Saturday, July 17, 2021

Do such things and you will be such a person

 It's an odd sort of year; no snow, warm winter, cold spring, late frosts, early and record heat waves; few birds went away, few came, almost no wasps or yellowjackets, creek that dries up in June dried up in April, crops burned by heat in the daytime and cooled enough at night not to make fruit, and the Delta variant of Covid roams around outside, seeking whom it may devour, yet ignored by all the neighbors, nearly all of them enthralled by misinformation and by the autocrat who actually tried to destroy the nation and has faced no consequences.

 I've been spending most of my time on another site, combating the misinformation and trying to spread the principles of science and disaster risk reduction, not because I don't have anything else to do but because, increasingly, there's little else I can do. Many who have reached the age of seventy-two have much more active lives, many have less active lives. It's a combination of circumstances and choices we all made -- my tree-planting years were my best but they did cost me. 😎 So it goes. 

Also, I may have an undiagnosed case of Long Covid. Friends and I got together on the last day of February, 2020, agreed it would be the last such gathering for some time, and went home and pulled up our drawbridges. Within ten days, all of us were almighty sick, three hospitalized. No one tested positive, but those were very early tests, and our symptoms were certainly consistent with what we were hearing about the new disease. Luckily for my family, some of us had pulled together for a pod here on the homestead, and to make sure none of us brought in the virus, we had all isolated. I don't seem to have become a source of infection.

Here I am in isolation and recovery in the hut, 200 feet from the house. Food was delivered in the basket shown hanging at right. Such huts would be useful for many purposes, I should think, and not just to relieve homelessness, although that might well be the best use.

What have I been up to? Focusing on family, a few friends, the sangha, and stewardship (as able) of this acre.

In the garden we again covered everything we could with black plastic to smother bindweed and such, then gradually switched over to kraft paper, leaves, grass clippings, and chop and drop, all covered with a layer of straw.

The containers at left were an experiment to raise things without feeding them to voles. Voles wiped out our beets last summer, a new experience for us, and then exploded in population over the winter. But they have not done much this year, so far.

As much as possible, as usual, we raised seedlings from seed.


Mice were again too much for us in the greenhouse, so many things were raised in the dining room. Large seeds, such as beans, peas, corn and squash, are the most vulnerable.

 
The seedlings were then set out. A bit too early, though the last five years had lulled us into overconfidence. We had to do some replanting. I'm no longer able to work from my knees and have been using a narrow-bladed trenching shovel (example) as a trowel. It works a treat.

 
Immediately after the frost came the heat. Our third heat wave reached 109F. Not only was this a record, but it occurred in June. We defended the crops by spreading foliage, mostly Japanese knotweed, over strings tied from tomato stake to tomato stake, and also spread it directly on the squash and potato beds. We watered as best we could, but are dependent on a single five gpm well for all uses.

It proved to be a good cherry year and we quickly bought a good hand-held stoner to take advantage. It will be, it looks like, a medium apple year and a very good pear year. The gardens are producing plenty of foliage but not as much actual food for the effort as in the last twelve years or so. I'm drying down greens foliage for vegetable powder, as usual, and expect soon to be making some apple butter.

A concern this year, again, is wildfire season. Last year the Holiday Farm Fire burned over 400 houses and then headed our way; we had to evacuate for the first time. And drought is much worse this year than last.

 a comparison of the national drought monitor for early march 2021 vs early march 2020. the map shows much more severe drought conditions especially in the southwestern united states

When lockdown began, in March 2020, we raided the teardrop, Tessa, extensively for supplies, and have focused on re-stocking her in case of another evacuation. Extremely large fires have already erupted throughout our region, and though we locally have surprisingly had almost no smoke and little flame, we feel this cannot last. So we have to be prepared to pull out of the driveway at a moment's notice.



I've adopted two principles. One is the motto: "Observe to predict. Predict to prevent." This is about disaster risk reduction, or DRR, which can be applied at any scale, including personal. Choices make hazards into disasters -- or don't. So I prep for fire as a socially responsible behavior. Also to run from smoke. 

The other is: "Everyone reaps what you sow." I thought of this one myself; it represents a distillation of the Buddhist Prajnaparamita sutras, which advocate for the view that wise choices are based on the observation that everything is made up of everything else and has no lasting separate identity.

Pain is DNA's way of protecting itself and its prerogatives, but I see no utility in gratuitously causing it. Community and compassion are also strategies adopted by DNA. This motto doesn't look into whether harm is even a thing, at cosmology/teleology scale; it simply provides a handy basis for what can be called ethical behavior. Here one abandons certainty and goes with trust.

Dogen said of emulating Buddhas: Do such things and you will be such a person. I'll try that.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Work on details

The clouds of acrid, ground-hugging smoke having cleared away, and a few spits of rain having arrived, most of the neighbors are burning piles of the brush that enthusiastically sprouted up last spring. This has prompted a ruckus on the neighborhood app, where some object to being exposed yet again without being asked. They might be among the newer residents; generational locals have always burned and probably always will - a perceived right and rite of Autumn, like putting pumpkins by the front door.

We don't participate; we just chop and drop and let nature take its course. Not that this saves any carbon; or maybe it would, temporarily, if we had the oomph to bury the stuff; but I think it helps provide for the diversity of critters, seen and unseen.

In the field garden we have cut everything fine to get it close to the ground. We generally add barn waste and the like until February, then begin doing work in the beds. This coming growing season, like the one just ending, we'll likely cover all this with the black plastic again, perhaps in late January, and begin to uncover near to the end of March, bed by bed. This is to try and stay one step ahead of bindweed and crabgrass.

We did better than expected here; this was sod as late as March 11th. We've put away a substantial crop of seed potatoes, winter squash and pumpkins, and canned quite a lot of paste tomatoes as chunky sauce with onions, garlic and basil. No actual recipe. "Salt, olive oil and a bit of vinegar, to taste."


In the kitchen garden, frost has made its first visit, as shown by a touch of brown in the grape arbor. Basil has given up the ghost, and the tomatoes are thinking of following suit. The lettuce, carrots, onions, and of course kale don't seem to mind.

There should be a bed of beets in this photo but the gophers came when we weren't looking and took the lot. Well, we all have tummies.


With the beets gone, the gophers have targeted the roots of the Fordhook Giant chard. I find the stems arrayed in a wilting circle with some disturbed dirt where the root had been. I pick them up and find a quick use for them. Didn't want the root anyway.

Our collards and kale trees seem to be less to the gopher's liking and declare they are ready for the winter. We have found they can stand weather down to about 15F without covering; below that it would be prudent to do so.


Like last year, but less strikingly, August apples have clung to the trees late. I put up chunky applesauce until I ran out of canning lids. These are the Egremont Russets. This tree came to me at work in the pannier of a friend's bicycle, three decades ago. I rode home on the bus with it in my lap. Never turn down a fruit tree.


As the weather changes, I spend more time in the hut. It has proven to be an extreme heat collector in summer, in spite of my efforts, but as winter comes on, I can settle in, brew tea, watch the rain come down, Zoom with fellow Boods, and perhaps write the occasional blog post.




  Baizhang Huaihai was asked by Yunyan, “Master, you work on details all day.
Who are you doing it for?”
  Baizhang said, “There may be someone who requires it.”
  Yunyan said, “Why don’t you let that person take care of it?”
  Baizhang said, “Because that person may not have the means of making a livelihood."



Thursday, October 01, 2020

Swimming upstream

 A sunny and bright day, not so long ago, I sat down for a Zoom zazenkai and three hours later, saw intense winds rushing through the orchard, laden with fresh brown smoke. That smoke came from fires some distance away, the Lionshead and Beachie Creek mostly. I had been thinking of the Lionshead as a central Oregon fire and Beachie Creek as a small one near Detroit Reservoir, but in the wind they both blew up, ran together and have since devastated some 400,000 acres, some lives, and many, many buildings.

A number of other large Oregon fires sprang up in the next few days, the nearest to us being the Holiday Farm Fire. In less than twenty-four hours, it ran over 30,000 acres of the McKenzie River canyon, and approached us over the next week, coming within about twelve air miles at the top of the Little Fall Creek drainage.


Although the evacuation zone boundary was drawn along the river, about a mile and a half away in the photo above, we chose to decamp to Eugene for a few days, just in case. Many of our neighbors did the same, and as we were packing, we noted a number of horse trailers heading west.

It doesn't take us long to pack, because in fire weather we pull Tessa the Teardrop out of the garage, load her up with supplies, and keep her hooked up to Henrietta, the '99 Ranger. 

We were at Daughter's house after a twenty minute drive. 


At the time, Daughter, a health worker, was not in our current Covid pod and we had to use indoor potential-exposure protocols, hard on all concerned. Space was at a premium, so I slept in Tessa with the vent closed and hoped for the best.

Normally we would head for the coast under these conditions but this time the smoke was almost as bad and ... pandemic considerations.

Although Daughter has a tight house and decent filtration, local AQI rose above 500 and everyone suffered. Having the weakest lungs I went down hard and began a coughing spell that lasted well into the next week. I should have been admitted to a smoke relief facility but ... pandemic.


After a few days we went home and toughed it out in the old house. Here, you can just see the white roof of Gogo-an, the meditation hut, in the middle distance.


We were caught between HEPA filters so we put a furnace filter on the box fan, which helped some.


Currently the Holiday Farm Fire is holding at about 173,000 acres. It has burned 430 houses and caused loss of life. A near thing for us, but for others it has been nearer than near. _()_


There have been a couple of smoke-clearing rains, and we've resumed most of our homesteading activities. 


It's October and temperatures are in the high eighties when there's no smoke, so the late tomatoes are very happy and have unexpectedly come in by the bushel. I'm currently making tomato sauce and struggling with less-than-ideal unmarked canning jar lids provided, from far, far away, in used Ball canning-lid boxes (all we could get) -- there seems to be some kind of scam going on.

Looking at the history of our big local fires, I see a pattern. 

Fifteen years ago, the Clark Fire covered 5000 acres on Big Fall Creek. Three years ago, the Jones fire covered twice that. This year, the Holiday Farm Fire was more than fifteen times the size of the Clark Fire and ran west right past it almost into Springfield. I think these Cascades fires are moving west as we dry out and closing in on us in the valley, including here at Stony Run Farm.


 The water table is dropping, the soil exhales moisture faster than it used to and plants are extremely desiccated here at the moment, even with the inch or so of recent rain. 

Had the high winds persisted for another day, this fire would have run down the ridge above Little Fall Creek right to us, and the river would not have presented a significant barrier. Another similar year and all bets are off, especially with more lightning than we had this time.

The continued drought with increasing chance of fire, combined with unhinged roving vigilantes in the neighborhood looking in all the wrong political places for arsonists, leaves us feeling that our time at Stony Run may be drawing to a close. We may have to retreat to Daughter's urban college-town place to live out our days -- there is a plan for that, which might include the addition of a tiny house (easy on a fifth of an acre).

To which end I'm continuing to work there. The back room I've added to the house is in constant use already, and this week I re-roofed the meditation shed/potting room/workshop.


As I see it, a salmon swims upstream until it can't. So we might as well swim upstream.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

We're all going to need morale boosters

Having no idea if stores would be open in September, I cleared ground in March for extra potatoes and a winter squash patch.

We had seed packets of Butternut, Sweet Meat squash, and Sugar Baby pumpkins. Also there was on hand a stored spaghetti squash, from which I took seeds. I was not sure of the seeds as they had been exposed to Delicatas and zucchinis, but figured if anything went "wrong" we would have some chicken feed (slice and boil, offer when cooled and soft). Everything was raised in four inch pots and transplanted to the "field" (about twenty by thirty feet), two plants to the spot on about a 34" by 24" spacing (a little too close).

The vines have all pretty much died, and there's a stretch of sunshine to cure the squash stems under, so today I have liquidated the patch. They are arrayed in the sun to cure the stems a few days before moving into the house.


Final count:

Butternuts: 8 undersized specimens.

Sweet Meat: 15. Surprisingly well matured as they are very long season, though most are rather small.

Zucchini/Spaghetti squash hybrids: 21 (15 shown; the ducks like them sliced raw). No idea where they came from.

Baby pumpkins: 43. One of them appears to have cohabited with the spaghetti squash.

Spaghetti squash: 78. Half appear to be a bit immature; this will be no loss due to the aforementioned hens.

There are also Delicatas and some other things in the upper, or kitchen, garden, along with several varieties of zuke, but they are no business of mine. πŸ˜„

Given the size of this sunny patch, the favorable temperatures, and how well it was irrigated, the crop is small. That is in line with a trend, alas. But we overplanted for two reasons; one was to make up for the low productivity (that certainly worked), the other was to make up for my reduced capability as a person with "senioritis"-- if I had paid the patch proper attention, removing blossoms early and late fruits late, the crop would have matured better. But I knew that wasn't going to happen.

The Butternuts, which were the most desired, were intended to be the main crop; they vined well but set almost no fruit. So it's as well other plants did better.

We can't possibly use this much squash in a year, given our preference for other foods, but it's a handy cushion against hard times, and a source of potential good will. "Would you like one of these? Maybe two? Here, take six."

We don't have an attic, which is ideal for winter keepers, and they don't like the relatively humid "commissary," which is unheated. So we've learned to keep them near the wood stove: 

Everyone yells at us about the stove/squash pics, but this stove is a model designed for mobile homes: you can actually touch the sides and back with your hand. The squash stay comfy there all winter and into the spring.

We have kept them along the dining room wall, but there we had some losses. They do not like an outside wall in winter. 


They did much better on the bookshelves in the living room.

Or just all over the dining room table.

So, anyway, if you want some of this crop, just come by and pick them up. I think wintertime squash soup is a pretty good morale booster. And we're all going to need morale boosters, I think. 



Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Done by eleven

The grapes are not maturing, and apples are dropping, so I have determined to go ahead with the juicing. We are low on canning supplies this year, so it was determined, after scrounging around a bit, that we could make 39 quarts and 10 half pints of juice. Another, sweeter, cidering to be held around October 1st, will have to go into a carboy and go straight to cider.

For color, we gathered two quarts of blackberries. To add complexity to the flavor, we picked all the varieties of apples currently ripe. These are Egremont Russets.

Here are some Transparents, from a tree I planted three years ago at Daughter's.


A couple of buckets of Honeycrisp. I know they don't look it, but only the late ones redden up for us, and only after dropping from the tree. We grab them while we can.


Also some Cortlands were gathered. The ones on the tree were a bit underaged yet, but there were plenty of lightly bruised drops.


I begin the juicing at eight in the morning. The leaf shredder is horrible at leaves but pretty good at fruit, so that's all it's used for here.


I cover a bin with a sheet, run the pomace into the sheet, unclog the shredder from time to time, and shovel the pomace away from the chute to keep a clear path. By this time of day the yellowjackets are extremely interested in what I'm making, so I move slowly and deliberately. We each have our jobs to do, so there's a truce.


I lift the pomace with the come-along, allow the juice to drain away, then wheelbarrow the pomace to the chickens. Repeat. This goes on all morning and into the afternoon.


Meanwhile, the dipping, straining into jars, and canning commences. Seven batches. Done by eleven at night.


:::

In August, but this year in July, Gravensteins: 
golden fleshed, generous, kind to cook, ciderer 
and ring-dryer. She tries everything,

but mostly buttering: a large crockpotful
of peeled rings, quartered, lightly cloved, 
cinnamoned and nutmegged will make

six pints and one short jelly jar. After
that, the old Egremont Russet, Cortland, 
Honeycrisp and Jonagold come all together;

what can she do but slice them all in quarters, 
toss them into her dedicated shredder,
pour pomace into a burlap bag

and hang that, with her father's pulley and 
an old hemp rope, to a maple branch? 
Juice will run for hours, collecting

in a tub beneath; at evening she dips gold, 
pouring through filter and funnel into quarts -- 
forty-five glass jars or more, most years.

Last, she'll think of cider (but not too much), 
making in a cool jug by adding wine yeast.
In seven days or less she'll sing to her trees.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Picks beans

 Join me for a walk around during a heat wave? Good. We can sit in the shade afterward.

This is the sunflower everyone says is thirteen feet tall. I think it's more like ten feet, which is impressive enough. It was very late forming a head, but it looks like that's going to happen.


Here's the path between the grapes and the compost bins, that goes from the house to the "field garden." It supposedly goes all the way to the apple trees by the street, but has been taken over by extremely aggressive winter squash, most of which have turned out to be spaghetti squash. Duck pools at right stay busy year round, but especially in the heat. I used to carry buckets of the rich brown or green water to all the fruit trees, but I suspect those days are behind me.

A bit of color. We keep a bit of basil growing near the cherry tomatoes and snack as we go by, wrapping a tomato in a basil leaf.

Larger tomatoes have been slow to change color this year, but a few 60F-or-better night lows have awakened them. 

Beloved is sitting in the swing in this image, but you'd never know it looking there from the gate this time of year. Our idea of privacy is to wrap the "courtyard" in useful greenery every year.

Greens are currently being used mostly to support the poultry, who have all run out of grass. I've made about a gallon of powdered solar-dried greens, which is more than we use, and put away the dehydrator for the year. 

I've begun harvesting potatoes; the crop is not so good, about a pail full per row -- but there are sixteen rows, so that's all right. Larger ones sit around for a day or two, then go into storage.

Smaller ones are washed and then go straight to the kitchen.

Green beans were hard to start but eventually we got some growing and they have been very welcome. Behind them, the lettuce and carrots are managing in the heat nicely.

:::

 I trust those who are only here for the garden pictures will know to tiptoe away at this point. πŸ˜… But if you want a glimpse into what's going on with me, have a go at the remainder of this post.

In preparation for my participation in Treeleaf's 2020 Ango (beginning September 4th), I have been re-reading Shohaku Okumura's Realizing Genjokoan, an exegetical exposition of the most crucial chapter of Dogen's Shobogenzo

Okumura: 

I often use the example of a hand in speaking about emptiness; we can call it a hand or we can call it a collection of five fingers. As a collection of five fingers, each finger is independent and has a different shape and function. We cannot exchange the little finger with the thumb because each has its own function, shape, and unique way of being. A thumb cannot do precisely what a little finger does and a little finger cannot do what a thumb does. Each finger is truly independent. And yet, from another perspective as one hand, all five fingers function together, and there is no separation between them. When we see the fingers in this united way, there is really just one hand.

That's the task I have set myself for the ninety day retreat: to learn how to ride this bicycle. 

I'm neither fingers nor hand.

I'm both fingers and hand. 

I'm the middle between both and neither. 

"I" am clearly here in the garden as this bald-headed old nun, but am also only here in the sense that the entire garden, planet, solar system, galaxy, universe is present in the present: one being-ness. 

Words cannot convey all this, or even any of it, but as a priest I have the job of opening the treasure box of this being-ness to any who ask, so I try. 

When no one is asking, when I am alone, I train. Get up in the morning, sit zazen, eat, walk out to the garden and see how the potatoes and sunflowers and beans are getting on. Without ideation of any separate (permanent unchanging soul or identity) existence, hand reaches out, grasps basket, picks beans.


 

Friday, August 07, 2020

I've Become Apple Mary

As usual, the early August post is much the same as the mid-July post only everything is bigger. We'll spare you the giant zucchini photos and will just mention that, sliced small, they have sustained Beloved's chickens and ducks during the season of basically no grass.

Here's the obligatory rooftop view. Near the top, assorted apple varieties. Low production year. At right, the Gravenstein. It has made a lot of fruit this year, but ... well, more about that below. Lower right, grapes -- low production year. At bottom, sunflowers, vigorous growth, no heads yet. Left, tomatoes and onions, lots of foliage mostly. Center, kale, collards, beets, beans, lettuce (in August!), carrots, all doing well. Towards the back, sunchokes are looking productive, potatoes are all right but will only make about five tubers per plant, more green tomatoes, winter squash and pumpkins. The bulk of the winter squash will be spaghetti squash, not our favorite but they are the ones that sprouted best, so we planted out the entire flat.

Here is a closer look at the tomato/onion bed. The pots on the tomato supports are for keeping the supports from punching holes in Remay cloths which we have to spread over this bed when the temperatures exceed 90F. It's the most heat sensitive bed.
Lettuce is thriving in the shade of the beans.
A closer view of the sunchokes. I haven't looked in the ground yet to see how their roots, Jerusalem artichokes, are doing, but they're probably all right. Some of the stems are ten feet tall.
Potatoes are beginning to look a little peaked but are not yet ready to pull. Behind them, the vining squash have overrun everything in sight.
A look back toward the house. You can tell it was owner-built and not well maintained over the years. We are the third owners. We tried, but oh well. At least it was something we could afford and it has served us well.

Now about that Gravenstein. Some years it makes a full crop, and raises our expectations, only to drop all the apples just before ripening. This is one of those years. They fall, bruise, wait about 24 hours to ripen, then become hopeless in another 24 hours. We've learned to anticipate this and make all our applesauce and apple butter from this one tree. I roam about beneath it, apples bouncing off my head and shoulders, carrying a basket and a sharp Japanese sickle affixed to a longish hazel stick. With the sickle I impale acceptable-looking apples, then lift and rap the sickle against the basket handle, so that the apple transfers itself to the basket. All in lieu of bending over, y'see. Then it's off to the potting shed to peel, core and slice, then process into apple butter in the big crock pot.

 


Oops, an end slice has a peeling -- I'll fish it out and add it to the leavings, which will go to the chicken yard and vanish quickly.

My supply of Mason jar lids is a bit short this year, and we can't find any at the suppliers. So to conserve them we're saucing into quart jars instead of the usual half pints. We're going to be looking at some serious applesauce recipes this winter, I think.

:::

I've been to the dentist for some emergency care -- now, instead of later, in case the pandemic gets worse. They wore the best PPE they could get, which wasn't much, so I'm isolated from the family for a week. After apple buttering, gardening, and cutting up wood, I retire from the heat of the day into the hut, where I'm living at the moment.

Here, in a space eight feet by ten,  I have plenty to eat and drink, Internet access, and a few good books. A dear friend has sent me a copy of The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns. It's a new translation, in partial paraphrasis, of the Therigatha, or Gathas of the Elder Nuns, done into English by Matty Weingast. These gathas were written in the time of Buddha, twenty-six hundred years ago. I've just read:

One
moment 
gives birth
to the
next.

What we do is who we become.

What we do is who we become ...

Well.

I guess I've become Apple Mary.