Book Quote Tuesday: Braiding Sweetgrass

From Myra: “It is that time of the week again where we share a book quote that seemed particularly striking for us.”

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Braiding Sweetgrass is one of those books that is going to take me a long time to read.  It is so lyrically written, so full of rich imagery and thoughtful ideas, that I find myself deliberately slowing down my reading pace and re-reading passage after passage.  Here’s one from the chapter entitled The Council of Pecans:

If one tree fruits, they all fruit – there are no soloists.  Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state.  The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective.  Exactly how they do this, we don’t yet know.  But what we see is the power of unity. What happens to one happens to us all.  We can starve together or feast together.  All flourishing is mutual.

Beginning the day with Bowie

Morning chores begin with letting Bowie out of the big barn.  The sun is on the verge of rising at that point, and I need to be careful about slipping on the veneer of ice that coats the driveway to the barnyard; but Bowie has no such worries.

She’s out the door like a cannon ball, racing all the way to the upper pasture in hot pursuit of any deer that might still be lingering about.  Only after she’s completed her first  morning chore is she ready to return to the barn, and me.  While the sheep have their morning grain, we sit on the rock wall by the barn and have our “moment”.  Still panting from her morning surveillance, she sits as close as she can get and leans her entire weight into me.

We watch the town’s road crew plow and sand the dirt road our farm sits on, and the geese making their way across the slowly brightening sky.  Roscoe, our rooster, is making his presence known, and our old dog Sophie can be seen watching us from the upstairs bedroom window.   Every once in a while, Bowie turns to look at me and offer a quick kiss.

Then the flock lets us know that it’s time to get out of the barn and into the pasture, and so we rise up and get to work.


Poetry Friday: Reel by Barbara Crooker

Rebecca at Sloth Reads is hosting  Poetry Friday today

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November is almost over, and she has drained every bit of color from our landscape.  The cornfields look just as brown and weary as the pastures, even the sky is dull and dreary on most days.  Farm chores begin and end in weak sunlight, and the days seem to drag.  For some reason, I find November and March the hardest months; November signals the onset and real winter and the girding up the body and soul to get through it, and by March (such a long month!) one feels stretched to the point of breaking.  It’s the early crocuses and snowdrops that keep one going – Spring close enough to begin imagining warm sunshine again.

When I read this poem on The Writer’s Almanac the other day, I was reminded of the glorious Fall we’d had, and what it felt like to traipse up and down the pastures with my sheep and dogs in tow.   I did not dance a reel, of course, but I did pause often to delight in the golds and reds and russets.  Now that it’s November, I’m so glad that I did…

by Barbara Crooker

Maybe night is about to come
calling, but right now
the sun is still high in the sky.
It’s half-past October, the woods
are on fire, blue skies stretch
all the way to heaven. Of course,
we know winter is coming, its thin
winding sheets and its hard narrow bed.
But right now, the season’s fermented
to fullness, so slip into something
light, like your skeleton; while these old
bones are still working, my darling,
let’s dance.

#wovember 2019, day 19, wool & pets

When Bowie first arrived at the farm, she was just eight weeks old and weighed under twenty pounds.  It was hard to imagine that her full grown size would top 120 pounds of  powerful muscle, although her enormous paws were unmistakable clues as to what her full grown size would be.  I had done my research into livestock guardian dogs and thought I was well prepared for this Maremma/Kangol bundle of lovable fur, but I was wrong.

Livestock guardian dogs are notoriously difficult to train – independence has been bred into them so that they can make those judgement calls about protecting their flocks from whatever threats they deem worthy of their attention.  Bowie has independence in spades, as well as charm and a sly sense of humor.  Training did not, therefore, go as planned, so  I asked my friend Sarah Todd, an expert in training all kinds of dogs,  to help.

Sarah set me straight about a lot of things, the main issue being that I needed to decide whether Bowie was going to be a doggie kind of dog (i.e live in the house and be my companion as I did farm chores) or a working dog (live in the barn with the sheep and be expected to be around them all day and night).  “You are confused,” I remember her telling me, “and you are confusing Bowie.”


So, once Bowie had had all her shots, she moved into the barn full time.  It will take time for her to mature enough, both physically as well as temperamentally, to be with the sheep all the time.  Right now, she moves from the pasture where the sheep are to the barn area as she pleases.  Sometimes, she sits with our flock and interacts with them quietly.  Sometimes, she wants to play tag and gives chase.  Sometimes she helps me bring them to and from the barn with skill and intention, sometimes she is more of a nuisance to us all than a help.

She’s become fast friends with Lily, Auggie, Jasper, and Amos.  My Shetlands have boundaries they expect Bowie to obey, and she respects that.  Nothing brings me greater joy these days than seeing Bowie move around with the flock, or hang out with them in the pasture.  Someday they will all be out there at night as well: the sheep grazing, and Bowie keeping watch.

Wool and pets…both still a work in progress at Hebron Hills Farm.

Book quote Tuesday: Edna O’Brien

From Myra: “It is that time of the week again where we share a book quote that seemed particularly striking for us.”

The Country Girls: Three Novels and an Epilogue: (The Country Girl; The Lonely Girl; Girls in Their Married Bliss; Epilogue) (FSG Classics) by [O'Brien, Edna]

“We all leave one another. We die, we change – it’s mostly change – we outgrow our best friends; but even if I do leave you, I will have passed on to you something of myself; you will be a different person because of knowing me; it’s inescapable…”

I’ve been on and Edna O’Brien reading kick, first her memoir, Country Girl, and then the book above.  O’Brien’s depictions of life in Ireland after World War II, particularly life for girls and young women from the countryside.  At  times lyrical, hilarious, and even brutal, the three novels were an engrossing read.  I especially loved the way the novels followed the friendship between two main characters, whose paths diverged and converged over many years, as friendships often do. And I loved the way the quote above illustrates the truth of what happens with some of those we cross paths with through our lives, some deeply and some just tangentially – they leave a mark, they change us.

Sunrise and sunset

I’ve been lucky in that both my careers, teaching and shepherding, have given me the added gift of being able to witness glorious sunrises  due to the ridiculously early start to my days.

In my teaching days, especially in winter, I’d be on my way to school at sunrise.  There was something magical about greeting the very beginnings of a brand new day as it was just beginning, and my brain was teeming with all the “today we must accomplish” things of the day I would be spending with my beloved sixth graders.  Sunrise always gave me moments of transcendent beauty when I could pause, breathe, and be in the moment – moments I could draw upon as the day progressed in its madcap, middle school ways.

These days, I take in the sunrise with sheep, dogs, chickens, and cats.  They surround me as the sun rises, and I take in those first moments of light to the accompaniment of chewing, ruminating (literally), slurping, and clucking.  I like to think that my critters enjoy the beginning of their day as I do – that they, too, feel that gift that each sunrise is: a new day, a new beginning, a new chance to shape something good.

I don’t know that I was really aware of sunsets in my previous life the way that I can be now.  I was always racing home from work to pick up kids, take them here, there, and everywhere, make dinner, help with homework and projects, and then turn to my students’ work and prep for the next day.  But, I am making up for that now.

These days, I take care to pause whatever I’m doing to be witness to the end of the day, as well.  Not every day goes as planned, but the sun remains generous in her shared beauty as she dips away into the horizon, promising her gifts for the next day.

Poetry Friday: The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

Michelle  Barnes is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup at Today’s Little Ditty

The farmhouse, winter or 2018

The first blast of winter arrived last week: snow, ice, and bitterly cold temperatures.  I had been preparing myself for attending to farm chores (what I refer to as “barning”) in winter ever since last winter, my first such season spent full time at the farm.

There were practical things to do in preparation: move the chickens to their winter coop, purchase heated buckets so that all my critters could have access to fresh water instead of blocks of ice, and prepare the sheep stall with deep bedding for warmth.

And then there was the mind set preparation: hauling out all the gear necessary to stay warm, to keep the pathways clear, to be ready to trudge over ice.

Each season here in the north east has its distinctive look and feel, and although I love the colors (and warmth!) of Spring, Summer, and Fall, there is something about the stark beauty of winter that I have grown to love since moving to the farm.  The evergreens, lost among the greenery of oaks and maples and birch during the rest of the year, make their presence known with  grandeur.  And the landscape makes itself known in an entirely different way when it’s under a thick blanket of snow, especially on moonlit nights.

I guess I’ve learned to listen to winter…

The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.