When I Am Weak

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see you good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16)

I snagged the dream job three weeks’ ago. And, yes, it has been that long already. It’s also been that long, I think, since my last blog post. I went into retreat mode once the new job started. For just a moment, that little voice inside that I’d sometimes like to take a machete to, told me I was in over my head. I wasn’t qualified enough. I didn’t know enough. I can’t do this!

Sounds a little like the adversary with his tricks again.

Why do I listen to this voice? God dropped every minor detail into perfect place with this position. He must certainly have a plan. And, surely, the owner of my heart knows much better than that ol’ adversary. He says I can handle it. He says I’m qualified enough. He says I know enough.

I CAN DO THIS!

But, for a few moments this morning, as I realized yet again the size of the carbon footprint I’m wearing on the earth with this commute; as I realized that I sort of had to give up my parish community to accept this job; as I realized I have less time to work on my homestead; as I realized I have much less time to write my blog, the two books I have on the fire, and complete my homework assignments, I felt a little bit of the bottom drop out from under me. These are my core values. These are the things I live for.

I suddenly longed for something familiar, that seemingly “safe” little world where I hid myself for 7 years. A “safe” little world where dinner often came from the local food pantry and robbing Peter to pay Paul became a bigger juggling act when Peter’s pockets turned up empty, too.

And I realized, that some parts of this new routine are familiar…an echo from days gone by.

Back in 2009, before I lost the corporate position, my mornings were always rushed. I kept trying to cram a 28 hour day into a 24 hour one. Of course, it never worked. And, of course, I was trying to do everything at once…perfection being my worst enemy. There’s a lesson there somewhere. It’s called time management. I may not be able to spend 2-4 hours a day writing now; working part-time at the dealership I didn’t always do so even with the time available. I discovered during 2 years of unemployment and 5 more of severe under-employment, that I am not the self-starter. I need structure. If I have too much time on my hands, if I’m only having to fulfill part-time obligations, I slack off…so much so that nothing gets done.

The female dog side of my nature told the whiny ass to shut up and keep driving.

I ran a little behind this morning rushing out the door. About halfway to work, I came up behind a school bus. Back in 2009, I always came up behind the school bus traveling down Harkney Hill Rd. and the demon called Road Rage dogged my every a.m. commute.

I can do better this time.

The early bird catches the worm…I may be back to 3:30 a.m. risings again. Or at least 4:30; that would give me a solid 6 hours’ of sleep. Then I could write a couple of hours before work.

Old habits, die hard…I’m still trying to cram 28 hours into 24. It can’t be done. I believe that’s the definition of insanity.

Eventually, reason crept back in. This is necessary. I have bills to pay off. And, though I love my little fixer-upper, I confess, I’d like to eventually purchase a bigger piece of land. If I’m ever to increase my herd of goats, and add some sheep to the mix, I need pasture. This is my chance to get back on my feet again. If for no other reason, that is the reason to keep going.

The bus stopped again.

I waited.

The bus started moving again. We rode a little further. The bus stopped again.

It may have been a slower pace than I would like to go and yet, we were still moving, still getting where we wanted to go…”we” being the line of cars stopping and traveling, traveling and stopping along with me. There’s a lesson in there, too. Baby steps…

How many times have I had to remind myself of that? One foot in front of the other. I can do this. I even started reviewing in my head the lessons learned from friend, Farnoosh, last winter in the Smart Exit Blueprint Plan. I remembered my blueprint. I mentally adjusted it to include the new, ideal position. Actually, the new, ideal position is part of the SEB plan–I needed work to financially sustain me while I work to develop my homestead (or a future one) into a working herb and fiber farm, and goat dairy. I need full-time work like this to get out of debt so the bigger homestead might become a reality. I need full-time work like this so that my stress levels over bills piling up don’t paralyze me so I can’t write at all. This is necessary!

It’s also fun. And I’ve been doing this as a volunteer since 2012!

Some part of sanity returning as I turned onto Route 20 in Massachusetts…if I wasn’t 2 and 1/2 years’ into menopause, I’d swear I had PMS with the crazy squirrel leaps my mind was doing. How did I suddenly turn into this cry baby…well, not actually crying but this feeling of overwhelm and doubt?

In myself.

In God.

The blah kind of mood followed me into the Bullard Tavern and then back to the Herb Garden. I really needed a tea. Tuesdays the village is closed…as are all the cafes. Why didn’t I pack a few tea bags? I’m exhausted. Of course, the caffeine’s not the best thing for me…

Meetings all morning. Meetings with the teachers from the new charter school going up in the main parking lot. Suddenly, as we went around the table introducing ourselves and telling what we do at OSV, and where we’d like to go with the new charter school, I felt a nudge to share some of the ideas I’ve had for the Herb Garden–an addition of a vernal pool and native plant garden bed. The children from the school could help plan and plant it. They could watch to see what sort of creatures show up. We could study the frogs and salamanders and dragonflies that might move in. In sharing this project, I could teach them the importance of biodiversity and the dangers of introducing foreign species of plants. The master gardener came out to play…maybe I’m not such a lost cause after all. Everyone loved the idea.

It was then that I realized that maybe I am staying true to those core values after all. Won’t that vernal pool and native plant garden benefit the local environment? And won’t working with 5 – 9 year old children, teaching them about the environment, plant a seed (every pun intended) for future generations of environmentalists? If that’s not staying true to my core values, what is? It’s a golden opportunity.

When I am weak, He shows me His Way. He shows me the real hope for the future. Suddenly, I’m not hiding anymore.

I can do this…and, more importantly, I want to.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Pat and Shelly

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” (Luke, 13:34)

Today’s passage has very little to do with today’s blog post…except I remembered this verse from the Bible as referencing a hen with her chicks.

Last night I went out to the barn to do the usual evening’s routine of feeding all the animals, doing a headcount to make sure all are present and accounted for, replenishing water and, lastly, shutting them in said barn, safe from predators. And, in some cases, safe from each other as the ducks, if not shut in the coop away from them, continue to bully the chickens.

Except Taffy the Silkie Chicken…

Taffy has been broody of late. Taffy goes “broody” quite a lot. It’s actually a characteristic of Silkies. They are some of the best mothers and, if they don’t have any chicks of their own to mother, they will mother everyone else’s. They also like nothing better than to sit on the eggs until one hatches…or I get worried and decide I’d better remove her from the nest before she dehydrates or cripples up too greatly. I was about to do just that with Taffy…until I went into the coop last night. Taffy is the only hen that will still co-habitate with the ducks; the rest have long since decided to bunk in with the goats. Of course, for a little thing, Taffy is all piss and vinegar. Now she has even more reason to be. If you look closely at the picture above, you can just make out the two little peeps in front of her. All are gray, or silver, depending on whom you ask. And she’s still sitting on a clutch of eggs, guarding them fiercely. I brought her, the two chicks, and the clutch of eggs into the house last night, not trusting the ducks not to harm them (not so much Dixie but the two males are brutes…) and fearing, too, that they might fall out of the nesting box. It’s too high off of the floor for those fragile little bodies.

Anyway, Taffy & Co. are quite happy in their little cage. I set it in the rabbit room where it’s cool and comfortable…and less feline traffic. So far, only Ozzy got curious enough by the sound of the peeps to investigate but Taffy’s squawk sent him running in the other direction; he hasn’t returned to the rabbit room since.

Miss Taffy, however, is facing what so many young mothers experience–she’s got two toddling around the cage, getting into mischief while trying to spread her tiny self over the remaining nine eggs. Not an easy feat. She’s also trying to keep the two hatched chicks warm. Earlier today, five of the eggs must have rolled out from under her as she tried to juggle so many responsibilities; I assumed she kicked them away so I picked them up. I swear, I heard a “peep” from inside one of the shells. I could be absolutely wrong but I even went so far as to hold them closer to my ear and I heard it again–and not coming from the cage and the two hatched babies. So I put them back. And now she has spread herself out as thinly as she can again, warming both the living and those yet to be born.

The two hatched chicks have been christened “Pat” and “Shelly” after the two friends who have been such a blessing recently, being responsible for the transportation I now have at hand to get back and forth to OSV each day. I’m not sure how they feel about little baby chicks being named after them but it was meant with good intent…and, knowing Pat at least is a major animal lover, I’m sure she’s not the least bit offended.

I can’t wait to see how these new additions look as they develop their first feathers. Will they be part-Silkies with hair instead of true feathers? Will they all be silver? Or will some turn black? Or red? Golden or white? Many of the eggs still under Taffy are blue, which says they were laid by one of my Americaunas: Flame, Sunset, Rae or Sylvie. None of the eggs are Silkie-sized. They’re all quite large–too large to be Taffy’s, and neither Pat nor Shelly has feathers on his or her feet.

I know in many cultures, and especially earlier eras, sons were desired over daughters. But I really hope most, if not all–especially if the rest of the eggs hatch–are pullets rather than cockerels…

May God bless you & keep you!

PS Would that some vet somewhere figure out how to safely sterilize a young cockerel so he doesn’t grow up to be a rooster. Though it may not make good financial sense from a more traditional farmer’s, or homesteader’s, point of view, I would much rather remove the hormones and get a tamer bird to be a companion to the others than have to send him to slaughter simply because he’s a boy. Maybe I’ll just look into buying some extra pullets…

Things Learned When Walking is your Sole Transportation

It has been almost three months since Mom’s car had to be taken off the road. And while I still yearn for an adult-sized tricycle to get me around more efficiently and safely than my feet, I’ve also learned a great deal from this experience:

1. People look at walking, and sometimes even bicycling, everywhere as hardship!!??! In some ways, that’s true. When you’re forced to “grocery shop” for only what you can easily carry two miles from the local grocery store, it does get “old” and it makes for having to seriously manage your time and resources better. Those little hand shopping carts they sell in department stores everywhere help but…

2. Little hand shopping carts filled to the brim with cases of cat food and cat litter do NOT make it up steep hills without making one feel a deeper empathy for beasts of burden.

3. Friends come from unexpected places.

4. Walking in extreme cold is much easier than walking in 90+ degree temperatures; an extra layer or two, a good pair of gloves and socks to cover the extremities, and a hat make all the difference when it’s cold…and a brisk pace will set the blood moving that much faster. One can only remove so many layers of clothing before Connecticut’s finest gets involved…

5. Those kitchy, supposedly eco-friendly reusable grocery bags, when full, are much more capable of cutting off circulation in your fingertips than are the equally-full, bad-for-the-environment plastic numbers.

6. You meet people when you walk…neighbors…people you would never meet when behind the wheel; find a sense of community you never knew existed.

7. Despite traversing concrete walkways and macadam road shoulders, walking puts you deeper in touch with nature. Damage done by this year’s gypsy moth invasion; small wetland areas on the other side of guard rails…and the diversity of life that lives in them; longer days/shorter nights; shortening days and lengthening nights; sadly, a greater awareness of how many creatures really lose their lives on a major interstate all become more apparent when walking.

8. My piggy bank has grown due to all of the loose change found in parking lots, breakdown lanes and along the sidewalks near local gas stations.

9. Bursitis flare-ups, sore knees, hips, calves all help to remind me that I’m not 25 anymore.

10. Despite the 6 lbs. lost when I first started, walking alone will not readily shed pounds if a proper diet is not incorporated with it.

11. My status as a single woman seems to have reached the attention of far too many local gentlemen…

12. Wearing a bright, fluorescent vest (so that you become more visible to local traffic while traveling on the shoulder of the road) when visiting the local Walmart will get you mistaken for an employee…and prompt you to memorize where everything is located in the store so you can answer all those “Can you tell me where (fill in the blank) is, please?” sort of questions.

13. Wearing a bright, fluorescent vest often gets you mistaken for a crossing guard.

14. Trying to traverse 2 miles of extremely hilly territory without arch supports in your shoes is a good way to flare bursitis up…especially if you’re over 50.

15. Horror stories of missing women flash through your head when you walk home at dusk.

16. Strange men will offer you a ride.

17. Strange men who are also attractive will also offer you a ride…tempting good reason but provide relief that such good reason still exists as you pick up your pace towards home.

18. I don’t tan; I freckle.

19. Even if it is only 2 miles, travel light.

20. We need a better infrastructure in our cities and towns…one that includes sidewalks that connect everything so that people can walk safely; bicycle lanes so that cyclists can also travel safely, and good public transportation lines that don’t require walking several miles to a small handful of bus stops.

21. While there are buses in northeastern Connecticut that will come directly to your doorstep–elderly and disabled only–it took over 3 weeks for Mom to get her bus pass…I wonder how many other seniors and disabled persons are left isolated due to their lack of transportation…

22. Even with a bright, fluorescent vest on, motorists do not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks…especially if that crosswalk crosses the entrance to Walmart’s parking lot.

23. Walking in the rain, as long as there isn’t any lightning to go with it, is actually kind of fun…sort of like being a kid again and splashing in the puddles.

24. The creative genius engages while walking…I “write” my best chapters, work out my best plots when I walk.

25. Walking provides the perfect medium for finding that quiet stillness where we meet God.

May God bless you & keep you!

Dates with Monty Don and Charles Dowding

“Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t be envious of evil men who prosper.” Psalm 37:7

Forgive the redundancy but I really am a bad patient. As this leg continues to throb and ripple with muscle spasms, and my toes turn all tingly through the lack of circulation and swell and give me all manner of discomfort, I have been forced to spend most of my time on my duff, feet propped up to take the pressure off the leg. I could’ve taken out stock in the amount of Ben Gay I’ve slathered on knees, shins, ankles, feet and toes. Ditto for the aspirin. I look at the fine weather we’ve had the last couple of days and I growl at this forced convalescence, thinking of all the gardening I could be doing and various other farm chores. Since Thursday, it has been the bare essentials only.

And, yes, I know…Ben Gay? Aspirin? I am an herbalist, after all. But, while I almost always choose herbs over what’s become conventional medicine, as deeply as I believe that herbs are a better, healthier choice, sometimes they don’t work as fast. I needed more immediate relief just to walk up that hill Thursday night after work. Last night it was a warm bath to ease sore muscles (still no clue exactly what I did to the leg…); tonight there’s a jar of oil in which Plantain, Comfrey, St. John’s wort, Calendula and Cayenne Pepper have been slowly brewed. The first four ingredients are good for the skin. When combined like this you have the perfect combination of emollient, drawing power, anti-scarring agent, natural sunblock, and rash relief. I don’t have any of these but, whenever I make something to put on my skin, I add these four. Our skin is the largest organ of our body; we often neglect it. The cayenne is for improved circulation and for relieving sore muscles.

In the meantime, I’ve actually become a bit of a couch potato–well, armchair is more like it. I’ve been relaxing (there’s a novel concept), feet up, in front of the TV and trying, albeit a little in vain, not to feel guilty for it…even as my leg throbs with a life of its own after another round of feeding and watering the farm. No, we don’t have cable/digital/satellite (i.e. so no reception) but Mom received Roku for Mother’s Day from my brother. Roku allows you to access shows via the Internet and broadcast them onto the TV screen. While there are some stations that charge a small fee, many of them are free. One of those is, of course, You Tube. To be honest, I haven’t really paid much attention to the Roku since helping Mom set it up when it first came here. She’s been enjoying episodes of her favorite HGTV shows and country music videos. Over the weekend, she handed me the remote to the Roku unit after watching me trying to watch music videos on my cellphone via the You Tube app I downloaded. (Eh, it was keeping me off my feet…)

First of all, Mom got a little bit of culture shock as my answer to not being able to walk to church yesterday saw me tuning in to Christian music videos by today’s contemporary artists as a way to still connect and worship Him. I listen to a lot of these artists on Pandora during the week and it always soothes me…despite the hard-rocking sound many of them produce: Casting Crowns, Lauren Daigle, Francesca Battistelli, Barlow Girl (which was much heavier than she expected), Meredith Andrews, Big Daddy Weave and Kari Jobe. I even got a little rap in there with Brandon Heath. After a while though, I got tired of constantly surfing You Tube for the next video and decided something a little lengthier would be better.

I have a thing for British television. If I lived in the UK, I would likely be a couch potato a little more often simply because I love their sense of humor and style…and, especially, their gardens. Charles Dowding caught my eye first. I believe it was an article in Treehugger, advocating the No Dig Gardening method, that turned me on to his You Tube channel; I’ve been a subscriber ever since. This was not my first initiation into the No Dig method, but I love the practical advice Mr. Dowding offers just for gardening overall but, more specifically, for the No Dig method. He gets beautiful fruits, vegetables and herbs. His gardens are so lush that I am frequently jealous at the yields. He makes a lot of compost and that’s helping me in that area of homesteading. And, I’ll admit it, for an older gentleman, he looks pretty darn good in a pair of jeans. He reminds me greatly of Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon. I had Kevin Cronin wallpaper as a girl, both in my bedroom and in my locker in school. Enough said (chuckle).

Anyway, it was through Mr. Dowding’s You Tube channel that I learned of the BBC’s “Gardener’s World” program, which is in its 50th year of airing (pretty remarkable, actually). Mr. Dowding’s homestead was featured on “Gardener’s World” one Friday evening and I fell instantly in love with the show. Now I watch an episode each week on You Tube. Host Monty Don, like Charles Dowding, is a wealth of information about gardening. Being forced to stay off my feet these last few days, I have been doing a marathon of back episodes I missed earlier in the year…and introducing Mom to the show, too. She’s been enjoying it. And we’re both learning a lot of cool gardening tips. I’m especially enchanted with Nigel and Nell, the two golden retrievers who follow Monty around his, roughly, two-acres of gardens…usually with a tennis ball, or one his trowels in mouth. It’s a bittersweet enchantment as I miss the big dogs that blessed my life over the years and hope, God willing, that things will get back on a more even keel in my life–soon–so that I might provide a forever home for another pair of dogs. All in all, despite this enforced convalescence, I don’t feel that the time has been completely wasted. Again, I’m watching, learning, and gaining more confidence through the pseudo-mentoring of these two gentlemen (we switched off at one point to watch some of Charles’ videos, too).

And, believe it or not, yesterday’s rock and roll religion did feed my soul, touch my heart. I’ve actually felt myself drawing closer to Him, taking deep breaths…because letting go and letting God is the hardest lesson of all for me, to give up any kind of control…and just surrendering my will to Him. I may not like the enforced convalescence but He is using it to mold and change me, to grow my faith in Him…something I’ve been yearning for. And praying for.

It was an interview I read with Lauren Daigle in “Young Salvationist” where she talks about how she surrendered her dream of music to Him that really touched my heart. When she finally surrendered her will to Him, doors started opening for her. Maybe I’m feeling “stuck” in my life because I haven’t truly surrendered my will to Him. That’s what I felt when I read this article over the weekend, that He was trying to tell me to just let go; He’s got my back. And it was the lyrics to Kari Jobe’s “Steady my Heart” that, well, steadied my heart:

Even when it hurts
Even when it’s hard
Even when it all just falls apart
I will run to You
‘Cause I know that You are
Lover of my soul, Healer of my scars,
You steady my heart, You steady my heart

That’s worth a few muscle spasms and tingly toes.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Jobe, K. (2012). “Steady My Heart.” worshiptogether.com Songs, Ariose Music.

Maynor, C. P. (2015). “Interview: Lauren Daigle.” Young Salvationist. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from:
http://www.youngsalvationist.org/2015/02/04/interview-lauren-daigle/

Ow…

I had a similar problem last summer when I started adding an hour’s fitness walk to my daily routine. Suddenly, my right leg started hurting and the third and fourth toes went numb. Last summer I went walking in inappropriate shoes, which is what I blamed this painful experience on. The doc ordered an ultrasound; they did an MRI; they ran all kinds of tests. Ruled out a blood clot, though I was advised to start taking an aspirin each day (and, no, I confess, I haven’t been consistent with it). The conclusion was that I must have strained or twisted something while walking. I tend to be klutzy so any ankle turning or twisting, nine times out of ten, is regarded as “routine”; I scarcely notice it. However, this summer I’m wearing decent walking sneakers with a good arch support in them. And the pain is back…with a vengeance.

Last night’s walk home from the dealership, I confess, I didn’t think I was going to make it. I had a stop to make at the local Walmart so, while there, I picked up a tube of Ben Gay and, before heading up the hill towards home, I slathered it all over my right shin, ankle and calf. As soon as it kicked in, I started walking again. The pain was less–enough so I could make it home–but I was close to tears by the time I reached the side door.

Mom helped with feeding everyone last night and I’ve been trying to take it easy. But I have work tomorrow and that requires another long walk. I am not looking forward to it. I took a very short walk today to pick up some birdseed at the local feed store, which is two doors’ down…and came limping back in agony again. And I’m not usually a baby about such things…only the enforced inactivity that is ultimately the end result (chuckle; I’m a terrible patient).

This northeastern corner of Connecticut has a very limited public transit system. This morning I signed Mom up for door-to-door pick up, which is available for seniors, but, for the rest of us, we have to go to the nearest bus stop. In this rural corner of the state, the nearest one would bring me almost to the dealership’s door so it doesn’t really solve the issue. And I am writing all of this, not to garner sympathy, but more as a way of brainstorming and trying to think of a way to bring about some sort of reform. I am hoping this is a temporary thing with my leg. The doc will have to be called and an appointment made again. And, yes, I know most people have automobiles and can drive themselves. But, surely, for seniors, for the disabled, and as our economy still struggles to recover from the Great Recession, for those who find themselves financially challenged and cannot afford the high loan payments, insurance premiums, maintenance fees and/or tax bills that car ownership brings, there must be a way to provide better transportation options. I’m hoping by brainstorming, some little light bulb will go off in my head, an “A-ha” moment, an inspiration that might show me the way to bring about some positive changes.

Of course, all of this circles around to the environmental impact of automobile ownership. I have long been an advocate for walking, bicycling and/or taking public transit whenever and wherever possible to mitigate the effects of fossil fuel usage. For those who sneer at this whole global warming thing, or succumb to denial about it, my present difficulties might seem to them a justification for all the number of autos on our highways and byways…and “proof” that one cannot exist without one, the lie we all tell ourselves that car ownership is a necessity. If it is true, it is only because our present infrastructure has been built around said automobile ownership and backed by funding from the same fossil fuel industry that promotes them. If we take a look at the Netherlands, the city of Amsterdam has been totally re-vamped and is now centered around bicycles. Children as young as four years old are seen riding them. And automobile traffic is kept to a bare minimum, with the bulk of it being deliveries for local businesses (Van der Zee, 2015). Their carbon impact has been greatly reduced, as well as the instances of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many of the other diseases that plague us in our sedentary lifestyle.

I am willing to concede that this may be part of my problem in this: poor circulation brought about from the sedentary lifestyle of a writer. Though I am also a homesteader, even many of my homesteading chores see me sitting down: rabbit grooming, nail trimming, knitting, sewing, looming, etc. My part-time endeavor at the dealership is also a sit down, sedentary position as I stuff envelopes, answer phones and create the next newsletter each month. I’m thinking maybe our automobile fetish may be killing us in more ways than one.

And yet, I also enjoy a long drive in the country; a trip to sight see, etc. I’m not totally against the idea of auto ownership but rather a more judicious use of them. If one can walk, or bicycle, instead of driving, then by all means, please do. Despite my present circumstances, in the two months since I started walking instead of driving, I sleep better; feel better overall; have more energy; and my moods have been elevated. I find myself more concerned and aware of what’s going on in my community. And with the local environment (those gypsy moths I lamented earlier this week have been wreaking havoc all up and down the Interstate.). I’ve even had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of a young woman one afternoon while walking in to work. She was having her car serviced at the other dealership almost across the street. We shared the walk and a happy exchange of conversation. It would never have happened if I’d been in my own little fiberglass bubble, puffing out an unhealthy dose of CO2.

My leg will heal; Mother Earth may not.

May God bless you & keep you!

References

Van der Zee, R. (2015).  “How Amsterdam became the Bicycle Capital of the World.”  The Guardian.  Retrieved April 13, 2017 from: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/05/amsterdam-bicycle-capital-world-transport-cycling-kindermoord

Naming Trees and a Quest for Cardboard

And so the gypsy moths have completely denuded one of the big Norway maples in my front yard. Not Helen, mind you. Helen is the grandmother of all the Norway maples here. And, yes, the Master Gardener here knows Norway maples are invasive and not native to Connecticut. I didn’t plant them; they were here when I purchased said property back in 2001. Invasive or not, they provide much-appreciated shade in the summertime, and a nice bit of windbreak in the winter. So nobody touches Helen & Co.

Except the gypsy moths.

And there’s not much I can do about that. They’ve completely denuded Ollie already. Ollie is a slightly younger Norway maple, if one judges by the size of circumference (don’t trees grow a new ring every year??). And quite lovely…despite his invasive nature. The Japanese dogwood…or maybe it’s a flowering cherry tree…is also completely denuded. I’m not sure of the species because it is one of about a dozen saplings I received as a “Thanks!” for donating several years’ ago to the Arbor Day Foundation. Only three of them survived. They’re all part of the under story near Ollie. I’m almost positive the one closest to the house is a Japanese dogwood…and, so far, the gypsy moths have left it alone. It’s the other two–one denuded, the other on its way to becoming–that worry me. And Ollie. Can they all recover from this? Or will I have a rotting Norway maple stump next spring? Horrified at this finding this morning, I tried hand-picking some of them off of the smaller trees. But it was a futile endeavor; just too many of them. I may have to invest in some bird netting and then try to pluck em all off before I cover them. It’s heart-breaking as they are all part of the latest landscaping endeavor, an effort to beautify the area closest to the interstate with ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers. Eh, if it’s visible from the road, it has to be pretty…not that the current state of Tobacco Road could be called attractive, but I digress yet again…

And, yes, I’ve named some of the trees in my yard. Here’s how it started.

I won’t get into all of the spiritual changes within that brought this about–that could take a whole week’s worth of posts–but, several years’ ago I studied Wicca. For those of you who only know Wicca through TV and other pop culture mediums, Wicca is NOT any sort of devil worshipping. I am, and always have been, a Christian, accepting Christ as my Savior back in 1995, shortly after my first divorce. But, for some reason, the tree-hugging nature lover in me has always been drawn to Wicca. And I can only conclude because Wicca is a nature-based religion.

Anyway, to keep a long story short, I took a course at the local community college entitled, “Introduction to Wicca” after a long theological discussion with the then-deacon of my church, Brother Bob. I was expecting sermons as regarding fire and brimstone raining down upon my head for even considering such a course but Brother Bob encouraged me to take it instead. The reason? Because it is the fear of what we don’t know, or understand, that breeds distrust, hatred and violence. It is fear that the enemy of my soul uses to bring chaos into my life…and into the world. So, for four weeks, I drove to Mansfield, CT and attended class. And I loved it! I learned so much, so much that I can accept and appreciate…even to how the good Lord used this experience to help me re-connect with members of my own family (I have an aunt and a couple of cousins who are practicing Wiccans). I’m not afraid anymore; there’s no reason to be.

“His disciple John came to Him and said, ‘Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons. And we told him not to. After all, he isn’t in our group.’ But Jesus said, ‘You should not have done that! For anyone who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)

Getting back to the naming of trees, this class sparked an interest so deep that I started reading every book that I could find on the subject. Some, I will admit, were a bit “darker” than others. Not necessarily sinister, or diabolical, but more like a sort of prejudiced attitude towards any religion other than Wicca (and haven’t we all experienced a similar attitude in other religions–including Christianity!). There was one though, written by a fellow Master Gardener, that talked about naming trees and how trees actually have spirits. Most Native American tribes believe trees, rocks, etc. have spirits and, as I’m part-Mohawk, part-Narragansett, it resonated within. More, I had been finding myself drawn to “Helen” and this book made me stop and think. Maybe Helen was giving me little mental nudges. Anyway, she was christened “Helen” shortly thereafter.

Now, before anyone thinks I’ve completely gone off the deep-end, and maybe I have, if you head over to http://www.treehugger.com and type in “trees” + “Melissa”, you’ll find a host of articles featuring the research of various scientists about trees. And how they share resources, protect one another, and even communicate with each other. There’s quite a number of them; they’re interesting reads…whether you believe in such or not.

So, now that Ollie is suffering from an attack of gypsy moths, and I prepare to possibly mourn the loss of him in the not-so-distant future, I can’t help worrying if Helen will eventually fall prey, too. She’s the grandmother here because she’s so enormous. I would be willing to bet she’s stood in this yard over 100 years or more, such is the size of her trunk. To lose either shade tree is a heart-wrenching thought. Invasive or not, trees don’t grow overnight. It’s one of the reasons we treehuggers object to things like over-harvesting from forests and the current annihilation of the rain forests in South America due to our hunger and greed for more wood; such important eco-systems can never hope to recover at the rate of said destruction.

But before this becomes one of my environmental rants (I’ll save that for another post…chuckle), I’m switching a few gears here. Helen, Ollie & Friends are a part of this very local landscape. As I’ve moved rock walls and started building raised beds, I’ve designed everything here to work with the current landscape, rather than any clear-cutting. I’ve been using something called the the No-Dig Gardening method, developed and promoted by Mr. Charles Dowding of England. Mr. Dowding is not the originator of this method but he has developed it to a level that has proven effective and efficient for any home gardener. Another name for it is lasagna gardening. Mr. Dowding has a wonderful You Tube channel that takes you from soup to nuts on how to landscape and grow fruits, vegetables and herbs without digging…or rototilling, which is very bad for the soil and will encourage the growth of weeds and invasive species.

Like Helen.

No-Dig, or lasagna, gardening requires the laying down of flattened cardboard boxes, which slowly decompose but act as a weed barrier while in that decomposition, directly atop the compacted soil, or grass, or weeds–wherever you decide to create this raised bed. Like any good lasagna, the next step is to layer everything: leaves, kitchen scraps, compost, etc. If you wish to go the more traditional route of bags of peat moss, potting soil, etc, that’s okay, too…even if it isn’t quite as sustainable. Once you’ve created a good six inches of layers, you simply plant your seeds directly into this mix or, if you’ve started seeds indoors, or purchased plants from the local nursery, you may simply part some of the layers and set the plugs into them. They will grow.

This initial landscaping project encompasses about 1/4 acre of my property; I have another 1/2 acre planned but in much smaller stages. This 1/4 acre is probably a bigger undertaking than Mr. Dowding would have recommended in the beginning but I’m committed to it. I spent most of last winter squirreling away every empty box that walked through the dealership where I work afternoons and early-evenings. I would pack the trunk of the car, the backseat, and throw them into what was once a garage, now storage room. One would think, with so much pack-ratting activity, that I would have more than enough to finish said project but, alas, I am on a perpetual quest to find more. Though empty boxes still travel through the dealership, walking everywhere now, I’ve been searching a little closer to home; flat-packed boxes are a prime example of dead weight. So, every now and then, I’m petitioning nearer neighbors and, hopefully, saving them a bit of the expense to have their cardboard waste hauled away…and keeping much of it out of the local landfills. It’s a design I can be proud of.

Even Helen agrees…

May God bless you & keep you!

Livestock Guardian Goats

Sargent Feathers, Corporal Denim and Tank all broke out in a loud, raucous screeching this morning around 10 a.m. Knowing this is their warning cry, I ran out of the rabbit room and outside to the back deck where my livestock guardian goats were all standing at attention, eyes focused up in the trees, while the roosters and some of the hens fluttered about near their feet; the rest of the girls had scattered. My guess is the goats had been sunning themselves on the deck when the Sargent awakened them…rudely. Trust me…this is not a noise you can readily sleep through.

Goats are not necessarily what one thinks of as a guardian but Felicity, especially, is very protective of her feathery friends. Though she’s not above head-butting them out of her way to the feed bowl each morning, heaven help the creature who tries to nab one of them in the yard. Last summer’s unfortunate skunking is a perfect example. Felicity may not have received the full force of Mr. Skunk’s defense mechanism, but a few droplets did hit her…and should have been enough to teach her a lesson. I’m not sure though that the lesson took hold. If we are ever unfortunate enough to receive such a visitor again, Felicity is liable to go on the rampage again. Not on her watch, you don’t. And Prudence the Plymouth Barred Rock chicken will readily jump up on Chester’s back if Duncan and Dweezil suddenly become too amorous again. They may not be traditional guardians but the chickens have certainly found that having them near is a safer place to be.

Of course, the moment I walked out onto the back deck, the goats trotted over, eyes bright, ever hopeful and nuzzling my hands in the most obvious of body languages: Got any treats???

Sorry, guys!

I did a quick headcount, finding most of the hens in the coop, all huddled in the corner under the Japanese knotweed. Taffy and Kiel were inside the henhouse; a couple of girls ran into the goat barn. Though the ducks were quacking, excitedly, they stood milling around outside the goat barn. There were still three hens missing, however.

As I walked back out of the goat barn, I discovered the cause of all the commotion. I’m not sure what kind of hawk it was but it had a pretty good-sized wingspan. Seeing me emerging from the barn must’ve spooked it. It flew off of the branch it had perched upon, overlooking the yard, and flew into the woods behind us. I didn’t think it had gone far though so I stayed outside a little longer to make sure, still searching for the three missing hens. As I started back towards the house, one of my Americaunas crawled out from under the deck. Mystery solved.

I went back inside then returned again with my glasses to see if I could spot the hawk better but he/she was nowhere to be seen. And, so far, all has been quiet outside. The last time I checked, the goats were still sunning themselves…with a circle of feathery friends staying close and near. What are friends for?

May God bless you & keep you!