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The Light Shines in Darkness by Joanna
We’re coming into the shortest days and longest nights of a year that has felt dark in many ways, as disease spreads, divisions deepen, and longstanding injustices become painfully apparent. I’m grateful for the year-end festivals: Thanksgiving when we celebrate the goodness that abides through the hardest times, and Advent when we light candles in the night and remember the Light that shines in darkness and is not extinguished.
We post a big piece of paper on the chapel wall a week before Thanksgiving with words of praise from the Psalms at the top and bottom. Over the next few days we write down the things we’re grateful for. There’s the beauty of the natural world and the richness of the land, as Lorraine describes in her article. There are the people who have come to help us with the work and to savor the goodness of this place: all those who wrote for the last newsletter, and many more—Andy and Mary Anne bringing books and memories, Bear coming from Unity Acres with news, Hope making supper and sharing stories about the satisfying, heartbreaking, and funny parts of our work, Renee and Bob visiting after a long correspondence and bringing us a poster showing the Golden Rule as it appears in different religious traditions, Jan bringing children, grandchildren, and friends to fish and walk… There are all the daily kindnesses and mercies that don’t make the news but that do make a life. On Thanksgiving Day we’ll read our thanks and the Psalmist’s words like a liturgy. We’ll remember together and be glad.
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Advent begins. I’ve always loved this time of looking for the light in the darkness. When I was a child my family used Advent calendars from Alternatives for Simple Living designed to help people detach from stuff-oriented and stressful celebrations, to enjoy simple delights, and also to focus on getting ready for God’s coming by practicing justice and kindness. (Calendars for earlier years, and other resources for simpler, more centered celebrations, are available in their online archives here.) We’ve stopped using those, but we still keep Advent. On the first night we’ll sit in the light of the Hope candle, by a bare banner embroidered with a dead stump with a green shoot growing out of it. We’ll read Isaiah 11: 1-9, the promises of new life coming out of death, of justice and of peace. As Advent goes on we’ll read more stories and prophecies and add symbols to the banner, and the candlelight will grow.
We came to St Francis Farm in a time that felt dark, both in my family and in the wider world—soon after the death of my mother’s parents (and of too many other relatives and friends), and just at the time of the 9/11 attacks and our nation’s deadly and destructive response. We grieved as fully and honestly as we knew how to, and we recognized how many terrible things we couldn’t change. We also kept our eyes open for the goodness that persisted, for the helpers and the peacemakers.
Now I am aware of the darkness again. COVID deaths are ramping up, and the nation is consumed by arguments over what’s fake news and who’s to blame and whether we need to follow safety guidelines. Protests over racism reveal the longstanding patterns of injustice in our society and economy, and the fury and denial which answer them show how hard it is to change these patterns. The election showed the bitterness of our divisions—the inability to agree on what’s right or what’s true, the deep distrust of people who don’t see what we see —and these continue in the election’s aftermath. We see this among our neighbors as well as in the news.
I also struggle with the darkness within myself. With my tendencies to irrational anxiety, which can show up as unhelpful fears about health or as desperation at our divisions. Also with uncertainty about what lies ahead. I’m not making much progress in finding new community members willing and able to help me carry on the work after Lorraine and Zach move on, though there are a couple of tentative conversations in progress.If I can’t find new members soon, then by the time the next newsletter goes out I will be talking with other organizations that do good work and that might have a use for this place and its assets, and I’ll seek other places where I can continue to work as I have here. All I know for certain at this point is that Lorraine and Zach and I will all be here into the beginning of the next growing season, and that Lorraine and Zach will move on in the growing season of either 2021 or 2022. I dislike not knowing, and I am not fond of changes. When I have found a good thing, I want it to go on just as it is, forever.
But that’s not how life works. Change, death, and renewal are what we’ve been given. I keep looking for the new shoots, for the light in the dark. People on the Pulaski Community Services Task Force keep finding ways to provide each other with food, help and comfort as the pandemic wears on. Some farm visitors say this pandemic has reminded them to slow down, enjoy the beauty of the created world, and savor time with the people they live with. Our nation’s painful reckoning with race has opened my eyes to things that I hadn’t fully understood and helped me glimpse a way forward; I hear others experiencing the same thing. Amidst political wrangling, I hear people listening to each other’s pains. Recently a heated exchange between two friends on my Facebook page shifted into a tender conversation about the difficulty of living with depression and the struggle to keep working and loving through that. I love this place and I’m grateful for the nineteen years I’ve spent here. I still hope St. Francis Farm Community may continue. I also remember Jacques Maritain’s words quoted in Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: “The Holy Spirit is at work not only in durable institutions which last through the centuries. He is at work also in ventures that have no future, which have always to be begun again.” And I remember Fra Giovanni’s words: “There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see; and to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!” I hope that you will keep looking into the darkness and seeing the light.
Clarity and Grace by Lorraine
As we move through this time of transition, I find myself looking back, remembering the path that led us here and lessons of the early years, as well as looking ahead. We came to the farm in 2001 and 9/11 changed so many things just at the time we were figuring out how to carry on the work after the others moved on. Now stepping back, I remember how the time of stepping up stretched me. I remember doubts and disappointments as well as kindness and generosity. Under all the memories are the cycle of the seasons, the beauty and the bounty of the farm.
I remember again how we started on the path that brought us to the farm. The question ‘how much is enough?’ first led toward simplicity and recognizing the difference between wants and needs. Later it reminded us of the need to rest even though the work is never done. This growing season it helps me keep my balance during this transition time when I am stepping back but not yet gone. Reading John Woolman’s journals led us first to Quaker Meeting and eventually to the farm. Quaker testimonies and Catholic Worker principles had much in common. The practice of silence is common to many faith traditions and visitors could readily join us at prayer. Woolman’s humility and his persistence as he urged Friends to stand against slavery impressed me then, and I think of him now as the nation struggles with its history of racism. Reading John Lewis’ Walking with the Wind: a memoir of the movement and listening to the news this summer were stark reminders of how far we have to go.
Now, as when we were moving into this life at the farm, fear is growing and crises abound in the wider world. The uncertainties of the Covid pandemic make it hard to plan ahead. The bitter chaos of this election year emphasizes growing divisions within families, faith communities and the nation. In another season of record wildfires, droughts, floods and hurricanes, I’m grateful that our well isn’t dry and our woods aren’t burning, while we grapple with the smaller effects of climate change on our own growing season and know that none of us are adjusting quickly enough to address the problems. Too many refugees flee terror or starvation and find no safe haven, the gap between rich and poor grows into a chasm, trust in science and in religious and political leaders dwindles. I want to find common ground and do something constructive but feel discouraged. I get slower as the problems loom larger.
But even slowing down has its points. I can’t keep up with the care of my perennial herbs and flowers, but I still have plants to divide and share. I made my echinacea tincture and dried herbs for tea. I wove ribbon and lavender sachets in the summer. This fall I collected autumn leaves and preserved some with glycerine and sent them to Marge with a wooden bowl Zach had turned and a collection of cones, feathers, shells and stones. I made her a ‘winter woods garden’ in a jar with Christmas fern, partridgeberry, and sweet woodruff and hoped these would make up for the nature walks she has missed this year. I had time to think of things Sr. Louise could enjoy without the vision she is losing and so sent her dried lavender and balsam fir in a small branch box Zach had made. Taking more breaks has given me time to savor the things I’ll miss when I leave. I hope that just as I tried to teach my children the value of working well when we all were younger, I can set an example to them now of how to rest and when to stop.
I remember things that helped me through the early days here and find them still helpful. Starting each day with a half hour of prayer. Working with my hands. Walking at dawn or at dusk, noticing the light as it changes. Noticing the small beauties near at hand—ripples on the water, the song of the brook, the succession of blossoms through the season, fragrance of herbs, calls of owls and coyotes. Sharing the work and the wonder with whoever is willing to take the time. Lighting Advent candles in this darkest time—first hope, then peace, then joy and love.
This fall started unusually dry, as the summer was, but in late October we finally got enough rain to fill the streams up again. I took advantage of the dry ground conditions to cut a number of large dead ash and maple trees and skid them out with the log arch. I’ve been gradually cutting them up and the lumber stacks in the loft are growing. I’ll be getting some hickory and oak cut before the end of November.
Once the summer woodshed got emptied out I mostly refilled it, leaving some room for slabs to be put in as they are produced at the sawmill. The firewood stack in the sugar house is also filled up with slabs now, ready for next spring. Soon I’ll start cutting firewood and dumping it outside the main woodshed to be put in next spring when it’s empty. Last winter that worked out well and saved time last spring.
I am very grateful that I didn’t have to try to process the pig myself after all. Our hauler called in October and said they were coming our way to get some other pigs and could get our pig too, and that they thought since it was just one they could get it squeezed onto the schedule at the butcher shop. Everything went according to their plan, and by the time the pig left it had reached a quite respectable size. For some reason this year’s pig grew slowly through the early part of the season and then grew very fast for the last 6 weeks or so.
The potato barrel experiment worked out pretty well. I got 13 pounds from one half barrel and 9 from the other. I don’t know why one did so much better since they were located side by side and had compost and seed potatoes from the same sources. I maybe didn’t water them as much as I should have given how dry of a year it was.
The apples this year were more plentiful and lasted longer than any year I can recall. I pressed a batch of 5-10 gallons of cider about once a week from late August through mid-November, and we gave away a lot to people who came by. Some folks also gave us containers to put cider in, which was a big help. As usual we also made applesauce and canned it, and froze apple slices.
Back in the summer we heard on the radio that because of COVID-19 some boards of elections around the country were short on election inspectors for the fall election. I went to a training in Oswego in September and then was assigned to be a poll worker in Sandy Creek. I had never done this before and it was a good experience, though a long day, since I had to be there from 5 AM to nearly 10 PM.
During the transition period here at the farm I have been spending more days in the shop building musical instruments, and paying the farm for each day. This way I am able to keep up with increasing orders to my business, and the farm has another source of income. During the fall I have been averaging a day per week in the shop, mostly on wet days, and as winter comes on I hope to move toward two days a week.
Farming Update (written 11-9-2020) by Joanna
The growing season has been changeable and unpredictable as the rest of the year. The summer and early fall were very dry. Then the weather turned cold early—we had our first patchy frost in mid-September, two weeks before I’d have expected it. Then the rain began and just kept falling: the streams filled, the salmon ran, and the ground turned squashy. One cold damp day I hurried to get the root crops in. Coming down the muddy walk with a garden cart full of bread trays of cleaned and sorted carrots, I fell and lost control of the cart, which ran one wheel into the gate, stopped abruptly, and tipped over, dumping all my trays into the mud. Now, well into November, we’re having balmy sunny days in the 50s and 60s. I’m enjoying these days as I clear and mulch beds and get ready for winter.
The harvests have been as mixed as the weather. The onions and potatoes were small, and gnawed, respectively, by onion maggots and chipmunks; we have all we need and had a little to give away, but not as much as usual. Still, I enjoyed digging potatoes along with Courtney and her four-year-old son, who seemed to enjoy the widely varied sizes and shapes of the spuds as well as the praying mantis we found in one bed.
The carrots, which I put on the drip system this year, grew huge. I packed 11 5-gallon pails for our winter use, sent 120 pounds to a trailer community for low-income seniors, and still had a fair bit to send with others who could use them. Parsnips and turnips also throve. We’ve had our best year yet for broccoli and brussels sprouts–we haven’t been preserving these but had plenty to eat fresh. We canned 110 quarts of tomatoes, dried 16, and had plenty to give away. The peppers also throve. We enjoyed the eggplant we had, though we would have been happy with more. We’re still getting plenty of kale and lettuce from the garden, and the greenhouse kale and lettuce are also ready to harvest.
The goats and rabbits are doing well. Our hens are still laying copiously, though they’re getting elderly. We’re not sure whether or not we’ll start new chicks next spring—that depends on how the transition goes. I don’t know what comes next, but I’m grateful for the year we’ve had, surprises and all.
A home landscape enables personal subsistence but also generosity. It enables community to exist and function. –Wendell Berry
Wounded Warrior Deer Hunt by Tim
For a number of years the Oswego County Wild Turkey Federation has hosted a Wounded Warrior deer hunt on opening day of the Northern Zone muzzleloader season. The veterans meet their volunteer “guides” early in the morning at the Lacona fire station. After the morning’s hunt, they meet for lunch at the Albion Fish and Game Club, and then end the day regathering at the fire station. The event is intended not only to provide a day of hunting, but to also provide an opportunity for the guides to thank the warriors for their service in a tangible way and to provide opportunities for the building of friendships. This year the event, which was attended by 8 wounded warriors, was held on October 17. Zach’s friend Tim served as the guide for Matt, a wounded veteran who lives near Rochester, NY. Tim and Matt were grateful for the opportunity to hunt on St Francis Farm. Even though they didn’t see any deer, they enjoyed being able to spend a few hours sitting quietly and taking in the natural sights and sounds of the farm.
Pandemic and winter open up space for reading. We’ve enjoyed borrowing, lending, and discussing books with friends. Here are a few that we’ve found eye-opening. We’d like to hear your recommendations.
Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton (wide-ranging journal from the 1960s)
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (examining systems of inequality in the US, in India, and in Nazi Germany)
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (arguing that there is more goodness in us than we usually admit, and considering how this knowledge might help us bring out the best in each other)
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (a thoughtful novel about religion, science, race, immigration, addiction, and freedom)
ST. FRANCIS FARM
136 Wart Road
Lacona, NY 13083