Whole Again: Wrapping up 2015

Hello my lovely folks,
I hope you all had an excellent New Years, Christmas, Thanksgiving and anything else you celebrated. It’s been quieter than normal around here; our life on the other hand has been some form of chaos for the last six months. I thought it was high time I filled in the large- er, huge may be more appropriate- gaps for you and gave you a look around our new place. Be forewarned, you might want to settle in with Kleenex and a hot drink, this isn’t exactly a rainbows and unicorns story. This has been hard for me to share because I want to inspire you, not discourage you. Rarely is the whole honest version of a story without sorrow even when it ends happily, this is no exception.

This is a set of panorama type photos of the property

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If you’ve been following along on facebook you know some of what has transpired since I graduated in June. The week of graduation was spent in frantic packing and distracted graduation party planning. Then we were loaded up and gone just two days later.
That morning was clear and beautiful. The birds were carrying on in the tangled forest just across the fence from the barn. The horses hadn’t been fed yet and watched us expectantly. The trailer and trucks were crammed with as many of our earthly possessions and small angry animals as we could fit. It was an adult version of the closet crammed so full that opening it again is dangerous to life and limb. As I finally climbed into the truck I was surprised to find myself crippled with emotions; perhaps exhaustion took the legs out from under my usual resolve. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to be moving but it wasn’t that simple. We were writing the very last page in the book that contained all our married life, and my entry into adulthood. We were leaving a community of people who had supported us during our time away from or families and the community that we grew up with. The folks in Thurston County became dear to us. We were also leaving Cal, buried there under her A-frame dog house. I was saying good bye to a college that had not just given me knowledge and skills but made me a better person. And, what were we headed to?

Yes, we had a plan, but plans rarely match the reality they try to direct. We were going to a place that was not prepared for us and there was no time left for preparations. I felt a great since of trepidation and excitement. My dreams were so close I could almost wrap my fingers around the barns, pastures, gardens, orchards and greenhouses. Very few of us start out living on the piece of heaven we dream about. Instead we save and we plan and hunt for “the place”. And then we move. Full of dreams and hopes. Excitement and confidence. And, just a little exhausted and sleep deprived. We are neither the first nor the last to have this experience. Such were my thoughts as we raced the sun home. Home. Home to stay after five years.

We might have been going home but that didn’t mean we had a house to live in. AJ’s relatives gave us a camp trailer; the first of many acts of generosity we were blessed with this summer. The camp trailer has actually worked out better than I could have dreamed. We only gained 55sqft but it feels big compared to the 240 sqft apartment in the barn.

This set includes an arial diagram, property lines and our trailer

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Since there wasn’t a coop the chickens stayed in their transport crates or moved into empty rabbit cages. That was a couple miserable weeks for all of us. The temporary coop we managed to set up couldn’t have kept a half dead 20 year old Pomeranian out, let alone the predators we know call this place home. This summer was one of the hottest and driest. Rabbits don’t do well in hot weather. I had them under a pop-up with improvised feed bag walls, on the north side of a building, and I still had to battle to keep them comfortable. Every morning the chickens would migrate from their coop to the cool recesses under our trailer. They would stay there until it cooled off again at dusk. We had, and still have, stacks of storage containers, piles of animal supplies, irrigation equipment, tools, my set of good dishes, keep sakes and recycling- oh and don’t forget the chickens!- shoved under the trailer we call home.
Our permanent chicken and rabbit building, The Racken House, wasn’t finished until a few weeks ago. The morning after I moved the rabbits into the Racken House, by head lamp no less, the pop-up they had been under collapsed from our first heavy snow.

This summer I took to wearing sport shorts, tank tops and a wetted heavy cotton button up shirt to stay semi-functional through the hottest days. During our time in western Washington we had forgotten how hot the hot days are here. We forgot about the dust that coats everything. The reality of this summer was fire kill black and red pines. Blackened crumbs of wood, ash, dust, sand; that all billow up and run off to the neighbors. Dead plants parched for water. Wind that steals the moisture from your lips and the soil from under the trees but disappears on the 104 degree days when you most desperately want it.

It seemed like every day was some kind of battle. Against the weather, the dryness, the shortness of hours in a day. During all of this my husband lost an uncle, great uncle, a previous boss and his grandfather while two sets of my grandparents were in the throws of divorce. Unfortunate times?
It’s been a head down, pull the wagon up the mountain sort of time. More than once I found myself wondering if we were all going to make it to winter.

The work was so all consuming and merciless that I had forgotten why we were even doing this. What was this dream we had anyway?
We are doing this for the green pastures where fat and glossy animals graze, for the trees with birds, bugs, buzzing bees, ripening fruit and nuts. For the chickens hunting in the grass and people laughing in the shade. We are doing this to feed ourselves, to feed our community, to teach people how to be stewards of their land and animals. That is the dream.

Less than a month after we transplanted ourselves my mom was given an abrupt eviction notice. Our own unpacking and preparation for winter slammed to a halt as we shifted gears to focus on her. I’m not sure what we would have done if someone hadn’t donated a gutted trailer house for us to move to the property and set up for her. Moving my mom is a string of blurry days that lasted from before dawn to well after dark. I felt like I was chipping away at a mountain with a tooth pick. We greeted the end of her move with what can only be described as hysterical exhaustion and relief. When we finally moved the last load I thought to myself, it’s going to get easier after this. I sort of caught a glimpse of that pasture and those trees through the moving boxes.
On a Monday morning not long after I sat holding one of my cats as the last shudders of life left his soft sweet body. I was overcome with fury. Why the HELL does this have to be so hard? Yes, I really said that, and some other choice phrases. I’m no saint, hopefully you aren’t too scandalized.

I thought of Jobe’s wife who told him to curse god and die.
That morning I buried my friend on a south east slope and stacked a carren that points to nowhere over him. I scratched wildflower seeds into the dirt and decided it was a good place to plant a chestnut tree. I didn’t curse god. I wanted to. But I couldn’t. My little friend had a good life from his first breath to his last. Death is an inescapable reality of life. As someone who has decided to bind themselves to the raising of food I see a lot of death. I bring about death. Knowing how starkly fragile life is has made me value life all the more.

In my frustration and anger over the direction our life seemed to be spiraling toward I made myself, the animals and the land a vow, and prayed, that things would get better. That it would not be this bad, this hard, anymore. And it wasn’t.

It seems to me that there is a force of evil, call it what you will, that works overtime to derail and destroy good things in our life, our dreams and our joys. After that, in spite of the bad that continued to happen, all the good in the universe came to our aid. We were given copious building material, everything from roofing and lumber to windows and woodstoves. Materials that helped us build the Racken house and set up my moms new house. At some point late in the summer a trickle of produce turned into a flood and I spent days on end canning produce we were given and I was thankful. Its felt like there was a haze of negativity here since my grandparents separated and the Carlton Complex fire swept through. This fall it finally started to lift. We were blessed, blessed beyond measure.
In the fall things started to slow down some. In the empty hours I faced some serious self examination. I realize that I had baggage to unpack. I had spent five years away from this place in a form of self-imposed exile while I was at college. This land is part of my soul in an inexplicable way. In order to survive those five years I had to pack away parts of myself. I used to paint, draw and write poetry. All those things had been tucked away both because college required all of me and because homesickness sucked the creativity out of me. I avoided admitting how homesick I had been for the last five years because it only could have made it unbearable to stay and finish college. I missed every rocky snow peaked mountain, every hill, shadow, sunbeam, dust moat, tree, snag, bush and creature. Being back in this place has made me whole again.

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Here on the other side I look back and find it was worth every second of hardship because I am happier than I have been in years. Don’t get me wrong, I loved college. I have a slightly irrational love of learning that made college rewarding and actually fun, even though it was hard work. Now, I still learn whatever I want but I’m also finally getting to start projects I’ve been waiting to start my whole life. In 2016 I’m going to plant a small market garden, or a huge regular garden, either would be a true description. I will be figuring out the farmers market gig and hopefully find some folks who want to commit to CSA shares. I’m also planning to start selling rabbit meat for-reals, but first I have to find farmers to buy feed ingredients from, build feed storage and set up a slaughter system that works for butchering more than a litter at a time. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, we have lots to do!

And where is that all heading? What’s our plan for this place? Why, I’m glad you asked!
My goal is a farm that is focused on providing CSA shares, preserving heritage breeds, improving the land and teaching classes. Enabling people to live better by offering education is extremely important to me. Life From Scratch will continue to play a role in that, hopefully working along with classes we will be able to offer on the farm.

As I consider where the last year has taken us I feel like I could take on anything. Famous last words, right? It’s been a tough slog and I’ve gained new muscles and endurance, both mental and physical. Whatever 2016 brings I feel a peace and confidence grounded in knowing that I didn’t just survive 2015, I’m better because of it. The new year is a blank book and I’m eager to start writing.  025

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