Day 15

My sunshine spoils are sadly over. As the minutes passed this morning, the skies morphed from a mellow morning hue of blue to that sad, sullen grey of a rain-soaked evening. I mean, I guess I knew the perfection of the past few days wouldn’t last forever, but a girl can still dream, cant she?

Now I’m not sure whether or not I should be ashamed about it but this morning the inner farmer really came out in me. Like a mother bragging about her kid graduating valedictorian from elementary school, she was gleaming with pride…she was embarrassingly overexcited…she was me. Before he left after a transient two-day visit, I wanted to show my boyfriend the place he had been hearing so much about this past month. Finally, he was going to see all my sprouts!

As I rushed around the garden talking way too fast and getting way too pumped up to show him everything though, I quickly realized that mayyyybe this isn’t as thrilling to everyone else as it is to me. After all, the sprouts are only about 2 inches tall…and there really aren’t many beds filled with crops (yet)…but still! How could you not find it all so magnificent! So I may or may not have scared him a bit with my enthusiasm, but either way he smiled, gave me a hug, and told me it was great before leaving. And that’s all I needed to hear to keep me going through all the rain and drear to come.

After he left, I got to work planting the remaining maple seedlings into the long bed Ann and I had worked on the first day we started here. Sort of sad, filling in the gaps where some seeds failed to sprout with these new ones, but I got over it pretty quickly as I noticed my purple potatoes peeking out of the ground in the next plot over. Prettttty cool!

Next came what I’d been waiting for for quite some time now…strawberries! The boxes had been arranged, the manure had been laid, and finally the plants would be making their way into the bed. One by one, I handled each strawberry sprout with care and filled the space until it magically turned into a beautiful bed of berries-to-be. And just in time to get chased away by a downpour of rain, too. A few of them even had a tiny strawberry growing already; I can’t wait to see the finished product—just look how cute!

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Day 14

Back to the garden grind today, but a lovely day it was! Weeding and mowing came first, then I had some random tasks to take on: planting a few golden potatoes leftover from when Ann was still here, watering and counting the maple seedlings, updating the garden map, and placing some hay around the bean sprouts to protect the soil. It was fun having so many smaller projects rather than knowing I’d be spending the entire day doing one or two things (ehemm…weeding and mowing). It helped pass the time really quickly too, which I realized when I looked at my watch for the first time to find that it was already 12:30.

I’d been working happily and freely for four hours so I decided a lunch break was in order—or maybe it was my growling stomach that did that. Either way, I enjoyed my overnight oats and vegetables with fresh, homemade hummus in an Adirondack chair in the lawn. It was truly one of the most glorious days yet; that type when the sun shines just enough to warm your skin without burning it, and the faint breeze is just sporadic enough to provide a relief you hadn’t yet realized you’d wanted. Mannnn, I could keep working all day in these conditions, I thought to myself as I stretched my legs out in the grass and curled my toes around a dandelion to pluck out the weed—instinct by now.

Despite my will to work though, I only had one more project on today’s schedule: building what would eventually turn into a raised tier bed for strawberries. Looks like my carpenter experience would finally get to show itself! In all seriousness though, I’m quite the contractor, whether or not you can believe it. In fact, just this past semester I helped a fellow farmer build a greenhouse out of scrap wood. Measuring, leveling, hammering, drilling: you name it I’ve done it. So when Carrie pulled out the pre-cut boards and metal connectors that came out of a box shipped from a Vermont hardware store (made for beginner builders, I’m sure) and asked me if I knew how to use a screwdriver, I was a little offended. Come on, Carrie…who do you think I am?!

It didn’t take long to get the beds together, placed in a corner of the mint patch, and filled with mulch and manure meaning my day was over just in time to catch some rays with a few friends back on campus. Now this is what I call a good workday. I know I shouldn’t get too used to it, but for now…let me be spoiled!

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Day 13

At the start of my summer, Carrie had mentioned that part of my working hours would be spent with GardenShare: a nonprofit organization serving the local region that aims to decrease hunger and increase food security within the North Country. The group really supports local farmers and the community building that occurs through seed-to-table interactions between residents and farmers. To them, we are all more than simple producers or consumers—we are in this food thing together, which I couldn’t agree with more. With such similar ideals, it meant a lot getting to work with them today.            

After a relaxing morning of getting to sleep in till 8:30, I made the ten-mile drive out to Potsdam where the Saturday farmer’s market was taking place. I had heard that Potsdam’s market was smaller than Canton’s, but honestly I wasn’t disappointed at all. Perhaps it was the sun shining down on the eleven spread out tents, the breezes just gentle enough to relieve us from the heat, and the smiling faces of all the vendors that romanticized the scene. Regardless, I found myself enjoying the atmosphere almost more so than the Canton market I had visited the other day.

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My job was to meet and greet the community members milling around the market, educating them on our spotlight vegetable of the week: asparagus! I was pretty excited that I got to talk about one of my favorite vegetables, and even learned some tips from some people during our talks. Apparently there’s a faaaaabulous Mediterranean recipe that calls for asparagus, cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, and some other add-ins that I just have to try. “Oooo sounds tasty!” I replied with excitement at learning something new, “Maybe try throwing in some couscous to make a heartier lunch?” I suggested. We bantered back and forth about the endless possibilities before we both realized five minutes had passed.

            Not only did I meet some great community members, but also the vendors were quite interesting. Guy, an older snaggletoothed gentleman with a beautiful variety of potted plants and herbs showed me the fascinating “sensitivity plant,” which literally closes itself up if you tap its leaves. We played a guessing game of the different herbs he had (thyme, oregano, basil, etc.) that I failed miserably at, and finally he gave me some bee balm to rub onto a few of the many mosquito and spider bites I had acquired over the past few days. On top of it all, I was able to meet another fellow intern from Clarkson University named Miriam and get to know Lauren, the GardenShare Program Manager, a little more.

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It was much less taxing and tiring work than I have grown accustomed to, but I certainly won’t be complaining about that. The Potsdam farmer’s market proved itself to be yet another new and unique hidden gem of the North Country, only deepening my respect and love for this beautiful place.

Day 12

            My thoughts are thumping, my fingers are flying, I couldn’t be more excited to tell you about the crazy! Outrageous! Totally out-there shenanigans I witnessed today! After talking to Carrie about switching things up for a change (sorry weeds), she invited me to her house to watch the shearing of her sheep. Speaking of the shearer’s sometimes-ornery attitude, she warned me that it might not be the most positive experience. “We might need to take a shot of whiskey beforehand,” she said with a chuckle and a hint of seriousness that couldn’t be hidden. Sounded like a pretty good time to me already…

            After getting lost twice on the way to her house, a twenty-five minute drive brought me to a quaint house of grey stone with two skylights peeking out behind a large oak tree placed in the right-hand corner of the front yard. It was a picturesque farmhouse, with the corner of a red barn just making its way into vision as I pulled forward in the driveway. Not entirely sure where to go, I followed the sound of faint baa’s straight into a slanted white building that connected to the sheep shed. Inside, I was abruptly met by a large man wearing some ratty reebok sneaks, jeans held up by suspenders, and a sweat-soaked grey t-shirt that suctioned to the small of his back.

            “Excuse me,” I said quietly, “Uh, hi, is Carrie here?”

            As I feebly made my presence known, around turned a blue baseball cap resting lightly atop the sweaty forehead of the man I would soon come to know. Lifting thin-rimmed glasses from his rounded nose, he whipped out a blue bandana to wipe the beads of sweat trickling into his steely blue eyes before introducing himself. Actually, Carrie jumped in before he could respond: “Oh, hi Cassia, this is Mr. Seavey….”

            “No, no, no. Name’s Joe. Call me Mr. Seavey ‘n I’ll turn right around ‘n walk away from ya. Just Joe,” he corrected her while placing a hand on my shoulder and shaking me with a chuckle. Surprised by his touch, I glanced sideways at his dirt-stained fingers and broken, jagged nails that had a few clumps of wool still stuck to the corners. Instantly I winced at the sight of such worn hands, but quickly pushed my prissy judgments out of mind and smiled back at the salt-and-pepper bearded face in front of me. He was quick to correct on many accounts, I would later find out, but his smile and pat on the shoulder seemed to prove Carrie’s prior warning wrong—he didn’t seem so bad!

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After introductions, there was really no small talk or chitchat to distract us from the rest of the day’s work. Three sheep milled around the fenced in area where Carrie and I stood, one making his presence very known with his incessant talking and tongue that stretched out of his mouth with each sound. 

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Meanwhile about nine others were crammed inside the sheep shed looking scared and all-knowing as they crowded into one corner staring at Joe. He really wasn’t that large of a man, but the sheep weren’t huge animals either, so I figured it’d be a good match. Really, I didn’t know what to expect at all so when Joe suddenly grabbed a medium-sized speckled ewe by the snout and rear, spun the animal backwards, and slammed her upside down on her back with about as much grace as a bull in a china shop, I guess I should have been less shocked.

I looked on speechless and aghast as the fight went down: one animal writhing and kicking to break free, the other animal struggling to pin the former down. Using his knee to press down on her head and all his strength to slow her kicking legs, Joe finally got the spotted girl to simmer down. Whipping out what I learned are shearing scissors, Joe made smooth strokes with the blades, careful not to knick any skin. Carrie and I watched on as a multicolored coat was slowly peeled off her body, revealing a much skinnier and darker sheep than had started off.

Yolanda was her name, and she was the mother of two lighter sheep still awaiting their fate. She was older and gentler than many of the others, Carrie told me, but she still fought against her haircut and nail clipping with angst. Honestly, though the whole situation was rather crude and crass, it’s really not much different from how my dog freaks out when we try to clip his nails. Of course, these animals weigh anywhere from a whopping 150-200 pounds, so it only makes sense that the struggle would be more intense, but similar nonetheless. Or at least that’s what I kept telling myself each time a victim looked me in the eyes as Joe pressed his knee further into his or her neck. Those were the moments I turned away and made conversation with Carrie as a distraction. I could tell she wasn’t too happy with all the hostility either. After all, these were her babies being thrown around…

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After about three sheep, I began being able to put aside the aggressive maneuvers performed in the process and really watch what was happening. The coolest part, in my opinion, was the way each sheep looked completely different after the cut. My favorite of the bunch went last. His name was Dr. Sweets (Carrie is an avid fan of the TV series Bones), and he was one of the largest with a deep, coffee colored coat that just barely covered the eyes set into his silky black face. Soon enough though the beautiful brown was sheared away to reveal a body so black it could have colored the night sky.

 

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Sun bleaching had caused the color transformation, Carrie told me, which is why so many of the shaved bodies were darker than their bags of wool. My job as the wool collector meant I was in charge of getting all the cut wool into garbage bags, which would later be spun into yarn that Carrie would use to make endless blankets, hats, mittens, and whatever else she could think of. As I picked up Dr. Sweets’ coat and stuffed it into a bag, I felt his sweat and natural oils (a yellow substance secreted for water resistance) leftover from a years’ worth of growing.

Carrie shears her sheep once a year, which allows their coats to grow to a nice length for collecting. From the mass amount of material she gets from her pets, Carrie could easily sell the uncleaned wool for roughly $15/lb., or up to $30/lb. after being cleaned. She keeps it all though, not quite seeing the justice of making a profit off of her babies. Sometimes she composts the excess and sometimes it just gets bagged and stored for future use, but either way there’s plenty to go around.

ImageI could tell Joe’s attitude was slowly taking a turn for the worse when I yelled, “Only three to go, Joe! You can do it!”

“I’ll only be happy when there’s zero left,” he grumbled, whipping out his blue handkerchief again.

With each passing minute, Joe’s seeping sweat stained his shirt a few shades of grey darker, making it quite clear that this work was not easy. Finally finishing, the three of us headed inside for some water and rest, where I found out a little more about the man with the blue bandana. Joe Seavey is 67, a retired child-care service agent, and one of the three sheep shearers within a 100-mile radius. The other shearers are also both in their late 60’s, meaning there’s quite a future opening up for the business, he told me.

“You know, there’s a two day program out at Cornell that’ll teach ya how ta shear the right way,” Joe said with a sort of twinkle in his eye.

“Oh, uh…that’s cool,” I responded, trying to avoid any further hinting. “Too bad I’m gonna be heading out west after I graduate, or else I totally would!” So I fibbed a little…sorry.

Although it was incredible to watch and an experience I’m glad I can say I’ve acclaimed, I’m quite sure that I won’t be making a living out of sheep shearing any time soon…or ever. Honestly though, today was a great day and I couldn’t be more excited about getting to see it all go down. Perhaps what I’ll miss most is my new friend, who enjoys ear rubs and long scratching sessions. Say hi to Clara!

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Sprouts!

Just a few shots taken of the sprouts finally making their way up into the world!

Say hello to:

The logistics

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Our hodge-podge

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Kenearly dry beans

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Cabbage

 

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Day 11

            Today started pretty much where it left off yesterday as I went back to weeding out the large plot filled so far with garlic and the purple potatoes from the other day. Oh and I can’t forget about the asparagus thriving in the back corner, where I gleaned those beautifully bountiful stalks from one of my previous posts. I made my way through the grass, carrying about four wheelbarrows full of the stuff down to the compost pile at the bottom of the garden until 10 a.m. when Carrie showed up. The extent of our conversation went something like this:

“The hose is broken, Carrie. Water started exploding from the middle of it when I turned it on this morning,” I told her.

“Hmm,” she replied with concern, “the mowers must have run it over.”

“Yeah, looks like watering’s out of the question. So what’s that leave on the agenda today?” I asked, excited because I knew there were some strawberry plants calling my name from inside.

“Oh, well, I was thinking once you finish weeding out this area, you could start weeding around the garlic patch…”

Ugh

“…and then make your way through the carrots and peas, there’s quite a bit of brush in there,” she said nonchalantly.

Really? More weeding? I thought to myself. “Okay, sounds good,” I lied with the sound of disappointment but acceptance clear in my tone.

It’s not that I don’t think all of this maintenance is important; I know it’s necessary if I want to revive the garden back to the lovely land I know it can be, but it’s just so…so…sooooo monotonous. Repetitive. Boring. Dull. Should I go on? The hard part isn’t so much the actual process of pulling up plants—my recently acquired calluses make it bearable now—it’s the idea that I’m really not making anything happen that’s so unsatisfying. Knowing that there’s so much potential just waiting for me makes this all seem like busywork. And I guess I’m a little jealous that once I leave in July and Ann takes over for me, she’ll be the lucky one who gets to see all the progress from our plantings. She gets the fun part while I’m toiling away at this galling greenery.

But the moment I start feeling sorry for myself and envious of Ann, my mom’s voice instantly pops into my head. That typical, tiresome talk every parent had with every complaining child: “You know, the grass is always greener….” Immediately my childhood wall of naïve ignorance started building up like it always did when she told me this, as I used to believe that their grass was, in fact, always greener than mine. But then I stopped to think about her words for a second, and suddenly the wall’s construction slowed. Hmm, what if I wasn’t doing all this weeding? Would the sprouts never actually sprout? Would Ann never get to see our babies come to life?

Then the wall stopped. Maybe all this hard work is actually going to do something after all. Ann deserved to come back to a garden full of life, not one dying away because I was too lazy and too selfish to put in the effort to actually make something out of it.

Suddenly it all came crashing down: the wall, the naïve ignorance, the childish thoughts of my grass never being green enough. Ann is in Rwanda…probably fighting off bigger and badder pests than the pesky mosquitos whizzing in and out of my ears. Here I am, on my hands and knees pulling tiny plants out of the earth while she’s battling bigger feats in foreign territory. What do I honestly have to complain about? I love this work, no matter how monotonous it may seem, because I know that the small things I do now will make great things happen in the long run.

It’s the attitude I declared to don yesterday—happiness. I recently tweeted a saying: “If you’re not doing what you want to be doing—every second of every day—then you’re living wrong.” Simple. So suck it up, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and keep on keepin’ on. My grass is the perfect shade of green.

 

Speaking of green, check out my next post to see the reason behind all this determination despite my fleeting thoughts of apathy. Here’s a sneak preview!

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Day 10

            After biking to the garden this morning with an empty water bottle, a full bladder, and a lunch that needed to be refrigerated I was a tad upset to find myself locked out of the house…just a tad. The door had never been locked before: who had decided today would be a good day to batten down the hatches? As I circled the building looking for a cracked window to sneak in through I was disappointed once more. “Hey,” I thought, “Security must know the combination!” So I whipped out my phone and dialed the number, only to be talked to in confused tones as I (once again) had to explain that no, I was not at the sustainability house. I lived there, but worked at the ESL garden—two completely different places.

            So security referred me to Residence Life, thinking they were in charge of all combinations so surely they would know how to get me in. Once again, more questions and corrections until finally we came to the same sad conclusion that I hung up on the last call with: I was trapped outside. Had I eaten breakfast? No. Had I gone to the bathroom yet? No. Had I drank two cups of tea before I came here? Naturally. Thoughts began racing as my irrational anxiety set in: I don’t think Carrie was planning on coming in today, or at least not until 9:30 at the earliest; the other business (Garden Share) that works out of the building has a meeting in Potsdam today so they won’t be in either; I manage the garden by myself so that leaves no other help.

            I felt oddly alone as I stood outside the house. Despite working here alone every day and rarely even stepping food in the building, I couldn’t help but feel as though I was unwanted and lost. With a pitiful frown on my face and thoughts of abandonment in my mind, I turned towards the garden and looked at the plot of unfinished weeding left over from yesterday. It was mocking me, I swear. I looked at it with disgust, picturing it laughing at my situation because now I had to finish it. But then….

            What was that? It sounded like the crunching of stones under car tires…but how?! I spun around faster than a cat caught off guard to see one of the Garden Share members driving her white minivan up the driveway. Surprise, bewilderment, and elation all hit me like a cement brick as the car door opened to reveal a woman wearing khakis and a red cotton quarter-sleeve. Her brunette bob matched the color of the lunch pale she was carrying by the strap under stacks of folders and files and from the looks of her pursed lips was less than thrilled to be awake and already at work—my savior! I’m sure I scared her half to death as I screamed “Excuse me! The door, it’s locked, can you help?!” at her while frantically waving my arms. I thanked her endlessly, ran to the bathroom, put all my food in the fridge, and didn’t step foot back in the house for four hours…. Whatever!

            Later, as I made my way through a second area of weeding, I had cleared roughly six square feet (it’s more impressive than it sounds, I swear) when I came across a little friend who had been hiding among the grasses. Almost triple the height of him, the grass had been hiding my discovery for who knows how long. As I pulled the little clay mushroom out from his hidden home I smiled, wondering just how long he’d been in there. My English major qualities had me personifying the statue, imagining him feeling lonely and abandoned in there, just as I had felt this morning. It’s funny how I always seem to find something in nature to mimic my emotions for the day. So today’s post may be a little corny, I know, but my mushroom made me smile and feel a little less alone when I needed it most. And just look at how cute he is!

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Day 9

Mosquitos and rain were my only friends today as I tackled a small square plot of mint leftover from last year. Weeding out the grass and hay after a night of much needed storm showers made for backbreaking pulling, all while trying to avoid the delicate leaves of the herb somehow still living beneath all this forage. “What do you even do with mint?” I asked Carrie in frustration as she made a pit stop by the garden. It seemed trivial to worry about such a unique and seemingly profitless seasoning until my mind was opened yet again. Salads, couscous, water…Carrie went on and on; these little leaves were more useful than I had expected!

Sometimes all it takes to make a world of a difference is to go into things with an open mind. To listen, and to really hear, is to give a thing the chance to prove its worth. Whether that be tiny mint plants or the stranger you ran into in the supermarket that knocked the bag of grapes out of your hands (spilling them all across the floor and making everyone stare at your blushing face), each person and thing and experience deserves to be heard. Maybe they were rushing to witness the birth of their first child, or maybe they were lost in a dreamy trance filled with images more fantastical than the walls of Price Chopper. Maybe they weren’t just there to get in my way and embarrass me like I immediately assumed. To look at things from another’s perspective, rather than focusing only on the way they affect us, is the basic calling of us all. Only then may we form opinions—either positive or negative—that are justified rather than irrationalized.

So from that point on, as I continued struggling to uproot the unwanted weeds, I did so with a little more care and concern for the fragile and fuzzy leaves. I even put some into my water like Carrie had suggested and was amazed at how such a simple thing could make even the plainest Nalgene burst with flavor. After finishing about ¾ of the plot, my hamstrings stopped begging and demanded mercy, so I moved on to planting the purple potatoes Carrie had left for me. Of course it started pouring as I dug the third hole. And I mean reallllly pouring; like drenched through my forest green EMS raincoat, dirt-stained hands washed clean then caked with a half-pound of mud, and garbage bag covered backpacks for my 2.3 mile bike ride home kind of pouring. It’s all in the nature of the Northcountry I suppose.

Regardless, I managed to snap a shot of the potatoes before they disappeared into the earth. I just couldn’t ignore the beautiful blue hue of their roots shooting upwards towards the cloudy skies, contrasting the greyness of the world with their vibrancy. It still amazes me to see such variety in nature; each thing possessing its own beauty and convincing me that there couldn’t possibly be anything more splendid, only until the next thing comes rolling in to knock all my previous expectations off kilter.

 

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Day 8

 

 

Weed, mow, till. Weed, mow, till. The soundtrack to my summer apparently. Today was hot—a scorching 80 degrees—something we haven’t seen up in the Northcountry yet this year. And though it made for sweaty work with many reapplications of sunblock, I’m definitely not complaining. It was also my first day working alone. Ironic how with only one person, instead of two, the work seems to get finished…half as quickly. It was a bit frustrating at first, realizing that I would be getting less accomplished each day now, but in a way it was sort of relaxing moving slower. The heat made it even more downtempo, but it seemed as if it were a sign from some higher being telling me to really stop and appreciate every task Carrie asked of me, no matter how tedious.

In fact, don’t let it stop there, I thought to myself with each bending back and weed yank. I think we all forget to take our time these days, or at least I have. Being a twenty-year-old trying to figure out my future, move on from my past, and learn to take the blows of the present sometimes makes me forget the satisfaction of just…stopping. Having a set plan for the next two years of my life, knowing exactly what I should be doing with my degree, or stressing out about not having a more professional summer internship like all my friends; does any of it really matter? Will stressing out about these things and rushing to find all the answers truly make for a more satisfying life? Security and stability, maybe, but if that’s what our goals have been set at then I’m arguing for a raise.

Living isn’t about how quickly we can establish a life; it’s about figuring out the best way to live the ones we have. Sure, I could let myself get frustrated with the time it takes to finish all of these tedious tasks on the farm each day, or I could dig my bare feet into the ground, feel the soil squish between my curling toes, and turn on some music and sing along even if I don’t know the words. Because I want to appreciate my time here while it lasts. Because I hope to consider myself to be getting more than just 6 weeks of yard work out of this. Because if I don’t choose to be positive about the standstills and the downs in life, then what gives me the right to experience the ups? The same goes for you.

We have the power to make our lives whatever we want them to be. It’s up to you and it’s up to me. So why not? I choose to be happy.

 

Oh I almost forgot! Today’s picture showcases the first cause of my happiness this morning; looks like the sheep got some hair cuts this weekend—so cute!!

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Day 7

Carrie let us off easy today, knowing that Ann and I were both eager to be done working: her to start packing/preparing to leave for Rwanda and me making the 3-hour drive home for family reasons. So all we had to do was weed out an extra few feet from the carrot and garlic patch we’d been planting in recently and move around some spare tarps and mats.

It was kind of odd as we worked pulling up the earth this morning, both of us knowing that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for about a month after this, but we made the most of it. As I asked Ann if she was nervous for her trip, she told me that it was mostly the idea of making friends that scared her most—no, not the travelling around a foreign country oddly enough. She mentioned her tendency to be shy, which made me laugh considering how easily and quickly we had become friends working here. “Seriously, Ann? That’s the last thing you need to worry about,” I told her genuinely. Really, I knew she would be just fine.

After some more chatting and weeding, we were done by 10:30 am and free to leave. “Well, what should you take a picture of today?” she asked, knowing that I always looked for a shot before leaving for the day. Nothing really seemed that noteworthy from our work, until it hit me…. “Us!” I shouted. How had we not gotten one already?! So here it is, we’re finally putting some faces to names.

Sorry for the short post today, I’ll do better next week. Anyways, though it’s sad to see her go, I know that Ann and myself are both ready to do some great things with our summers. It’ll be much lonelier here without her but I’ve got my baby plants to keep me company while she’s gone. And I know she’s going to have just as amazing of a time out there—good luck!

 

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