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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Winter.

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Winter, he is still here. And, he seems to be enjoying his stay on Honey Grove like never before. The Pacific Northwest is experiencing the coldest winter in 30 years. The snow outside our door has been with us for over 6 weeks now, with temperatures well below zero. Our dear ducks have not bathed in their pond since November, and the woodland lake behind our house has been transformed into an outdoor ice rink for skaters and hockey players. As for our driveway, well, some would say that it too has become an ice rink.

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Winter is, for some, overstaying his welcome, but I have not yet decided just how I feel about him. My feelings toward this seasonal guest seem to fluctuate, for there are days when I can think of nothing better then his quiet company.

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Walking in the silent snowy woods among the firs with my dog friend and then returning to sit by the wood-stove with my tea offers a kind of nourishment that only comes in the company of a long winter. And on the days when the sun shines down from the bluest of skies making sapphire flecks on the snow that shine like jewels across the fields, I can hardly believe the beauty before me. I stand there in my felt boots and my wooly hat, saying aloud to my dear friend winter,”my goodness, how very beautiful you are.” And if Gus is with me (which he always is) well, I am reminded that winter is not only beautiful, but he’s incredibly fun too!

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And then, on other days, when morning chores take me three times as long because I am carrying buckets of water from the house, and thawing animal dishes, while my hands go numb from the cold, I enjoy his company less.

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When I am moving chicken coop straw to the raspberry beds with a wheel barrow, because I do not have a sleigh, I like winter even less still.

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When there are places to go and things to do, and the roads look like this, I want nothing more than for this guest to pack his bags and get on the next train north.

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And still, however much I appreciate him, or become frustrated with him, despite my eagerness to get back into the garden, to move soil or turn compost, to push the seasonal wheel forward with my own dedicated willfulness, there is nothing to do, but wait. And with this recognition (the kind of recognition that one has when one realizes the futility of one’s desires and the unnecessary suffering that results) comes the surrender, the great letting go and the deep breath. It’s usually at this point that I just go for another snowy walk with my dog friend, who is always waiting at the door.

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And while the snow keeps falling and the temperatures keep dropping, Mark is still baking bread, and Katie and I can be found at the farmers market, with his fresh-out-of-the-oven-loaves, every Saturday morning at 10 am.

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Speaking of Mark’s bread, there is some very big and exciting news about Mark’s bakery, which we can hardly wait to share with you. As for Cohen, you will find him wearing two pairs of wool socks, making sausages in his kitchen, in a hand-knit Aran sweater (sent all the way for Ireland by Katie’s Dear Mum) while listening to podcasts, through a pair of very large headphones.

And now I must be off, for there is a fire to light in the oven and bread to bake in a few hours time.

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

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

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Tea for Troubled Times

Sitting here this morning, in the deep night of pre-dawn, the fire flickers, the cat meows, and somewhere in the distance there is a rooster calling out through the morning-night to the morning-light. His crow, a reminder that the sun will indeed rise again, that even the darkest night has a dawn.

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Goodness, what strange times we live in. Waking up this morning, crossing the same cold patches of floor, stepping over the familiar creaks on the stairwell, putting the kettle on, lighting the fire while the tea steeps, the same things I do every day, and yet everything feels different.

“There is crack in everything” I remind myself. “That’s how the light gets in,” I say aloud to the cat, as I set a match to the crinkled the paper between the kindling and utter a silent prayer for the world. A world without Leonard Cohen in it. A world in which Donald Trump has been elected president of America. And here I am, still putting the kettle on. And yet, according to Mark’s dear British Mum, it’s the only thing to do when darkness falls.

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She told me once, while stirring her tea after a difficult day, that there was a power outage in London on the day that WWII began. She said that every person in England put the kettle on at the exact same moment and that it caused a great power surge. Yes, tea for troubled times, it is without doubt, a tried and true remedy. There is nothing like holding a warm mug of tea close up to your chest, when the world has gone mad.

And when the kettle has boiled, and you have finished your tea, what then? How to go forward in difficult times? I am not sure what the Great Masters would say about this, and I certainly do not have an answer, but I do know what I do on challenging days, and it helps.

1) First, I look to the poets of the world, I open those tea-stained-dogeared-pages of my most cherished books of poetry and I take the words found there deep into my heart.

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I sip them like medicine throughout the day, and I go about the business of my life saying them aloud to any fir tree that will listen, to the passing chicken and the raven flying by, to the compost worms and the winter-wrens, to the flowers, those ones that are still blooming in mid-November.

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2) And then, I keep working. I just keep doing the things that I can do: chopping wood and doing dishes and hanging laundry and helping Mark load his beautiful bread into the oven.

 

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I carry on attending to those things that I can attend to, fixing the things that I can fix. There is, for me, something deeply satisfying about repairing and mending, something that soothes my heart when everything else feels broken. And so, I am here, going around Honey Grove with hammer and nails. I am fixing old chicken coops and replacing fenceposts and darning the holes in my sweater arms. I am stretching my aching back and rubbing soothing herbs into my sore muscles. I am gardening, because I still can.

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3) And when all the jobs are done, I pray. I just sit down wherever I am, in the garden or the field and I say the things in my heart aloud. I give them to “The Sisters of Mercy, who are not departed or gone, who are waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on….”

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And while I am praying Mark is still baking, he is putting his prayers into bread.

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And Katie is pouring all her love into fruit-cakes and Irish Soda bread and great pots of soup that warm our bellies and our hearts. And the smells coming out of her kitchen these days, they are surely going out to heal the world, of this, I have no doubt.

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Meanwhile, Cohen, who is named after Leonard Cohen, is playing “You Want it Darker” in the background.

With Great Gratitude for Your Company. Thank You for being out there, it means a great deal.

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

PS ~ Gus sends his love from the cozy place by the fireside, and he wants me to remind you that taking long walks in the woods is another important remedy for troubled times. He also wants you to remember his secret of the universe, which is, in case you have forgotten “not to worry, because all you really need is love.”

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