Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chickens and tractors....

Rain has come at last to our little farm, not to mention, the whole surrounding area. What a treat for the plants to finally get a nice long drink of water. They sure could use it too, and already looking out to the fields and gardens, it is easy to see the change of the landscape. Plants stand a little taller, trees look a little greener, birds sing a little louder. Yes, this rain has been good. During this time, us little interns have hunkered down for the weekend, taking the time to enjoy some down time and stay dry and out of the rain. But come tomorrow, back out we go. It should be an exciting day, tramping through the clay-like mud. Already, our boots, clothes and house have been covered in this soft mucky matter. It brings out laughter and smiles, but also the mutters of "we need to keep the house clean!", something which is difficult when living in a house of 12, add in a little mud and you've got chaos! But that's all part of the process no?
Our weeks are beginning to dwindle now. With only a handful left, it seems like we have only just begun. Over the past few weeks, we've been meeting and talking with prospective interns looking to get a place for next semester. Is it that time already? Yes, good golly. And soon, just as quickly as we came, most of us will take our leave, off on new adventures. But let's focus on the now.  The future will come soon enough.
Last week was exciting. The highlight (depending on who you ask...) of chicken killing on Wednesday (the chicken I'm afraid has little to comment on this lesson). Leading up to the day, I deliberated whether I would partake in this lecture.  Being rather fond of all creatures great and small, and growing up a vegetarian, killing an animal for food hasn't been a subject that has crossed my mind all too often. With  Wednesday approaching, my decision was made. I decided I would attend, and witness the show. Bob, realizing that this subject was not for everyone, approached the lesson with great compassion.  He spoke softly and gently, whereas in most of our other lectures his voice booms with passion. But this was an occasion to be humble and quiet. I had envisioned the process to be an aggressive struggle of man vs chicken, with a lot of distressed clucking of the rooster and, but was surprised how little stress the task was. Bob's method: an axe and burlap sack. There were three birds slated for the demonstration. I stayed for one, but after the first, felt I had seen enough and was content to spend the rest of the lecture wandering about the grounds instead. This was alright. I now know how to kill a chicken, though doubtful if I will ever find myself wielding the axe.  Bob, knowing what he was doing, went through the steps explaining in detail what he was doing.  The roosters head was cut with one fell swoop. It would take others a few turns. A burlap sack was utilized to contain the birds wings throughout the affair.  I learnt that the bird, after the head has been removed, will continue to convulse a few times as it's body begins to die. This was the hardest part for me, watching the headless body continue to move with blood from the neck oozing to the ground below.  Not for the faint at heart, that's for sure.  With a vat of hot water ready, depluming was the next step, then the removal of organs. I am grateful to have seen the process.  I wouldn't call it my favourite lesson by any means, but one in which I took away great learning...and felt humbled by. We have the power to take life, but hopefully we use that power wisely, taking only what is needed and with reason. I think the process of killing an animal for food is something that more people in our society should experience. To know how we get the food that we eat, and to know where it comes from, begins to break down the barrier between ourselves and our food. We could all use some perspective.
Thursday's lesson in turn, was a lighthearted change in gears. As we stood out in the first bouts of rain, we learnt a different skill: how to drive a tractor.  Firstly, I have been attempting to learn how to drive stick shift. In the handful of times I have sat in the drivers seat, though there are minor improvements, and my confidence goes up, I would say, it is a difficult thing. But to stand in front of a tractor, with its many levers and gears surrounding you from all sides, it amazes me that it is more simple to drive a manual tractor than a car. Or is it? Maybe there is truth that in a car, I am over-thinking it. You certainly have less traffic to worry about while manuevering a slow moving, easy riding tractor!  Maybe, next time I sit in the drivers seat of a manual car, I will find driving it a little more easy. Fingers crossed.
What, oh what, I wonder will be in store for this week? As I rub my hands together, I can only imagine. One thing is for certain. There will be a lot more pruning of trees in the mornings.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

House of Muir

Saturday morning. Ahh the weekend! 'What, oh what to do with the day?' I sat wondering, while sipping on my morning tea. The last two days of rain were slowly letting up, and it seemed like a perfect day to go exploring. I decided to take a trip to Martinez, CA to visit the house of John Muir.
I am not sure what the heck I learnt in school, but the more I grow older, and tour around this country, the more I realize there are significant gaps of fascinating history and people who never made it into my education. What on earth did they teach me in school? John Muir and the many national parks certainly were not subjects covered in any of my classes. The only thing I can recall from my school days, is the endless teachings about WWI and WWII, which though heavy and significant to know about, has also left me with giant voids of information. But I won't dwell, for surely the knowledge of trench foot and mustard gas will be helpful in my future no?! 
Admittedly, if you were to ask me a year ago, who John Muir was, I would probably shrug and reply "I think he is someone who makes stickers of trees."  Yosemite? "A vague concept of a place in the west, envisioned as an overpopulated RV/Car campground."  I kid you not. Sad isn't it? But that all changed last summer, when I had the sweet priviledge to see Yosemite first hand, spending several days exploring the different areas, peaks, views and venture off the beaten path to really see and absorb the beauty and heart of this National Park. In the fall, again, my eyes and feet were given a treat as I hiked a portion of the John Muir trail. In all my life, I have never set foot in a more incredible and enchanted place.  Everywhere I looked, was one captivating moment after the next. I could spend weeks, months or an entire lifetime in that land and feel as though I were seeing it all for the very first time. And all of this was all thanks to one man. Who, I wondered time after time, was this John Muir? Tid-bits began to seep in about his life, passion and tireless work to preserve some of the natural beauty of this country. And from there the learning has begun!
Since my time on the trail and visit to Yosemite, my interest in the area and the man has grown. I have come to look and appreciate all wild areas with a new eye. Recently, I've been watching Ken Burns series: National Parks; America's Best Idea.  This documentary in itself is inspirational, taking the viewer from one park to the next, giving context, history and accounts of early visitors and their tireless struggle to save these wild places. It moves my heart.

Simultaneously, I picked up a book by Donald Worster entitled, A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir.  It follows Muir from a child in Scotland through his life in America and has begun to unravel the man behind the legend. I am enrapt, and find myself being pulled out to the wilds, desiring to explore and filled with a great curiosity to understand how I am connected to the natural world around me. Once read, I will begin to read Muir's own works. 
So today, with Muir swirling in my mind and thoughts, I decided the days adventure should be to explore Muirs home in Martinez, where he lived with his wife and two daughters, tending his father-in-laws orchards, and where he would write the majority of his books. Though after Muir had died, and many other owners lived in the house prior to the Parks Service scooping it up to turn into a historical site, the house continues to stand as it used to. The rooms have changed over the years and the furniture not original to the house, the site paints a picture of what times looked like during Muir's time. The grounds, once lush and large, have now been whittled down to a small section, with a small orchard of plums, apples, apricots, peaches, oranges and cherry trees still remaining. Surrounding the homestead, is highway and suburbs.  It is a reminder as to how much time has changed. But still, as one walks through the house and grounds, it is easy to get a sense of Muir's life, his restlessness for the Sierras, and the inspiration that drove him to fight for his beloved Yosemite. 
Headed home, after visiting the house, I grew silent in thought, absorbing the experience. A dawning was about to occur. If you love something, or have an interest in something, than it doesn't matter where you are, what you are doing, or how it is done, it is your inspiration and desire alone that sets you in motion, to learn, to fight, to experience and to seek out those passions. That is how we grow.  Not everywhere we go in life, will we find teachers. Sometimes, it is us that must become our own teacher, our own motivator.  This is a lesson I have been trying to grasp and understand here at the farm. Being a teacher doesn't mean that you have to know it all. To me, it means that your mind is open to learn, and all it takes is for that first step to set your course. This is the school of life. And today, I think I've just become both student and faculty.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

More shots from the farm!

Nothin' like a little sunshine on yer socks... 
Walking to work in the morning

The crew awaits what's in store for the day

Laura and Wesley on peaceful afternoon

Rick, teaching us about being bee-releasers.
He makes his own hives!

Learning about how to be a bee-releaser

Attentive listeners during lecture at Bob's

Beautiful smiling Chip and Rochelle

At the table ready for lesson at Bob's.  Notice the teaching tools in
the front: a bottle of wine and a pack of smokes. 

Our teacher Bob Cannard

Updates from the farm

Greetings to you from a warmer nook of California. It still seems to boggle my mind that it is firstly January, and secondly that the weather feels more like an early fall day. Winter what?
Farm life continues to truck on.  Now with only 6 weeks left to the program, I find myself wondering where the time has gone? What will the second half of this internship look like?

Our daily routine is more or less set, us little interns wake up, eat our hearty breakfast and brave the early morning frost.  I've been on chicken chores for the past two weeks, which entails an early morning harvest of green leafy num nums for the creatures. With a frosty morning, and frozen plants, this has led to frozen fingers on more than one occasion. Nothing like a warm rising sun to help defrost the ole digits! By 10am, frost and being cold is as far from one's mind as could be, as the layers are shed while digging into the mornings work. What has been on the plate as of late? Painting the exterior of the restrooms, hoeing garlic, hoeing weeds, harvesting vegetables galore, pruning apple trees to name a few, all the while sneaking samples of cheese from the farm store!

In class, we have been focusing on pruning, and spent an entire week, discussing, watching, and finally getting to prune a few trees ourselves. The rule of thumb? Practice only makes you more knowledgable, you can never over prune a tree, (however if you prune too much the chances that you'll get any fruit become less and less), and keep your fingers away from the saw. Apparently, I wanted a little extra practice and went for my finger. Nothing to be worried about, but hopefully trees aren't as sensitive to pain as humans are.

An exciting discovery was made earlier last week. As I went to check on my little carrot patch, I noticed that there were four little green rows where I had planted peas over a month ago. To my delight and surprise, after giving up all hope that these peas would grow, there they were at last, all reaching upwards to greet the sunshine and world above.  What is it about seeing something sprout up and grow bring such joy into my heart?

As interns, we are asked to create and see through a project of our choice (a personal project) that gives back to Green String in some way. Everyone has been abuzz recently, talking and planning out what they will do for their project.  For me, I decided to build a spice rack for the intern house. The idea came rather quickly, as our kitchen is the most popular place in the house, but also the most disorganized and relatively useless set up. Imagine this if you will. On the opposite side of room from where the stove and counter are, along the floor, sits all our grains, flour and cooking foods. Near the stove, stands this sturdy tall shelf, which houses a disarray of jars filled with herbs and spices. This shelf would be better served  to house all the food containers bringing them closer to the cooking area.  Then, creating a better system that would allow anyone who cooks to not only better access the ingredients, herbs and spiced they need.  Our teacher Bob Cannard, has been teaching us how to use various power tools and saws in the woodshop, and have put together the plans for a basic shelf that will hold all our jars of spices and herbs.  This evening, I began my project.  With all the boards now cut and marked for the shelf grooves, it will soon be time to assemble the beast and get it into the kitchen! My first independent woodworking project- I'm excited to construct it and see how it will turn out.

This week, also comes the lesson that I have been dreading. Harvesting a chicken. Actually, according to Bob, we'll be harvesting not one, but three. This will be my first experience watching an animal be killed. I've already been privy to watching the depluming of both a rooster and duck, but to see something go from alive to very much not, will be something else. I'm sure I will have a thought or too once the lesson is over. Gulp!