Webster’s dictionary defines an omen as “an event regarded as a portent or good or evil”. 

Some folks may think people look for omens as a way to cope, to explain, or rationalize a circumstance.  It downpours as your board your flight for vacation, or a rainbow appears on your way home from a bad day at work. For everyone else, they are seemingly random and insignificant, yet they have meaning to you at that time. 

That’s the unique thing about omens.  Or forewarnings or harbingers, whichever name you’d like to give them; they are personal and subjective. I would venture to say that they are most likely linked to a memory or feeling. 

For instance, there has been a lot going on around the homestead recently and needless to say a bit of uncertainty. Nothing drastic or catastrophic, but uncertain for sure.  Within the last few days, Old Man Winter has released his cold, bony grasp on the place and we’ve been able to get outside and begin spring clean up. Our most recent project has been to clear out the rock wall that lives alongside the road. It’s been quite an undertaking, removal of bittersweet and poison ivy requires a swift pruner and an agile pair of gloves! Whether I was lost in my own head or just blocked certain details out, I’m not sure…. but today it all became clearer.

Cardinals remind me of my grandmother. I honestly cannot remember ever seeing a cardinal at her house, but I do remember her being excited about them. We used to see them frequently at our house and my grandmother would always marvel and talk to my father about the cardinals and how beautiful they were. 

My grandmother said certain words differently.  Much like the actresses of her time used the transatlantic dialect, she had a unique way of pronouncing some words. She said “to-MAH-to” instead of “to-MAY-to”. And the way she pronounced “Cardinal” was almost as if she annunciated every letter. But you ever so slightly heard the “I” in the middle. It’s impossible for me to duplicate but I hear her voice say those words and it makes me smile. 

For weeks now, I have awoken to the familiar sound of a handful of cardinals. More than a few. They seem to enjoy my backyard and have been helping themselves to what’s left of the birdseed. (In the spring we don’t fill the feeder due to the frequency of bear visits in the area.). Today I took notice of a pair of cardinals that seemed to linger longer than the rest. They flitted around the yard for the entire afternoon, coming quite close to where I was working, sifting through the pile of debris I had been raking. Right around dusk I was able to watch them chase each other around the oak tree until they eventually retired to the treeline.

To the casual observer, it’s a bunch of birds. To the dog it’s something to be chased.  To the trained eye it’s a mating pair of Cardinalis cardinalis.To me it’s a good omen. A reminder of my sweet grandmother. A sign that things are ok and with spring comes renewal and growth. And for that, I’m postitively thankful.

Omens are subjective. What’s your good omen?

“And The Pursuit of Happiness…”

Its Independence Day and time for some reflection and pondering. I spent the majority of the day actually relaxing on the deck, where I could observe all that is going on on the acre. 

The chickens and ducks made their first foray outside of the coop, exploring the immediate area, purging the lawn of bugs and worms.  The bees are furiously gathering nectar, their flight paths making any seasoned fighter pilot jealous.  One reaches a zen-like state watching them come and go.  A trained eye can pick them up along the tee line until they get lost in the bright blue of the sky. 

From where I sit in that same tattered green and white hair that I cooked syrup in I can see and watch everything happening on the homestead. I cannot help but think perhaps this is what our founding fathers had in mind when they  scribed that fateful sentence… 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

I have everything that I need.  I have food, clean water, shelter.  Whether I agree with it or not, I at least know where my taxes go for the most part.  I have a voice to determine who represents me to the government.  I have the right to grow my own food, own livestock, and do what I wish with my property.  I’m allowed time off from work. 

Somewhere along the line, we have lost our way.  We all think we deserve the latest iPhones, fancy cars, and big houses. We put ourselves in more debt just to keep up with those that have more.  We surround ourselves with material possessions thinking it will make us happier.  Our forefathers fought tooth and nail just to escape repression and establish their independence and we sit with an outstretched hand, not to help another, but in expectation that someone owes us something. 

I have never felt more satiated than I do today. I had the fortune to spend my day with people I love, surrounded by what I work for, eating food that I either harvested or otherwise provided.  I do not have to live in fear that I will be persecuted because of who I am, or what my beliefs are.

That, I believe, is the true meaning of “the pursuit of happiness”.  It’s not the latest technology, being “liked” or relevant on social media, or having material things at the cost of our financial well-being…. It’s the understanding we have unalienable rights that no one can take away because a few really smart men took it upon themselves to help an entire nation, instead of themselves.

Dirty Hands, Clean Money

I don’t remember when it clicked.  When I finally figured out that having dirt on my hands was an experience, not just something to wash off. 

 I also can’t remember not having dirty hands.  We (my brother and I) grew up outside. Literally. There were a few occasions mom actually locked us out of the house!  Now, before anyone starts feeling bad for poor Adam and me, these were Mom’s “cleaning days”. No one, and I mean no one was allowed in the house until cleaning was complete. Now that I look back, we were outside for HOURS and the house wasn’t much cleaner than it was when we left… Maybe it was just her “peace and quiet days.”  Either way, I don’t actually remember feeling particularly upset about being able to play outside unsupervised anyway. And we had no less than a million things to do.  I’m not saying that we had a ton of toys, but if you take two boys and give them a few Tonka trucks and a dirt pile, you will have a perfect, working, to scale model of any construction site.  We even had a custom-made dirt sifter made from hardware cloth.  Dump trucks, rock haulers, excavators, backhoes, graders, bulldozers and the coveted “Boss Truck.” The Boss truck was the one we used to argue over, whoever had the Boss Truck determined where the dirt went, where the rocks went and inspected the roads for proper “flatness.” I would dare say, we knew everything about moving dirt and road construction by the age of 8.

Then came the tree houses.  Dad always had some extra odd job or project he was working on, and with that came an endless supply of treehouse materials.  Wood scraps, nails, screws, wood that wasn’t scrap but we took it anyway. And tools!  Real tools! Not that little wooden tool kit that we got for Christmas. You know the one, the little hammer with the pine handle that snapped. The stamped steel wrenches that bent if you applied it to anything other than the nuts and bolts that came with the kit. In hindsight, that’s probably what saved the entire house from being dismantled. We would sneak away with any tool we could find, hammers, screwdrivers, hand saws, hatchets and axes, bow saws, pruners, the list was as never ending as the supply.  I don’t recall any tools ever making it back to the barn though. But the sacrifice was worth it! We had three iterations of tree houses.  Each one bigger and better than the one before. The last one being three floors, ladders, steps, rope swing, zip line, elevator for tools and snacks, bunk beds, screened windows, shingle roof and cedar shingle siding.  The Cedar Resort. Stretching 25 feet in the air suspended between a handful of cedar trees it would easily sleep 12 kids, although I think the most that ever made it through the night was four.

Now to pay for all that we couldn’t Sneak out of the barn, we needed money.  Allowance was not really a thing we used in our house. We just had our assigned chores and completed them, sometimes without putting up too much of a fuss.  And every time Adam or I would approach the subject, it would be challenged by the notion that a roof and food and clothes were being provided and we just had to do the work.  I think the ultimate reason we had to to chores was succinctly put as “because I said so.”

So at the age of 10, I was told that there was a job I could do that would pay me money.  Real cash money.  Our family friends owned a greenhouse and strawberry farm up the road and I was recruited to help for the season.  Now up the road is a Maine thing, it generally means in a northerly direction, whereas down the road would imply a southerly direction, however, in this instance it can and should be taken literally. It was uphill. Very much uphill. One and a half miles of riding a ten speed bike uphill at 6am. Now the ten speed bike had been “modified” and only really had 8 speeds. Nevertheless, my eagerness to please ensured that I was on time every day, regardless of weather and always came prepare with a water bottle and maybe a snack.  I’d been to the farm several times and had a pretty good lay of the land, so introductions and orientation was nothing more than a short explanation of what we were going to do for the day.  Day one- plant berry plants.  It was a pretty simple operation, Harold sat on the tractor, which had an attachment that would simultaneously poke a hole in a row, add liquid fertilizer and drop a plant, all I had to do was keep up and place the berry plant in the pre made hole at the correct depth. All I recall from the rest of that day was, tractors move faster than humans, deer give birth in May, and the water that they used to mix the fertilizer was from Antarctica.  Six hours later, my back hurt, my hands were muddy and frozen, and I had dirt all over my face.  My reward? An all downhill ride home on the bike. I swear I was going 50. The next day was a different chore and each day was something different.  Then Friday came. My first paycheck.  Cold hard cash.  And as I left, on my bike, with my dirty hands and face, muddy shoes and a sunburnt neck, I had a sense of accomplishment. I worked hard, I got paid. I earned my money. I got out what I put in and it was mine.

I worked there for a while until I was old enough to get a “real” job. But it was there that I learned about what a work ethic is, sticking to a project, and always be looking for the the next one. I learned about plants and flowers, about which berries were the best and when to pick them, I learned that old ladies will give you a dollar if you help them with their trays of berries and flowers. And I learned that if you’re willing to put in effort and get dirty, you will be rewarded.

I entered the “real” workforce and worked various jobs through school. Moved around, lived in apartments or with friends, never got my hands dirty. I stopped digging in the ground, stopped hiking and kayaking. I had my sneakers and loafers neatly stored by the door, instead of a pair of boots resting where I finally took them off.  I wore khakis and button downs.  I got colds, flus, my skin got soft and my nails were always smooth. I got fat. I had essentially lost myself.  I had become so disconnected with my roots that I was just a shell of a person, floating through life with nothing to do.  Subconsciously, I think that’s when I knew I had to go back. Reestablish my roots.  Get my hands dirty.

I got a new job, where I get fresh air.  I do physical labor, I plant things, I water flowers, I help old ladies to their car. I bought a little house on a little acre and I’m making it my own. I’m not rich, I won’t ever be and I don’t want to be. But what’s mine is mine and I earned it. I don’t get sick, my hands are rough, my nails are chipped and permanently dirty.  I don’t wear sneakers much. My boots go on when I start the coffee and they come off just before I go upstairs to bed.  I’ve come to know that as the two best feelings of the day, when I put my boots on in the morning and take them off at night. It has a meaning. Just like the dirt on my heads, it’s significant. It’s the end of a day, and whatever payment I receive will have been earned honestly.

The Inagural Mowing

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt”- Margaret Attwood

There have to be over a hundred different “signs of spring”. This year, they all lied. We saw crocuses and 70 degree days in March, the snow melted and things were looking great.  Then that cursed groundhog indicated that we would have an early spring. He lied too. For the last six weeks it has been cold, rainy, drizzly, snowy and rather bleak.  

To escape the depressing weather, Drake and I found ourselves enjoying the warm water and soft sands of east cost Florida for a week.  A well deserved and hard earned vacation for the both of us.  

Once we returned, we decided some fresh air would do the ducks good. So we brought them out to the coop and let them get used to it. After a trip to the local feed store to stock up on chick crumble, more seeds, shavings and a rubber tub, we were geared up to build a small pool for them to test out.  The combination of the steps made from stones and bricks and a little gentle coaxing, they were swimming about and making a general mess of the place. They have since been returned to their box inside until we can teach them to use the ramp into the coop.

They have since been permanently transferred to the pen and are loving it…and I’m loving the duck smell out of the dining room!  

The weather has been “normal” now for a few days and the homestead has come alive in more ways than one.  The beehive is brimming with activity, with pollen laden workers coming back from their foraging runs.

Every neighbor has resurrected their hibernating grass cutting beasts,dusted them off, fueled them up and have begun the ritual of taming their respective bluegrass, fescues and ryes. The smell of stale gas fumes and fresh cut grass has permeated the neighborhood.  It was my final lap around the homestead behind the 21″ push mower when I discovered the correct sign that spring has arrived for good.

So the crocuses may deceive, the robin surely is confused and the groundhog is a pathalogical liar. The one undeniable, sure thing, guaranteed, signed sealed delivered sign of spring is the inaugural mowing of the lawn.  This many people cutting grass cannot be wrong.

First Hive Check

I’m not a calm person. I am always on the move and I despise sitting still if there’s something I could be doing. I don’t typically plan too far ahead either.

Bees have helped me with that.  There is a fair amount of preparation and planning involved in checking a beehive. Especially the very first time. I’ve been doing periodic external checks, making sure the feeder is full, watching for dead bees, and disturbances from wild animals and the like.  Today, 10 days after the bees were “installed”, I decided that the temperature and sunlight were enough that I could inspect the inside. 

I’m not afraid of really anything.  Creepy crawlies, snakes, bats, dark water, heights… Scorpions. I’ve never seen one, but I know I’m afraid of them.  And although I’m high-strung, I’m not easily jumped.  But I do have a suspicion that I wouldn’t care to be stung by a bee. Or more than one bee.  

So to combat this, I had to actually plan something out! I had to put on the gloves, the veil, get all my tools in order, gather pine needles for the smoker, and most of all, remain calm and use deliberate motions.  

Upon initially raising the hive roof, I saw a fair amount of bees clustering around the pollen party that I had given them.  I opted for both the pollen patty as well as the liquid feed for a couple reasons: a balanced diet, and the variable weather. I gently pried up one frame after another, watching the bees go about their business.  It was pretty late in the evening, so they were clustered pretty close together.  I saw that they have been bulging comb quite profusely in the recent warm days.  I finally found the queen on the last frame. Amongst all the other bees, she was parading around in all of her glory, her white dot disappearing and reappearing between the worker bees.  I was happy to see that she is ruling a calm, happy productive hive! I watched for some time until I gathered up enough confidence to remove my gloves and take out my phone to get a photo.  If I can get a certain someone to join me next time, I will try to get better photos! 

I will leave them be for now, refill their food and let them do their thing.  I’m more than thrilled with the addition to to homestead and I cannot wait to watch them throughout the summer! 

“Burn a tank of gas”

There has been a sudden flurry of activity around the house in the last few weeks.  And some inactivity thanks to two late spring snowstorms, bringing all progress to an abrupt halt.

Since Laze and Roux have joined the farm, we have lost four out of five chickens.  Drake woke up to a noise early in the morning, and when it was light enough out to see, only Loki remained. Needless to say, it was more than the weather that made it a bleak day… But such is life that there is a balance and a harmony to things if you just take a step back and observe objectively. The eggs are fairing well and should be hatching shortly!  We are hoping for four chicks. 

Once the weather broke this last weekend,  outside activities have been resumed and they have been going quickly.

The lumber for the deck was delivered and framing is complete as of Sunday evening and will be completed after vacation. The peas have been hardened off and planted and some serious leaf blowing and raking has taken place. This year the garden is being expanded from the 12×12 bed to an additional 20×30.  With that comes tilling. A lot of it. 

Tilling goes slow. It’s when I get the chance to meditate. I say meditate because “zone out” sounds unproductive. I get to reflect a bit and let my mind wander amidst the purr of the motor, clink of stones and the (slightly more frequent than I’d like) removal of large rocks.  I meditate while I drive, while I mow, run the leaf blower, and till soil.  If I were to sit in a quiet room, I would only be able to focus on the random noises and sounds, or any other subtle nuances that I could sense. It seems that if there is something going on that blocks out any outside influence it frees up the nomadic part of my brain does his thing and begins to wander.

After the second pass with my brand new Cub Cadet 208cc rear-time tiller, (if you’re reading that aloud, use a Tim the Toolman Taylor voice….) I was convinced that the spot that I had selected for the garden surely had been a former rock pile.  But worthwhile things take time, and I kept plugging away and fewer and fewer rocks made their presence.  The only major hang up was a small Boulder the size of a Buick Skylark.  All kidding aside, it’s big. And remain so until I can find a means to remove it. 

No matter what has happened in my life, I’ve always tried to maintain a “could have been worse” mentality. Anything is possible and more than likely someone has dealt with a similar situation before.  Between work at the store all day, and homestead duties, my shoulders were on fire, my legs were heavy and I was getting tired and clearly dehydrated.  It was at this point that I began to wonder what would have happened in this situation 200 years ago. No big gas powered tiller, just a horse and a plough. Or plow. 

I can only imagine what the first guy had to deal with when he and his poor horse dragged the first plow.  That poor bastard.  I have a pretty good idea that my land is former pasture or farmland, and had been worked at some point. I can almost hear the colonial curse words flying out of that unlucky fellow.  

Then I began to wonder when to stop. 

I’d already put in a 12 hour day at the store but the additional daylight was begging me to stay out and be productive. So I settled on one of many “Webbisms” and “burn a tank of gas and call it a night”. 

My dad had a million sayings, most of which I only now am beginning to understand and moreover, appreciate. Growing up, we had two wood stoves and like everyone else in town, burned wood. Now, we only had five acres that we called our own, so we always had tree-length wood delivered.  And that’s when the work began. It had to be cut, split, stacked in the woodshed, carried to the house, stacked in the woodboxes before it would provide that precious heat.  Now my Dad worked a full-time job and various odd jobs as well for extra cash.  Some nights he would be home at 3:30 sharp and some nights it would be well after dark.  As long as daylight remained, he would cut the firewood into stove length pieces that Adam and I would split and pile up to season the following day.  It didn’t matter how much daylight was left to the day, he would run that chainsaw until the tank ran dry.  

It wasn’t until recently that I came to understand and appreciate that thought process. There’s a definitive finality of it. There’s a maximization of productivity.  If one uses daylight, your eyes adjust to twilight and then again, there’s artificial light. If one adheres to a specific time, you still have unfulfilled opportunity for productivity.  Running out of gas means you have completed a cycle. The machine can do no more without being refilled, oiled, and sharpened. You may return it to its storage place and retire for the evening. You have done what you came to do.  If there’s sunlight left, enjoy it, if it’s dark, go inside.  

I can say that I have applied this principle every time I have had a task that required multiple undertakings to complete. Burn a tank of gas and call it a night.  Complete the cycle. Start again tomorrow. 

Things don’t last forever, chickens lay eggs, chickens get eaten. Snow falls, snow melts. The cycle is complete. Start again. The rocks will be there tomorrow.

To continue the spring expansion at the farm, the bees have been installed in the hive! Really looking forward to chronicling the progress and growth over the summer. Spring and summer cannot get here soon enough! 

Bees have arrived!