Thursday, December 30, 2010

Moving past the Holidays

The Holidays are a crazy time with senseless shopping, running around delivering gifts, trying to make sure everything is just right for that "big" day. And for what? The opening of presents. That's all that seems to matter. But, here in our house, we wait until after breakfast to calm the frenzy. It wasn't too bad this year...not many unthoughtful gifts. In fact, my second eldest daughter came home and stayed overnight. She helped with dinner and everything was nice. Family time. And then it was over. After dinner, my sweet older girl hightailed it out of here with any ride she could find. She had things to do, man. And I thought, "Thank God Christmas is over!" Another year survived.

We stayed up and watched the eclipse on December 21, the Winter Solstice, and that seemed more real to me than "Christmas." The moon turned red, or more like a faint peach color, glowing in the night sky. It was pretty cool, and although I was more caught up in the color and shape of the moon, seeing it from an artist's perspective, I realized that the short dark days were coming to an end, and that this moon, this solstice, ushered in a new era of more enlightened thinking for our planet, for our culture...I hope.

I have been noticing the lengthening of days already, even by a mere few minutes a week, and it lifts my spirit as another Christmas fades into the past. My darkest hour. It sure feels like it sometimes. I took the tree down this year two days after the big event. Some years it comes down the day after. To my surprise, some of my family members are still giving gifts. What? It's over! Let it be over! I don't want to shop anymore. I have a huge family and feel inclined to give after receiving. I know it's nonsense. The whole thing is nonsensical really. Back to the pagan holiday of Yule- giving a "gift" was supposed to be a moment of joy, of brightness to ward off the oppressiveness of the long, dark nights. We bought the little ones flashlights for Christmas, and they love them more than anything else and they have been warding off the darkness nonstop. Some of the gifts we get at this time of the year make me think of a commercialized society. Token gifts. Why bother? I have to figure out how to turn this thing around so it becomes more about time spent together...good food, good music, good conversation. Let's lesson the hectic pace of Christmas just a bit.

We also closed on our house in the Springs this week, and as I signed the papers and handed over the keys, I tried not to cry as I said goodbye to my old Victorian girl. She's a beautiful house. Wrong place and way too expensive for us, but I loved her dearly while we were enclosed in her warm safe, homey arms. Great memories. But now, we can focus on our little farm here and move in another direction.

Chicken fort
Richard has been moving chickens around. For Christmas, I got the stinky baby chicks out of my "studio" (spare bedroom, storage, office), which is a delightful thing. The babies in the big coop moved up to the chicken fort in the upper garden, and the little babies, including my white silkie moved down to the "brooder" in the big coop. Musical chickens.

chicken house in chicken fort
Reds in new chicken fort

This new chicken yard gives us the ability to separate flocks. The new babies will comprise a new flock of twelve. The older chickens in the big coop are still having issues with plucking each other and a general bad attitude since I had those lavender guineas in with them, and even though the guineas are gone, the weird behavior continues. I don't want any of my new chickens picking up these bad habits. The chicken fort in the upper garden will allow us to use the chickens in that garden for bug control and fertilizer.

We are still working on fencing and hope to get the north east corner of our property done with the pallets to allow the chickens in the lower garden, the aggressive poultry, more room to roam. Maybe if they have more to do, they will stop beating on each other. Maybe they are fighting over Charlie the Roo. Maybe I should take him out of the picture. Who knows.

On a side note, the two little fuzzy chicks are still tiny in comparison to the faster growing standard size layers. I've had them separated by twos in their respective rubbermaids in my office. The little black and white Cochin is the tiniest of all, but carries the biggest attitude. I wonder if it is a rooster. Ever since I've had him, when I change out food and water, he/she attacks my hand, and not just a pecking, but a hold on and tear off the skin kind of attack. He/she is a little pit bull of chickens. I was thinking of allowing him to grow enough to turn into dinner maybe, but when I moved all of my youngest chicks down to the brooder, the little Cochin Napolean seems to be getting his own dose of abuse--getting stepped on and chased by his new/old chicken room mates. And I, being who I am can only feel sorry for the little guy. Is it his fault he's smaller than anyone else on the farm? I suppose that would give anyone an attitude problem. His future remains open as we wait and watch the chicken antics in establishing a pecking order. The little white Silkie is still the cutest thing, her feathers growing over her eyes like some crazy Andy Warhol hairdo. I love her, still.

So, with the hectic holidays, we are trying to play catch up. It might snow tonight, believe it or not, so we are trying to get the animals and the farm ready for the storm and the very cold temperatures that are predicted. We have to hook up some sort of heat for my two remaining guineas, who ideally should be warmer than chickens, so Richard is on his way into town to get some hay for the llamas and extension cord for a heat lamp for my pet fowl. I really don't like cold, or snow, but we sure need the moisture. We had a weird day last week when it rained all evening and never turned to snow. In Colorado? Weird. It felt like some Spring or Fall night when I went out to put the chickens to bed. Warm. Odd weather is a comin' and we better get used to it, I think

Other news? Well, we took the Billy and Lily the goats back to their home. Breeding time is over and hopefully all the girls will have babies in the Spring. We have to order more kid jammies for the little ones that will be coming. Goat pajamas are the cutest. We sent out a flyer on the CSA with Christmas cards but still have no takers, yet. We are still trying to rouse enough interest locally to purchase a dairy cow communally, sharing milk, expenses and chores. If we could afford to buy the cow outright, we would and just sell extra shares, but we don't have the $1300 a local dairy is asking for their bred yearling Jersey. So, we may have to wait on a dairy cow. And we are working on turning the dining area of our kitchen into a more friendly public space to hold classes in the future.

We recycled some dressers and found some cheap plywood that will be stained to make into a desk/counter/workspace area. I'd like to get real cabinets, upper and lower to hold our canning supplies, dairy supplies, soap making supplies, etc.

Also thinking of putting in a three compartment sink. It is so difficult to wash those big cheese and canning pots in a standard kitchen sink. Would it look too weird, I wonder? Planning a greenhouse on our patio, on the south side of our house. If we could turn it into an enclosed space, it would get solar gain to let heat into the house and we could of course grow our plant starts out there. I'd like the south side of our modular to turn into the front face of an Earthship. Wouldn't that be something?

Found some leather scraps to sew on the bottom of my felt slippers. We did finish a tin can man which we gave to my mother for Christmas. It's a big hit, but I forgot to take pictures. Working on another. Always staying busy here on the farm. So much to do with kids, animals, crafts, gardens to plan and remodel projects. The next year will be full of wonderful things!

Friday, December 17, 2010

UFO'S for Christmas?

It finally snowed here in our high desert land! For a while I wondered if we were ever going to have winter with our 50-60 degree sunny days. It has been so dry we have been watering all of our gardens and trees for fear of losing them to the drought conditions. When Richard went to pick up hay today, one of the farmers in town, who recently attended a soil conservation meeting where the stats for the century were available, said it was shaping up to be the driest, windiest winter in history. Oh boy. Global warming in action.  

I  know we haven't seen any moisture for several months. I am beginning to feel a bit concerned. If we don't have enough water, we are doomed. Needless to say, I've been trying to find a location we might permanently relocate to,  a place with enough water that we could survive on water catchment and intelligent garden design systems. Richard thinks the magic number is 15 inches per year. We don't get that here. We are short by several inches and if it continues to dry out, there is no hope. When the town runs out of water, we run out of water. We don't have a well. We are on the town water system. It is still illegal in Colorado to collect rain water, although I'm considering going renegade on that law. In ancient civilizations, when the drought came for an extended period, the people all died. Simple. We need water. A sustainable homestead takes the physical needs into consideration when planning for an unknown future of Peak Oil, global warming, societal collapse, etc.

So, where could we go? Richard thinks a place without building codes would be ideal for building an Earthsip or earth bag house that we could live in as we went, which is true, but where in the world is that? It turns out there are a few counties in Colorado without building codes, including one to the south of us, and one of the little towns over there gets about 8 more inches of moisture per year. Perfect. But then there is New Mexico, the land that I love, which allows rain water collection, and has more lenient building codes anyway.  The Earthships originated in NM.

So, even though we can't afford to move, I've been snooping around on the internet, trying to find another perfect spot. I do this fairly often, feeling restless and annoyed by suburbia and the covenants imposed upon us. 

I've been learning some interesting things about Rio Arriba county in NM. There's a little town down there called Dulce (it's not wet enough to move to, and on a reservation) that has quite a colorful history in the world of Extraterrestrials. Look it up to learn more about it. It involves the Archuleta Mesa and underground military installations and all sorts of bizarre goings on. Is this for real? And if it is, what does that mean for the rest of us? And does the location of my little homestead even matter anymore?

Well, I'm not sure what to believe anymore. When we went to Taos for the first time in November of 2001, Richard and I had our own close encounter...about five or six green glowing, round orbs in the night sky. "Are you seeing this?" I asked him.  You have to understand that back in the day, Richard was about as straight edge, conservative, discount anything he couldn't see or prove, as a son of upper middle class suburbia could be, trained in cynicism for anything metaphysical. "Are you seeing this?" I asked him that night long ago, wondering if my mind had finally slipped into fantasy land. Sure I had heard about UFO's in NM and joked about them taking people and mutilating cattle in the San Luis Valley. It was part of the quirky history of the Southwest. Right?

"Let's follow them," Richard said. He apparently was seeing it too. But no one else driving on the road stopped. There were no people standing, car doors flung open, gawking at the green lights in the sky. I tuned in to the local radio station (KTAO, one of my favorite stations to this day) and there was no mention of this mysterious thing in the sky. Helicopters? They aren't green these days are they, I wondered? It was crazy New Mexico weird, but we followed the lights as they headed slowly up toward Taos mountain and the Ski Valley. Richard drove his little Subaru right through the snow until the road dead ended into a snow bank too big for us to cross...and the lights disappeared behind the mountain.

I never forgot. When we came back to Colorado, I searched the internet for mention of the mysterious lights. Nothing. We decided to move to Taos that night. It was a sign after all, even if it was one we couldn't understand. How cool was that really? A close encounter of the first kind in the Land of Enchantment where anything is possible. I was thrilled, but wary about mentioning it to anyone, knowing most people were well on their way to thinking me crazy anyway.

And so it comes back. Life is a circle, isn't it? I once painted a painting of circles and circles and circles, intermixed, crossing, intertwined, confused and chaotic. Everything comes back around. Here I am again, ten years later, contemplating the existence of ET. 

We're not going to move to Dulce, it's on a reservation and I don't think we could anyway, and Chama, where I was originally looking, is on the other side of the great Divide from that alien activity that is rumored to be occurring there. But, I know that the Southwest in general seems to be a hot spot for alien activity. What is going on in these parts? Is the government hiding this from us too? Most certainly. They can  garble information about our food, our planet and conditions about global warming, and it seems the information they dish out to us unsuspecting Americans is the information that keeps us in our sheeple suits.

I never did fit into mainstream society and the cute little lamb costume they had me fitted for, I burned in a bonfire built from the rage of a misunderstood teenage girl. It was my right of passage. And to that fire I added everything that would hold me down, keep me a prisoner to the American Dream and the herd mentality. That included Christianity, materialism, capitalism, government and anything else that tried to put me in the box of the unthinking, mindless zombie like 9 to 5 ers who were sleepwalking around me, everywhere I looked. I wanted no part of it. I still don't.

In this season of materialism, I always have a hard time coming back to the expected reality I feel is forced upon me. I hate Christmas. Every year I feel the same unease about participating in consumerism, letting everyone buy my kids things they don't need. And every year I wonder how I could just bow out of that too. Hey folks, I'm not doing Christmas anymore, so don't buy me anything and don't expect me to go out shopping to find some token gift that will never be used. It's all ridiculous. The only positive I have to remember is that Christmas is really a pagan holiday, from the tree to Santa Claus, the gift giving and the feasting, the reindeer and the yule log. I'm cool with that. Santa is a shaman and Jesus Christ may not have even been born in December. How about that? If only we as a society could stop with the crazy shopping madness. Give a handmade gift instead. 

So the Universe gave me a little gift this season. Maybe a little comic did make me laugh when I read that aliens of many species are living underground, with massive tunnel systems that traverse the globe. Some of the governments are in on it. Sure why not? And I most assuredly am having a great time now researching the whole secret world of ET. Who knew? Fun, fun for the holidays. And I continue to look for the perfect, safe, alien free homestead location, ruling out various places for lack of water or...extraterrestrial presence. Don't want to live there and let my children become the next abductees in the endless parade of genetic madness and experimentation rumored to be going on. But then, is anyone safe anywhere? What could you do really if they came for you?

I'll just go back to my farming, my little piece of reality in an insane world. I can still eat healthy and take my vitamins (Did you know Vitamin C can cure cancer? Another cover-up.) Sometimes I look up into the sky and wonder. Maybe the 2012 end times involves an intergalactic underground battle that will have far bigger repercussions for us Earth dwellers than even global warming. Who knows. I've still got to do my part to save the planet, but this new information has my head spinning. I'm hoping that the rumors of benevolent ETs are true too, to help mankind save itself from itself and heal our great planet. Just a gift from the Universe...something to keep in mind as we plan for a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.

Something new happens every day. Gifts. Miracles. Pieces of the puzzle. Tidbits of information that may one day come together to be useful or to make the bigger picture easier to see. I am thankful for the interesting, unexpected and fun gifts that expand my mind.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pretty pallet other people's garbage

Oh, we are having such fun with fences! When last we drove to Pueblo, on turkey processing day at Wren's Nest ( )  we stopped by a company in town that gives away pallets. We got this information from Paul at Wren's Nest, who built his front fence out of pallets. In fact, many of his neighbors also had pallet fences. Painted white, without looking closely, one would never know they were made from recycled pallets. What a fabulous idea.

I love re-using, and we couldn't pass this up. We already collect pallets that Richard turns into compost bins, and if they are free, even better. So off we went with truck and trailer to bring home the treasure of free wood.

mountain of pallets

There was a mountain of pallets of various sizes, and we picked through them until we found enough to match that we felt would make a good looking fence. We filled the truck and the trailer and ended up with a large assortment.

truck o' pallets

I was excited. Free fence! We had been trying to figure out how to fence our property since we bought it, Fence is not cheap by any means. This seemed workable. All we had to do was buy and install some posts to hang the fence on. And... make it look like a fence, passable in our little rural suburbia.

Richard makes a panel

So, Richard began connecting the pallets together to make panels, and they looked just like the privacy fence panels you can buy at Home Depot. except, these were free, and had boards on both sides, which makes them stronger, even if they are only five feet tall instead of six.

pallet panel, ready to hang

First pallet panel
And we carried them down to our fence line and hooked them to the poles. They look great! I don't think anyone can complain. I'm really pleased with how well this is turning out, and I don't think we have to paint them.

So it has been a few days, but now, as of today we are down to the corner of our property and working along the north side. This will enclose a garden space which I hope to turn into a small fruit orchard that the chickens can free range through.

And around the corner
We also plan on putting in some parking spaces for our trailers and anyone who comes to visit. It is coming along nicely, a little bit at a time. I'm going to plant the yucca seeds I collected in front of the fence, along the road. I'd like to keep some natural plants along the border of the property and incorporated here and there. I will also try to get our wild sunflowers established along the fence, and maybe a vine of some sort.

It's looking great. Thank you Richard. And thank you Paul for the information on free pallets.

Nice pallet fence

It seems if we let the world know, or at least our community, that we are looking for specific items, the things show up. It is amazing how many free materials we are finding. All you have to do is ask.

Our little farm is a work in progress, an experiment in sustainability, and it is that much more wonderful when we find reusable materials that other people are throwing away (pallets, leaves, manure, old wood) that we can use on our farm.

Use local resources for everything you can. Recycle, re-use and keep it environmentally friendly and you can't go wrong.

Now, in addition to our many composting projects and pallet wood fence, we are trying to find--locally--some earth bags...or woven polypropylene bags that could be used to build an earth shelter for the llamas in their new paddock and to build a root cellar and an addition on the goat barn.

I was emptying out my cat food bag and noticed this bag was exactly the material that the earth bags were made from. And many of the grains from the feed store come in these bags too. Hmmm...if we could get people to save their bags and donate them to our farm, we would have our material to build with (we still need dirt), and it would cost a whole lot less than the earth bags we found on the internet. (We suffer from never having enough capital to invest in farm improvements and live, so we have to get creative.)

Richard put a note on the bulletin board at one of the local feed stores, offering to buy the used bags for 10 cents a bag. That sounds fair. All people have to do is bring them back to the feed store when they come to buy more feed. Perfect. So far we haven't had any takers, but I am hopeful. I'd like to see another material that normally goes to the landfill incorporated into a sustainable project.

Earth bag building...that's another story and another project. I'll keep you posted. Anyone local with plastic feed bags, I'll take them. And we are still looking for locally produced bio-diesel.

Stay tuned. Next week I want to turn some of my saved tin cans into a tin can man to hang in the garden to scare away the deer and the birds. So many things to do. A creative life is one worth living for sure!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kill the TV!!!

The past few days have been lost to me due in part to my own excitement at renewing our Netflix membership. It has been so long, like a year, since we had our membership and so many movies have come out in that time. Unfortunately, my muse, and perhaps my mind, have taken a hiatus as I have immersed myself in the make-believe movie world, and I have to wonder if I am becoming addicted (or perhaps renewing my old addiction) to the little black, evil box that spits mind-numbing entertainment out at me and so many other people.

While I have spent several hours on my butt in front of the tube for the past few days, I have not written any blog posts, thought about art in any form or worked on any other of my various creative projects. I have not worked in the yard, played with my farm animals or even picked up the book I have been reading (Joel Salatin's The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer). Instead I have been "entertained."  I have become one of the masses, one of the sheep, just like many other good Americans, getting my dose of fantasy to the detriment of my real life. That's just great, isn't it?

How on Earth? I thought I could partake in a bit of mind candy, a bit of non-thinking entertainment, and then go back to my spiritual quest for enlightenment and the simple life on my little farm. But the addiction pulled me in with her whispers and soft kisses and it became so much easier to tune out the painful cries of Mother Earth and matters of great importance in the physical realm as my mind became filled with fluff--stories of other people, and fantasy people at that, and their fantasy lives.

My mood has grown intolerable as I contemplate my own laziness and how gullible I am, falling into the TV trap and the pretty world of make-believe, where the only thing my numbed mind questions is what is going to happen next on the show. Stay tuned.

Is it any wonder that we as Americans are asleep at the wheel? Television is a leading cause, perhaps the biggest culprit in the dumbing down of America. Hypnotized by the hype, distracted by the shiny object. And it isn't even real! We aspire to have things we see on TV and to be like the people we see in the shows we watch. Ridiculous! We are puppets of capitalism, controlled by the little black box that tells us what to buy, how to dress, what to think or not think. We don't have to compete with the Joneses next door, we now can compete with the Smiths and the Phillips on the tube, all in the privacy of our own tract homes, and for convenience, we can order our dinner in so we don't miss one of our important programs. Hell, turn it into a family event with TV dinners and TV trays to hold them. Wait, we don't do that anymore, do we? As an American culture, do we spend more time with our families...quality time...going to movies, watching prime time, sucked in by the brainwashing media machine that tells us to watch more and more and more?

We don't have time to cook so we poison ourselves with convenience. We have to work, and work hard, to get all of those things we see on TV, things we think we need. Television watching takes up so much of our time, it is eating our lives like a cancer and we are powerless to stop it. It eats up time and money. I know people who are having trouble buying food for their families, but they wouldn't dream of giving up the cable. What? I can't even fathom how anyone would pay for TV. Isn't it enough to get the free TV that kills your brain cells without paying for it? It's almost like a drug. It is a drug. Who controls the market? Capitalism?

Ironically, we tell ourselves that it doesn't matter, that it is just entertainment, but it does matter, and more than we are willing to admit perhaps, as our society is mass fed the message to continue to consume and aspire to the herd mentality, whatever that may be at the moment.

What has become of my mind, lost in TV time? Everything is out of whack right now as my Ego drives the boat around and around in circles, laughing as my mind shuts down. Oh, it is a complicated web of destruction that man weaves for himself. Everything becomes tainted in the quest for capitalism. I am afraid. I can't just cancel my Netflix subscriptioon, can I?

When I opted out of mainstream society in my youth, by virtue of my own life, I had little time for television. Life was a great adventure. I met so many interesting people and was always participating in living, and I was more interested in finding out the meaning of life than in what the Joneses were doing next door, or on TV. In fact, in my rebellion against Surburaban norms, I tried consciously not to do what every other white, middle-class American was doing. Even at seventeen, I understood that being one of the sheep would lead to my own personal demise. And, besides, I wasn't buying it. I was happier in my "uniqueness," living on the fringe of society, than I ever would be behind a white picket fence. How come no one else could see through the illusions? How come all of the people around me continue on with their 9-5 lives, never questioning what it's all for? I never understood.

Could it be possible that the great and mighty television set has been shutting down our culture since it was invented? Could it be that my fellow Americans were and are so caught up in the brainwashing, cultish behavior that mindless TV viewing promotes? (Come on, do you need that robotic vacuum...really?) Like with our convenient, processed food, has television become the great escape mechanism, an insulator from having to participate in our own lives? There will be no great adventures had while sitting on the couch in front of the boob tube, except for in the program you are watching, maybe.

If only we could use the television for the greater good, as a medium to get important messages and learning out there, and I realize there is a very limited amount of that going on (thank you PBS), but for the most part, TV and movie watching is an energy vampire. We miss the point of our own lives as we are sucked into the fantasies of made up worlds. And at the end of the day, as we lie on our death beds, will we look back and admire the programs we wasted our lives on, and talk about the great things that the character in the movie of the week accomplished? Perhaps we will be proud of the umteen seasons of Friends we got to watch. What was our great contribution to the Universe? What did we give? What did we do to save the ailing planet? Keep track of football scores? Good for us. We are good Americans. We are good humans.

Last week I finished a book about the collapse of human societies. It is another wake-up call. As an anthropologist, I have studied again and again the things mankind has done to itself that has led directly to the end of civilizations. Deforestation is a big one. But, also inherent in the collapse of a society is the selfish need to have more and more and more. What did the Easter Islanders say when they cut down their last tree? My statue is bigger than yours? What will we Americans say as our culture collapses around us? What's on prime time tonight? Who won the football game?

I'm almost certain that the level of importance for good television programming will far outweigh the need to establish community gardens in the suburbs. If we give up our TVs we might have to see, and I mean really see the stupidity and the chaos that surrounds us and is closing in. Some scholars give our modern world until 2050 before the shit starts to really hit the fan. Recently I've read 2037, and even more frightening 2011. that's not playing into the doomsday predictions of the Mayan calender, or white man's interpretation of it. Maybe we have until 2012. In any scenario, time is running out my friends. When the oil industry crashes, and some say it already has, the materialistic world is going to come undone and a lot of stupidity is going to fall on our heads and knock some of us right out of the picture.

I have decided once again to participate in my own life. I love adventure in real time, whether that's chasing llamas or stacking hay, taking a road trip to a commune in NM, or learning how to spin alpaca wool. Tomorrow we could make soap or grow some vegetables. How about if we teach our neighbors that it is okay to turn off that TV and begin to live. Let's share our knowledge and create community. I find watching my chickens chase tomatoes around is kind of like football, and a lot more entertaining and sustainable in the long run. Best of all, it leaves my mind open to the miracle of life and lets my muse ponder the next creative moment, something I could never get from the TV.

So, yeah, I think I'll cancel my Netflix membership. I have so many important things to do and so little time. You can't save the world sitting on your ass in front of the TV, can you? In fact, you can't even live, really live your life if you don't turn off the television set. Let's not even think about the desensitization of human emotions and empathy by the endless violence we watch every day. And yes, it does make our children more violent. Is it okay to watch murder in any form? If you don't want the negative, don't participate. Stop watching the news. Stop playing violent video games.What messages are we as a culture sending to our children? Whoever has the biggest gun is the bigger man (or woman)? Or is it the biggest television set? Or maybe the biggest SUV? Or perhaps the biggest house that wastes the most energy? My BMW is better than yours.  And I don't have to recycle. It isn't my problem. Let me watch my TV.

There will not be change in our world unless we make it so. The things we watch as that the reality we'd like to partake in, or do we want something better for ourselves, our children and our world? Once again, our choices hold so much weight. With every decision, we shape the world we live in. Turn off the TV and think for yourself for a change. Let the cobwebs clear and get active in your own life. There is no Utopia in a 45" wide screen, HD TV. It isn't real. It doesn't matter.

Kill the television. Pick it up and toss it out into the yard and feel some gratification as it explodes on the cement sidewalk. No more mindless moments for me. I can think for myself and I have my own life to live. I can find so much entertainment in the day to day...the llama wrestling, chicken football, goat keep away from the food dish game. I can paint and sculpt, write and take a walk, laugh with my kids, talk to a friend, plan a garden, read a book, clean the house, compose a poem, pet my dog and make an incredible dinner out of homegrown foods. I can watch as my efforts heal the little space of Earth I call home. There is so much more to life, in fact everything is more interesting without the TV.

Climb out of the box and live a little. It feels good to give back to the planet. Try it. What can you do today to save the world? Turn off your TV and you just might have some time. We all just might have enough time to save our civilization.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Turkey Day

It's time to talk about turkey. And like any other subject involving death, I have avoided it long enough. Last Tuesday Richard and I took the little kids and headed out to The Wren's Nest Farm in Pueblo for turkey day. Turkey processing day.

Heritage breed turkey
Paul and Tammy raised turkeys this year to sell to CSA members and members of the community. There were heritage breeds as well as more traditional "eating" breeds. They were all very nice looking birds, although Paul said turkeys are difficult to raise as they are prone to diseases and they lost several at all stages, from day old poults to month old birds. Who knows the causes...can anyone ever figure it out? The best we can do is try to keep a healthy environment and hope for the best. Losing a few birds comes with the territory of raising turkeys...or chickens. Richard and I have lost a few chickens to mysterious ailments as well.

As we are interested in raising turkeys of our own, this day was to be a day of learning. We are also considering raising meat chickens to sell at our farm. There's a catch. We haven't been able to find anyone who will process poultry locally. There is someone in Ft.Collins, but its too expensive and too far away. If you want to raise birds to eat, you better learn how to process them. So, Richard and I decided to check out the Wren's Nest processing day, not only to learn how it is done, but more importantly, and very crucial to our farming future, to see if we could stomach it.

Dead turkey, walking
They were in process when we arrived...late. Three people were in the killing zone--one holding the legs and the body of the turkey down, one holding an ax on the neck of the immobile bird, and one swinging the sledge hammer down onto the ax, which quickly pushed the blade through the neck of the bird, severing the head in one quick motion. Just like that, it was over for that unsuspecting bird, and it was on to the next.

I can't say it wasn't hard for me to watch, but watch I did, trying to get as much exposure to the event as I could so I could determine if I could be the one holding down that turkey next year. On this day, I didn't volunteer to whack off a head or hold a bird, nor dip it into the  hot water bath to make feather plucking easier. I didn't want to touch any of them. I was having a harder time than I thought with the whole thing.
Pretty big Tom

Richard got involved with the last big Tom that must have weighed 40 or 50 pounds before processing. I did hold that one, upside down by his feet, while he was on his way to the chopping block. He was a big bird. Not sure if he'd even fit in a conventional oven, let alone a roasting pan.

Paul and Richard dipping the headless big Tom

I got more comfortable with the whole thing as time went on. No one else seemed overly upset. Everyone was involved, dipping and plucking their turkeys, and a few brave souls even held the ax and swung the life-ending blow.
Plucking the feathers off

Tammy disemboweled the critters and then they went into an ice-water bath before the respectful owners of the fresh turkeys loaded them into their own coolers for the trip home to a couple of days chillin' in the fridge.
Tammy, cleaning out the bird
There was no question here about what purpose these turkeys were raised for. Yummy Thanksgiving dinner...and the guest of honor is one healthy, hormone free, clean, happily raised turkey. They lived well. They were cage free and allowed to be turkeys in the course of their lives.

When all was said and done, the "finished" turkey looked just like the turkey I would be taking out of my own refrigerator to roast for Thanksgiving. Was I willing to be responsible for raising the meat I was willing to eat? Or, am I just like every other American who can close his or her eyes to reality and tell the kids the turkey comes from the grocery store. That's it.

I think there's more to it than that. When we moved out to our little farm, I thought long and hard about what it meant to raise my own food, including the poultry I normally eat. We don't eat red meat in my small family, but we do enjoy our turkey dinners, and chicken fajitas are the best. Keeping that in mind, am I willing to do what it takes to raise clean meat for myself and my family, knowing that the chickens and turkeys in the big commercial feed warehouses live a very miserable, short life, in a dark, filthy, crowded cage where disease runs rampant and the poor birds get to stand and live in their own fecal waste and possibly decomposing cage mates? Those are the turkeys and chickens we buy from the grocery stores. They are cheap and they are dirty, and so often lately we get sick from preparing and eating such unclean, unhealthy poultry. The warning labels on a package of chicken is astounding.

I decided maybe I could raise my own poultry, but when processors were no where to be found, I was leaning toward total vegetarianism. If I can't kill it, I have no business eating it. But months into this, I was missing the taste of chicken, and when we did buy some chicken breasts at the local grocery, I was trying hard not to think about the poison that was wrapped in that cellophane along with the bird. But think about it I did... as I was washing and disinfecting, as I was cooking and serving, and especially as I was eating that questionable poultry. There has to be a better way--a healthier way.

There is no doubt in my mind that if my family was starving, I would walk down to my chicken coop, grab the oldest hen and take a handy ax (where is my camp hatchet?) and chop off its head. I would dunk it into hot water for a few minutes to loosen the feathers. I would hang it up and pluck it. I would carefully remove the entrails, making sure not to break open any organs as I dislodged the parts from the chest cavity. I would chop off the feet and put that bird on ice before I stuck it in the oven brushed with butter and herbs. To feed my family I would do what it takes.

So the real question here is is it important enough now for me to do what it takes? If this is the only way my family can get access to healthy meat, am I willing to do what it takes? Essentially I can choose to buy tainted, poisonous meat that has the potential to kill my kids, or I can raise my own clean and healthy chickens and turkeys, giving them happy lives. I have to say it is certainly less cruel to chop off the head of a happy turkey than to knowingly participate in an industry that raises turkeys and chickens in a horribly cruel manner for several months before ending their pathetic lives.

I need to grow up and be an adult and take responsibility for my own food and food choices. If we expect to win this war on food, then we have to stop participating in big agribusiness, in all of its multi-layered evil facets.

I think next year, Richard and I will try to raise turkeys along with meat chickens. I am still searching for a cheap and local processor, but I know that I may be the one doing the dirty work at the end of the season. I will try. For my family and the health of our planet, I will try. Or, I may end up having a whole lot of pet turkeys and chickens, although, in all honesty, the way the birds are bred now, it would be more cruel to prolong their lives past prime killing time. The chickens and turkeys will grow such enormous breasts, their legs will not be able to support their own weight. They will collapse and be prone to heart attacks and other ailments due to their large sizes. (Not unlike many overweight Americans today.) Unfortunately big agribusiness has taken everything natural out of the food industry and it is a horror to realize how far from nature our food has come. Can we expect anything but sickness and poor health when we put such unnatural "foods" into our bodies?

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful to Paul and Tammy for letting us participate in Turkey Processing Day at the Wren's Nest Farm ( I am thankful that the beautiful turkeys (yes even turkeys and chickens have their own sort of beauty) I saw there had happy lives and their deaths were quick and painless. I am thankful that a few families will have healthy food for the holidays. I am thankful for being shown a better way. I am thankful for the opportunity to give my family the choice to have better  food, and I am thankful for every single person who reads this blog and becomes educated to where our food comes from. Choose a better way everybody. By buying a farm fresh turkey, you ease the suffering of one more bird in big agribusiness. Say no to intolerable cruelty in our food industry. The poultry and the cows, the pigs and even the plants don't have to be treated in the unnatural manners in which they are for the benefit of humans. We need to treat our food with respect.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A spiritual quest for potatoes

So much catching up to do. With Richard on vacation from work, we have been going nonstop.

On Monday we loaded up the family in the big old truck, hooked up Lucky, the handy trailer, and headed over the pass to the San Luis Valley to pick up potatoes for the Canon Co-op at an organic farm. I was excited. I hadn't been to Salida since we went to their big art festival when I was pregnant with my three year old daughter. I enjoyed the little town then, with its art-friendly attitude, and we had recently been reading about the local food movement that was occurring there as well. A town after my own heart. Was this a place we could ultimately relocate? (I'm always keeping my eyes open for my own personal Shangra-la or Cicely, Alaska, for us Northern Exposure fans.)

Let me tell you, it is hard, so very hard, living life on the fringe and being looked at by the mainstream like you have two heads. Wouldn't it be nice to be welcomed into a community that was already established as spiritual, environmentally conscious, art friendly, educated, open-minded, healthy, etcetera, etcetera...? I have dreams. Not that anyone has thrown stones...not in this decade anyway (when I was young and sported a mohawk, someone once threw a tennis ball at me from a passing car), but I am always leery about telling anyone too much about myself and my belief system for fear of being persecuted or ostracized. I am an outsider in my own family and it is a rare day indeed when I can  meet someone who gets it, someone on the path to enlightenment, someone with whom I feel safe enough with to finally let down my guard.

Isn't it an odd thing to be looked down upon for not eating red meat, or not following the established rituals of a mindless religion? Wouldn't it be wonderful to find the Utopia where everyone was equal and lived a life based on enlightenment and healing the planet and saving humanity from its current course of extinction, a place where the community understood the importance of raising our children not as capitalistic sheep to be led to the next mini-mall, but as stewards of our planet, including the soil, air, water and creatures who share it. Where is this mythical place? For a while I thought it was Taos, and Taos is getting closer, but how could I reconcile myself with the fact that the Taos mountain kicked me out? Anyway, I keep looking, trying to decipher the spiritual clues to the location of my heaven on earth ( I know, I know, it isn't a place) and I had been wondering recently if Salida might be it, at least for me?

Also on this trip, we were going into the massive alpine valley of San Luis, where I knew some sort of spiritual movement was taking place. There is Crestone of course, which we did visit a few years back, and turned out not to be my spot to permanently move, although some would swear it is the spiritual place to be. Maybe it is for them, and they are definitely doing some good work there, but with the freezing winter temperatures, and the "feelings" or lack of, really, that I had when we visited, I knew Crestone would not be the place I spent the rest of my life.

But could I have been wrong? Maybe just somewhere in the San Luis Valley was my little piece of high desert heaven. If the aliens found it interesting enough to make frequent stops, there must be some valuable energy floating between the two mountain ranges that I was missing.

So a trip to the Valley via Salida was welcome, but never justified in expense and fuel use, until now, when we could run a worthwhile errand, which we made even more productive by responding to an ad on Craigslist that was selling really cheap straw bales in the San Luis Valley. Potatoes and straw. That was our main focus, with a little bit of spiritual journeying on the side for myself.

So Monday, we ended up driving through the canon to Salida. The roads had a bit of snow and ice around the curves of the highway that were hidden from the sun, and I was struck by how much the drive reminded me of the trip from Taos to Santa Fe, with the river snaking along beside the twisting road. Well, that was okay then, and except for the dusting of snow and the looming dark clouds ahead, I was in a great mood. We stopped at a little store a Co-op friend had recommended on the outskirts of Salida. It was a bizarre place with really cheap food and items, kind of like a bargain store with dinged up cans and day old discounts, but this place had flour and sugar in bags made of printed cotton material. Where did this stuff come from?

It was freezing when we left the warm cab of the pick-up, and I couldn't think straight. I couldn't focus on spiritual feelings when I was trying to keep myself and two toddlers from getting frostbite on the five yard dash to the front door of the tiny little store. I didn't find anything I needed to have, but Richard found a few bargains when I left him alone and returned the kids to the warm truck to eat our prepared lunch of homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I also had the two chihuahuas on this trip and had to take them out to the potty, at which time, which they glared at me and shivered because I had forgotten their winter coats.

We drove through Salida a bit, into the historic downtown, still full of art galleries and outdoor shops, but nothing really grabbed me and we didn't stop. I was still angry at being cold. I hate being cold more than anything. I just wanted to be on our way. The clouds were looking ominous and I wanted to make it back to the other side of the mountains before the snow started to fly. I hate driving on icy roads about as much as I hate being cold, and now I was ready to go home and be warm with a nice cup of hot cocoa flavored coffee. Forget this trip, forget the potatoes. My mood was getting as dark as the clouds, and I just closed my eyes as we headed out of town, trying to eliminate snow packed sections of the highway from my view, from my reality.

When we got through the pass at Poncha Springs and headed south into the Valley, things got better. As the sun came out and the roads cleared and the sagebrush began to pop up on the prairie outside my window, my bad mood eased and I began to enjoy the scenery. Now it was better, kind of like the drive to Taos from Ft Garland, and I began to feel a sense of peace come over me. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun and envisioned a passive solar house in sage where I could just sit and soak up the winter rays without having to step out into the reality of freezing temperatures. Based upon my feelings on leaving the higher mountain passes and cold, cold environment, Salida does not seem like my next Utopia.

We came into Mosca without incident and pulled up to the gas station where we would meet the farmer (?) who was selling the organic potatoes. Some man loaded a couple of bags of Quinoa grain into the back of the truck and then we were driving back across the highway to the farm where potatoes were being cleaned and loaded into bags and boxes. Lots of potatoes. 
There was a huge truck full of potatoes just from the field and a strange hopper/conveyor thing that loaded the potatoes, and moved them inside the building. I'm not sure where or how they were cleaned and sorted, but they were. Our potatoes came in 50 pound bags and 50 pound boxes, which went into the horse trailer. Now I was concerned that with the cold weather, the potatoes would freeze. Good thing our next stop was for lots of straw that we could insulate the potatoes with.

I asked the lady that we did our potato business with how cold the temperatures really got in the Valley. She said there is usually at least one solid month where night time temps fall from -20 to -40 degrees F in the winter. But of course the sunny days could get up to 40 or 50 degrees F, like so many other high desert Colorado or New Mexico places. Sure, great. Nights are too cold. Even if I built an awesome passive solar house, it was still too cold for me to function. Maybe I better keep searching for my special place.

Mt Blanca
We continued south and then east into Blanca, the town named for the snow covered mountain that was the backdrop to almost everything in the valley. Richard likes to take pictures of this mountain. he says it is one of the most photogenic mountains in Colorado. Being from Texas, I think he is awestruck by this mountain as it seems to be a stereotype of the perfect Colorado mountain. It is a pretty mountain, as long as I can stay far enough away from the cold snow I see piled on its peaks.

We found our straw at a farm south of town and on the way there we noticed a field full of birds. "Geese," said Richard. But I looked a little closer and noticed they weren't geese at all, but a field full of about three hundred Sandhill Cranes. Amazing.I'd never seen more than two Sandhill Cranes in any given place, at any given time. As we loaded straw into the pickup bed and trailer, I could hear the cranes talking amongst themselves, and it sounded like there was a wild bird refuge in this man's backyard.

I could feel a palpable excitement building within me and as soon as we were finished with the straw, I had to sneak as close as I could to the field of birds to snap a few photos. Unfortunately, I haven't had access to an SLR camera for years and I couldn't get close enough to the cranes to get a decent shot. They were incredible, raising their wings and flapping, bumping chests like my guineas at play. Richard tried his hand at pictures from the truck, and then, the birds took off. They all started to fly. I felt like I was in a nature program in Africa, watching the birds take off, perfectly orchestrated.

That old homestead in Blanca
I was having a moment of pure natural joy, just watching those birds, and when I saw the old, abandoned homestead at the end of the road, my first thought was I could live there. There was an old adobe house, outbuildings, including an old grain silo I could turn into an art studio (see Mother Earth News for ideas on how to turn silos into houses.) And, there were the birds, the glorious birds. There was Mt Blanca to look at and the sage surrounding this small farm. I could live there, I thought again. But it's not for sale and the temperatures are probably just as cold in Blanca as they are in most of the San Luis Valley.

We headed back up to Canon city the long way, over La Veta pass, trying to avoid any snow or impending storms. We drove through La Veta, another burgeoning art community, which has grown significantly since the last time I was there maybe seven years ago. It is still quaint, but I imagine the prices for property are rising as it becomes the new trendy spot. The coolest part of that drive was passing a herd of cows heading back to their barn for the night, and when I thought they were going to walk into the road just as we pulled up, I was surprised to see them disappear entirely. They were crossing from one pasture to another, under the road through an enormous culvert. Ingenious!

We got home after dark, dropped off the potatoes and got the little kids into bed. Overall, I was pretty happy to be home, back in my warm little house where the outside temperatures never fall to -40 degrees. Sure, it isn't exactly where I want to end up, but if we do end up staying here forever, I'll be okay with it, and I can  take an occasional drive into the sage filled lands of New Mexico every now and then to feed my soul. Here, we are building community and the people we are meeting are wonderful, and it turns out, maybe not so different from me after all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fuzzy footed chicks and steaming mulch

Baby Bantam white Silkie
I got six more baby chicks on Friday. Two are interesting and four are run of the mill layers--New Hampshire Reds. One is the tiniest Barred Rock Bantam Cochin and the other is a white Silkie, also a Bantam. The Silkie has got to be the cutest little ball of fluff I have ever seen. I have fallen in love with a chicken! The Cochin is the tiniest chick in my chicken crib (rubbermaid container), but the one with the most attitude, running over to peck at my fingers when I fill the food dish. Could this tiny critter be a rooster? The two bantams are straight run, so we won't know what sex they are until they mature into their teenage bodies.

Tiny Bantam Barred Rock Cochin
The Cochins and the Silkies have feathered feet and are just amusing. I have decided to add chickens that are fun to look at to my flock. I still fantasize about a peacock wandering around our small farm, but haven't been able to find one locally...yet. I'd like to get some Araucanas which lay blue and green eggs, and some heirloom chicken varieties too, which used to be the standard on old family farms before agribusiness started breeding chickens for profit and mass laying capabilities.

Our organic eggs are a big hit with the Canon Co-op ( members. Thank you guys! We are selling a dozen for $3.50 which is a bargain when a dozen sells for $3.66 at City Market in town. How about that? We will have to see if our price is enough to cover the cost of the certified organic feed. I know our chickens are happy chickens and the eggs are big with bright yellow, firm yolks. Backyard chickens are the best. I recommend a flock for everyone.

 Richard had been spreading leaves and mulch like mad. We got our second drop of wood chips from the tree trimmers, and the pile was steaming as it was dumped from the truck. It makes Richard soooo happy.  He has been working on the new flower garden space and will eventually move to the upper garden, which he has laid out on paper...keyhole gardens connected by a central garden path and anchored by our big raised bed which now contains garlic and onions.

I'm thinking perhaps our wall on the road side should become a wooden privacy fence, which we can buy and work on in segments. Originally we wanted to build a wall out of rammed earth tires or earth bags and cover it all with an adobe finish. Very nice, but we are having trouble coming up with the materials to get it all done and we need a fence to keep the deer out of our garden and to keep the neighbors eyes off of the tire windbreak surrounding the greenhouse. The tires don't seem to be a big hit...aesthetically speaking, but they work great to protect the greenhouse.

Tire wall wind protection
Today we are expecting another mulch drop, and hopefully we can move injured Guinea into the greenhouse. I took off his foot splint and his wound is healing nicely--all pink and healthy looking. He's squawking more and more into the evening hours when the little kids are asleep, so he has to move back to the great outdoors. Richard also has plans to either go into town and pickup the leftover grape squeezings (to make compost) from the Abby's wine making or to go to the alpaca ranch for a load of alpaca poop for our sheet mulch project. Maybe we can do both.

Saturday we went to a small farm in Florence that had llama poop for free and met the nicest family. The man may let me adopt a female llama to put in with our goats as a livestock guardian. He says he has too many and wants to find approved homes for some of them. We will wait and see. Wouldn't it be exciting to have more llama wool?

Oh, looks like the big orange truck is here with the wood chips....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Farm with a view

view from my kitchen window--today

I do live in a gorgeous place, with Colorado being what it is, and have a lovely backdrop of mountains in both my front and back yards. I can stand at my kitchen sink and stare out the window as I do dishes, looking up the path at the llama barn, which hides the ugly little water tower that supplies our small town, and instead pulls the eye to the dark green of the Wet Mountains in the distance behind the barn. If I'm lucky, my fluffy, cute llamas will be hanging out in this picture and I can consider myself blessed to be living this life right now.

Today there is a storm hanging over the Wet Mountains and the air is chilly with the threat or promise of snow. Slowly, the silhouette of the mountain range disappears into the gray clouds, and I shiver, happy to be wearing my warm alpaca slippers.

The greenhouse is almost sealed up, and I'm thinking of putting injured guinea in his playpen in the greenhouse, where he can be warm and close to his guinea friend in the pen ten feet or so away.  Then they can talk to each other as much as they want to. Now, they have been "talking"--yelling and squawking--when I leave the kitchen door open to let in the warm afternoon sun. Today, however, it is far too cold to leave the door open, but the guineas are still trying to talk through the walls. I'm sure Richard, who has gone to work in his office, appreciates the guinea social hour. I think maybe after this weeks freezing night time temperatures, I will relocate my injured, feathered friend to the greenhouse so he can get acclimated back into the outdoors. As tempting as it is, I don't really want the guinea as a house pet. It's already a circus with two toddlers, the cats and dogs. Adding the clown faced bird to the mix would be more than I could tolerate. Think of the carpet scrubbing I'd be doing then...

northwest perimeter
While Richard has been outside, working on electric perimeter fence (those llamas won't get out again), and getting the upper garden ready for sheet mulching, I have been working on our farm logo. I even took a moment to paint a picture to use as a backdrop. Wow, doesn't a paintbrush feel awkward after so many years? I'm still trying to integrate the logo into the picture and have simplified the shapes to create a more generic logo to use on product labels.

lower east perimeter and Pikes Peak in the distance
With the mountains in so many of our views, it seems somehow necessary to include them in our farm logo. Stay tuned for the final image.

Richard has begun his own blog about the farm, sustainability and related topics regarding the world and the crises we face now and in the near future. Finally he's on board the ship to save the planet. The revolution has begun. Check out his blog at
And yes, that is my painting in his header.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Happiness is...a truck full of leaves and a yard full of mulch

Leaves of Fall. Falling leaves. Lots of leaves. Bags of leaves, by the side of the road. This week we collected leaves on Richard's days off, filling the truck several times over several days. At first I was a little embarrassed to be cruising the neighborhoods, stalking the leaves, but after a while it becomes old news, and the kids are still in the back seat screaming and fighting, lending a moment of normalcy to this strange farm life. I'm more concerned about what the old lady walking her dog thinks of my out-of-control kids than the strange man (i.e. Richard) picking up the neighbors' trash, and really, people only ask occasionally what we are up to, and most nod in understanding when we tell them.

truck o' leaves

You see, we have no soil at our house in the high desert land. No workable soil. No dark, rich, plant-able soil. Being big fans of the Permaculture movement, and like knowledgeable gardeners and farmers everywhere, we know we have to build our soil. It isn't going to make itself out of nothing, so we have to find organic materials to compost into beautiful, nutrient rich soil that will become the basis of our gardens. We sheet mulch. We compost. We prepare for next Spring, when our flower beds and garden beds of leaves and mulch will have composted down into lovely, workable soil.

There are so many wonderful books on composting that will tell you how to create a basic compost pile, and the main ingredient is "stuff" like leaves, grass, hay, or any other plant materials. We mix anything we can find, including plant kitchen scraps, with goat or llama poop and hay, weeds, wood chips, whatever, into compost piles located strategically around our small farm.
Compost bin made of pallets

The piles take about a year to decompose into something resembling soil, and it might be faster if we dedicated more time to watering and turning our piles, but even our unworked piles eventually turn into soil, which is a vast improvement over the desert hard pan we have in our yard.

So, it is the season for leaves. Lots and lots of leaves. We plan on creating a size-able sheet mulch project in our new upper garden space.

seeding the chicken yard
When Richard went to get hay this week, he came back with a big bag of Rye grass seed. Enough for an acre. When we moved the chicken yard to the other side of the coop, the plan was to plant the old yard and the old garden.

So, out went the leaves, followed by a good dose of water, then the seed was spread, old rotting hay was applied and the sprinkler was put on again.  Always water in the layers. The seed was spread in the tomato field as well, and we hope to move the llamas to a new pasture and seed their cactus filled pen with the Rye grass. It is a start, and hopefully a winter cover crop that will improve the soil.

leaves and bamboo

It was a bountiful few days with  leaves and bamboo stalks, but it got better when the local tree trimmer dumped a load of mulch in our driveway. Crazy. Epic yet? No, Richard assures me, it has not reached epic proportions yet. I'm not sure I have ever seen him look so happy as when that big orange truck dumped a mass of wood chips right behind his pile of bagged leaves.

wood chips

The chips were gone in a day, spread out onto our pathways to prepare for the snow and the winter mud that comes with it. Next load will go into the upper garden

And, while picking up the bamboo stalks in a trash pile, Richard scored some live bamboo from the man who was unfortunately not composting his leaves and garden detritus, but was willing to sell us bamboo if we dug it. Sounded too good to be true.$5 for a big bucket that planted windscreen/privacy barriers on the two western corners of our house.

I have now come up with a layout for my cut flower garden, bordered by the fast growing and very tall (7-10 feet) bamboo that was planted somewhere around what we suspect is the leach field for our septic tank. No edibles over there, but plenty of pretty flowers to gaze at and cut to sell at the farmer's market next year. Now all I need is some sheet mulch for my new flower garden--more leaves and more wood chips. Next week we are hooking up old "Lucky" (the horse trailer) to the back of the truck so when we cruise for leaves, we can bring home three times as much.

It is a strange little farming and gardening community we have immersed ourselves in. On a trip to pick up cow manure (for our sheet mulching projects), we came across an acquaintance who was filling her truck with bags of leaves, and so happy for our windfall of compost-able materials, she was almost cheering. Only a fellow gardener would understand. In addition, Richard has been nominated for a board position with the Canon Co-op, Only been here a year and a couple of months and I feel like we have fallen into the right place. Synchronicity in action. It is a wonderful thing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Running with the llamas

Today I had a nice visit with two of my Aunts and two of my cousins, who came to see the farm and my little ones. It was great fun. I was telling them the story of our morning farm activities...

I was cleaning the house, preparing for the family visit, when my eyes were drawn to the window as Richard went running by. What on Earth?, I wondered and ambled back to my bedroom to get a look out the back windows. And there he was, and it looked like he was messing with two large animals, cows? I thought, was he trying to shoo them away? It wouldn't be the first time there were cows wandering in the yard. But no, those weren't cows...they were my llamas! How did they get out?, I asked myself over and over, as I leaped over a million toys and dodged two small children who were very loudly and adamantly telling me that the cat had just thrown up on the living room floor. Oh boy!

"No time, no time," I yelled. "The llamas are out!" My brain was working hard and fast now. How would we catch two llamas, who were now free on the range, when we couldn't catch them in their pen? Think! Food? Llama candy? They loved the guinea food and would eat it out of my hand, and even come running if I had the guinea bucket out. Giving them llama candy I actually got to touch and pet them. Okay, guinea food and some halters. And the car. And the two little kids. "Kids, get your shoes on!" I yelled.

I got the little ones in the car and ran to get the halters and leads, all the time watching my two prized llama babies running across the field and Richard running after them, like a bad movie. Now he had a bucket, which he held out in front of him as he ran, offering it to what, llama butts? He who runs with llamas.

What did I think I was going to do? How could I possible make this situation better? I quickly dismissed the fear of my llamas running off into the woods, farther and further away. Would we actually be able to get them back? We needed help, I thought. Who could I call? No one. All of my neighbors were on the verge of elderly. Would any of them be able to chase down two teenage llama boys? Nah. It was Richard and me, and so far, he was doing a bang up job.

As an after thought, I let my two chihuahuas out of the house and told them to get in the car. Then I grabbed their harnesses and leashes, wondering where any of this would lead? I sped down the road as the llamas crossed to the other side and headed for some trees, doing everything they could to avoid Richard who was huffing and puffing by now.

I pulled into a driveway, thankful this house was for sale, and jumped out of the car, my heart pounding wildly. I grabbed my little cup of llama candy (guinea food) the leads and halters, and headed slowly towards the rebellious camelids, speaking softly and shaking the seed. I threw the halters to Richard. They looked at us with suspicion and ran back across the road. Now what, I wondered, and then remembered the two little dogs in the car who were barking furiously. Maybe they would scare the big animals back home or at least towards our farm, which was up the hill some distance.

I let out my little female chihuahua, the barker, Kierra, and let her run. Richard followed with the llama halters and leads. "Get the llamas," I told the tiny dog who charged the nearest llama, Vador, the black one. Now Vador is always interested in tiny creatures, like small children and guineas, and he turned and looked with amusement at the little dog who was sniffing at his feet. He stretched his long neck down to get a good sniff at her too, and then he began to dance, and I thought, oh dear God, now he's going to stomp on my little dog.

"Kierra," I yelled, hoping she would back off. I ran over and offered the llama candy to Vador, who fell for it and stuck his nose deep into the cup to reach the seed. I threw my arm around his neck and Richard put his halter on and snapped on the lead. "Tie him up." I yelled and turned to the other llama. "Turbo, come here boy," I said and shook the cup at him.

Richard had tied Vador to... the neighbors' gas meter? Really? "I don't know if that's a good idea," I said, but Richard was gone. He had grabbed Kierra, who had been running off into the neighbors' yard, and was now taking her back to the car. Turbo, meanwhile, was headed up the road with no interest in me, the llama candy or his buddy Vador. He, in fact, was so proud of himself and his new found freedom he would occasionally kick his feet into the air like some happy little bucking bronco llama.

I quickly untied Vador and decided to follow Turbo up the road. At least he was headed in the right direction. Richard followed in the car with the kids and dogs. So we walked, my llamas and me, all the way home, and when we reached our driveway, Turbo looked at it and began to walk on by. I called to him and led Vador into the yard, hoping, and praying that Turbo would worry and follow. (Normally, Turbo is the protector, and when Vador goes anywhere, Turbo follows, or tries to.) Sure enough, he was following us. Around the truck and up the path...and then he wasn't.

Turbo had detoured off into the upper garden, toward the guinea house, so I pulled Vador back around that way too, and used his lead and his big old llama body to trap Turbo, until Richard came to the rescue with the other halter and lead. After that, it was easy. We lead them back into their pen and I gave them each a little llama candy and thanked them profusely for coming home.

Then I headed inside to scrub cat puke out of the living room carpet.

And here I was wondering what I was going to write about. Later I thanked Richard for giving me some good blogging material.

Always make sure the gates are closed. And make sure again, just to be safe.

Kierra: llama herding, working dog