Author Archives: Karen

About Karen

Director of Life Systems of Berry Mountain Center for Sustainable Living

Homestead Housekeeping & A Near Miss of Fate

Nothing makes me want to get things all tidy and organized than the anticipation of company visiting Berry Mountain! (Last year’s visit from Uncle Peter from England manifested in 10 solid weekends of hard, glorious work beforehand, for which I am so grateful! The Mountain had never looked better!)

In anticipation of hosting some of our beloved friends next weekend, yesterday Tim and I spent a day doing the Homesteader version of Housework. Instead of mowing a lawn, we pulled out the bushwacker and mowed the stream bank. Instead of trimming the hedge, we cut out choking honeysuckle vines from some of our redbud and sycamore trees.  We cleared our view up the stream  by breaking out the polesaw and loppers and adding a Japanese-like sense of serenity to where our babbling brook curves around the stony cliffs surrounding our property.

 

The effect was glorious, in a natural and unstructured sort of way.

We did have a wake-up call though.

Several times during the day one of us (and I’m not saying who) either fell hard on slippery rocks, or sliced open a hand, or stepped through the broken board in the bridge.

Any of these things could have been bad. Very bad. We are grateful that none of them resulted in anything worse than a scrape or a bruise.

As folks planning their future home far away from emergency medical services, and without a landline or cellphone coverage – we need to be better prepared for the potential of something serious occurring.  On the drive back to our suburban condo, we started discussing the “what ifs” of our chosen lifestyle.

We both have cursory emergency medical training, and a well-stocked first aid kit at The Mountain. We are also the sort of people who do not panic in an emergency. I guess that puts us ahead of the game – but we will have more conversations along these lines.

Dangers aside, we love this place and love the dream we are building here.

The air was thick and sweet. We were home.

Oyster Mushroom Harvest

This was a spectacular weekend up at Berry Mountain. Fresh air, hard work, good-home made food, lots of books (Brave New World, A Walk in the WoodsCardinal of the Kremlin and Fahrenheit 451), the Milky Way and deep, deep sleep.

Happily, we were able to harvest one of our test perennial crops: oyster mushrooms from the totems we built at SourWood Farms almost two years ago!

Some of them ended up on my camp-fire grilled burger that evening – the rest ended up in the dehydrator and in just a few hours, were tucked away for later use. Thank you Margo for such a great Christmas present!

xox

Building A Legacy

Today was one of those days where I got to ponder the recurring question of what it means to leave a legacy.

Currently, I am between paying positions. It leaves me available to take care of the people I care about: my mother-in-law, my elderly neighbor. I run errands. I chauffeur to medical appointments. I listen to the stories that need to be told. I soak up the experiences of the generation preceding me and I am grateful for every moment.

I see the circumstances that faced the men and women in the past century – where expanding energy and agriculture production seemed like simple answers. They lived in a time where it appeared that resources were boundless, where man’s dominion of the earth was unquestionable. They believed they were entering an age where everything was possible and the costs were neglible. It was a time full of hope and discovery. I don’t fault them one second of it. I would have probably done the same.

We do not live in such an age any longer. We see the end of oil. We see the end of soil. We see that there have been decades of decisions made that will affect generations to come and we are at a tipping point when those past-decisions will come due.

I am not afraid of what will come. Like my predecessors. I am hopeful and I am full of the joy of discovery. We have the perfect opportunity to take the best of the practices of our forefathers and marry them to the best of our contemporaries. We can build solutions to the problems we face with a blend of all that has come before. We can bear in mind what it means to be good stewards of the earth and plan for the beings that succeed us.

I do not have children of my own, nor will I ever – but there are children in my life whom I love and cherish. I see their faces. I hear them asking me (and the adults of the world who also love them) – “How did you live when you were a child?”

I made mud pies in my grandma’s back yard, Shannon.
I ate tomatoes fresh out of our garden, Meaghan.
I lived in hope for you Henrik.
I lived in love for you Elena.
I built a garden and an orchard and a barnyard full of chickens for you to play with. I danced in the rain and I read books at night by candlelight.

I did it for you. I did it all for you.

The Art of Waiting Well

In the past few months, it has sometimes felt like life is on hold – waiting for the opportunity for Tim and I to make the big break from suburbia into full-time life up on Berry Mountain.

We are waiting for him to retire, for us to win the lottery, or some miracle to descend upon us to make the conditions if not perfect, at least feasible for us to pack up and go.

While I consider myself a patient person and am more than willing to learn the lessons that come in this time of betweeness, even my patience has gotten a little ragged around the edges. I find myself suddenly realizing that days have past without any real movement towards our goal. I find that I may have puttered away weeks with non-useful activities, or even worse: self-destructive ones.

At this point in my life, I understand that there is value in these times of waiting. It is a pause before the next breathless exclamation of change. It is the long slow chug to the top of the rollercoaster descent into hyper-activity. What I can be doing – what I should be doing during this time is to assess who and where we are. Where are we physically? Where are we mentally? Where are we financially and where are we spiritually?

We can both take our physical health more seriously. Mentally we are both On The Mountain 22 hours a day and our plans develop over time and with each conversation. We are secure financially for our continued lifestyle here in the suburbs, but growing the large cache of capital it would require to build our home and our homestead is slow going. Spiritually, I can feel the need to spend more time in my zazen practice – learning to sit. be still.

There is an art form to waiting well.

It is time to practice.

Happy Easter! Happy Spring from Berry Mountain!

Hallo everyone! Happy Easter and Happy Spring to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere. Happy Day to everyone else!

Yesterday, we ventured up to Berry Mountain to do some typical Spring homesteading chores AND some exciting new ones!

First up: Plant the garden!
The epic snows have finally melted and the soil was warm enough to plant the peas, potatoes, onions, spinach, lettuce and carrots. We uncovered the strawberry and asparagus patches from their thick mulch of autumn leaves. I am pleased to report that the soil in all the cabin garden beds looks dark and gorgeous after three years of being amended. It is teeming with bugs and worms, and I cannot be happier about that. This will be the second year we plant shelling peas to save for seed while building our Berry Mountain landrace. By the time we move up there fulltime, we will have bred a species uniquely suited to our weather conditions on the Mountain.

Next up: Water barrel cleaning!
Oofdah. If any of you have, or plan to have rain water barrels in your homestead, please let me give you a piece of friendly advice.

Strike that: let me give you two:

1. When cleaning the dirt and detritus out of your barrels each year, wear sturdy work gloves (unlike me). The process of banging around with a long-handled brush against the jagged plastic lip of the barrel will turn your knuckles raw and bloody in short order. Do as I say, not as I do.

2. Clean your barrels in the late autumn when you disconnect them from the downspouts and put them away for the winter, rather than let them sit in their stinkiness until Spring. (also unlike me). Also: if you had not realized you needed to disconnect your water barrels before they freeze – here is your gentle reminder to do so. (if, in fact, you live somewhere that experiences a hard freeze.)

I will post a “how to clean water barrels” in short order once I figure out why WordPress is no longer allowing me to upload photos. – because honestly? It is a sloppy, awkward and bordering on gross task – but hey! This is Homesteading! and this is what it is all about! (Consider that cleaning each 55 gallon rain barrel is roughly equivalent to the effort of cleaning approximately 20 toilets and you have an idea of what is involved… We have 5 barrels.) Also: having cleaned toilets for a living in my professional life, I appreciate how the Universe has made me uniquely suited to this lifestyle and I am grateful and amused at the same time!

Okay – who cares about cleaning? (me!me!) the REALLY exciting news is that: OUR SOLAR PANELS HAVE ARRIVED!

Tim ordered a small starter kit off of Amazon to build our “test” system at the cabin.  Since we are primarily Weekend Homesteaders at the moment – all we need is to power a few lightbulbs, or our portable AC unit, or recharge some batteries for our tools – so it can be a fairly small system. It will be another week or two before Tim finalizes the design of the moveable wooden frame to house the panels, but we will be sure to show you how he did it when all is said and done!

Whew. Sorry this post is devoid of photos. *shakes fist at WordPress* We will be back with all sorts of new news from the Berry Mountain Center for Sustainable Living soon!

Take care everyone. Love you.