Monday, June 29, 2015

Shearing Day

Valley View Ranch on the Lower North Fork Mattole River, in Petrolia

Just before our vacation, I was called for shearing day at the Sweet family's Valley View Ranch. It takes a lot of hands to complete all the work needed to complete the annual clip. The sheep are sorted and gathered before the crew and shearers show up. 

Ewes gathered and ready to be sheared.

Brian shearing one of the 120 he sheared that day.

Brian, from Ireland, arrived without his shearing partner, who had had a livestock emergency and had to return home. Once he got started, we had plenty of people to keep up with the skirting, which is the cleaning off of the really funky and gross wool on the edges of the fleece: poop, brambles, insects, seeds, leg hair, and sometimes, even pieces of barbed wire. Shearing day this year was hot and dry, but it's fun work, full of a lot of teasing and camaraderie, as we wade through piles and piles of wool.

After skirting, the fleeces are bundled up in a baler that stuffs them into a bag for transportation to the wool pools, where they will be sorted and sold.

Brian single-handedly sheared 120 sheep that first day. Hats off to Brian!

Before the fleeces go to the market pile, if, as I'm skirting I find one I like the feel of, I pull it aside. I select fleeces that appear in good condition that also feel soft. It's a very qualitative process. Some of them feel coarse and dry, while some feel buttery and light, and these are the fleeces I want to turn into yarn. Next week, I'll begin working on the more detailed skirting, to prepare for sending the fiber to the mill.

Skirting fleeces in the shade.

Ewes finished being sheared. They always seem traumatized, but once they get let out, they frolic and jump,
and are so happy to be done and, I think, relieved to be free of their winter coats.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Planting Corn

Drew and Mimi planting corn. This view shows the house in proximity.
Gardner has been asking me since we first planted seeds this year, in February, when it would be time to plant corn. Each time we planted more seeds, he would ask me, "Is it time to plant corn yet?" Each time I would explain that we had to wait until the nights warmed up reliably, and there was no danger of frost. I said if we planted too early, we would risk the corn dying or not growing right. Finally, the nights are as warm as they get here, and we moved on this project today, so we could finish it before we leave on our Yosemite vacation.

In the spot where we once had a giant scotch broom berm and hedge, and where we subsequently re-contoured the land to create two terraces on the east side of the house, Drew tractor tilled the earth and added several scoops of manure and oyster shell flour to prepare the space for corn. We also planted sunflowers and bush beans, and I've also got a few extra pumpkin starts, as well as some marigolds I wasn't sure what to do with that will go in there.

The straw bale garden isn't well suited to crops like corn, which needs a lot of food and space to grow roots. Corn also likes being grown in a block, for optimal pollination. We've never had a corn bed this size that allowed for good pollination. The further benefit of placing corn in this spot is that, if successful, the corn patch will help block wind into the rest of the yard. I have a long-term vision of planting raspberries, blueberries, artichokes, and bamboo in this spot, so an annual vegetable project will give us an idea of what that would be like, to have a permanent terrace garden at about the same height.

For now, we hope the direct sow will be successful. We don't often grow vegetables this way, due to gopher pressure, symphylans (soil pest), wind, and cold nighttime temps which make getting started difficult. I usually start my corn in flats and transplant out once they are about 4 inches high. But this patch is too big for that. This is also the first time we've used a tractor tiller to prepare a bed. It sure did go fast! I could get used to that. 

This may pave the way for similar projects in the "old" garden area, which is now dormant. We've discussed doing some light tractor farming in that area, to grow cow food, or vegetables, or maybe we will convert it to almond orchard expansion. Who knows? We are committed to letting the land guide us, and inform our decisions. For now, an experiment has been started, and we're looking forward to seeing what happens!

Mimi and Drew planting three kinds of corn

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Power Spots

The Treehouse Tree at Athenian School

I'm feeling pretty under the weather today and I wanted to write a health-related post, something positive to channel my energy into. I started thinking about power spots, which are places where our inner self glows brightly, places (and times) from our past where we felt really energetic, centered, connected to the flow of life, and/or happy.

Last summer, I attended my 20th high school reunion at The Athenian School in Danville, CA. My time at Athenian was one of the best parts of my life. It was my first time away from my difficult home-life, and it was expansive, supportive, intellectually intriguing, and full of wonderful adventures in the outdoors. The campus is set at the foot of Mount Diablo, a Bay Area landmark, and State Park. The buildings are at the front of the property, while the back acreage is classic coastal oak and grassland hills and arroyo canyons. 

I moved to Athenian campus from Lomita, CA, a South Bay suburb of Los Angeles. My dorm room had a west-facing window that looked out onto a grandmother oak tree, and crickets would sing at night. Nearly every day after school, I would head into the hills with friends, to walk the trails, and explore the dry creeks. Not long after I arrived in the fall of my junior year, my friend Evan offered to take me to the treehouse.

We walked past the library and the meditation hut, and skirted the little creek. Then we headed up a wide-open grassy hill, following a rough trail through the brush. At the top, we picked up another little trail, a deer track, and continued up the spine of a hill. Eventually, we arrived at the tree, pictured above, which in those days had a wooden platform built onto the strong arms of the oak. To climb up to it, you had to get up onto a forked limb, inch along it, and the perform a curious little maneuver to arrive on the platform. 

I spent hours at this treehouse, with friends or alone, watching owls fly down canyon, watching the wind ripple the long grass in springtime, listening to crickets and birds, and just enjoying the beauty of the natural world. It was such a contrast to my life in L.A., and so full of real-ness, that I just loved it deeply and felt so very at home. 

When I graduated, I didn't realize how much I would miss it, until I thought of it again at my 10th and again at my 15th reunion, but circumstances at each prevented me from visiting. At my 20th, I wasn't going to let anything stop me! I set off after dinner in the evening, and arrived at sunset. There's now a more developed trail to the tree, and the treehouse was torn down for insurance purposes (go figure), but the place isn't any less special. I wasn't sure what I would find when I got there, but as soon as I sat down on the earth there, I could feel a very tangible sensation of energy borne of memory, and brought it fully into my present body: a power spot!

The Treehouse Tree at Sunset

These are places we return to when we are feeling down or sad, troubled, or overwhelmed, places that can fill us up from their well of goodness that we have cultivated with them. They fill our hearts and souls with happy memories, they are times and places where everything was "right". 

I recently rekindled another connection, with Catalina Island, a crazy intersection place of friendships and relationships and concepts that would affect my life for years to come. I had no idea at the time, but revisiting opened up another wellspring of connection that feeds my heart! 

I invite you to consider where these places are for yourselves, and fill up those empty spots in hard moments with the loving energy of the places that have most embraced you. The best part is that we don't have to physically visit these places to connect with them and have them help us. We simply have to remember ourselves there, imagine it, and see ourselves surrounded by it to enjoy the benefits. We can create our very own interconnected web of support.

Catalina Island