What an auspicious day, this June 24th to stop and offer a solstice word or two. Last week I finished banging out a hand fashioned cage of sorts for Ma Barker over in the Orchard Coop to keep her and her brood safe and contained, and wouldn’t you know she nearly beat me to it? Congratulations on your third year Ma Barker! I was hand feeding her some treats (and singing) as sort of a bribe to keep her friendly when the first little chick popped out and also started eating out of my hand. Tonight a second chick said hello. As soon as everyone pops out we’ll move Ma Barker and company over to the Coop De Ville over in one-eyed Pumpkins patch of heaven. The Coop De Ville – the Cadillac of chick condos.

Meanwhile Micheal Marks of Ithaca, a Qi Gung Master is helping me resolve my knee issue by learning how to walk Qi Gung style, and change a few eating habits (nope not sugar) my thing is vinegar and hot sauces of all kinds, every day.  Probably should have thought that one out. Balance is key in all my affairs…

Great way to make use of scrap PVC, plastic planters, and bottles.

Poured two more concrete umbrella stands, a base step for the bottom of the deck stairs, and with a bit left over, stamped out some garden stones. No umbrella stand is complete without umbrellas, so two more arrived from Santa Fantasy consumer land; deep blue and Italian orange. Actually they were both made in Italy. The carbon footprint on those two is off the charts. Probably  the same for the Aqua, Yellow, Forest Green and Red one too.

No worries, while I’ve planted over 500 trees in five years, I realized that umbrellas not only add color but when they break, I learn how to repair the metal parts & pieces, then when the fabric wears out, how to replace that. Should it all go horribly wrong I’ll use the skeletal structure left (20 years from now?) to grow peas and vines on them. Then we will really get that Hippie game on but no one will know because this place of 5 cultivated acres will be so heavily forested you won’t be able to see shit. Luckily I get to try right away (repairing not seeing). For people who live around here the following story will be a real yawn…it went like this…

Gee it’s very windy out I’d better go close the yellow umbrella. Hey where did the Aqua umbrella go? Will must have taken it down and put it in the shop; I’ll go look. Huh it’s not there, oh no. I take 20 steps and peer between the barn and old schoolhouse and way way way off in the distance I see a very bright object. That would be my umbrella. It was a quarter mile walk at least. One thin strong metal rod from the scrap pile and a little JB Weld will bring it back to life. What we will never know is; did it clear the three buildings and the power lines as the dust twister picked it up and blew it that far? It was still open when I found it.

Color, of the less risky kind, is everywhere as of today; sunflowers, hollyhocks, rose campion (Lychnis coronaria), and the Dahlias I planted back in March. It’s the rose campion I didn’t know much about until I got here and saw it growing in Will’s northern bed, at the bottom of, and north of the deck, a location that stays cool and doesn’t get the full blast of sun all day.

Lychnis coronaria

here’s a pic of three of the garden stones and the rose campion

It grew so well there I figured it didn’t like sun. Or drought. Wrong. Good to know. Because I already planted some of it -with the lilacs I found growing in one of the formerly unoccupied nursery pots. Sometimes we’re lazy. We leave nursery pots with soil in them at the area north and down from the deck. The trees, seeds and fluff plant themselves and in Spring…Surprise! Look who grew! I trudged three pots with lilacs and rose campion over to the wild tree hill and put them in without irrigation. Eventually they’ll be a wind break and provide shade for the bottom concrete pond and bench. They are doing great and give me the stink eye when I’m out there working. That spot is full blazing hot west sun.

This morning at 5:30am I was sitting on the steps of the deck drinking coffee and spacing out. That never used to happen…for years…and years…until now. It’s difficult for me to space out when all I see around me is desolation, dead dirt, dying trees and sun-burnt grass which was the case in the first few years.

Orchard setting sun. The picture was taken on the crest of the hill looking out from the patio area.

Same view last week

Buckwheat and company cover crop looking south into the orchard, straw bale coop & pen

First run at making the patio in March of 2012. Taken from the stairs on the deck. You could see straight down the hill, across the field past the six orchard trees and 40 miles past that.

Just ran out and took this – don’t mind the overly bright light!

We wanted to believe that permaculture worked, that doing this, and living this kind of life would get easier over time; but both of us were logically skeptical and also realized the enormous undertaking, hard work, long hours and sore muscles involved to transition a place in a climate neither one of us were familiar with that received only 9″ – 12″ of rain annually. Now, the last two springs before this one, it was obvious things were starting to change and we could see hints of that change everywhere but nothing prepared me for how this Spring was unfolding. If you could see me standing motionless while looking around – it’s not because I’m favoring my right leg – it’s because I can’t believe what I’m seeing. That’s why I’ve taken to spacing out on the deck first thing in the morning – sheer joy & wonder. That’s the wonder from childhood in the Maine coastal woods, and deep cool gorges of Ithaca; I thought that feeling had gotten up and left forever. Some ‘purists’ may fault me for what I’ve done and I get that, but maybe the resident & migratory birds, the snakes, the marmots, weasels, butterflies, native plants, pollinators, deer, rabbits, pheasants, quail, partridge will find it their hearts to forgive me. It sure seems like they’re content with what I’ve done.

I get to hear crickets now. I get to be bowled over when the rising sun pierces the deep red petals of the hollyhocks and turns them a translucent scarlet. On a windless morning nothing is heard but the aviary of birds, and my roosters. The place is so quiet I can feel the faint low rumble of the Pacific Burlington Northern line some 10 to 12 miles away and if I really lean into it I can hear the whistle’s tone as it passes through town.

We planted snowberry bushes and have enough to share with the snowberry sphinx moth. We’ve found both emerging moths like this one, and the caterpillar – and they are big!

We’re seeing the Ornate Tiger moth and Clark’s day Sphinx Moths in large numbers feeding on the purple vetch,

Clark’s Day Sphinx moth on squash blossom from a few years back

The vetch is gorgeous mixed with creamy white flowers of the Yarrow, next to bright yellow sticky gummy weed. What a beautiful combination of color and the vetch is spreading over the rocky basalt outcroppings along the northern edge of the property. We found out the basalt is 3/4 of a mile thick in this area caused by millions of years of volcanic up-welling.

So much more to share, but a text ‘just’ came in; an appointment that I forgot – and better get to Monday morning – Massage. Can’t miss that one.

I’m working on part 2 of our trip to Wheaton’s Labs and that’s almost done. My brother is somewhere in the US on his road trip headed west having spent four glorious months in Ithaca seeing family. There’s a lot to do between now and next Saturday when I get to see him. Time for some rest…