Sunday, June 13, 2010

Black Raspberries

10:30pm sitting around the table eating dinner together! Kali said I should write a blog posting entitled "black raspberries" so here I am. What a fun evening the three of us had. After spending some time in the garden tying up tomatoes and peas, covering eggplant, harvesting basil for pesto, peas for eating, and oregano for drying, we headed out for a "family adventure."

The heat of the day was being replaced by a lovely low humidity breeze as we walked up the hill. We spent the next two hours picking black raspberries along the edge of the woods. Kali was our leader and happily scouted out the next "jackpot" spot for us, as she happily chattered about having black raspberry smoothies, frozen raspberries to munch while taking baths and to make black raspberry jam. She highlighted how great it was that they were local, in season, organic AND fair trade. We couldn't agree more!!

The daylight ended our search, after Kali and I took a quick spin to top off the fruit in our bellies with a few handfuls of blueberries. We then tucked 11 containers of berries in the freezer and made a batch of jam, which was tested and proven delicious for dinner just now.

Right now the land around us feels as it if it is just bursting with life and when I'm out on it, I feel full also. The Phoebe bird parents are busy feeding the mouths of birds that are about to outgrow the nest. I caught a black snake attempting to climb our porch post yesterday and Jason (once again my hero) knocked it off and thus far we have seen no reappearances. Hopefully they will have the chance to fledge in peace. How they go from sitting in the nest to flying is still amazing to me. As is the realization that on day 2 of incubation, the chicks inside the eggs in our incubator have beating hearts!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Happy family, late night!

So it's after midnight. I just turned the canner on with two batches of serviceberry jam in to process. Jason is watering plants, Kali is happily playing the "farming game" by herself after consuming almost an entire quart of canned green beans for her chosen bedtime snack, and I ought to be folding laundry and doing the dishes rather than posting pictures. As I was crushing serviceberries soon after 11pm when we got home from the SPI potluck and dance, I couldn't help feeling incredibly happy to be alive and here and at home on Fruit Farm Lane. Tired, yes, but this is the time of year to be tired. There is abundance all around us!!! We picked several gallons of serviceberries tonight and there is more where that came from. It was fun to be there picking at EMU right in a main area of campus where folks were walking by and occasionally stopping to be informed about what edible thing has been growing right along their walkway without them knowing it. Very fun! And we introduced probably 10 or so folks to the tasty treats!! The birds may not be as thrilled with us passing the information around. So our counters will once again be kept full with jars of canned goods cooling. Today it holds blueberry jam, chicken broth and chicken cubes and before the night is over serviceberry jam. The nights will likely be long. And I hope to soak up every minute that I can!!

Other news worth noting: Jason just loaded up an incubator with hatching eggs. Let's hope we are posting pictures and news of many baby chicks 3 weeks from now...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What a weekend!

Multiple times the last number of days I've thought "I want to write more about this experience." But it seems that before any time for reflection or writing comes around, something else comes up that conjures up similar thoughts and feelings. In other words, life has felt very full!! The last week, many of our thoughts have centered around Nora and our time of saying goodbye to her and her death two years ago. It seems that our life here in Keezletown gives us many opportunities to reflect on the cycles of life and death and while to some it may not seem so fitting to choose to butcher chickens on a weekend in which we are remembering the death of a loved one, it felt right and good to Jason and I.

As we spent the day butchering and I waffled between enjoyment of the process and feelings of sadness and some discomfort at taking the lives of these birds, including three I was quite fond of, I thought of a chapter in Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. In a chapter about a fall butchering day she notes, "Some friends had come over to help us, including a family that had recently lost their teenage son in a drowning accident...I wondered how we would get through this afternoon, how she would get through months and years of living with impossible loss. I wondered if I'd been tactless, inviting these dear friends to an afternoon of ending lives. And then felt stupid for that thought. People who are grieving walk with death, every waking moment. When the rest of us dread that we'll somehow remind them of death's existence, we are missing their reality. Harvesting turkeys - which this family would soon do on their own farm - was just another kind of work. A rendezvous with death, for them, was waking up each morning without their brother and son."

I can't say that butchering feels yet "just like another kind of work" but it does feel like it is becoming part of our experience of living on our little plot of land and a part of my own process of becoming comfortable with the cycles of life and death and my role in them. Yet the irony in the next story I'm about to tell is not lost on any of us!
I imagine anyone who has read the previous post about our very poor attempt at hatching chicks using broody hens is curious to know the outcome of the 6 eggs that remained unhatched as of May 28th. Mid-morning of that day, the mother hen who was responsible for taking the life of two of her chicks had abandoned the nest and remaining 6 eggs. Jason quickly rigged up a box inside and we put those eggs under a heat lamp, just in case we could help them in the final stretch. But only one egg had pipped and we were not very hopeful. By the end of the day no progress could be seen on that egg or any others and no peeping was heard from in the shells. So we turned off the heat lamp and went to bed. Maybe next time...

The next morning we were busy with the normal morning chores and finally around 11am Jason went to take the eggs and dispose of them. One peeped! Note that this was a good 12-15 hours after the heat lamp has been turned off so the eggs had then cooled down substantially. Over the next 12 hours 3 of those 6 eggs hatched and we found ourselves with some adorable Cuckoo Marans chicks (by the coloring we suspect 2 hens and a rooster). While Jason was not exactly wishing to continue this breed on our property, Kali and I were thrilled. And it seemed fitting that three of those to be butchered this weekend were the last 2 hens and a rooster of that very breed (they had a bad avian lice infestation). Kali and I found ourselves checking on the chicks every few minutes, singing them out of their shells and holding them just as soon as they were dried enough to do so. So while we like to think they imprinted a bit on us without the mother hen, there was also some bonding happening the other way.

A few days ago we transported them out to their fixed up coop in the garden. By the second day they were running around in the grass and seemed content and happy there. Yesterday morning we had just visited them and then I was picking peas in the garden. I left the garden and went up to Nora's flower garden where we were planning to mulch. Not more than a few moments later we heard distressed peeping. I figured they were just squabbling among each other, but Jason recognized it as a different sound and looked towards the noise. All that transpired in the next 30 seconds is hard still for me to think about! Jason saw that the cause of the distress was a large black snake that had gotten through the wire and into the chick's pen. It was wrapped around one of the the chicks, constricting it to death. Jason was there in about 3 seconds, had the black snake in his hands, shook the chick out of the snake's grip and killed the snake, with his wife and daughter making an assortment of sounds of horror and shock! Jason then tenderly picked up the chick now loose in the garden, put it safely back in the pen and ushered all three little ones into the safe indoor part of their coop and closed the door. As Jason came back from depositing the black snake somewhere in the woods, I sang, "did you ever know that you're my're everything I wish I could be..."

There is no doubt he saved that chick's life and probably the other two. And that, had we not been several feet from their pen, we would have lost all three of them. While we are not in the habit of killing black snakes, there was not much time for in depth processing. I'm still in awe of Jason's response time. :) Needless to say, the chicks will not be running around in the outdoor part of their pen unless we are on chick duty! These chicks have already come so far and experienced a lot in their short week of life!

The irony of course, is that in the morning we kill a black snake who was attempting to have chicken for its breakfast ("our" chicken). In the afternoon we killed chickens for our own consumption...

Let me end on a slightly different note: There are a number of highlights from our time remembering Nora the last number of days. Probably the moment that stands out most in my mind was during our evening time with friends. Phoebe, Kali and I were playing down by the slide and Phoebe said something to imply that nobody was with her. I started joking that I wasn't nobody and that Kali wasn't nobody. Of course Phoebe thought this was very funny and started going around and commenting on everyone outside, "Mama's not nobody....Pa's not nobody..." Then she piped up, "Nora's not nobody." Very sweet!

[Switch to Jason's voice]
I would like to comment another part or two from the weekend.

First, I was delighted to make a new chicken-loving friend, as an older woman who had responded to my advertisement for Cuckoo Marans hatching eggs on the chalkboard at the feed store called me up about two weeks back to ask after eggs, then came yesterday to pick up 18 Marans and 13 Buff Chantecler eggs. We talked chickens for a while, and it was mutually enjoyable. I love the feeling that I made her day.

Second, I am finding that I really enjoy teaching butchering (and probably other homesteady crafts) to friends. A few months back I had taught a young teen, which was a hoot, and yesterday 3 of my friends from my Permaculture class (the friendships are extending far beyond the conclusion of the class), plus my sister Emily, came over to learn. Of course it didn't speed the process up any (the next time it would...they were all quick learners), but it did make the afternoon fly by! What a delight to see their amazement at the way a chicken is constructed...all the organs and other apparati that keep the whole organism functioning. And what a satisfaction to help demystify chicken butchering for them, giving them greater insight into the sights, sounds, sensations, and experiences that go into the acquisition of the chicken meat that nourishes them. And for me, what a mixture of sobriety (as we together considered the taking of life for our benefit) and humor (as we made fun of ourselves and found ways to turn the strangeness of butchering into play...the undeveloped egg yolk toss, for example). I was thrilled that we did five chickens, so there were enough for me to do one example, and each of them to then follow and do one of their own, start to finish. No one got squeamish, everyone had fun, life was good.

Now the first of them is starting to stir...soon we'll get breakfast around, then set to the second layer of work, which is turning the dressed carcasses into chunks of meat and a pot of broth for the canner. The Myers-Benner Butchering Academy is now open!

Friday, June 4, 2010


A day set aside to remember Nora's leaving us two years ago today. We started by watching the memorial service last evening as a family and then began our day today picking serviceberries (the type of tree that Mom and Dad M planted in WV in honor of Nora). Then we donated blood in honor of Nora at RMH. Kali spent a few hours in the early afternoon with our friends E and C, while Jason and I spent some time at Riven Rock park the two of us. That went way too fast! Upon arriving home Kali and I made serviceberry jam and crisp and then were joined by wonderful friends and Nora's most faithful and consistent visitors and neighbors. Out of thoughts for today, but here are some photos. We'll also try to catch up on chicken news...