Saturday, June 30, 2012

Heart of summer

This morning I spontaneously woke up at 5 a.m. to a crisp blue sky, and the sun just starting to peak over the top of the mountains to the east. This time of year, one rarely sees the sunrise, and I actually got out of bed to witness it - the early sunlight and its rich color.

 It's the heart of summer right now - days that stretch on forever. If the sun is out, you feel like perhaps you could move mountains in a day. If it's cloudy, everyone tends to curl up, exhausted, and recharge. Manic Alaska summers. This year feels exceptionally manic. The long list of things that needed to happen to get the high tunnel up and running was so daunting, but today, as I wait for my sleeping children to rise, I feel like perhaps I am close to being caught up. It's been months.

Pretty much since the beginning of May, when the soil in the high tunnel got to be soft enough to work, my children and I and the Wwoofers who have come to stay with us have been sprinting. Setting up a 2,100-square-foot garden for the first time is no small feat. Add to that putting in an outdoor garden for potatoes and planting the old hoop house beds with cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli and you have quite a project.

And then there's the random factor. Like when the tractor came to till the soil in the outside garden and the well-meaning fellow who did the tilling tilled over the top of my septic tank, breaking it and causing a complete collapse that took a week and a half of very distasteful work to fix. I am grateful every time I flush the toilet, and have an indepth and hard-earned appreciation for all the inner workings of a septic system now.

The greatest surprise to me so far is the entire success of pretty much everything I've planted to date. Even the basil, which originally looked sad and unlikely to produce into anything of merit, has since taken off with ghusto after a generous application of lime. The tomatoes are crazy. Late-planted crops like squash and beets are up. The first generation of salad and bok choi are almost going beyond their prime.

This week, I put out an email to a few friends who live in the area saying that if they need salad greens, please come visit. I had my first visitor yesterday. What a joy to see her leaving with bags of greens and a smile on her face. I can see that this is just the tip of the iceberg. My zucchini plants are just starting to put out - tiny zucchini that will surely explode soon enough. Mysterious squash and pumpkin plants that I've never grown before are creating little yellow balls. The first tomato is turning golden in the tomato forest. We must learn how to prune. The peas are flowering. It's all happening at warp speed. Cucumbers. herbs. Carrots in beautifully-spaced rows.

 Liam and Théa are having a different kind of summer, too. Matt is gone on a fire, and more often than not, they seem to be staying home with me, friends coming in, and trips to the beach and adventures with Wwoofers dotting the days. And the wonderful Wwoofers! This year started with Joe, who was as wonderfully tolerant and often amused by the antics of my smaller people and did countless loads of dishes and runs up and down the hill collecting people and dropping people off. Then came the dream team trio - Sue first, with her worried parents in tow, and a strong spirit and dedication to knocking back the weeds that were overtaking the tunnel. Then, the day the toilet died, Jeff and Peter arrived simultaneously, and together, the three of them took on huge projects, like planting a huge potato patch and digging all the fence post holes for the new outside garden and weeding and weeding and weeding.

More often than not, I give out a stream of confusing and vague directions on my way out the door, and somehow they figure it out. And then there are the times that I come back and see amazing things happening like Peter and Sue galloping through the yard, donning dress up clothes and a tutu for a wig, and strumming a guitar with children in tow. It brings me great joy to see these vibrant young people enjoying my world and my children getting to see an example of young adulthood that is creative and lovely.

Théa's imagination and intellect is exploding, Liam's creativity and loving nature are wonderfully rich, both are growing like weeds, and desirous of snuggles and love and endless stories. And they are up. And there are many more stories to tell. Of full tables, and a community that I love, and of course, Craig, who enriches our lives on so many levels, mine especially with an influence that is both calming and inspiring. But for now, it will have to wait, because this day is launching and there's no stopping it! Onward.
So the days are wonderfully long and the world is full.

Monday, June 4, 2012

It's been over a month since I posted - but then, that's May. That's just the way it goes. I just spent a bit of time backtracking to see where I was a month ago and wow, that was a pretty big shock. A month ago, we were slogging through a snowy, ice-covered mud pit. Now, it's a lush, vibrant greenhouse with so much life growing in it, it boggles the mind. There was a LOT of work that went into the transition from then to now, but when I walked into the tunnel yesterday after being gone for 8 days, it was a shock to see how much growth can happen in a week and a day. A complete shock. Perhaps that's a metaphor for life, too. Growth is possible on levels you never thought could be reached. So what has happened since last I wrote? Well, it thawed, we planted, and planted, and planted starts. We built a door (a nice door). It dried out. We built beds, digging long paths out of the dirt and putting a wooden box onto the ground to serve as a form for the beds. We added stuff to the soil - blood meal and bone meal and green sand. We mixed. I built a tunnel inside the tunnel to hold in heat for the tomatoes and basil plants. And finally, around May 15, we planted. Tomatoes first - because they were crazy big in their pots all over my house, flowering. I read that they might not thrive if transplanted so large. I worried. Next, the squash and zucchini and cucumbers and pumpkins, which were so big in their pots that they became one disorganized snarl of greenery under the lights. Then we moved on - basil and lettuce went in, both looking like they had been socked in the gut. Then I decided to go visit Craig in Washington while he was seeing his father. I would be leaving for eight days in the heart of the planting season. That pushed the fast-forward button seriously. So there was a huge push to get all the seeds planted - especially the carrots, which I wanted to seed using a template which makes holes in the ground with even spacing and hopefully eliminates the need for thinning later. Then beans and peas and corn. Spinach went in, and all the lettuce starts and basil starts. Then, the final days before I left were all about making the tunnel easier to manage - a watering system went in, followed by two windows with special hinges that open on their own when it's too warm (you set the temp). Fantastic. I left, with some concern, but a general sense that whatever would be would be. And what would be was pretty cool. On my return, everything was up, amazingly. So far, the only plant that looks less than happy is the basil. But perhaps we can help it, too. Elsewhere in the world - Liam was in his first full-fledged production this month - he was an orphan in "little orphan andy. It was amazing to see him up there with no fear and total comfort in what he was doing. He did a lot of shows, and was consistently funny and energetic. what a kid. I'm glad May is over. I'm ready for the easier pace of June. I spent all day shoveling up dog shit and cleaning up the yard. It's so tough to stay awake right now, I'd better go and let this blog run. Would love to see you all!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

I wanted to plant tomorrow. I'm not sure it's wise, though. In my house are more than a few flowering tomato plants, and lots and lots of zucchini and squash that need to go in the ground. But the ground, per say, is still pretty liquid. Not quite feeling it at this point. I think it's just too damn cold. The tunnel was about 40 today because the door was open. So today I installed a door latch. Good. Now it's just a matter of getting the sides buttoned down more securely. I dream high tunnel stuff - row sizes, soil amendments, etc.... But the bottom line is, I don't think it's ready for planting yet. But soon! A couple more sunny days to warm up the soil and burn off the final soggy spots and we're in business. Tomorrow I think we'll lay out the rows and add some fun stuff to the soil (not before I take samples, though.) And then it's just a waiting game. We've had the plastic up for two weeks and there was 2-3 feet in the entire thing at that point. Now it's all dirt/mud. Patience. That again! Our first Wwoofer of the season, Joe from Germany, is here. He's been doing a fantastic job and fits in really well with our family - a good sense of humor is always the best thing for fitting in. And he likes my bread. That's good, too. More folks coming through the summer - it's going to be a good year, I think.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Where to start... it's hard to know, really. On Thursday, we got the high tunnel signed off. That means, for all intensive purposes, it is done. Of course, it's really just the beginning. I see that. A week ago, after some pretty intensive time finishing up little pieces like putting tape over all the joints so there are no rough edges and finishing up the last rafters, I invited some people over to help pull the cover. It's amazing how nervous I was about this piece of the puzzle - somehow the vision of a crew of my friends being picked up by the wind and flying away was too scary for me... by Friday I was in a full-fledged tizzy, focusing all over the place on a myriad of minute details rather than just letting things unfold as they would. But in the end, it all worked out wonderfully. I had to unfold the plastic completely the day before to make sure it was the right size and then bunched it back up on the forested side of the tunnel. Then I put tennis balls in the plastic and looped it back over them, then tied rope which I had thrown over the tunnel around the tennis ball to create a spot I could pull from without cutting a hole in the plastic. Then it was just a matter of getting everyone together, and pulling. In hindsight, I would have put balls and ropes on the other side, too - then once the plastic was up it would have been very easy to tie it off and not worry about it flying up into the air with the wind gusts (there were some doozies - we didn't choose the calmest day, that's for sure.) Anyway, the plastic had to be coaxed in a few places, but mostly it went over very well. It was tricky to get it straight and tight, but in the end, we managed pretty well. I was thrilled. There was one moment when I realized Liam was holding down one part of the tunnel - the windiest part - and I thought, wow - it wouldn't take much for him to be airborn - but luckily that didn't happen, and life went on unscathed. It took us three hours, with the help of Elaine Grabowski, Marylou Burton, Warren, Andrei, Mike, Andrew and the kids, of course. Later that afternoon, we got one end wall mostly finished and the other one started, and by Thursday, we had the whole thing done. Amazing. Mike has been putting in some pretty long hours, and my feeling of gratitude to him is so great. I don't know what I was thinking when I signed up for this - what I thought I would have done had Mike not dedicated most of his winter to this project for me - and Andrew, too - who has spent many a Sunday toiling on this metal structure. I am so lucky to have people around me who are willing to help, and I hope the time comes when I can reciprocate that. I trust it will. There's something about the whole experience — about life, really - that tells me I'm headed in the right direction, for the most part. So the tunnel is up. In my house, there are starts everywhere. I mean everywhere. I created a map of my tunnel and what I want to put in it using an online program, and it allowed me to see in technicolor how much of everything I needed and when I needed to plant it and how much I could fit in a row, etc. Then I went to work planting all the starts I would need. Dozens of zucchini, squash, pumpkins, herbs, flowers, the list is endless. I am in awe. There is so much to do. Luckily, my first Wwoofer arrives today, so we'll begin muddling through this together. And there is still a couple feet of snow in the high tunnel, so it will be a while till we can plant. Melt, baby, melt. The rest of life is going well. I think the whole family is pretty ready for school to be over, for summer to start. It is hard to get to bed on time because of the daylight. It just doesn't seem right to be going to bed when the sun is still blazing. Mornings are muddy. The snow is soft and postholing is inevitable. There's just so much snow - on a normal year, I think the snow would be gone. But this year, it's going to take a couple more weeks. IN other news: I got the best compliment of my professional life yesterday. I wrote a story this week about Caroline Cannon, who won a big award for her environmental work speaking up for her village of Point Hope in the Arctic. Interviewing her was both inspiring and challenging, and I wrote the story late at night on Tuesday... having delayed as long as I could. But as I sat down to write, the way to write it hit me like a bolt. And I was so thrilled, really happy with the story, and onto the page it went. Yesterday, I got this comment from a reader: "I really want to thank you for making the story of Carline Cannon. She is a special woman working hard for our people and you gave life and spirit in your story about the importance of our traditional and cultural uses. We cannot thank you enough for this special story. She was the light but the touch of the heart was yours. We have goodness with this story that will continue to spread goodness." I shared this with Craig, and he got it the same way I did - this was a compliment that substantiates what I'm trying to do with my professional life - help others tell their story in a meaningful way that captures their essence. I am touched. I am inspired to do more. And it tells me again, that I'm doing good things with my life, that these are things I should be doing. This weekend I spent time in Anchorage at the Alaska Press Club conference, which is always inspiring. I got to meet Neal Conan, and hear the stories of big reporters from around the country. It is always fun and fairly humbling. But one of the most fun things about the trip, actually, was hanging around with Sila, my bosses daughter. She is this light of silly fun and I saw how great that is. I miss my kids, and I'm eager to spend more time with them this summer. They are so amazing, and children, in general, are such a wonderful source of joy. They are truly living in the moment. They are looking for experience and knowledge and energy. They are learning, and soaking in the world around them. We are just a gentle hand of guidance, but what a wonderful thing to have that opportunity. I'm looking forward to Craig's new granddaughter to be in the neighborhood. What a rich life. I'm still working my way through the learning curve of practicing meditation. Sometimes it seems silly. Sometimes it is very productive. Sometimes it is scary. Sometimes it just hurts. But mostly, it draws me back. I believe there is much to learn. I believe it will teach me everything I am willing to let it. I'm so lucky I found it or it found me, or whatever.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Ohhh myyy!

I am planting. I am planning. I am gawking at the number of carrots I plan to plant this year... Not sure if I'm crazy or not, but I know what my family eats... I think.
Here it is. More later!

Sunday, March 4, 2012


A few months ago, someone said, "We sure are getting a lot of winter this winter." That statement was almost prophetic now, considering where we stand as of today. My snow levels are over 7 feet in some places. We've had snowstorm after snowstorm and no signs of it letting up. You can walk onto my roof without even stepping up. You step down 5 steps to get into my door. I had to shovel off the roof because the snow was actually weighing down the roof so much the front door wouldn't shut. The plow guys came through last week with some big piece of equipment and created mountains of snow at the end of the road so high that you cannot see beyond them, even to my neighbor's house as I drive down the road. It is, in a word, an intense winter.
But despite that snow, we have erected the frame of the high tunnel. Still needing doing is the attachment of a zillion little bits and pieces. But I have faith that will come together. If I can ever get to it.
I've started the tomatoes - there are over a dozen varieties, all growing little green shoots now, as well as cucumbers for Mike's windows and basil for our greens-starved mouths. So there is hope, and the expectation that though it doesn't look much like it now, summer will come.
And on Friday, I got a taste of that. I hit crossman ridge when the sun came out and skied on the telemark hill I was introduced to a few years back. It was fantastic. I was in a tanktop and my vest, - sunkissed by the end of the day, and smiling so wide, it almost hurt. I skied till my legs couldn't do it anymore and I risked biffing into the white powder. On Friday, I loved Alaska again.
Today, a couple friends and I skied down Twitter Creek to the North Fork - it was a great ski - good to be outside, good to be moving, good to remember it is beautiful even on a cloudy day. Zee had the most fun of all, though. She's a happy dog - exhausted, but happy.
It has been a big couple months for the whole family. Liam performed an incredible rendition of The Edmond Fitzgerald for his school - playing the piano then jumping up to sing the song (he knows all the words) with his friend Sam Banks. The two of them were absolutely fantastic - brave - and passionate. At the end, Liam had to get back to the piano quickly so he leaped into the air and dashed for the keys, getting a great laugh from the crowd.
Thea's big deal of the month is that she has mastered the art of skating this month. Excellent stuff. She really had her edges working the last time she went, and I think it's going to be an easy road from here. Atta girl!
Both Liam and Théa have been learning to ski this month - Théa's less impressed with it all, but put up with it. Liam was really into it. I love seeing them get into the outdoors like that. So good for Alaska kids to have a clue why this place is special.
As for me, it's been an up-and-down winter. There are great joys, including a relationship that has swept me off my feet, and sorrows, like the news that my mother is struggling health-wise. Her journey with MS has been hard, and in recent years, it is obvious that it is a struggle for her. As a daughter, processing this transition is not easy. But as is often the way with life, the tools you are given are handed to you just as you need them. This winter, I have begun focusing more and more time on trying to live a mindful life, trying to be conscious of the way one chooses to move through the word and interact with others. A big part of that has been mediation, which I have been easing into, but feel is opening doors in ways nothing else has. My capacity to feel connected to others, the world around me, and whatever gooey abyss there is beyond even that, has grown and with it, my love of life... though I didn't think that was possible. I hope this new perspective will help me in the days ahead as I travel to Victoria to spend some time with Suzy and Charley.
It's pretty hard to sum up the whole experience of this winter in a few words — perhaps I'll try again real soon. But suffice it to say, the weather is amazing, my children are amazing, my life is amazing, and I am grateful. Last week, I picked a name for the business that will be my farm. It is Bhavana - which means cultivation - though it is used to define mental cultivation. I think the two are intertwined. Feel in the earth, hands tending green plants, face to the sun - I'm not sure there is any more spiritual a practice in my mind. Let the cultivation begin!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A lot of winter

It has been a month since I posted anything. That's probably because of a couple reasons - you would think given three weeks to myself to enjoy the relative relaxedness of life, I would revel in things like blogging, not to mention bonbons and sleep.
I did a little of a few of those things, but mostly what I did was shovel. It's been an extraordinary winter. Many times this winter I have gone out in the evening and shoveled for hours and in the morning, wind combined with light, fluffy snow have filled in all my fine work with expertly sculpted drifts higher than any I can remember. This effort is time consuming and at times frustrating. At times it has completely undone me. As a result, I have 4 steps down to my house - as my friends have put it, it is like I live underground. The snow for most of January was fine, fuffy stuff that would better be moved with a leaf blower than a shovel. It was more like pixie dust than snow. It has been cold - single digits for most of the last month, too. There is something really frustrating about cold. It makes everything - a trip to the grocery store, putting gas in the car, trying to pry the metal mailbox open - more difficult.
So the weather has shifted. It did so last week, and what a relief. It was freezing one day, then the next in the 40s. And it has stayed between 30 and 40 since. Snow comes, but it sticks to the ground rather than messing about whilly nilly. I'm slowly starting to feel human again after what felt like a month in a cage.
But the reality is, the kids are back, the daylight is stretching, and it's time to get this show going again. No more relaxing - it is time to garden. I now have a constant checklist of things going through my head that need doing. Plan garden layout. Finish putting up high tunnel. Dig down 4 feet to find parts that will allow me to finish putting up high tunnel....
I took a class last weekend with a bunch of other Homeroids - most would be or existing high tunnel operators. For me, it was a perfectly designed class. I have been gardening with the following philosophy for years now - throw some lime around, maybe mix in some poop, plant seeds, water, hope for the best. Not really, but essentially, that's what's been going on. Now, my head is swimming with things like the best way to get nitrogen into your soil - but not too much nitrogen, mind you... soil testing - what do I have to do to chisel out a sample.. crops, cover crops.. so many options. And I want a tractor. I want a lot of things.
So. And. But.
These are also busy days for the kids. Liam and Thea are doing skiing lessons on Saturday afternoons. It's pretty cool to see them get out there and enjoy this aspect of Alaska living. Liam likes it more than Thea, but she's always a bit cool to new things for a while. Is it possible to be born with both confidence and a lack of it? It feels like that's where she's at. Her brother - that's another story. He's a rock star on his new, long skis. So happy Santa wasn't off-base with those. The are getting lots of use.
Liam also started his Annie classes this week. I'm pretty excited to see him enjoy his theatrical side more. It's as if that's how he's wired... performance art is sort of how he lives his life. Wednesday, his buddy Sam is supposed to get together with him and sing the Edmond Fitzgerald in front of the school for the talent show. Oh my. I worry. But... Liam, Liam, Liam.
So what else - Thea wants to dance. Dare I add another thing to the list.
Oh, and... I'm now putting out two papers, not one. That is a lot of work. That's just about all I'm going to say about that. It's so much work that Mondays hit me like a train of anxiety and fear. How will I pull off the impossible again, I wonder. And yet, somehow it works so far. But I'd like to do better. Always better.
Oh, and... my mother is dieing. Not quickly, but she's fading, struggling to keep her elements separate, struggling to rebound once more. I'm planning to fly down as soon as I can get a passport issued. I need someone to take a photograph for me. I need help getting there. I don't know how to ask. I don't know how to leave my life for a week. Zee tried to eat two chickens this morning, and by March my house will be full of starts, and who can I trust.. for 10 days... oh my.
But I take deep breaths, and read from books that bring me peace and calm me, and draw great, soul-filling comfort from those who love me, and lean on them when I need to...
Today, though, I went out by myself and dug for two hours, excavating like an archeological dig the remaining six rafters for the tunnel. It was good to go and work by myself. I wish I could do that for a whole week. Just slam that thing up. It would feel good. Instead I need to do a little here and there, and get a rhythm and get it done. Once again, I am in one of those phases of life where my favorite quotes ring true - the only way out is through... and Opportunity is missed by many because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.