Sunday, May 29, 2011

At The Gates Of The Animal Kingdom

Right now, time is so precious to me. Every minute from sun-up to sunset seems occupied by the Absolutely Necessary.

I'm not just neglecting this log, but emails and calls, letters and dates. So to anyone to whom I owe a reply of any kind, all apologies. All I have to offer right now, is this little post of odds and ends, a small window into my life.

There are presents and birthdays and parties. There's the never-ending list of packages to mail and things to make. Curtains to sew, lamps to fix, beds to dig, cupboards to paint, wild things to harvest, starts to plant, mulch to spread. Hoop houses and volunteering and more work than I can do, raspberries to dig, promises of poetry readings, summery days filled with frantic activity.

And yet, as a favorite literary character likes to say. And yet, there are also soft creatures on the side of the road. Children running in the orchard as I have my hands elbow deep in soapy water.
Meekest one
There are new interesting friends, and old, longed-for friends. There's even new life in a small cardboard box.
Life as we know it
Chip or dale?
Little peeps
There's time if you take it. Small snatches of it here and there that can be had.
Row row row your boat
Morning rows and herons, some like Narcissus looking at himself in the water.
Herra Haikara
Some days I receive beautiful faraway mail, from inexplicably kind people who send you frocks and little hand painted recipes and cards of great significance for no reason other than that they thought you might like them.
Pure love
My Husband the Florist
I have a husband who picks blooms. Most often I would just leave them where they grow, but it makes me so happy when there's a bouquet on the table.
I wear Short shorts!
Our thoughts are going way out to Alaska to C.'s cousin's new little girl, hoping that she gets to go home from the hospital soon. And to the lovely Anne who has also given birth to a beautiful baby girl this spring.
True colors
I wear colorful gifts from Anne's package, mixed in with others from Heather, and my only craft in weeks has been this little Spirit Pouch to host one of them.
Heathered Friend
At night, as I sit in my study, trying to finish something or another, I look up and see this gorgeous, melancholy card of Johnny Cash and his progeny living the life of dreams, a gift from the lovely Andrea, who's artwork I hope to hang on my wall some day soon.
The Cash Porch Band
And as I type this, I listen to the lovely sounds of these little peeps.

How are things in your spring-world?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Guest Pass


As you can tell the tangible world is holding some serious sway over me right now, but if you're in need of an extra Milla-fix (how I flatter myself) the amazing time-traveling Brigit gave me an opportunity to guest post on her log this week. In her absence Brigit has thoughtfully set her readers up with guest-posts on yummy recipes, 70s cinema and kid's book illustrations, all things I heartily approve. And if you're inclined to wander on over, my post has a wee (big-no seriously this book is pretty epic) book giveaway attached. Just leave a comment and I'll fish out a winner one of these days.

Hope it's not raining like a mofo at cultivation time in your neck of the woods. Imma gonna go and hunt me some slugs now, but I look forward to checking all your lovely logs and the posts that have accumulated in my absence. And there the next post on Simple Living is in the works.

All my love and bright skies,

Sunday, May 22, 2011

In My Care

Have you wondered where I've been in the last two weeks? The answer is: Here.
Here, is an apple orchard on the land of one very generous, amazing woman, who's not only letting me keep bees on her land, but giving me free access to the land, her old equipment, telling me to do whatever I need to. It is a beautiful place, perhaps one of the most beautiful on this Island where most everywhere is breath-taking.
I love going out there, watching the bees make their way to the orchard where the blooms are just opening, slowly, slowly. It has been the coldest, rainiest May and April here since record-keeping began in the 1890s. We all seem to have our faces turned to the sun the moment it appears, like desperate blooms, blinking in wonder, shedding winter skin. And then, just like that its gone again and the cold wind brings yet more rain from the mountains. It has been a pretty tough year so far.
No matter. It's what you've got that counts, right? And what we've got is a really awesome salmonberry year. And 30 000 or so bees. Those of you who've known me for a while may know that I have a long-standing obsession with honeybees. I can't really explain it, but I've always felt a special affinity to them and never been fearful of them.
A few years ago, driven by the urge to know more, to make real the idea that perhaps I could do it, became an apiarist, I took a beekeeping class in a very traditional (meaning the last 50 or so years of beekeeping) setting and immediately and instinctively felt in discord with it.

Though most of the books that I had read during my years of obsessing about Apis Mellifera also dealt in the same kind of beekeeping mentality: lots of interference and control, medicating, the smoke, the robbing of honey and then feeding trough the winter with an inferior food source (something that never sat right with me), essentially treating bees as livestock, seeing it in action really made me feel like something was amiss. I enjoyed the class, for the closeness to bees, the hands-on learning of basics, but at the same time felt very conflicted by some of what I was taught and having no concrete information to back-up my guttural instinct, all but gave up on the idea of keeping bees.
This was in 2006. Around that time Colony Collapse Disorder was sweeping the US and the topic of beekeeping suddenly in the limelight. The more I read the more obvious it became, even to a someone who knew very little of the actual science: if you treat these gentle, magical creatures poorly, they will abscond. Abscond in the most metaphysical sense of dying quietly from unknown causes.
From early on Colony Collapse Disorder felt to me like a combination of the many things we humans do to beekind. Be it from pesticides, breeding, monoculture, constant transportation, changing climates, drugs and pests growing resistant to those drugs, or the popular hippie explanation of cell phone towers being to blame; in my entirely layman's mind there is no one reason for CCD. Like most of our ills it is not simply one thing or another, but the tipping point of all the things that we have doing wrong.
One of the most shocking aspects of modern "beekeeping" to me, is that bees are routinely trucked on the interstate for hundreds of miles to pollinate one monocrop after another. The idea of a creature that plots it's course as far four miles from the hive through what is essentially a series of photographs in its mind being transported to a new orchard every few weeks, actually makes me cry. After all, this is an animal which, as E. Readicker-Henderson so perfectly put it in his book A Short History of The Honeybee, transforms landscape into taste.

Bees, like people, make their home in the place their hive is. The home is just not the hive, but everything that surrounds it. They get to know each nook and cranny of the land intimately travelling high in the treetops and low in the buttercups. There are places where drones have been known to gather for generations, and the worker bees (from here on out I'm going to start calling them the female bees as per this beautiful post) can fly miles to find and feed an another that's flown too far and is low on energy.
If for some reason you desire to move your beehive after you have introduced the colony to it you must either move it five miles (I've heard other, lower estimates, but several miles is the consensus.) or five inches a day, until it is in its desired location. Otherwise they will not recognize the hive, and will instead flock to the empty space where it used to be.
Once I moved to the country, I decided to take another look at the possibility of becoming a beekeeper and was delighted to find that there is indeed a growing alternative beekeeping movement. (There seems to be a burgeoning alternative movement in everything. These are the worst of days and the best.) Like most alternative movements there is a variety of opinion on how alternative you need to get.

All along as I planned how to furbish my hives it was clear to me that I would try to tread the invisible and blurry line of letting nature run its course, while giving the bees in my care as much as help as I could in this adverse climate. Most beekeepers out here discover quickly that it's very easy to let your hive perish from malnourishment in the first few seasons you have them. The advice of more seasoned beekeepers is certainly golden because most books will for instance tell you not to feed your bees except in dire emergencies. Well, the forage season here is sweet and short and does not always extend to times when its warm enough for the bees to fly, so you do need to feed them. Hopefully in the next few weeks they'll be able to fully feed themselves. They've certainly been eating less feed with each passing week.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, bees prefer sugar syrup to honey in the spring, since honey is their emergency food. So don't ask me how much I've spent on organic suger in the last few weeks. The odd thing too is that it needs to be as refined as possible, for the bees to be able to digest it. Counter-intuitive indeed.
I also went for the traditional Langsroth Hives, for no other reason than that they were available to me and I did not have time or the expertise to figure out how to build a topbar hive. Next season, if my husband is still into this, I think we'll add one. In the meantime, I'm excited to read about this lovely lady's adventures in topbar hives and very natural beekeeping.

We've been slowly limbing the two lower branches of the tree (C. says he thinks the tree will understand) that shades them, which is unfortunate, but also provides rain cover and wind protection and I think we found another good spot on the property that is out of everyone's way, but big enough for either two more Langsroths or a topbar. But let's not get ahead of ourselves...

We do do some interference, simply to check on the health of the colony. So far we've only opened them once to make sure there was brood and that they were indeed collecting food. We don't smoke our bees as they are absolutely not aggressive (we do have a lavender mister on hand-another handy trick from awesome fellow beekeepers) and plan to do any medicating with natural alternatives. For my next supers I'm hoping to try out partial foundation so as to reduce the amount of interference further. (Organic beeswax foundation is almost impossible to find and regular foundation can contain anything from trace amounts of pesticides to antibiotics and can be produced in ways I consider unethical.)
We are also not looking to harvest any honey anytime soon. (Good thing too, because most beekeepers here don't get much honey at all in the beginning, if ever.) Honey, in fact, was never really part of the plan, or the object of my desire. Since I first had the idea, the inkling that being a apiarist was something I might want to do, that was the end goal. To keep bees. Almost like a calling. Keeping bees to me had this great spiritual aspect, of being part of something larger than oneself, a keeper of a community of women who act as a single entity, many bodies unified in one "mind".
Of great order and symmetry and equal mystery. They are a being who's way of life is almost diametrically opposite to ours, at least the way we live now, in small units, without much higher understanding of togetherness. Without each other a single entity can not exist. There is no bee without a colony.

The bees do everything for the colony. Literally. To contribute less than an eight of a teaspoon of honey to the hive in its life-span the female bee can fly a distance equivalent of to the moon and back.

Like all animals, the bees have an intellect, a mind, a consciousness entirely different from ours, one that is fascinating to observe. They are not tame, they are still wild and unlike most animals they choose to live with you. Or not. They can leave anytime. They are not yours. You are not really their keeper.
They are in your care of their own wild, free will.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

365 days a year

Happy Mother's Day to all the amazing Mamas as well as those of you beautiful womyn who aren't Mothers(yet or by choice), because if you aren't a Mother, you surely are a daughter. Let us all rejoice the miracle of Motherhood, our Mamas and their Mamas and the eternal, long chain of women from which we come from, one happy accident at a time.

Isn't it mysterious to remember that your very existence on this blessed Earth is the result of endless chains of co-incidences and strange events against all odds and reason? Whether you have created life or not that in and of itself is cause for some feminine celebrations.
(Find Milla in this picture of my well-dressed hippie mama. You can't? That's 'cos I'm in the belly, best aquatic hiding place ever!)

An almost equal mystery must be how all of us have managed to have The Best Mother In The World...
Like the Earth, Mamas (and papas) deserve our love, gratitude and appreciation more than just one day a year, in fact we should we grateful for our Moms each and every day of their and our lives.

I stayed up late into the night to talk to mine on Mama's Day morn over in her far part of the world. It's hard to live so far away from my mother and I cannot even fathom how hard it is to live an equal distance from your only child, so if you're close enough, give your Momma a hug just like I wish I could give mine . I also wish I could give a hug to my mother-in-law for being The Best Mother In The World for my husband.
So much love to all the mamas and babies and daughters,

Friday, May 6, 2011

Pale Green Things...

Sometimes the things you need are attracted to you. They come to you without your asking, maybe even without you knowing that you need them. They can be anything: plants, animals, objects, colors, or best of all, people. Reading all your lovely, thoughtful, long comments I feel like I must have done something right in this life or the last, to have gathered such an amazing collection of kindred spirits. (A special thank you for chiming in to those of you who don't usually comment or are new to this log.)
As you may know, I generally don't reply to comments (I don't have the time, and I would much rather check our you log and leave you one.), but now I feel that the only way this conversation idea is going to work is my by answering your questions, expanding on ideas you've brought to me and countering your arguments.

While, as Adie pointed out, we sadly can't all of us just sit down with some wine (or preferably Adie and Art's delicious home-brewed beer) and hash it all out, I'm hoping that we can have an exchange of ideas, one that we can all get something out of. I know I've certainly already gained a wealth of new thoughts and strength from just reading all your comments.
Lately, in addition to lovely folk, I've been attracting gifts, particularly in the color green so the pictures accompanying this post are of all the different wondrous things I've been blessed with lately. Like this dress scored at a clothing exchange that used to be my dear friend Sona's when she was a teenager.
The dress itself is lovely, but it means so much more because it was hers at such a crucial time in her life. To boot, Sona and her hubby gifted us with a big hunk of rhubarb, which is pretty much the only thing besides peas enjoying this cold weather.
Even back in California, both Missa and Amber gave me some lovely green things, and since then they have just kept on coming, culminating with a package from Heather, entitled "The Forest Dweller" (a title I am delighted to accept), which contained a number of beautiful things, among them a green corduroy dress and a little green romper.
(I spy with my little eye a sticker from Violet Folklore?)

"How did she get from Simple Living to clothes so quickly?" You may be wondering quietly to yourself. Well, since I don't have Brigit's mad posting-from-the-future-skillz, I have accumulated a collection of green-hued outfits in the last week or so and I wanted to share them with you. And there is a pons asinorum (in Finnish we call this tactic literally "donkey's bridge", ) in here somewhere.
See, all your insightful, encouraging comments were actually quite the relief for me, because it took me a while just to craft up that post in all its briefness, for the worry that I was going to sound like a self-righteous schmuck. As Amber pointed out, a lot of people who talk of Simplicity are all about doing it their way, and over-hauling your life completely, buying this new life-style just as much as the one they are trying to separate from.
(Cat postcards, calico notebooks feathers and CDs from Darin, oh my!♡)

In spite my proclamations to the contrary I sometimes feel like I somehow have no right to post about things of any seriousness, when in the very next sentence I exclaim over my new-to-me-frock.

I'm certainly not the poster child for living simply, without frivolities. As much as someone else might think I'm living some sort of dream-life, I still spend a lot of time berating myself for things I've done less thoughtfully than I'd have liked to, agonize over choices and ponder my hypocrisies (like the afore-mentioned dress vs. seriousness-a topic for another post altogether).

But I think that's exactly why we all need to talk about this, because so many of us are attempting to get closer to the land, some ephemeral idea of freedom calling us, and instead of feeling ashamed of the ways in which we fail, or don't comply with some image we have, we need to hear from others and learn that there are many different little ways of doing these things. Like Missa said in her comment, we all need to be very merciful towards ourselves, taking small steps towards our ideals.
I feel like part of why we've slowly formed this informal community, is to connect with like-minded souls, to give each other strength and inspiration. (And, occasionally, pretty frocks...)
(A Moonshine Junkyard original hand-made top for summer-whoo!)

We can also only do things within our resources; someone living in a city (though living in a city doesn't seem to much hinder simple living ;), working a 9-5 may not much benefit from the exact ideas I might have, nor is it necessary for them to try to do what I, or someone else is doing. If having an old car, or chickens doesn't fit in your current life, then what the heck, do something else.

Amber, someone who's amazing energy I've always admired from a distance (The girl is an awesome mom, a vintage seller, herbalist witch woman and a prodigious reader, who somehow still manages to take up to 2 baths a day. Seriously, I find the latter to be an almost magical feat ;), mentioned that she actually felt grateful that she didn't have a good spot for a garden because it's one less thing to do. Yet, for as long as I've known her, I've looked up to her as someone who's very mindful in her life choices. (Check out this wealth of information on motherhood, mindful child rearing, health, food and family she's got archived in this beautiful log. I remember first reading her daughter Mycelia's birth story and being just blown away the confidence and thoughtfulness her and her partner Graham had as they made their first decisions as young parents.)
(Produce gifted by a friend who got it from a friend of theirs who you-picked it on trip to California. They brought back hundreds of pounds of fruit and shared it with everyone.)

Simplicity to me, is not some dreamy ideal of living in the country and having the most perfect rustic life, but rather the whole glorious spectrum of existence; going to the grocery store, mending the same sock for the third time, walking in the woods, trading jams, doing laundry...

Actually, doing laundry is of my favorite indulgences. After getting a (free!) washer and dryer late last year, (after two years of day-long laundromat runs) I love and appreciate it so. Which, of course is another perk of Simplicity, the appreciation for the smallest, most mundane things, like being able to cook and do laundry at the same time! This particular joy makes me feel so connected to my grandma, a mother of five, who in the fifties got her very first hand-crank washer.
Nicky commented that a part of her rebelled against the idea of living as simply as us (and we really are not that out there at all in our circle of folk), because if everyone did what we do, our society (I'm paraphrasing here so correct me if I'm not getting the gist of it right m'dear) wouldn't be able to function. And perhaps it wouldn't.

I totally respect Nicky's more "mainstream" point-of-view, but also believe that to a degree we are all of us engaged in some degree of simple living here, whether it be in the form of crafting, vintage selling, or gardening. It really is only a matter of degrees.

And while there could be endless debate about what we really need and what parts of our complex society are necessary to whom, I do believe that everyone in our Western world could do with a little more time and connection to the land. Whether it's moving to a shack without electricity, or growing some herbs on your windowsill, doesn't really matter.
Though I find myself getting more radical with each passing year, I'm totally not into judging others who make the conscious choice to follow different paths. It's just that a lot of folk seem to fall into patterns like the "work-spend cycle" without ever thinking they had other options. Voluntary simplicity to me is just about having a few more choices.
Financial security, or the illusion of it, stirred a variety of different emotions in the comments.
Many of you confessed that you were "forced" to choose a simpler life-style because of financial difficulties, but were making the best of it, while others stated that some of the happiest, most care-free times in their lives had been the materially least abundant and financially least stable.
As Adie mentioned this most recent "recession" (see the ridiculous definition to explain why I used quotation marks) has had a lot of positive effects on those who were already on the fringes of the strange amorphous entity they call the economy (I kind of think that economy is sort of like the Jabberwocky. Except less real.).

Most micro-economies have actually gained strength from the growing disillusionment in mainstream economy. People buy a lot more hand-made and local goods and the appreciation fine craftsmanship, durability and originality seems to be on the rise.

The hand-made culture has not seen a renaissance like this since 70s, thrifting has gone mainstream, craigslist is flourishing and the organic movement actually gained momentum during this downturn. We now make more person-to-person business transactions than we have since since the 60s. And while this movement was in full swing before the downturn, it seemed gain further strength from it.

All these small actions we are part of is helping create an alternative economy, one in which we can get more deeply immersed and participate in, rather than just being passive consumers.

(A beautiful dress from Heather. A beautiful second skin for this forest dweller.)

While both food and consumption are definite topics for future posts, I will add that the first advice I would give to anyone starting out on Simplicity would be to start eating local and organic. I know it's the same old tip, given more eloquently by many more talented writers, but that's where its at. Alissa who asked for my ideas on starting in a more simpler direction is already doing this in her lovely blog.
I'm hoping to come up with other concrete ideas to dispense over the next Simplicity posts.

One facet of Simplicity, that kept appearing in your comments, and one with which we could all experiment (see the best advice is coming from ya'll), is bartering-the exchange of goods and services without money changing hands.
Teeny's recent experiences with trades have certainly been very inspiring to follow. From her bartering home-grown produce for all kinds of fabulous goodies, to Amber's giving some time to "pay" for Mycelia's pre-school, to our very own trades in the form of clothes swaps, exchanging goods and services is a great way for everyone to get what they need and get to know their friends and neighbours a little better in the process. It's definitely something I'd like to do more of and am quite in awe of Teeny's little bartering circle.
Being so used to putting a monetary value on things, can really hinder one's bartering confidence, which is exactly why it's so important to engage in it; to remember that money is not everything and to feel empowered by the fact that one does not always need it. In addition to getting something you need, or rid of something you don't, you can also gain the satisfaction of helping your fellow folk along the way.
As Mary pointed out, receiving gifts, barter items, or help makes you in turn more generous with your time and resources. You start parting with things with much more joy and deliberation. Giving becomes more pleasurable than receiving when you know there's more than monetary value in question. Even things that you paid money for, but weren't quite right, those cursed items you hang onto year after year in the hopes of getting your money's worth someday, become easy to pass along.
A few years ago C. and I were debating buying a fan for our wood stove (it helps distribute the heat more evenly around the house), a purchase though not big, still relatively pricey for us just then (over a hundred bucks). We ended up deciding we needed it, but shortly after we made our purchase, his cousin got us one for a surprise wedding present. In debating whether to return our fan and get a refund, or maybe try to sell it on our community's excellent notice board (a lot of bartering going on there!), we suddenly realized that some friend's of ours didn't actually have one and decided to give it to them as a "baby-warming gift" (they were about to become parents) instead.
Would we normally have bought them a hundred-dollar gift? Probably not. But faced with the generosity of others it was easy for us to be generous in turn. I feel like C.'s cousin gave us two gifts instead of one and as much as I appreciate the lovely, warmth-spreading fan, I appreciate the lesson even more.
Imagining a neighbor enjoying your prize tomatoes, or a fellow blog-sister frolicking in the dress you hand-picked, as well as receiving such gifts is a feeling entirely unlike shopping for goods. There is independence and thought and love in these exchanges.

The human contact enabled by these simple acts, is not something money can ever buy.
In fact, it seems to me that there are actually very few real things money can buy. I was incensed to read of the comments the lovely Anne has had to endure in regards to her and her husband's finances and their impending (very, very impending ;) family of six: "and speaking of having children (and not having a lot of money)...well that is something that just doesn't go over well! i can't tell you how many people have been disgusted that i'm pregnant again in current financial situation."
(Skirt and top from Amber. More of beloved memories from California.)

The idea that children would need anything more than one or more loving parents, a roof over their heads and some food on the table, some extended family, natural beauty and adventure is laughable to me. What else could they need? Princess videos? New bikes? Plastic swingsets? Do they need a bigger home? A minivan? Do they come out of the womb asking for anything more than nourishment and love and warmth? When it comes right down to it: do any of us need more than that?
(There was a little embroidered handkerchief in the pocket, courtesy of one Mycelia Violet. I shall always keep it there♡.)

(Thank goodness Anne has a good head on her shoulders and is surrounded by grounded,awesome ladies, both online and off. I'm in awe of all the crafty, thrifty, earthy and stylish mothers keeping it real, I've had the pleasure of getting to know through this weird, digital land (here we go with the connection again!). I feel like I have this awesome resource for wisdom at my fingertips, should I ever need mothering knowledge in the future ;)
Separating need and want, social pressure from choice, can be some of the harder things to confront when embarking on a simpler life, but as Sara pointed out, what we need is instinctive to us, if we do enough reflection on what matters to us the most, it's relatively easy to find our way. And judging from all your comments you are finding just that, each on your own path.
I hope this conversation helps you get a little further down the road. It is certainly helping me, affirming, encouraging, empowering. Let's keep going, who knows where we'll end up...

We'll meet along the way, I know.
Merry Spring my ladies of the meadows and city parks under the May Moon and skylarks and swallows,