Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Flowers, Chicks

hey there,

-- Not much to report this time around. I just spent 3 hours harvesting and arranging flowers, which is a lot less time then Eden and I normally spend. Normally we harvest way too many flowers, then bring them back to the porch of the main house, arrange them into bouquets and then clean up the porch afterwards. This time we went out to the flower garden, harvested and made bouquets down there, and had no extra flowers, plus no clean-up time. And it was fun to harvest not in bulk (a half-bucket of asters, a bucket of sunflowers, etc.), but just to walk around picking a bouquet's worth of flowers, tying them up, then going back out again to get the next bouquet.

....I'm most of the way thru painting wood finish onto the barn. The finish is to protect the wood from UV rays, plus preserve the color of the wood. I had started by climbing up this really long ladder, to get the top of the barn, which is about 20 feet high or so, then climbing down, moving the ladder five or six feet, then climbing up to paint. Then we got an extension for our paint roller, and since then it's been pretty quick. I've been saving this one side of the barn because the mother hen was with her chicks in that area and I didn't want to disturb them, but the mother and 4 of the 5 chicks were killed a couple of nights ago, so I will be able to finish the barn now, albeit with a heavy heart. We were all very sad about it. Matt had tried to get the hen and chicks into the coop, but to no avail, and so it was probably just a matter of time before a predator ate them, since they were outside. There's one chick left, with no mother, and we've put it in an extra sink we have, in the barn, with straw, food and water. I think we're gonna get a heat lamp as well. Hopefully it'll make it, but it's pretty sad -- I don't think it's gonna get the love it needs, since we're all pretty busy.

......That's it for now.....

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chicken existenz

.....Spent the morning, as I've been doing every Wednesday now for awhile, harvesting and arranging flowers with Eden for the local CSA. So many gorgeous ones, including a couple of flowers that just became ready this week -- tithonia (Mexican Sunflower) and giant princess asters. We harvested a bunch of sunflowers this week, more than usual.

I've decided to start sleeping out of doors more. I'm gonna sleep near the flower/herb garden so that if I'm up for it, I can spend a little time working in there when I wake up each morning. Sukey, my cat, has accompanied me out there and slept with me. One trouble I've been having is how hard the ground is, and how unused to sleeping on hard surfaces I am. I've been reading a book on health/nutrition, however, and the author recounts how she had read that sleeping on hard surfaces is much healthier, and that she herself only got out of the habit of sleeping on cushy beds thru a month-long backpacking trip she took in the Cascades, where she slept on the ground each night. Now she feels uncomfortable on soft beds and totally at home on hard surfaces. She said it took her about a week of the backpacking trip to get used to it. So I want to try it and see how I feel. It's a good litmus test to see if living in a wigwam would be good for me. Not that I couldn't sleep on a soft futon or something inside a wigwam, but the living outdoors part would be very similar.

One of our chickens hatched some of her eggs -- an anomaly here, since we normally eat all the eggs. It's been wonderful seeing her, with five or six little chicks scuttling around after her. Today I was applying wood finish to the barn and saw one of the chicks lying motionless near me, far away from the mother. Eden and I spent time looking for the mom, and couldn't find her, so I kept the chick near me while I painted. The chick was mostly still, although it followed me somewhat as I made my way down the side of the barn, peeping. Very sweet. It was distressing to see this chick looking so forlorn though, so I tried feeding it, and found out from Matt where the mother was nesting with her chicks, which is behind the barn. Also I noticed that the chick had a wound on her bottom. She wasn't getting around like the other chicks do. Anyway, Eden then tried tending to her wouund, bathing it in warm water and feeding it a bit. But it didn't seem to be working. So Ryan killed it, to put it out of it's misery, and since the mother was not taking any interest in it. It was very sad, and Ryan didn't want to talk when I asked him how he had killed the chick. We've been watching the old animated version of Charlotte's Web, which is a great movie, and somehow I kept thinking of it as I thought about the chick, because it's all about saving a runt pig that the farmer doesn't value. Matt got upset about the wounded chick and wondered if we should be taking care of chickens at all, since we don't know really how to care for them; the mother and her chicks are outside of the coop at night -- prime prey for animals in the area, and Matt couldn't corner the mother and children in order to move them to the coop. He felt like alot of other farmers with experience would know what to do, and that we shouldn't bother raising them if we can't deal with situations like these. It's a natural way to react to a situation like this.

And that's it. Just checkin' in.....

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wigwammin' it

It was "only" 104 degrees today, after yesterday's 107. I spent the hottest part of both of those days outside, albeit in the shade -- yesterday, in the cob house doing plastering, and today helping Matt fill sandbags which we then used in the irrigation ditch. What's happening is that we are piping water from Yale Creek down a mile-long ditch that winds its way behind the farm fields, past our new irrigation pond and dumping out finally at our "old" pond (excavated last year). Anyway, this morning, while Matt was using the backhoe to excavate the last bit of trench near the old pond, I did some shovel work, leveling the trench and removing excess dirt. Then Matt and I added seven lengths of the 8" black corrugated irrigation pipe, bringing it all the way to the pond. After lunch, we went over to the compost/materials yard, filled up some sandbags, and then headed to the place in the trench where the pipe ends, carrying these heavy-ass sandbags over our shoulders for about 500 feet, which felt like forever because of the weight and the unevenness of the path. Anyway, once there, Matt placed the sandbags around the end of the pipe so that the water would be diverted into the pipe, not go around it. Then we drove over to where the trench meets Yale Creek. We carried more sandbags, and put them right in the creek, creating a funnel that diverts about half of the creek water into the pipe. We are waiting till next year to put pipe along the entire length of the creek, because we might be able to get a $10,000 grant to buy the rest of the pipe (we had to spend around $20K for the pipe we did buy, which covers most of the length of the ditch)

Our diverting the creek's water is the source of some contention with other local farmers, who also depend on Yale creek for their irrigation needs. We got a call the other day from a farmer named Judd who was having a hard time irrigating his fields, and wondered if we had been using some creek water (we hadn't). The fact that we are using pipe instead of letting the water flow straight in the ditch is saving tons of water -- apparently last year we used Yale Creek, but at a certain point in the day, the combination of leaks in the ditch (gopher holes, etc.) and evaporation from the heat made it so that the creek water never made it to the pond. Anyway, we have water rights to the land, but we have to be wise about conserving water, out of respect for our neighbors.

.....We have set up a date, August 26th, to talk about my future here once my six-month trial period is over (at the end of this month). So that's good; now that I have a date, I can collect my thoughts around my desires and needs for living at Full Bloom. To that end, I had a conversation with John Di Fruscia, a wonderful man who is the general contractor for the common building, as well as being deeply versed in wilderness survival/living skills. I've been thinking about what kind of structure I would want to live in, and Jo had mentioned a conversation he'd had with John about wigwams, which cost almost nothing in materials and are the most sustainable of buildings.

So I had a chance to get into the subject with John this afternoon, and I was completely enthralled. A wigwam is generally a circular structure, with flexible saplings set in the ground and being tied together at the top with rope (the only non-local material is the rope). The walls can be made of various materials, but we talked about weaving cattails together. There's an opening at the top of the ceiling, the very center, where the smoke from the fire (which is also in the center of the building), goes out. There's some kind of covering over that hole that allows the smoke to leave but keeps out snow/rain. ]The whole building is very low to the ground, for better insulation -- the only place one could stand up straight is in the very center, but since there's a fire pit there, there really is no place to stand up. However, since the building is only for spending nights in there, that didn't matter to the indigenous folks, who spent most of their daytime hours outside. Anyway, the opening to the wigwam is a crawl space a few feet high, insulated with animal skins or blankets, and you crawl through a short tunnel, through another set of skins/blankets, and then you're in the main building. It's small too -- probably 12 feet in diameter, something like that. There's no bathroom, and it's not a place you can store food except for a few things in glass jars, since the wigwam can be accessed by critters. The majority of time I would spend in there would be tending the fire, sleeping, and reading/writing.

It was an interesting discussion, because John brought up all kinds of things that I needed to think about, all relating to my having to make a shift in living standards in order to live in a wigwam:
  • The wigwam is a living, breathing structure, not built to keep out nature as much as it is to keep off snow/rain and retain heat. It does all of those things extremely well and efficiently, but it is a totally different living experience, because I wouldn't feel the separation between the inside and outside so much. I would be in nature, and given that I have spent my whole life in conventional, modern western housing, it could be quite a shock.
  • The traditional wigwam wouldn't have electricity or running water, or a bathroom. That means I'd have to read by firelight/kerosene, eat most of my food in the communal buildings, and poop/pee either outside (at least a hundred feet from the wigwam) or in the communal buildings (which would be pretty far away).
  • The lowness of the building, which provides insulation, means that I wouldn't be able to stand up, and it would basically force me to be in it only for sleeping times or times to read/write/reflect. Another huge change in lifestyle -- I'd probably be spending a lot more time outside.
  • The best-built wigwams last 10-15 years; being that this would be my first one, it would probably last 4-5 years.
  • John asked me if I wanted to be in a romantic relationship, and pointed out that very few partners would be interested in living this "off the grid".

.....Anyway, there's a part of me that feels a little nervous about living without so many of the creature comforts I've come to depend on, but much more of me is tingling with excitement and happiness about living this way. I've lived on the outside of nature, viewing it from the car, the cabin, the tent sometimes, on day hikes, etc. My whole life I've related to nature this way, and so has almost everyone in this country. And I have so many fears about living in nature, fears of the unknown -- what if I encounter a large predatory animal? What would it be like to live without electricity, to heat a small home by fire, to sleep where I can hear every night noise nearby?

On the plus side, if I really don't wanna hack it, or I fall in love with a person who doesn't want to live this way, I can build something else for myself that's more appropriate. And it will allow me to try out this lifestyle of living in nature.

We talked about alot of other things: hybrid wigwams that are taller, could incorporate electricity/bathrooms/etc.; where to best place a wigwam (east-facing edge of a forest, on a slight mound), materials you could use to build it; how to heat up rocks so that they radiate heat and keep the wigwam warm all night, etc. And we got into a short discussion about living the way of nature -- learning survival skills, hunting, tracking, etc. This is the direction I feel myself being pulled; John talked about living in a way where you are just living with the pulse of the natural world, responding naturally and intuitively to situations as they come up, and living a life full of deep respect and humility before creation. It was a wonderful, inspiring discussion. I asked him to start teaching me some of these skills, and he said he wanted to organize a day-long or weekend workshop for the entire full bloom community to learn the basics of how to start a fire from scratch, finding food, etc. He felt it was best to take a course like that and then spend a long time -- a year maybe -- honing the basic skills through practice before learning more advanced skills.

I came out of it feeling like I'd found someone who could help me transition into a different way of relating to the world, and it felt very satisfying.

....Well, I'm starting to poop out now, and I want to watch a film, so I'll end here. Comments are welcome!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cobbage and Weedage

A little bloggage on a Tuesday morning.....

-- Spent yesterday afternoon applying plaster to our new cob structure. Cob is an amalgam of clay, sand and straw. The first coat of plaster is clay that's been sifted more finely, along with chopped straw. The last coat of plaster will be sifted clay and sand, which will have a really nice, smooth finish. I'm not sure what color they're gonna choose for the structure. Anyway, I spent four hours up on a ladder slapping this muddy plaster onto the tops of the outside walls, then smoothing it out. It was fun playing with mud.

This morning I was up early pulling star thistle. There are so many invasive exotics that are growing around, and we are really trying to get control of this particular one, this year. We came thru and weed-whacked star thistle in a huge section of the the property a month or so ago, then came back and weed-whacked it again, and now we are pulling small sections of star thistle. We are technically not supposed to weed-whack anymore because of the danger of fire -- same goes for chainsaw work.

OK, that's it for now.....

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Many updates

Hello again,

-- Apologies for the long gap in writing. I'm going to start writing shorter entries more often, see how that goes.

Since I last wrote, many things have happened:

1) -- The flowers that Eden and I planted for the local CSA are going absolutely crazy. We started with a few flowers in mid-July, and since the end of July have had way more than we could ever use -- coreopsis, bee phacelia, zinnias, sunflowers, bachelor buttons, safflower, corn cockles, love in a mist, amaranth, pincushion flowers, snapdragons, clarkia, hollyhocks, cleome, salpiglossis, zulu and orange prince (colorful daisies), milkweed, and more that I can't remember right now.
....a sad corollary of this news is that it's looking like I will not being doing a growing operation with Eden next year. She's got a lot on her plate, and doing an herb/flower growing biz is not high on her priority list. It still may happen, but I'm not banking on it. So now I am contemplating whether or not I would take on growing herbs next year -- if I'm still here. It seems a real shame not to continue cultivating the 1/4-acre that she and I started this year, and so I am leaning towards farming at least part of it, and maybe adding a small plot in a shady spot closer to the house, so that I could get experience growing both shade- and sun-loving herbs. I'd really rather not do this alone, but I also like growing plants, and have been toying with the idea of just growing a lot herbs, whether or not they turn any kind of profit. At least the community would benefit, and perhaps I could bring some of the harvested herbs to various herbal practioners, herb companies, etc., and see if there's an interest in my "product" for 2010.

2) I had my three-month check-in a couple of weeks ago. It was late in coming -- i'd been here 4 1/2 months by then -- but it was helpful nonetheless. I'm here on a six-month trial, and so we met to talk about how it's been going. It felt pretty positive. I got to express both what was hard and what was good about living here, and everyone in the community also got to express what was good and hard about living with me. We should be meeting at the end of August/beginning of September, to decide whether I will be staying on indefinitely. I believe that I would like to stay on as an "associate member", which means that I would essentially be a renter with an equal say in community matters -- I just wouldn't be able to vote on decisions affecting the property, since I wouldn't be part of the collective that owns it. That would be fine by me at this point -- I don't have the cash to put towards a down payment. Currently each person is paying for a $120,000 share in the land, and is paying off Ryan in the form of a 30-year, low-interest fixed-rate loan, with a 10% down payment right away -- very similar to the process of buying a house, I believe. Anyway, I would like to have an equal say in all decisions, but as it is not realistic for me to consider ownership, I'm fine with remaining here as a renter and community member.
... my main concern is making a living, and I still have to work that out for myself here. I'm hoping that working at Full Bloom -- thru helping out on the organic farm, doing childcare, doing restoration work and other property improvements on the land, and potentially helping out with the commercial baking that will be going full-throttle next year, that I can support myself. But I need to have a longer discussion with people, both individually and as a collective, before I can get a solid answer to that proposal. I really don't wanna work offsite, and the pay is not great, nor are there many jobs, so I'm really hoping I can work out an arrangement onsite. And potentially in the future I may find my calling. Or I could remain a guy who does lots of part-time jobs in interesting fields.

3) A few other quick things:
  • We now have gobs and gobs of strawberries coming off the farm.
  • Ryan and Eden have started a raw-food diet, coming off of a 5-day liquid fast that the three of us did, and I am going to join them, starting tomorrow. I've been struggling with depression for many years now, and I want to see how eating healthy affects that. I'm hoping to do a 10-day fast this fall as well, as well as some colonics.
  • The vertical posts and the rafters for the common building are all in place now, and last week the carpenters began putting on the tongue-and-groove decking for the roof. It looks really beautiful.
  • The cobbers came and went, and in their wake there is now a 200-square foot cob structure, which probably needs a few more weeks of labor until it is ready. Pretty sweet!
  • I turned 38 on Friday, the 8th day of the 8th month of 2008, at a few minutes before 8 a.m. Happy Birthday to me!
  • Went down to Berkeley in late July to celebrate my 20th high school reunion. It was great to see so many folks, some of whom I've known since preschool or grade school, and catch up with them.

-- And that's it! Next time I'll be briefer and quicker between entries. Goodnight to all, and to all a Good Night!