer manure into all the beds. She is repairing chainsaws and bucking up the fallen alders that came down after the heavy winter snow falls. And, she is also, still making her famous muffins and selling them alongside Marks bread every Saturday at the Farmers Market.

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As for Gus, he is still offering his secret of the universe and enjoying the warmth of the sun as much as we are.

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And now I must be off, for the sun is shining once again and I simply must get out in it!

With Gratitude for your company,

Nao, Mark, Gus, Cohen and Katie~

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