First Seeds

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The little girls have fevers. I leave them asleep on the sofa, and plant peas amidst the winter greens.

The last letter from Granny arrives on Equinox. “No more thinking, no more writing. Keep the tea herbs close.” She will die that first night of spring.

Every planting season the worries of drought or calamity fall silent as my hands begin to work. Warm soil, bees in the early-blooming apricots, cisterns brimming at last with the late snows of winter.

Was I thinking to forgo the garden?

By the moon’s transit, it is not a fruit day, nor a leaf day. Still I slip the tomato seeds, the kale and lettuce, into a wooden flat on the window sill. The girls stir. “Stay close,” one says. Birdsong. Buds. The long light of spring.

I unfurl the hose and open the tank, watch the captured rain in its release. When the snow comes in April, it flutters over plum blossoms. The heavy skies are pierced with light.

Gentleness, open me. The seeds are just beginning to rise.

Travels in a Very Large Landscape

We set out on the back roads, crossing the Great Wide Open.

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Oh New Mexico. She looks like nothing much, but is everything.

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Pick a road, and it will take you beyond where you thought there was to go. So we just kept going.

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80 miles of dirt road, skirting mountains that look like smudges from the distance, but are filled with hidden mountain things. Crossing in and over, around.
IMG_0558Some folks say they prefer a place colored green. I say, I’ll take this glory.
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I’ll take these long hidden roads, and the places they lead to.
IMG_0572 I’ll find my way with the ragged map, the poems that tell old stories, the brightly dressed children like flowers in the dry land. IMG_0582We’ll make camp far from anywhere. Call the long grasses, the stone crags, the dark mountains and thirsty junipers home.IMG_0681For it is.

Casting the Net

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We did have one lovely snow in February. Now the fruit buds are threatening to open, and we’re heading south to go camping. 

I’ve been thinking of late about the broken world, and what it means to repair it. Casting my net in search of the great solution. Is it in the world, or in the home? Is it my spirit that must be intact, or the entire web of life? Sometimes my focus drifts from one of these to the other, seeming to separate them, but when I am in my wholeness, they are all one.

I came across this wonderful interview with Larry Littlebird, an Indigenous storyteller whose people have seen climate change in this region a time or two before, on “The Benefits and Blessings of Climate Change.”

March Choyt: How can we find a new direction, or home?

Larry Littlebird: I believe that we are collectively attempting to rediscover this starting over place. One people’s starting over place is all too often very different from another people’s. Whatever you are caught in is greater than you are, but you are in it at the same time and part of it.

The starting-over-place, or what you call home, is discovered in the chaos, when everything is blown apart and you are grabbing at planks—and finally there is just a relinquishing. You let go. And that is where that first inkling of, “I have to do something” begins.

It is so simple! You are being tossed in this ocean and a wave flips you way up in the air for a moment and you see something in greater trouble than you. Something within you says,

“I have to do something.”

The chaos brings you in relationship to a place where all our needs are always met – a place between what has happened within and the contact with the need that will provide a starting over point.

Have you reached that point in your relationship with chaos? And what, then, is it that you do? What does your net bring up?

A Few Favorites at Candlemas

It’s Candlemas time. Roughly forty days since the re-birth of the sun, and forty days till the spring equinox. A cross quarter day and threshold  where we can feel the earth begin to breathe out again, the light surrounding our days just a hair more. The sap is rising in the trees, and there is renewal and expansion in our own spirits. For me, this is the time to work diligently and lay the foundation for the year that I have until now been mostly contemplating. Meanwhile, some of those nearest and dearest to me have been busy all through the winter bringing their creative vision into the world, and I want to celebrate these good works today.

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I’ll began with my mother, Lia, for that is where everything began for me. Here she is, alongside some ragamuffins she picked up somewhere or other. This year she is celebrating her 38th anniversary as a practitioner of Classical Homeopathy. In that time she has skillfully cared for many hundreds of clients and taught courses on homeopathy to groups ranging from roomfuls of mothers to auditoriums filled with nurses. This course is now available to take online, my friends, and for a very good price. If you have used homeopathy before, but with varying degrees of success, if you can’t remember which remedy is for which color of mucus, or if you simply want to understand just what those little sugar balls are and why they are indeed medicine and not placebo, check it out. Fluency in homeopathy 101 is a skill we should all posses.

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Now for nourishment and healing of the heart and spirit. My friend Brenna has offered a gift to the world by looking up from her knitting and urban homesteading and homeschooling and general pursuit of beauty and heart and begun a blog. Storymama is a golden needle in the haystack of the blogosphere. Brenna is soulful and reflective and masterful in a way that encourages our own soulfulness and reflection. Waldorf Homeschoolers in particular will swoon in ecstasy when they discover her, but I think we all should give ourselves the gift of Storymama and the tonic of her wise and thoughtful ruminations on life. I hope you read all the way back to her very first post, which is not so far back, and don’t forget to introduce yourself!

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For me, February means it’s time to do a whole bunch of seedstarting. I plant by the stars, in the Biodynamic way, and use my friend Erin’s calendar, “The Gardener’s Year: Planning Your Plantings 2014″ to tell me what to plant (leaf, roots, fruit) when, and where (indoors, outdoors, coldframe, etc). In other words, instead of just telling you that it is a leaf day, Erin’s calendar tells you that February 3 and 4 are the time to start mache, spinach, and parsely indoors. The calendar is also a wonderful manual for year-round gardening practices and inspiration. And, it’s beautiful.

Here’s one more friend whose creativity spilled over this winter: The Salt, a book of poems by Adrie Lester is so fine. Here’s my amazon review: These collected poems nourished me like a feast made from heirloom recipes. Adrie speaks of real things: of hard work, the earth beneath her feet, tools and capable hands, love and blessings and struggle. Her words are like prayers, asked and answered. They are treasures from the hearth of a fine baker.

Now tell me, is the sap rising in your body? What sweetness will you make of it? What buds will soon be breaking open in your days?

First Egg


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My chickens have begun laying once again. A small miracle, that evidence of cycles and fertility and the gift of the seasons bringing us back to ourselves and our purpose.

We are still chickens when not laying, of course.We are always ourselves. And somehow, in the fallow, dark months, we become even more ourselves.

Then one day, an egg in the nest.

And everything you’ve always known is the same, only now you know it anew, perhaps more truly. And though it is a new year, you keep at the familiar rhythms of your sweeping and forgiving and mending, your mothering and being, and occasional prayers. You remember poetry, and all the unspoken everythings. You go more slowly. Ever more slowly.

Get the egg basket down from its hook. Soon enough it will be full.

The Road to Homefire

“Knowledge is not obtained exclusively with our brains; it is gained through our hearts and by reconnecting to life, a source of wisdom. Makers of things are in a position to understand and change the world.” Wendy Jehanara Tremayne, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living

IMG_9550It’s been four years since I started this blog to document our journey of living with less waste, and more joy. What began with a four month plastic fast became an immersion in life-learning, skill growing, community building, culture reclaiming, and creative, imaginative living.

I like to think of those years as my PhD program in homemaking, which I define as the making of a life, a family, and a community in balance with its home-place. It has also been a nifty capitalism recovery program.

IMG_9671When I set out on this road, I had instincts and good intentions and not much of a clue. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to make wool long underwear for my kids without a pattern, or growing a garden all winter long, or for that matter going a few months without plastic. Truth is, I often struggled to place my personal revolution into a broader movement for change (but mostly because I over think everything).

Fortunately, I have not walked alone. There is the internet, of course, which has been the stand-in for a capable great grandmother and conscious collective. There is my husband, with his true-north moral compass. And there are my motherkin, the friends reclaiming skills and knowledge and connection in their own beautiful ways.

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Together, we have helped each other trust that the work we were doing in our homes would ripple out, would be a force of change in our community. And lately (by which I mean over the last two years), we’ve been looking up from our children and canning pots and gardens and jobs and around at each other and the world to see where we might direct our creativity and skills next.

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With a half-dozen children underfoot at “meetings,” over late night phone calls and many cups of tea, a handful of us began shifting our work of reclaiming skills and lifeways into that of rebuilding a community that reflects those values.  Just as cooking leads to gardening leads to preserving, manifesting change on a (teeny tiny bit) larger scale is the logical next step for us. We created the Santa Fe Harvest Swap, which just held its second glorious exchange. Incredibly, we have a website, and on November 10th we will host a whole new venture we are calling the “Homefire Retreat,” a day of workshops meant to inspire, empower, and connect us more deeply to ourselves, our community, and our commitment to the earth.

I hope you come to the retreat if you can, or start something like it in the place you call home. Something as simple as a few friends skill-sharing while the kids play, or as complex as a week-long regional gathering (I do like to dream).

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Let’s celebrate our individual journeys by stitching our work of reclaiming and rebuilding into a big crazy-quilt that encompasses our diverse lives. Let’s get together for a quilting bee, if you will, and put our bits together into something whole. And then call the beauty that comes of it our dissertations, our revolution, our world.

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PS, go ahead and read Shannon Hayes article on the three R’s of Radical Homemaking: Renouncing, Reclaiming, and Rebuilding. It has been a helpful guidepost to me along the way, and I gratefully acknowledge her language and ideas borrowed here.

27 Things to Abandon in Fall

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Remorse, which will enfold you with its sweeping embrace
anyways, accompanying you on the missteps of your journey.
Those many things, 19 in total, that you are doing
with fierce determination, with impatience,
or the expectation of greatness:
mothering, getting dressed, birthday parties,
saving the world. Not getting anything wrong,
which is to say, being always right.
Wasn’t there something you meant to do?
A life made of small gestures, its shape slowly unfolding,
A quiet waiting for you to hush.
Clear away the brambles and overgrowth.
Make a space for the woman you are becoming, began as.
She is not so fierce, nor certain.
But lovely.
Gather the fruits of your heart and longing.
Stew them into a preserve for cold days.
Tally every small harvest from this year:
from gardens, from chickens, from children,
from the good, hard work of serving, of making, of resting,
of dreaming. Gather it all into your lap.
In the garden slash down the vines and bushes, the life bearers
now dead. In your days, clear a vast space.
Let a fire blaze, let flood waters come.
What stands in the way of wholeness?
Ask this 100 times a day and heed the answers.
Stay warm. Seek light.
Keep sweeping.

How to House the Fairies

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To start, you’ll need labor: tiny hands, unfathomably huge imaginations.

The workforce might grumble. I hate the mountains. Why do we always have to go? Add more molasses to their bowls of yogurt. Pack two pairs of shoes each, some wooly garments, the tie dye sunhats. Honey beans are a nice name for candy covered, malt sweetened chocolate. Don’t try to get too far up the mountains without them.

The husband, where is he? Oh yes, playing the guitar. For goodness sake. Go ahead and sweep. Then just a minute of weeding and two more to forage for those seven green beans that have to be picked this instant.

He’s started another song. The kids have changed into sparkly shoes. Have you had a cup of tea yet?
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Ah, there it is, the road open and rising into the hills, the peaks, the ponderosas, the firs. Then the aspens, green and good as ever. That little creek you have walked a hundred times, in all seasons, just as you remember but always better, so much better.

Thimbleberries ripening, fireweed flaming, mushroom and Russians (it’s always Russians) to pick them. The grasses have gone to lacy seed. The forest is its ripest self.

The designer/builders will want to stop at the first picnic table, the one ten feet from the parking lot. They will whine. You will wonder, who are these creatures? Somehow, you will think to start storytelling, and it will roll from your lips and you and the children and the singing man will be walking higher and higher, up to that good place where a little trickle joins the creek. Follow it.

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There will be an open spot that welcomes you. Soft grasses, a view of green light and dark woods. Stop and be still. The workers will eat their honey beans, will look about and take it all in. You can get your sketch book out, your man can wander upstream.

The hands, so little and expert, will soon reach out, will take up a piece of wood, a leaf, a pinecone, will hold it and know. They will know just what to do.

And the fairies will be very grateful indeed.

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Regional Herb Exchange

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Well it’s a banner year for grindelia, which gringos call gumweed, here in the high desert. Times like this, the bioregional herbalist in me comes on strong and I think, hey, that’s good medicine. Let’s use that little weed like the gift it is. I basically went to the school of bioregional herbalism, the place where we were taught again and again that the medicine nearby is the right stuff to use, that the mallow in the garden is not meant to be pulled and left for mulch but dried with care and used through the year for the myriad ailments the kind creator gave us the wisdom to use it for. So I’ve got baskets of it on the counter, and horsetail and nettles and mint and mullein and all the other things that are so abundant and good.

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And there’s a few things I find myself yearning for, too, things I know are as common where you live as gumweed is here. Like red clover blossoms, or black elder berries (dried or tinctured or elixired), or even things you might have an excess of in the garden, like lemon balm or comfrey or calendula blossoms or tarragon.

So I thought maybe we could do a little swapping. Maybe you could harvest what is abundant around you, and trade it with me and others who have a different sort of bounty in their life. If you have a knowledge of the weeds and herbs abundant where you are and want to join in this exchange, please do. My only request is that those participating do so with care and respect for wild plants, and use ethical wildcrafting practices.

Whether you are my neighbor down the road, or far off in an unthinkably moist land, we all have something to give. If you’d like to offer herbs, or ask for an herb or two that you need, please do so in the comments. I’ll serve as matchmaker and figure out the logistics later in the season, when we’re done with our joyful gathering.

(I’ll start: I’ve got mallow to spare, in case it’s not a weed where you are and you need a good marshmallow family member to soothe your lungs and tummy and skin, and also osha root, which is a special Rocky Mountain medicine famed for its antiviral and respiratory uses, arnica oil, and mullein garlic ear oil, and my own special blend of mineral rich tea, mint–of course, and lots of fragrant oregano.)

 

Home Will Do

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Colorado is in our wake. Two weeks beneath the big mountains on a farm, among friends and dairy cows and a new kind of adventure: cooking for a crowd. Do you travel around cooking for permaculture classes? one student asked.  Until now, no, but I think it would suit me just fine.

Harvesting weeds for dinner: amaranth, purslane, quelites. Harvesting weeds for medicine: comfrey, yarrow,  plantain. Kids tan and happy and grown three inches on fresh milk and forgotten hats and mama’s gaze turned elsewhere. Papa playing the strings nearby. Spinning wheel always ready, and the yarn flying onto the bobbins in various degrees of beauty.

I felt like an unfaithful wife coveting every green pasture, every ditch or stream filled to overflowing. We could live here, I said to my husband every time we crossed a puddle. This would do. 

And so it was really something to roll back into New Mexico late one night and feel my heart burst with true love. Moonlight through broken clouds, road wet with rain, silhouette of beloved hills, speckled with black piñon shadows, and that smell, that smell of this land well watered and fragrant as only it can be.

As if I could ever leave this behind.

The lights of small villages twinkled every now and then along the highway, a reminder that though our landscape is wide open and dry and not conducive to what Wallace Stegner called America’s addiction to green, it is fertile in its own way. Food has been grown here for a thousand years. Take heart, desert people, this land is good land. We’ll find our way to adapt to its changes, just like everyone else in the world will do in their places.

Came home to a garden lush and big and dripping wet from rain. Full water tanks. Our young chickens laid their first two eggs. Buffalo bone broth is in the stockpot, dusting done, beet seeds in the soil, beet roots in the fridge. There are library books to read, poems to write. The page in our own story turned, a new chapter beginning.

Home, you are such a sweet place to be.