After an enjoyable yet slow paced first 9 months of 2011, just as our Moonglow pears were picked and stored in a cooler, my year took off at a gallop that lasted 3 months, mostly away from home.
First was a 30 day stint on the M/V Liberty Island, a 300 foot ship (hopper dredge) on a beach replenishment job at Nag’s Head, at the Outer Banks of North Carolina; working as an Endangered Species Observer. In that month, 2 hurricanes and a tropical depression chased us 3 times into the harbor 10 hours up the coast at Norfolk, VA.
The ship would get to work for 1 – 2 days before storm surges threatened, and then we would have to hightail it for protected waters. Fortunately for me, we tied up at a dock near the downtown area, so I was able to walk to a nearby community coffee shop “Elliot’s Fair Grounds Coffee” on Colley Ave., across from a Starbucks.
Normally, with no other coffee shops in sight, I am delighted to find a Starbucks, yet this time a local – and wonderful‑ café called me all 3 times we sought safe harbor: 3 times for a total of 13 days.
During those days, I also got to visit with my daughter and her family, and enjoy Malapeque oysters and excellent local beer at my all time favorite locally owned seafood restaurant: A. W. Shucks off 22nd. Street (also within walking distance from the ship).
Due to the 3 storms, the ship was able to work only 10 of my 30 days aboard! And most fortunately for me, my truck, parked at Nag’s Head, elevation perhaps 5 feet above sea level and within 200 yards from the Atlantic, stayed high enough and dry enough to escape all the very serious flooding from Hurricane Irene’s almost direct hit.
From the Endangered Species experience, I returned home with 1 1/2 weeks to do some triage care for our orchards, gardens, and bees, and begin work on my broom production for the upcoming October Southern Highland Craft Guild show.
My inventory was down to 4 brooms, and I needed quite a few in order to do the show, not be embarrassed, and make it worthwhile. These are incredibly beautiful and functional hand tools, made from broomstraw (sorghum) fibers and natural wood handles. I use the strong and beautiful Shaker weave, attributed to the Shaker women.
History tales say the Shaker men said it was too fanciful. The women replied “show us a stronger, more functional way to attach the broomstraw”, and the men were unable to do so: thus, we have benefit of such a beautiful weave on these brooms.
Prior to the Guild show, I traveled to and taught a 6 day cooking class at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, entitled “Around The World With Flatbreads and Flavors”. My class was full, and we made good use of their incredible indoor wood-fired bread oven, as well as the new outdoor oven. From Naans to Tortillas to Focaccias and much more, we were a bunch of baking fools! In addition, we accompanied the breads with (made from-scratch) dips, chutneys, chili pastes, and other condiments from the countries where the breads developed.
The following week was devoted to the Guild show: loading a rental truck with our booths (my clay artist wife Chiwa’s and mine), unloading and setting up at the Asheville Civic Center (a full and strenuous day’s work), 4 days of the show itself, and on the last night, breaking down, loading what was left (and the booths) back into the truck, and heading home to unload the next day. This is a fairly hectic and intense time!
What made it all worthwhile was that:
Forth: The next day, we loaded up our sit-on-top kayaks and headed towards Cape San Blas on the Florida peninsula, and our yearly stay at the Old Salt Works cabins.
For 2 weeks we arose prior to sunrise, and walked out on a small, low dock, over a Spartina marsh at the bay’s end, and watched as the marsh day began.
Reddish Egrets teaching other long legged species to do the dance: lurch, spin, hop & twist with wings uplifted; Willets prowling the flats with water almost to their feathery skirts; Black-Bellied Plovers running & stopping, so solitary; Western Sandpipers running about; distant flocks of ducks flapping furiously; Marsh Hawk (Harrier) swooping tiltingly low over the marsh grasses.
Mature and immature Bald Eagles gliding over our heads every morning; Clapper & King Rails calling nearby and sometimes showing themselves, like ghosts materializing then dematerializing; and the ever present Fiddler Crabs moving out and retreating en masse…
Then the sun would multicoloredly glow the eastern sky, and through the pines appear. Even when the weather was unpleasant, we kept the marsh sunrise schedule: life is too much a miracle and way too uncertain to do anything but!
We paddled as we were able, caught and ate a few fish, cooked and ate wonderful meals, and watched several sunsets from a favorite remote, west facing shore,
where we toasted the incredible majesty of sunsets with a gin & tonic, and swatted a few mosquitoes and no-see-ums, being very appreciative of the freewheeling bat population overhead doing their good ecological work.
Three days after our return home to Barefoot Gardens, I departed for Jamaica with good friend and colleague Chuck Marsh, where we would be teaching a Permaculture Design Course for Jamaicans, over a 3 week period.
I had always wanted to visit Jamaica, and I never wanted to do so as a tourist. This was a perfect opportunity to learn about Jamaicans, visit in depth their beautiful garden island, and do something worthwhile (be of service).
We were not on the tourist side of the isle.
We were cared for by the wonderful people of The Source Organic Farm, located near the southeastern section, above Johns Town, in St. Thomas Parish. Nicola Shirley (of The Source) promoted and arranged the PDC, and did a marvelous job.
Class participants were all Jamaican, and caught fire with the permaculture material, recognizing its value for Jamaica. All were ecological and social movers and shakers: already doing good works. All being employed, we arranged the PDC in 4 three day weekends, with the forth and final taking place in mid March. This created a win-win-win; in that they could participate and still work, we could have some non-teaching time (although it filled with consultations) and they would have 3 months (plus) to work on their final design.
Jamaicans are lovely people: friendly, intelligent, passionate, and wonderfully boisterous. We made some good friends, starting with our airport taxi driver: Kirk (arranged for by Nicola) who greeted us with a big smile, drove very well the 1 1/2 hours back to The Source, stopping at a roadside cookery for my first taste of Jerk Chicken.
We saw and visited with Kirk several times: he is an ecological/organic fruit grower, planting permaculture style with polycultures of many fruits, foods and herbs. In addition, he is an eloquent historian, and we learned that Jamaica’s most famous slave revolt took place in St. Thomas Parish, and although much good eventually came out of it, the parish was still not looked upon well (the terrible roads and broken waterlines showed this to be true).
We visited other “garden-of-Eden” tropical fruit/food polyculture food forests too, where every step was taken carefully, due to the incredible abundance of foods, fruits, medicinal & culinary herbs, nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs (and on and on), many in all stages of development, from newly sprouted to fully ripe.
The site for our PDC was awesome: 100 feet from the ocean, and across from a large, landlocked salt water pond, which hosted familiar (to me) varieties on Mangroves, Pelicans, Herons and Egrets, and… American Crocodiles!
Seawater temperature was perfect, and salt content must be high, for it took effort not to float.
For all my mornings at The Source, I arose early, made a cup of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee, and went up on the flat roof, kept company by cisterns, and watched the day begin. I was above John’s Town, facing southwest, towards the Caribbean Sea (less than a mile distant). With the sun rising behind and over my left shoulder, I watched the lower hillsides of green light up, and thus celebrated the sunrise.
It was easy to be in Jamaica in November: still, the three weeks went a little too fast, and too soon the morning of our departure arrived.
By this time though, I had been mostly absent from my home in Asheville, NC for 3 months: I was ready to be home…
The story continues, for I was coming home 3 days prior to our Home Show and Open House, taking place the second and third weekends of December.
Each weekend was heralded by a special event. The first Friday evening was our “opening”.
Chiwa always makes 30 wine cups and they go to the first 30 people to arrive. We have, of course, wine and cider with which to fill them, as well as other homemade goodies such as Artichoke and Palm Heart Dips, from-scratch Nachos, cheese and crackers. Our friends, neighbors and clients gather and stay for 2-3 hours. Is a very pleasant scene!
The first Saturday/Sunday are quiet, and people seem to come by one or two at a time, and we have time to visit and sip Chai Latte together.
The second weekend begins with homemade cinnamon buns emerging from the oven at 10 a.m. —first come, first serve, along with a large pot of excellent organic coffee. Again, people gather and stay for a few hours: a sweet, friendly and festive time.
Finally, all the busyness of a year, crammed into 2011’s last quarter, has passed gracefully, and as Winter Solstice approached, under Chiwa’s leadership, we completed our Biodynamic sprays and treatments for the year: Silica (for light enhancement), and the six compost preps (for finishing a compost pile biodynamically).
This allowed us to use the Three King’s spray on the day of 12th Night, also referred to as Epiphany (this year taking place on Friday, 6 January). Three Kings (containing gold, frankincense, and myrrh) treatment is stirred for an hour (making and reversing vortices), and sprayed outward from the property’s periphery, creating a safe and sacred interior.
On 12th Night, we had a gathering of friends for a Wassail (blessing of the orchard) ceremony. Wassail means “good health”. We began at dusk with a Mayan-style “Burning” with the Sun and Moon candles, Copal from their sacred tree, Incense, Frankincense & Myrrh, Sage, and other herbs. Then, dressed in festive garb, with ribboned and belled staffs, candle lanterns, drums and accompanied by Professor T-Bud Barkslip’s squeezebox, we sashayed in merriment over to and around a tree we’ve designated “The Old AppleTree Pollinator Man”
Circling this grandmother Crabapple tree; singing the Wassailing song; stepping forward, men then women, tipping hats, bowing; chanting a wish for good fruiting for the coming season; driving out any negativity and limitations, and sending them fleeing with a good hardy, boisterous noisemaking and huzzahs; then dipping bread in cider and anointing the branches with the bread for the guardian birds, and pouring the remaining cider in the root zone.
Then we gathered inside and enjoyed a delicious pot-luck, with homemade hard cider, sourwood mead, and wine.
Chiwa and I arose the next morning to a mild, soft, slightly foggy, early day. This piece of sacred earth upon which we live and caretake felt especially nourished, as did we…