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Early this week, as I did the morning chores, I saw a young goose move quickly off of a spot close to the barn. I knew from that behavior that she was making a nest. New life was coming. I could feel it!
Theologian Thomas Berry said that there is something in us that goes out to meet every living thing. I met her and felt joy! All winter, my five geese spent the night together behind the barn. I spent most days inside writing and reading. Now, this goose was creating a nest. She is the smallest of the three that survived from last year's hatch. With a light-grey spot around one eye, she is endearing the way those dogs that have a spot around one eye are.
Exactly what changes when a goose begins to lay eggs? She gets plumper, lower to the ground and more demure. She carries herself as if she has something precious inside. She glows, as pregnant women do. One can read about it, but when one sees this goose firsthand, one feels the expectancy.
I examined the spot where she had been. She had made a deep crater of leaves, but the nest had no eggs. Later, as I forked spent hay from the cow's stall, I saw something lustrous and white. It was a long, narrow egg—probably her first. It had a streak of yellow-orange on one side, a long, dark narrow streak on the other. What were these streaks? I don't know. I was intrigued and disgusted. The next morning, one rounded full-sized egg lay nestled deep in the nest.
Yesterday, a thin sheet of ice covered the concrete behind the barn. I walked through the barn rather than risk the shorter walk across the ice. I poured water for the cows into two black tubs, each fifteen inches across and six inches deep. As I gave the cows a large flake of hay, Pappa Goose and the young goose stood on opposite sides of one tub. He brought his neck forward, dipped his head into the shallow water, preened his neck feathers and waggled his tail. She mirrored his neck movements ten or fifteen times. Then she climbed into the tub, filling it and splashing water over its sides. He mounted her and thrust himself forward. Within seconds, he trumpeted. They both ruffled their feathers and left the tub.
Now snow is falling again. The temperatures will drop to close to zero degrees Fahrenheit tonight. Will her eggs freeze? Will they maintain their fertility? Will she set on them through the night? Last year, a young goose sat on eggs for nearly a month. None of them hatched, though, because she had not been a consistent setter. What will happen this year? I don't know.
I do know that this goose has thrilled me with her presence more than any book, e-mail or work that I have done this season. She moves me; she delights me; she engages me. As I have gone to the library this week, I noticed images of an eagle displayed on a giant screen there. That eagle is nesting on top of a building in Pennsylvania, a camera trained to transmit its every move. Those images give me information but not intimacy. I am involved with my goose; I can only observe the eagle.
A friend has asked me how she can connect with Nature in her own back yard. Find some living thing that draws your heart to it and attend to it regularly, I suggest. Care for it. Bond with it. Treat it as if it matters. It does—to you and to Nature. As a farmer, I attend to the goose, I provide food and water, but I don't control her. Will she set? Will her eggs hatch? I watch and wait, ever hopeful, not knowing what the outcome will be.
I do know spring is coming.
“A father and mother who are actually creating a Space of Love for their children are more spiritual than the most celebrated wise men who only talk about spirituality. Let the spirit of each human being spring up from the ground as a beautiful flower, a tree with fragrant fruit...” Vladimir Megre
These words from the Ringing Cedars of Russia series sparked a deep resonance in me. A friend gave me, Anastasia, the first book in the series. In it, Megre describes meeting Anastasia on a trading expedition into the Siberian taiga. A recluse, she hold the memory of an ancient civilization. In the succeeding books, she shares with him; he shares with us. His encounter transforms his life.
The vibrancy of her images call for us to create a world of peace and harmony by remembering we are children of God. The Earth has been placed in our care; the image of a garden deep in our psyche. Megre advocates that people create a “kin's domain”--what we would call a homestead--where children are born and raised, where elders are buried when they die--a place of abundance and beauty.
“Imagine God looking down on you from above right now. And He sees someone driving a tram, another one of His children constructing buildings, another standing in a store and selling things behind a counter. These aren't the professions God created... He created a marvelous world and gave it in stewardship to His children. Take care of it and use it! But to do that, you must understand this world. Understand what the Moon is, what the herb known as yarrow is...” writes Megre.
He continues, “If we really listen to our hearts, together, we ought to go from simply talking about spirituality to its material embodiment. One [homestead] is but a tiny dot on the face of our planet Earth, but millions of these dots will transform the whole planet into a flourishing garden. Trillions of flower petals, along with the happy smiles of children and oldsters will tell the Universe that the people of the Earth are ready for a grand co-creation.”
What if White Rose Farm focused on helping people experience a lively homestead and learn skills of heart and hand so that they could create their own Space of Love in which to raise their families?
Anastasia says, “Fruits grown with love can give their grace only to those who themselves have instilled love in them, or to those to whom the growers give them of their own free will.”
I know this is true: I have experienced it. Food is not a commodity: it is a gift from God. How can we create loving homes when we feed our families food that is thoughtlessly or negligently grown—whether it is organic or not?
I am very grateful that my parents created A Space of Love for me. I want to share it with others. I cannot sell life without demeaning the sacred—no one can—but I can share it. I can share my knowledge. I can share my space. Together we can create a world of beauty, harmony and love.
It starts with the seed of an idea and the willingness to nurture that seed. Something, someone, some energy is drawn to that seed. Then the dance begins: the dance with life. That is our most important work—to invite people into the dance of life. I remember the words to a song I wrote years ago, “ We can all weave, we can all spin, we can all dare to let others in, by telling our stories, sharing our songs, together we bring ourselves home.”
Home, a Space of Love, may we find it and nurture it this spring...and forever.
I planted onions and leeks on Tuesday.
"You are planting seeds and we got four inches of snow!" A friend responded.
That's the funny thing about seeds. They have their own interior timing--the time that is perfect for them to grow and flourish. Start them at the right time, and they thrive. And so I have started seeds at the farm.
But it is not just produce that we are growing this year. A group of my friends are forming a non-profit organization, White Rose Farm Circle, Inc. We are imagining a circle of community in which all kinds of seeds can sprout--seeds of new ventures, seeds of cooperation with nature, seeds of new learning--all this in addition to the seeds that are planted and tended in the garden.
It is a time of sowing.....
Our next full moon gathering will be on Saturday,March 7 starting at 4:00 p.m.(until 7:30 or so) at the Retreat House, 4234 Ruggles Road. We will focus on planting seeds. A new farm member, Tiffany DiBlasi, will bring a small pyramid she has built. We will try placing seed within it. I will also demonstrate several other seeding techniques. Bring food to share. We suggest a $10 donation to support this gathering.
Greet the day; meet the day. Engage, connect. Rest, reflect. Sleep, dream. These are the rhythms of life. We farmers experience these rhythms every day: we must. Our animals depend on us for their care.
Every day, we step into life on the farm. Every day is different, sometimes subtly; sometimes dramatically. We see what is before us; we do what needs to be done. Theologian Thomas Berry said that there is something inside us humans that goes out to meet every living thing; the natural world outside of us and our inner world go together.
Yesterday, I prepared for a winter storm: two to four inches of snow, frigid temperatures and strong winds. I walked over frozen grass into a low field where ice covered oozing clay. I followed deer trails into the woodlot. I stepped gingerly over small streams. Tiny shoots of vibrant green grass grew at stream's edges. The tree trunks, strong and sturdy, reached skyward. Adrift in woods in winter, I remembered how my father loved woods. I sawed wood and stacked it into piles at the lot's edge.
At dusk, I went out again to close up the animals. I emptied the geese's tub of water. Come morning, I would fill it with fresh water without having to break ice frozen solid overnight. I covered the plants in the hoop house with thermal cloth to protect them from temperatures that were to drop into the teens. Yesterday, while the ground was soft, I had filled the holes that a small animal had dug under the base of the house. I hoped to keep drafts of wind from blowing through those holes.
This morning, a gusty wind blew fresh, dry snow into drifts. The world was beautiful and bone-chillingly cold. Had it not been for the animals, I might have happily stayed inside. Instead, I pulled on an old snow suit, laced up heavy boots and went out to do the morning chores.
I filled the water tub and opened the door to the old greenhouse. Out came the flock of ten geese, honking and flapping. I threw shell corn on the ground for them: they would have no grass to eat today. I opened the hoop house. The thermometer registered 44 degrees. It had dipped to 27 degrees overnight. With the bright sun, the house could warm to 80 degrees and then cool to 20 degrees at night. I left the door of the house slightly ajar to vent the heat out of the house. Plants do not like frigid cold, but they suffer even more from wide swings in temperature.
As I rounded the barn, a blast of wind swept snow into my face. I felt the prickle of snow hitting my cheeks. I leaned forward into the wind. Should I let my pregnant heifer out into the pasture, I wondered, or leave her sheltered in the basement of the barn? The sunlight and fresh air would be good for her. Cedar trees at the edge of the pasture would provide some shelter for her. But it was so cold! Perhaps, I decided, I would let her out midday. I filled her hay rack, and gave her an ample portion of alfalfa cubes and grain.
At the chicken house, I threw scoops of feed into the trough. I opened two bags of leaves and spread them in front of its door:chickens do not like to walk on snow. I opened the door.The chickens perched on the door's ledge. “Come out in this?” they seemed to question. I kicked the leaves right in front of the door so that they could hop onto the leaves to get to their feed. They did.
My fingers and toes hurt from the cold as I went inside. I poured a second cup of coffee and sat near the wood stove. I had smelled the fresh crystalline air, felt snow crystals on my cheeks, marveled at its patterns in the drifts and felt its crunch under my boots. I had heard geese honk, felt the warmth of my cow in the barn, and watched the hens look out of their house.
Would I have gone out on my own? Well, probably not. I had mustered my will
to care for my animals. Was I glad I did? Yes.
Unless we go out, we have no new experiences to feed our inner life. Ah, the wonder and challenge of living!
In The Space of Love by Vladimir Megre, Anastasia, a Russian recluse, speaks persuasively about creating a space of love for our children. It is, she asserts, the most important work that parents can do. She imagines families growing their own food and herbs, creating and maintaining health and wholeness through their relationships with plants, their home place and each other.
I now live on the farm that my father chose in 1966, a place where he built a house and planted trees. I reflect on how my mother called me her Valentine Baby, and how I was born exactly nine months after Valentine's Day. I am grateful for the space of love that my parents prepared for me.
I want to share that love with the world so that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren may grow up in a space of love. A dear friend just gave me a generous gift to initiate a non-profit organization, White Rose Farm Circle, Inc.. The Circle will focus on engaging people—their heads, hands and hearts--in caring for and connecting with the land, the natural world and each other.
Imagine creating a space of love for our children and our grandchildren. What a wonderful world that will be!
Won't you join us? (More details to come.) We are sowing seeds of beauty; we are sowing seeds of love.
Happy Valentine's Day!
P.S. I read this to my friend, Gwen Marable. She has agreed to serve as one of our Board of Directors. She shared this passage with me:
"There are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats.
Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us, whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done, arms to hold us when we falter, a circle of healing, a circle of friends, some place where we can be free.” a quote from Star Hawk
A friend and I stepped into two inches of light, crystalline snow last night. We had committed to spreading the Three-Kings preparation, a world-wide ritual to heal the Earth.
Hugo Erbe created this preparation after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. A biodynamic farmer in Germany, Erbe felt how the bombings disturbed the elemental beings and the energy field of the earth. He created a healing balm made of gold, frankincense and myrrh, the gifts that the Three Kings had brought to honor the Christ child. Those substances,some say, represent an awareness of the spiritual events behind physical form.Others say that in this ritual, we are preparing for the coming of the etheric Christ.
I had heard about this preparation from another friend. She described how biodynamic farmers all over the world spread this preparation on their land at dusk on January 6. I imagined a healing wave of energy circumnavigating the globe. I wanted to participate.
I order a kit from the Josephine Porter Institute(www.jpibiodynamics.org). On New Year's Eve, I grind the three ingredients together, then add water and glycerin to make a paste. On January 6 in the afternoon, I mix the paste with water and stir it for an hour. As darkness settles, I sprinkle the enlivened water around the perimeter of the farm. I invite friends to join me.
The first year, another friend helped me. We faced freezing rain and sloppy snow. My friend is a short, stout woman with great heart, but limited stamina. I decided to ask the trees to help us. We both felt their excitement at being included! Now, each year, I include them and bless them.
To view a tree trunk by the light of the moon in mid-winter reminds me of how it is to see one's naked lover standing in half-light, open to being seen. One becomes expectant, appreciative, humble. To be seen in one's nakedness; to see another clearly. To face the elements—the elemental forces—that is much of what stepping into the woods at this time of year is like.
I first exercise my will to step away from the warm hearth fire to don layer upon layer of clothes. I step outside, feel the chill of the air, breathe in its freshness, wonder at the breadth of the sky, the magic of the moon hanging above the Earth, the crunch of the snow underfoot, and the sublime quiet.
My friend and I tromped through high grass along the fence row in the pasture. Soon we stood amidst field and tree,far from any reminder of the modern world. We saw the play of form and formless—the silhouettes of buildings, trees and shrubs against white open fields and broad sky. We noticed clumps of snow on the ends of the long stalks of weeds We watched my dog run happily through the snow. We were surprised as birds flitted suddenly from brush, twittering. It was intensely present; deeply filling.
“It feels ancient,” my friend said. She had listened to a program on the radio as she drove from the Washington DC area to the farm. A guest described how technology could send a sense of fragrance from one person to another. Such technology seemed inconsequential where we now walked.
I want to get more people to the farm, I explained, to connect with the Earth. It is not enough to think: we must find a spiritual path and walk it; find a devotional practice and do it to make a difference.
Last year this friend and I were out on the coldest night of the year in blustery wind, freezing cold. She already plans to be back next year. So do I.
My friend and I had been preparing for Brigid, Buttercup's mother, to come board here over the winter. Our heifer, Buttercup, now five months pregnant, has lived here two years. To go from one cow to two seemed another giant step toward making the farm whole—cows, I have been told by many are herd animals and need companions. I would now have a herd over the winter. I did not know how much uncharted territory I would discover.
We cut vines off of the fence posts, cut and raked grass from under the fence. We pounded T-posts along a line in the pasture and then strung two strands of electric wire on it. We tightened the existing fencing and made new four-board panels for around the barn.
“The weather is not fit to work in,” my neighbor advised. It was cold, windy and rainy.
“Where are you going to put that cow?” she asked. I had planned to let her into the pasture at the end of the farm lane. “You don't want to do that.” She said emphatically. She was an experienced farm wife. “She'll walk away. You need to put her in a stall for a week so she gets to know where home is.”
Her owner, on the other hand, assured me that Brigid was easy-going, “Just give her a carrot or an apple and she will follow you anywhere.”
This was new territory for me. Was there a middle path, I wondered? As my friend and I finished the fencing, we imagined putting Brigid in the pasture at the end of the farm lane, and keeping Buttercup in an adjoining area.
The owner and her husband arrived early on Saturday morning with Brigid. Fencing looks strong, they said. Pasture looks great. Husband and wife agreed to our plan. He walked Brigid into the pasture. She danced; the cows mooed low and touched noses across the fence. They grazed happily that day.
The next day, freezing rain fell. At dusk, I decided that Buttercup needed shelter more than they needed to be separate. I opened the gate that let them both into the stall in the barn. How would they do together? There were several uneasy moments as they both headed into the stall together. Brigid had just come out of heat, Buttercup tried to mount her. Brigid moved away. Then they settled together.
This new chapter is uncharted territory for us farmers as well. Three years ago, the cow's owner bought a family cow, a fine Jersey. She brought her home and named her “Brigid.” She and her neighbor agreed that they would milk her together, one woman took the morning shift, the other the evening. After a year, they had had enough. Three days later, they met again: they loved the cow; they loved the milk. They wanted more flexibility in their schedules.
So the cow's owner recruited a team of “Merry Milkers” to help with the milking. The milkers agreed to milk twice a week, and the owner trained us. Last winter, the owner needed to travel. She gave the cow to another Merry Milker who installed an expensive fence to accommodate the cow. She and her family have milked the cow all year.
Now her oldest son needs medical care. Would I take the cow, the owner had asked? I agreed to board her over the winter. If I find young farmers to help on the farm, I may be willing to take her permanently. Meantime, she had become a commooooonity cow. And we are all in uncharted territory.