Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Things

Well it was a wonderful, crazy, wild, disastrous, exhausting, satisfying summer: back-to-back house guests (whom we love, we really do!) from May to October and Will’s projects going full bore, building a smokehouse, building bee boxes, building up garden beds, and egads the food we’ve made, consumed, and cleaned up! To be honest it’s all a bit of a blur. It seems like we’ve been careening from disaster to disaster (car disaster, plumbing disaster, water shortage, septic disaster, financial….and so on) and yet in retrospect, this summer has been filled with accomplishment, and now, at Thanksgiving, I can truly say I am thankful.

smoke house under construction
Gaspereau (little fish; also known as "alewives") in the smokehouse

We also had wonderful fellowship and labour from friends old and new: a shed roof, digging out garden beds in the clay by the river: if that isn't proof of friendship, I don't know what is! 

Somewhere between the chimney fire and the well running dry, Will drove down to Port Hawkesbury to pick up two modest looking wooden boxes, thus fulfilling our life-long fantasy of becoming beekeepers! Only with the twist that I’m not a beekeeper. Married to. Which suits me fine, because I’ve also concluded that my job in this stage of life is to toil away at the Sisyphysian task of keeping the chaos at bay. I don’t like it, but it’s better than the alternative. 

The bees are thriving. Will harvested a litre of honey and made one beeswax candle, a small but satisfying end to our first season.

I hardly touched my camera this summer, and my pictures are mostly precious but private pictures of my children (thank you for understanding). But here are a few highlights from the Pemberton world:

THE MILL! It has happened. The dream is materializing and two six-by-six posts are lying on skids  in the newly cleared road (all Will), proof that we may yet have a barn before winter. He is one happy man! We had some friends from England stay with us this spring and because the dad was a smart sort of bloke (chemist, bicycle builder) he put in some very miserable hours in the black flies and heat to assemble this beast. Alun, the beast is unleashed!


THE SHEEP! A little flock of Icelandic sheep, thanks to a donation from a dear friend here in Cape Breton who wants to see this little world—our farm— thrive. Meet Odin, Freya, and Loki-Crazy-Eyes. And two more whose names I can't remember. 

Their fleece is multi-coloured and multi-textured as with all Icelandic sheep. They have the loveliest, sweetest personalities, although they look devilish in pictures.

This spring I attended a spinning workshop and discovered that spinning is harder than it looks. But I am determined to spin, ply, and knit a sweater for Will from the fleece of these dear silly animals whom he cares for so well. All about Icelandics here. And sheep who live on seaweed here. Will and the boys collected sea weed for our sheep, and sure enough they've eaten a contractor bag full.

And this wee lass: sheep need a shepherd so Lír’s daughter from his winter romance has joined the flock.

THE APPLE PRESS! We pulled out ye olde apple press and discovered that it was broken beyond repair, but never fear, we have a wood chipper for grinding and could repurpose the metal screw for the pressing. Super efficient and no pre-cutting. We drank jugs and jugs of fresh cidery apple juice at Thanksgiving. To quote the rat in Fantastic Mr. Fox: pure liquid gold!

THE COMPOSTING TOILET! Not as glamourous as it sounds...
Will and I have been reading and discussing and planning a composting toilet for over a year now. We read the Humanure Handbook which convinced me that under the right conditions (heat/time) a properly managed compost will break down pathogenic organisms. (I confess I was a skeptic.) But we didn’t have the time or courage to make the leap until our septic system backed up and overflowed the kitchen sink! Gah. Lovely. This led to three important discoveries: a) Will and I are strangely calm in the face of disaster. Maybe we’re  getting used to it.  b) Will can build a toilet alternative in two hours and is therefore my first pick for Man With Whom I’d Survive Zombie Apocalypse, and c) composting toilets aren’t that horrible. Ours smells like a forest floor, since that’s what we’re using for absorbing/covering. I predict that moss and leaf leaf litter does a better job neutralizing odours than water does.

Oh, and I went and got myself a JOB.

These are the highlights. Although Will and I go to bed completely exhausted and disaster is always lurking, we are having an interesting life. No complaints.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

On Solstice Night

Another journey around the sun. 

This was how we celebrated solstice night. Fire, cake and wild strawberries, poetry (under duress, for some of us. I insisted.) beach sculpture, and handsprings. 

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Here and Now

A new house, a new province, almost a new life…so much has happened these past few months since Will found his Cape Breton farm. After years of dreaming and planning we made an impulsive offer of purchase, a miraculous house sale, a wild and disastrous move with five children, four goats, a dog, a flat tire, two lost car keys, and —thankfully—a grandmother. (My intrepid mother came along as Baby Whisperer and kept Hermione happy while we drove for twenty hours.)

Our move was a series of disasters that made us doubt our sanity. Ah, but it was too late to change our minds. The house was already sold.

 It was a giant, flying leap of faith to say good bye to everything familiar and a much-loved community and strike out to the rugged West coast of “darkest Cape Breton” as one friend puts it. We were lured here by cheap farm-land and the ocean climate, and we had no idea how awesome it would be.

Somehow we’ve managed to land in an amazing community. Writers, artisans, and back-to-the-land style organic farmers, educated people seeking a quieter, more intentional life, market gardeners, young and full of energy and eager to network. Cape Bretoners are famous for their warmth and generosity and the reports are not exaggerated! We are putting down roots fast, with the warm welcome and inter-connectedness of this community. 

The farm is Will’s dream. His vision includes food sustainability, organic soil practices, fruit tree grafting, seed saving, and “permaculture”. It’s been percolating along side of his PhD. We joke
that the longer he spends in academia the  the more he wants to be a farmer. The soil here is dense clay but good for the kind of agriculture he’s interested in. This land has good bones.

I can’t say the farm is really my passion—I’m just along for the ride. And for the ocean. It’s impossible for pictures to convey the kind of energy that sparks out of these waves and air. I feel more ALIVE here than any other place. If I can create a healthy home for my children, make soap, make art, and spend as much time by the water as possible, I will be happy to stay here forever, however poor we may be.

Our boys started school in the local public school. Mixed feelings all around, rather predictably from William “long and boring”, Hugh, “yeah, it’s ok. I met some fun kids and my teacher’s nice.” And Matthias: “Totally epic!” Will is apprehensive since he hated school as a kid, but I really need the break. I remind him that our kids weren’t big on home school either. We were un-schoolers by default. Anyway, I told Will that even if they’re in public school we can still keep up their education. So we’ve been reading Greek Myths every night and going through our favourite history book for children. Nice art and written as a kind of conversation between author and child. We have a great little library right around the corner from our house where we load up on our current interests: sea coast flora and fauna, Greek mythology, Robertson Davies.

The goats are thriving too. Henrietta the One-Horned Wonder, born this spring, is almost grown. Helm, our gentle, handsome little buck, is doing his duty and Josephine and Heloise are bred; new kids and new milk later this fall. They have the run of an overgrown apple orchard so they are in heaven. 

There are no stores here other than grocery and hardware. We are almost two hours drive from the two bigger towns in Cape Breton with the big box stores. No internet at the house, either. The result is a kind of post-consumer, post-technology detox. My mind is clearer, days are more productive and creative.

There is so much to do here, community-wise, we can hardly keep up. I’m trying to paint my house as usual. Paint colours blah blah blah….this shade….agonize….that shade….

This is my progress so far. Little things keep interrupting like Front Porch Peter (our CSA neighbour who is the best) bringing by a billion pounds of zucchini and daikon radish. Food is expensive here so I didn’t say no. I hope he REALLY likes kimchi.

Of course I envisioned our house being painted in our first week: Will and I working side by side while our children entertained themselves in the long grass like Laura Ingalls Wilder. But fortune doesn’t favour the mother of screaming one-year-olds bent on self-destruction and Will has been problem-solving since day one when our well went dry. 

Still, what is life for but work ? And creativity and play? This is what we love, and Cape Breton is a wonderful environment for doing what we love.