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Words come hard to me now, much meaning lost in this time of deep divisions. What can I say that is true and kind and not easily misconstrued? November brings longer nights and deepening cold. Around the world natural disasters and political rancor displace more and more people to whom no refuge is open. Fewer and fewer gain vast wealth and privilege while many struggle to made ends meet and to make sense of systems beyond their control. But it is time to write for our December newsletter, time to count our blessings, and then to light the Advent candles. I turn again to the Quaker image of “an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness,” and the Catholic Worker concept of personalism, “a way to simply live the Gospels,” and try to find words for what I’ve found true.
Several things bring me back to awareness of the ocean of light—praying together, noticing creation’s splendor, listening to visitors. From 7 to 7:30 each morning is set aside for centering prayer or silent meditation or Quaker worship when we bring our concerns into the silence and hold those we love in light. I try to get outside for the sunrise and often spend the prayer time there until cold is too hard. Just before the time change in fall, I may see the last stars or the waning crescent moon before the light comes up. Often we walk together around sunset—or in starlight or moonlight, or whenever the rain stops or the wind dies down. We savor the changing colors and cloud shapes and stop to listen to the brook or the owls. Visitors delight in these same simple things that we enjoy, and sharing them increases our appreciation as we see familiar things from a fresh perspective.
We see so many big problems we cannot solve, and sometimes the small things we can do for one person at a time seem insignificant. Desmond Tutu reminds us, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”An elder needs help getting to medical appointments and sorting out communication with different providers. Non-custodial parents are looking for things to do when they have time with their children. People who don’t have land and can’t afford to travel want places they can hunt. Some visitors want to learn skills while others may just want someone to listen. A fisherman comes in at dusk to thank us for letting him fish—he’s very pleased because everyone in his party, even the young boy, has caught and released some fish. Jan, originally from Poland but more recently New Jersey, comes to walk or fish. The farm reminds him of home so he sends pictures to his family and brings his daughter and granddaughter to see for themselves. We persuade him to take garlic, onions, and cider, and he brings us homemade kielbasa. The gleaner we missed this summer comes and asks to hunt this fall. He takes produce and says he’ll be back to glean next year. He just thought he should be giving someone else a chance.
We’re all so interdependent. I am more aware of my own limitations as my knees creak and my back tires sooner and the world changes too fast for me. Joanna took time from her own gardens to dig out sections of mine that were overgrown so I could replant what could be salvaged. Zach helps me use a cell phone and the debit card devices at various stores. They take me to any appointments since I’ve never had good enough vision to get a license. My best friend from high school is a nurse focused on holistic health. Her sound advice, invigorating optimism and staunch support have been a blessing since I reconnected with her last year. Hope brings us meals in summer when we’re feeling most stretched. Bonnie and Mary Anne give us books. Just to know that people are praying for us when we’re discouraged is a gift. When anyone speaks to me of how much we give, I am mindful of all we receive.
Words can’t convey the solace of the fragrance of lavender and balsam fir, the beauty of bare branches against a deep blue winter sky, the comfort of the cello vibrating at the end of a favorite hymn. May all who read this find a way into the silence where they can hear the angels’ message—“Be not afraid.” —Lorraine
We have had a long cooler fall this year and an early arrival of winter weather, but I was able to do most of the fall jobs before the snow began. In early September I built a wheelchair ramp in Orwell, bringing this year’s total to three. I hope to get an earlier start on ramps next year since I won’t have the big roof projects of the past two seasons to do. When I first completed the shingling of the front side of the barn there were no leaks around the skylights, but later in the summer and early in the fall I had several leaks develop above the upper skylights. The new roofing is architectural shingles instead of 3 tab, and I had trouble getting them to conform tightly to the shape of the roof at the top of the 3rd floor skylights, and I think that water was puddling above the skylights in heavy rains. I had to make a few attempts before the new leaks were stopped, but they seemed to be gone during the last rains this fall before the snow began.
We sold a lot of lumber in September and got the loft almost empty, and I have had enough good weather to bring in more logs and saw them so that now the loft is pretty well stocked for the winter. I have also been doing some small jobs sawing other people’s logs that they bring to the mill. Early in the fall I cut some small dead trees for firewood to fill up the woodpiles for the farmhouse and the sugar house, and later in October I emptied out the summer firewood shed and got it refilled so that next summer’s wood will have time to dry. The ash trees on the farm are starting to die more rapidly, we presume as a result of the Emerald Ash Borer which has been spreading throughout the country in recent years. I have been making sure I always keep ash in stock at the sawmill building and am hoping to be able to keep up with processing the trees that die before they rot.
Our pig was very successful this year, he reached a large size in a timely way. He was built differently than any other pig we’ve had, but it didn’t seem to do him any harm. This summer my pumpkins did not do well at all, only two pumpkins formed and they both rotted before they ripened. I had trouble with vine borers so the plants died early. The gourds I had in the same place did exceptionally well, though of course they’re only good for decoration unless one has the food safety powers of the prophet Elisha. The shiitake mushrooms logs were not as productive this year as last year, partly perhaps because of the cooler weather and partly because they are getting older. We will probably start a batch of new logs next late winter/early spring which will start producing mushrooms in 2021.
I’ve been having some trouble with the boiler damper system again, after replacing the actuator in April. It is supposed to automatically close the air intake when the fan turns off, but a couple of weeks ago I found that the shaft from the actuator to the damper had rusted away and snapped off inside. After talking to the boiler company I think I will be able to fix it myself, but I will need to find a time when we can shut the boiler down for a while so I may wait till spring. When the shaft broke the damper was open and the actuator still audibly runs in the normal way. I didn’t notice that anything had happened till a routine check of the damper as much as a week or two later, so it seems that we can get by without it for the time being. I am not very impressed with the way this system was designed, but no doubt it was done this way for a reason.
Late in October I rented a pole chain saw for a day and used it to trim branches around the edges of all of the fields and along some woods roads. Since then I have been picking up the branches and putting them in the woods, doing some ground level cutting around the fields, and pulling out honeysuckle bushes. I will continue when there isn’t too much snow and plan to get all of the cleanup done before the grass starts to grow next spring.
This fall I replaced one of the windows in the workshop which had cracked a pane last winter. This is the third of the windows that were originally installed when the barn was converted in the 1990s which has failed in the same way, always on a very cold day in the winter. It must be some temperature differential between inside and outside, but since the windows never fail completely we just wait till it’s warmer outside and replace the whole window then. I also replaced the plywood siding on the large dormer on the back of the farmhouse which was rotting in some places.
We had a windstorm in early November that left us without power for 18 hours or so, and the generator that we bought last year ran the whole time with no problems. In the summer we only run the generator from time to time to keep the freezers cold and run the well, but in the colder months we usually have to run it full time to keep the boiler going.
Agriculture update (written November 12) by Joanna
I’ve spent the last month hurrying to get the last harvests in and the garden cleaned up before winter. Last Thursday I cut off the asparagus ferns and mulched that bed as the first snow fell. It’s snowing again, and we’re done harvesting anything but Brussels sprouts and kale from the outdoor garden. But the pantry and the root cellar are well stocked despite some pest and weather challenges, and the “winter garden” in the greenhouse is flourishing. I’m grateful for the growing season’s abundance and I’m looking forward to the winter’s rest.
Our tomato plants dropped their blossoms in the high humidity of late August, and I worried about whether we’d have enough, but we canned 83 quarts and still had tomatoes to share. We had fresh eggplant every week, though not the surplus that filled our freezers last year. The peppers bore copiously; we ate them, froze them, and gave them away by the bushel. This was our best year ever for broccoli, though the Brussels sprouts didn’t thrive. While we had plenty of large onions, onion maggots bored into some (especially the sweet ones) and spoiled them for storage though not for immediate use. We had plenty to share fresh and still have enough to keep us through the winter. The other root/tuber crops throve: we have 330 pounds of potatoes and eleven five-gallon buckets of carrots packed in the root cellar, and we had heavy boxes of both to give away. This year the apples didn’t bloom as heavily as in 2018. We were vigilant about harvesting all we could, and ended up with all we wanted frozen, canned as applesauce, and made into cider.
Last year our rabbit buck went heat-sterile in the summer and we didn’t get fall litters. This year our does have produced litters reliably, though some litters have been small. Our new goat, Robin, has settled in and is gaining some much-needed weight. The chickens stayed outside with access to their compost pile and their moving pasture until the snow started, and now they’re in their sunny winter coop, still laying well; we have all the eggs we can eat, and then some.
In August I wrote that we were having some trouble finding takers for extra produce. I said then that we’d figure it out in the winter, but we didn’t have to wait that long. We checked with the manager of Springbrook, the local subsidized apartment complex for seniors, and were assured that their residents would be glad to eat as many vegetables as we could bring. I felt apologetic about bringing thin-skinned onions, nicked potatoes or cursorily cleaned carrots, but the residents made it clear that they knew actual fresh food from a garden tended to be dirty and sometimes imperfect and they figured on enjoying it anyway. I hope that the connection begun by these produce runs will grow and flourish through this winter and into the next growing season.
November 18 we went to Springbrook to tell residents about the farm, invite them to visit, and see what else we might do there now that the garden is done for the year. We took photos, brochures and crafts to show them. They remembered some of the wooden toys from their childhood and some wanted to buy them for their grandchildren. It’s always hard to explain the farm economy—that what we offer isn’t for sale and that donations are accepted but not expected. We’ll go back December 10 with materials for a few toys we can help residents make and with some completed toys left over from past years.
A few residents spoke of coming to visit the farm. Others told us how much they’ve enjoyed the vegetables from the farm. We’re glad to connect with some Springbrook residents again after a gap of a few years, and we look forward to getting to building on this beginning and to making toys again.
Winter is also our best reading time, and we’d be glad to hear what books you recommend. Here are three titles that have moved us, encouraged us or made us think in recent months:
Christy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper Of Aleppo tells the story of a Syrian refugee couple who have escaped their country without their son and are trying simultaneously to find a safe refuge and to find some way of living with all they have lost. I (Joanna) found it particularly vital in this time when so many are displaced and trying to heal.
Barbara Brown Taylor’s Holy Envy describes her experience as an Episcopal priest teaching comparative religion to college students, many of whom came from very conservative Christian backgrounds. In this time of so much rancorous dispute over religion I was refreshed by her generosity of spirit toward her students and toward the congregations from other faiths which welcomed them, and also by her deep commitment to, and deep questioning of, her own faith.
Barry Lopez’s Horizon is about as hard to describe as it is satisfying to read. It’s a loving, thoughtful, often sorrowful look at the history and ecology of particular places around the world where the author has lived/worked/studied, and at what it might mean to live appropriately as limited human creatures in a marvelous, dangerous, and endangered world which we did not create.
Lorraine took down quotes as she read, some of which we’ve been posting on our Facebook page along with pictures.
“Lives without restraint are eventually ruinous, to those individuals and to the social and physical world around them.”
“Without room for mystery and uncertainty…there cannot be any truly intelligent conversation.”
“We are the darkness as we are, too, the light.”
From Holy Envy:
“Our shadows are often behind us, where others can see them better than we can.”
“While we spin our wheels trying to control things beyond our control, we ignore the one thing that is within our power to change: our way of seeing things.”
“The neighbors God has given me to love do not all call God by the same name.”
A gallery of fall visitors
top: Marge helping clean onions and riding in her chariot.
second row: Emily visits again & helps press cider. Kathy Crandall finally came for lunch and a tour—hope she’ll come again.
third row:Charles came several times this fall & helped with/learned about elderberries, cider, sawmill, and garlic. He’s also a helpful resource about alternative energy. Here he’s planting garlic and running the mill.
fourth row: Charles processing elderberries. Pat, who stopped by for a tour and enjoyed picking chard and dill to take home.
Thanks to all who supported our work with prayers, presence and donations, and to all who came and worked with us. Please contact us if you would like to change the way you receive our newsletter or if you need a receipt for donations made in 2019. Winter visitors are welcome to come walk, ski, talk and worship with us. During the growing season the farm may be more obviously lovely, and there’s more manual work to help with; during the winter we have more time to plan and to ponder. We’ll be planning our garden and will be glad to talk with other folks about gardening. In early January we’ll hold our annual review and discernment session, and we’d be glad to hear your questions and feedback as we prepare for that.
ST. FRANCIS FARM
136 Wart Road
Lacona, NY 13083