Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving Great Thanks

I have a lot of things to be thankful for...

I can start with gratitude that my life is calm and without fear, abundant with food and resource, family, friends, and community. I am grateful for all the opportunities given to me by way of all my life experiences and my connections to all those in my life. I'm grateful for all the things that provide an opportunity for growing my spirit and my heart, even when I sometimes don't recognize it as such an opportunity.

I'm grateful for my little immediate family, reinventing what it means to love, and for my wider blood family, who has nurtured and supported me through lots of hard and wonderful times, and for my even wider family of "kinfolk" and friends, all of you who have reflected me back to myself and offered an incredible array of gifts, assistance, friendship, love, laughter, and happiness.

I give great thanks to the earth under my feet, both where I stand today, and at the location I call home, for feeding my body, mind, and soul.

May we be grateful every day, may we love each other in gratitude for all we give, all we are given, and all that is still to come.

I love you all!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Visions and Dreams

There's been a lot of talk lately of visions for our country, what with Obama getting elected. If you haven't already, I recommend checking out his transition website The thing I am particularly amazed about is that there is a button to push called "Share Your Vision". I have been spending a lot of time recently contemplating what my vision for our country, let alone my own community, is. I mean, what if there really were no limitation on what kind of society we could live in? How big can you dream?

I'm working through a letter to send to that transition team in Washington, and I encourage you to as well. Now, I'm not a political analyst, nor am I an expert in anything in particular. But I do think that I have a handle on some of the issues facing my own neighborhood, as well as our entire species. Whether they're actually reading them, or just tallying topics, I think it's worth contributing my little two cents. The ability to contribute to the wider conversation of our nation is exactly part of my vision for democracy. Once I finish my letter, I'll post it here for you all to read.

This all dovetailed nicely with a speech I read recently, by Kenny Ausebel, the co-founder of Bioneers. Bioneers is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the word about solutions to human problems that use nature as a design template. Their annual conference in San Rafael has been an inspiring complement to my ongoing studies of environmental issues and permaculture. Anyhow, I received a transcript of Kenny's Plenary speech, called "Dreaming the Future Can Create the Future", from the conference (I've been unable to attend the last few years because of becoming a mommy). I recommend it as important reading describing the incredible crossroads we are at as the human species, and the tremendous opportunity we have to redesign our world, from one of pain, suffering, and poverty, into one of abundance, beauty, and ecological balance. May we attain this goal!

We Started Our Walls!

Last week, in a break in the weather, and when the mason crew happened to have the time, two guys came out to lay the first course of wall block on our house. Professionals are necessary so that the first course is perfectly level and plumb, making the future stacking much smoother. I didn't expect how excited I would be, but it feels SO EXCITING! Maybe it's just that you can see where the doors will be now, or that it already feels a little more enclosed when you stand inside of it, but in either case, it's just plain awesome.

With this task done, we are eager to move on to working through the slab, and getting Karl up here to do electrical, so that we can do the real glory work, dry stacking the blocks. This part will go relatively fast, giving a lot of bang for your buck. FUN! But before we put the cart TOO far in front of the horse, we are thinking we might be able to get the slab done before our winter walkabout, which starts the last week of January. We'll see how far we can get.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Apple Time

Washing the Apples and Grinding Them

Grounds in the Press

Racheting the Press, It's Old School Mechanics

One thing for sure is that the old-timers and settlers to Petrolia recognized the place for ideal apple growing climate. In addition to newer fruit orchards on the newcomer's places, there are a lot of old, old orchards around here. There's even a locally developed variety, called the Pink Pearl. It was "discovered" by Mr. Etter (of Ettersburg), the Luther Burbank (renowned plant breeder) of the north.

Being that this is fall, there are a plethora of apples to harvest, everything from juicing globes, to sweet, crisp fresh eating fruit. Some of my favorite varieties are Fuji, Yellow Delicious, Macintosh, and Gravenstein. I do like the Granny Smith's, too, for baking and juice.

Last weekend, we pressed juice at our previous residence, on the banks of the Mattole River near the old Hideaway. Several of us gathered to collectively harvest, grind, and press apple grounds into the luscious, amber elixer. It was an overcast morning, threatening rain, but we pressed around 30 gallons of the good stuff to take home and make into goodies. Drew and I used ours to make hard cider, which is happily bubbling away in its primary fermentation jug as I write. We also took home several gallons of apple grounds to make applesauce with, which we canned that evening. I'm looking forward to sharing our home brew with you in several more weeks, or longer, for a nicer finish.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

25 Years of MRC Restoration Work

I have spent more of my years living here involved with the Mattole Restoration Council than not. From the first moment I was introduced to the Council, I was inspired by its roots as a community-driven effort to preserve and restore native salmonids. The group formed in the early 1980's in response to the effects of widespread logging. When I first moved to the Mattole in 2002, I became the MRC's "Resource Center and Development Associate", working primarily on grant writing, contract management, and outreach activities. I left my post to pursue my Master's in 2004, but joined the Board of Directors a year and a half later, where I've served as the Board Chair.

Last night, we were celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Council. We dined on a locally-inspired meal of Wild Alaskan salmon, roasted potatoes and winter squash, green salad and apple crisp. We viewed a newly created movie called "Voices of Restoration". Kids performed a few silly restoration songs. We silent auctioned. We hob-nobbed. And we danced to the great gypsy-jazz tunes of local band the Absynth Quintet.

The MRC has grown over the years from a shoestring, project to project budget to a $3 million annual budget with 25 regular staff. Large, watershed-scale projects that were only a dream are coming to fruition right now, subbasin by subbasin, project by project. Beyond our historical involvement with landslide stabilization and tree planting, the Council now works in fuels reduction and fire safety, forestry, grassland restoration, public school environmental education, GIS and data management, and outreach. It's a pretty impressive list of activities for so small a community, that aims to address most pertinent ecological issues of our time, not only to restore salmon, but the interwoven fabric which includes all flora and interconnected fauna.

I often think of the first few words of our mission statement, which reads something like this..."We look forward to a time when restoration is no longer necessary..." I hope that someday this mission becomes reality, and that the land stewardship of an entire watershed will be supporting the long-term health of our river and it's contributing streams. I hope that someday, we can harvest our own Mattole salmon to feed our families through the winter, as the Mattole people did, and that our grandchildren's grandchildren may as well.

History repeats?

I spent some time surfing the NY Times yesterday during naptime, and came across some very interesting articles. Seems our financial crisis, which was IMMINENTLY threatening our economy, lest we take immediate action, has not rebounded much even given our immediate action, and has in fact continued to decline, leaving almost anyone with any kind of stake in worse shape than a month ago. I haven't confirmed it, but I keep hearing that there were 200,000 job losses in one month!? I'm not sure about this statistic, but certainly, we lost more jobs in October. There is a sense that this will be "the worst holiday shopping season in decades", and retailers haven't cleared out their autumn inventory, and are discounting stuff to move it. Hey, not SO bad for us peons, eh?

I also read an interesting parallel editorial piece called Talking Business: 75 Years Later, A Nation Hopes for Another FDR, about the transition from Hoover's administration to FDR's administration, and the seeming similarities to present day circumstances, even though our economic hardship is definitely on a much smaller order of magnitude than that of the Depression. In their day, unemployment was at 26%, to our 6%, for example. But certainly, these are the hardest times we've seen since the early 1930's, and all indicators seem to show that it's gonna get worse before it gets better. How far it goes is anyone's guess. I do feel confident that help is on the way with last week's historic Democratic victory. I guess we'll hold on to our seats until January and see what comes beyond.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Walls and Wheat

I've never been well versed in the world of trucking, but we've rubbed elbows a bit as of late as our wall block needed to be shipped, via 45-foot semi, to Petrolia from Corvallis, Oregon. We received a call last week telling us that our block would be delivered Wednesday. The details seemed a little vague, particularly regarding a specific arrival time. This mattered since we needed to have forks on site to offload the 28 pallets, and we do not own forks.

When we returned home from our town trip Tuesday, there was a message stating that the block would arrive the following day. First thing in the morning, Drew called the trucker up, and they talked about specifics. Finally, Drew asked where he was, guessing he was on the road somewhere in Oregon. "I'm in McKinleyville". Whoa. That's just north of Arcata. We had to figure out the fork thing in a little less time than anticipated. Fortunately, a neighbor had forks that would fit Drew's tractor, which was great, as this meant Drew didn't have to go right back to town to rent equipment.

So the truck arrived around noon, and they got in here without a hitch. The only challenge for the day was that it was raining pretty steadily, though not as bad as it was several days earlier. Drew unloaded the neatly wrapped pallets, and lined them up to the north of the house site. They now resemble an odd, post-modern cubist sculpture, or random installment, or maybe a castle, depending on your art persuasion. We haven't opened any yet, but I am dying to tear into the plastic, and handle a block, and maybe even place it atop our foundation, just to see what it looks and feels like. I didn't really anticipate it, but having the blocks here feels really significant and exciting!

My other exciting project is my winter wheat beds. Drew machine tilled long, four-foot wide rows to the east of the existing veggie garden to plant winter wheat, which to me seems to be a brilliant use of winter rains to generate useable, nutritious, edible biomass/green manure. It's been difficult to locate a known entity of wheat seed. Not only is wheat rather scarce due to high prices this season (resulting in scrambled buying), but hardly anyone is growing wheat and other grains on a small scale. I had an extremely difficult time finding any cultural information about the wheat seed I did find for sale. At long last, I found DirtWorks in Vermont, through a local farmer, Kevin, who runs Shakefork Community Farm in Arcata. His business is a grain CSA, growing small-scale organic grains right here on the north coast. Thanks for the tip, Kevin!

My 25-pound sack of wheat seeds arrived today in the mail, and I immediately enlisted Ella to help me spread the tiny, elongate seeds on approximately 800 square feet of bed space. Ella loved shoving her hands into the bag, and pushing the box along as I scooted down the rows sowing. I kept telling her "We're growing loaves of bread!" Since it had rained after tilling, I had to chop-rake the area just to get the seeds lightly mixed in with the soil, a lot of work when you consider the amount of bed space. I am definitely feeling the tension of that job in my neck and shoulders tonight, not to mention the hot spots on my palms. Anyhow, with luck, I will be harvesting wheat berries come May, and the weather will be right for drying it...I'll keep you all posted.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

VICTORY! For now...

Tonight the unimaginable became a reality. Wow. I'm still reeling from the truth of it all. Did I dream it? Or did an African American truly just get elected to the presidency of the United States? I almost cannot believe it. Drew and Ella and I traveled to town today to perform errands, but not until I spent a little while making get-out-the-vote calls to voters in Colorado.

All throughout the day, we listened for anything to cling to on the radio news as we went from store to store, but all we heard was news of election difficulty, long poll lines, precincts running out of paper ballots, people needing to vote in the rain. But by dinnertime, returns were trickling in, and as we careened over the snaking, twisting Wildcat road home, we listened in disbelief as it became increasingly clear that Mr. Obama would be our next president: New Hampshire, Ohio, Colorado, Pennsylvania (my home state!), and so on, were all in the blue. Just after we drove up to the yurt, as I was holding a sleeping Ella on my shoulder and watching a hazy, champagne moon, Virginia was announced, sealing the deal. By the time we got the media up and running on the computer, McCain was delivering his concession speech, which was respectful and upstanding, despite some icky audience members.

I was overwhelmed several times on the journey home tonight with tears of joy and gratitude, that this day has come, that the intentions set forth by the Founding Fathers, who practiced ownership of other human beings because they were a different color, their words in the Declaration of Independence were fully realized: "...all men are created equal..." (We'll worry about getting women included later!) It feels like a great day for our nation, one I am proud to witness.

I especially appreciate Obama's speech, that he did not gloat, nor get too excited. He reminded us that we have A LOT of work to do, and he is right. This is just the beginning, of a long road toward an America we can be proud of again, but for tonight, I am exhaling, and celebrating!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Welcome Home, Mattole Salmon

A progressive cycle of drying typically unfolds across our northern California locale, whereby the spigot turns off somewhere in May or June, and remains off until sometime in October or November. As the dry season wears on, a sense of waiting permeates the land. I don't know how else to describe it, but I can almost feel the river yearning for rain, the earth begging for sweet, wet relief, the birds and amphibians, mammals and fish alike, waiting, waiting, waiting. Things become very quiet, dusty, crispy. When at last the sky opens up, and the rain begins to fall, it is as though manna is pouring down from heaven: the air becomes sweet and freshly green, new seeds germinate in a matter of days to hold the soil together, and the creeks and the river sing once again. Oh my, it is a lovely change, which is important to remember come March, when I wish I would never see another day of rain as long as I live.

So beginning Friday afternoon was the second significant storm of the season, though it's already much larger than the first, and there will be more rain before the next sun arrives. As of about 6:00 PM this evening, we have received 4 inches of precious precipitation on this driest year ever on record. Not only are the frogs and toads happy, as I see them leaping across wet pavement on the way to my evening social events, but tonight on my walk to the neighbor's for dinner, Ella and I saw a rough-skinned newt, (Taricha granulosa). These cuties begin showing up as they conduct their plodding, land-based search for a mate.

But the most exciting of the news in the animal kingdom is that the river mouth opened again today, which means that there are now adult Chinook salmon(Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) (and maybe other species, though I understand the Chinook are the early run) returning to spawn in the river. Though the mouth opened with our first storm, it only remained open for a short time, and only a few salmon made it in to try their luck in the early season, low water flows. The rain of the last few days is going to allow the salmon to strive for the spawning gravels in the headwaters of their natal streams, so long as flows sustain. And with the dark moon right now, it is ideal traveling conditions. So welcome home, Mattole salmon, may you prosper and sustain our animals, plants, and people, as you have done for generations....and may it be so, for generations to come.