Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanks be to friends, goats, and the wealth of the soil

Ross and the goats of Wealth Underground Farm

I have much to be thankful for this post-Thanksgiving season. I am thankful for my mom, dad, and brother, and the rest of my extended family spread throughout the country. I am thankful for Lesley and my other great friends. I am thankful to be a Park Ranger at Crater Lake National Park for some of the year. I am thankful for the results of the November 2012 election: given that only two political parties have realistic chances at office, the better of the two has made substantial gains. My heart goes out to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and Haiti and elsewhere. I hope that we can rebuild and restore. And I hope that we work to curb global warming, and prevent worse recurrences.

The Homestead 35th reunion, 2012
I am thankful for my other family—the community of current and former residents of The Homestead. We share a unique bond, like no other place I've known. Once, I was stranded in Austin, Texas, as a “refugee” from Galveston Island after Hurricane Ike. With no place to stay, I sent an email to a Homestead alum named Grant, whom I had never met, but knew lived in Austin from correspondence on our alumni email list-serve. And yes, he took me in for a week. Such is the kinship among Homesteaders.

Several of my Homestead comrades have launched new sustainable business projects, and furnished careers for themselves and earth-friendly goods and services for their communities. Among these pioneers are Colin and Brad of The Seattle Urban Farm Company, and Chris and Nolan of Wealth Underground Farm. (Side note: Colin and Brad published a book this year.  Food Grown Right, In Your Backyard provides wise advice for novice and seasoned gardeners alike.  And it makes a great Christmas gift!)

The new tome of garden wisdom

From time to time, I return to these outposts of Homesteading, for a few hours or a few months. This Thanksgiving, Lesley and I paid a visit to Portland, on that rare and precious thing known as a sunny day. From downtown, we rode bicycles for ten miles, past green houses surrounded by vine maples, past street mosaics and telephone poles full of staples, and across the St John's Bridge. The snow-covered Mount Hood was like a shining cloud in the distance; the river, 200 feet below us, swirled green and grey; we pedaled on a little patch of earth, surrounded by expanses of sky. The icy wind turned our knuckles white. Cars and trucks rumbled by slowly. In Portland, they slow down for cyclists.

After the bridge, between us and our destination, loomed a great hill. We pedaled and breathed hard. We hopped off the bikes and walked them, and breathed harder. I felt my legs become a little stiff, and I walked faster. Eventually, by this combination of walking and pedaling, we reached the top of the hill. We guessed a distance of five miles uphill, although the cold green highway signs indicated we had traveled only one.

After a right turn and a short downhill coast, we reached Wealth Underground Farm. Within the house, Nolan, Chris and his family, and their comrades crowded by warmth of a wood-burning stove, which provides both heat and cooking. While they steamed vegetables and boiled free-range flesh, we talked about life, mutual friends, present and past work and farming (wherein Chris and Lesley discovered that both had worked at Hidden Villa), and The Homestead of our origin.

Nolan, Chris, and Ross at Wealth Underground, 2011

We went out into the farm. I had last seen it in the spring of 2011, and tilled the earth and planted seeds alongside the agrarian duo. Now, in the fall, the garden swelled and gushed with plant-life. Cabbages the size of my head, turnips the size of my fist, and kale leaves wider than the span of my hand. Pumpkins and squash. A greenhouse with still-ripe tomatoes. It was impressive, to put it mildly. And they regularly furnish goods for a 30-member CSA!

The Mind of the Goat

And we met the goats. Their fur was soft, their brains inquisitive. They accepted petting from Lesley and I, and expressed special interest in the Portland map. I only permitted them a little nibble.

Lesley and the goats of New World Farmstead (Eugene, OR)

To roam among goats, to eat of the earth, to build my own shelter, and to gather by the warmth of the fire. I seek all these in life, but wonder if it is too much to ask of the modern world. Fossil fuels can rapidly take one from point A to point B, and can give any room a tropical climate. But the joys of walking the journey or splitting the wood are missed. We celebrate in winter because of the need for companionship against the challenges of weather, wherein there is hard darkness but also joyous light. Life in a climate-controlled box makes for an even, dull grey. However, when the age of cheap oil comes to an end, we may all learn the way of the Homestead, by necessity. If such occurs, we will have losses but also great gains.

On the way back down, the hill was short. It felt like half a mile at most. Thanksgiving with Lesley and her family went well. After dinner, we performed “Dumpster Theater,” our new show of storytelling and shadow puppets. We told ancient stories, and used new materials, acquired in the rubbish. We shared the wisdom of coyote and huckleberries and fire, across the generations.

Top photo by © 2012 Lesley McClintock.  Reunion photo by © 2012 some Homie alum.