Walls and weather

May 15, 2009

It’s easier to work in the rain than in the wind. Even when it’s sunny, wind takes so much effort to work against.

black birch trees blowin' in the wind

black birch trees blowin' in the wind

I didn’t mind the drizzle yesterday. We’d started building a stone wall around what will eventually be a circular central garden. There used to be a barn there, so we’ve spent the past month excavating rocks, nails, chains and other farm detritus to prepare the ground for planting. The digging is monotonous so the wall project is meant to give us a tangible sense of progress around the space.

The only other rock wall I’ve ever helped build was in Mexico, held together Mexican-style with several wheelbarrows full of cement:

good times

good times

This time I’m doing it New England style, with no mortar, mud or natural adhesive of any kind:


i'll take a closer picture next time

The hard physical work was gathering the rocks from a big pile several yards away, either lugging them back one by one or attempting to wheelbarrow several at a time. The hard mental work was finding a way to fit them together both structural integrity and aesthetic value.

It was hard at first, but I eventually found a way to focus and spent about two hours crawling around in the mud, pushing rocks back and forth, finding harmonious ways for them to connect. I usually spend an hour or so anticipating lunchtime, but this time when it came I was squatting in the mud, my face smudged with dirt, rain dripping off my nose, totally absorbed in the project.  And even though the wall doesn’t look like much right now, achieving just a few layers made me feel very accomplished. And tired. And hungry.

It’s work like this that makes baths, burgers and long island iced teas feel so much more worthwhile.


The crazy thing about seasons is how fast everything changes. The backdrop of life is constantly shifting. Recently I’ve been getting confused and lost when driving to familiar destinations because I don’t recognize my surroundings with leaves on the trees. At the farm, the herbs grow so much from week to week I only recognize them because I know where they’re planted.

This goldenseal won't be in flower next week

This goldenseal won't be in flower next week

The farm gets more and  more beautiful every time I go back. Last Thursday was misty and damp and the greenest day I can remember in a long, long time.

baby aspen trees

baby aspen trees

I hope to eat some of these dandelions before it’s too late. I’m told the tops make tasty fritters when dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and fried on in a pan. I like the idea of eating all parts of a dandelion, but am still a little squeamish about eating things that grow out of the sidewalk. However, should there be some kind of apocalypse and I become forced to forage for food, I will also be able to identify and consume wild lettuce. You may recognize it from the perimeter of many a parking lot:


Besides being edible, it’s sap is a natural analgesic (painkiller). We learned last week that if you were to take the time to harvest it—letting little bubbles of sap dry and scraping the dried sap into a jar—eventually you could use the powder to remedy pain. Funny though, Bill didn’t mention how the powder should be ingested. Hmmm.

Teas & Tinctures

April 29, 2009

Lemon balm tea

Lemon balm tea

I’m three weeks into my internship at the medicinal herb farm. We meet twice each week, one day for eight hours of farm labor (see earlier post on barn-mucking) and one afternoon for four hours of clinical learning, where we’re taught the basics of how to make medicines from the plants we grow.


Bill digs valerian root for today's tincture

Bill has spent years studying herbs and running his own herbal medical practice. His passion for his work is serious, but I think it’s cool that he still maintains a lightheartedness and sense of humor while he talks about it. His teaching style is, by his own admission, rather un-linear.  (Circuitous?) After taking a quick walk around the grounds to see what’s happened with all the plants each week, we sprawl on blankets in the grass while Bill passes around teas and tinctures of a few different herbs. We roll the earthy diffusions and decoctions around our tongues, trying to get a physical sense of what the herbs are doing to our bodies before Bill can tell us. Then Bill takes the lid off his brain and years worth of information and experience and knowledge come flying from his mouth. Scrambling to capture the essence of his words and distill them into reliable reference material in my silly little spiral notebook feels a bit like trying to catch flying seeds on the breeze, but I have faith it will all amount to something eventually.


There’s roughly five months worth of feces in that photo. One cow, one sheep and two goats crapped inside one barn all winter, and today I took my turn mucking out the stall. I loved every pungent minute of it. I loved the way my rain boots squished in the mud/poop. I loved the sweet smell of the manure. I loved the way two hours went by and I didn’t even notice.

I found shit-shoveling—pitchforking, really—to be alot like clearing jungle brush with a machete. It takes a while to figure out how to be really effective at it and find the groove. Also, the hay that’s layered into the shit tangles itself into one giant mass, just like the vines of the jungle. In order to clear really satisfactory patches, I discovered it helps to work in circles, disconnecting the poop-hay or vine thickets from themselves and pushing them aside, or in this case, depositing them in a wheelbarrow and dumping it on the compost pile.

There’s something about the rhythm of the work: once your body figures out how to do the job, the mind is freed and imagination (or chatter) is also possible. Taking stock in the area cleared is infinitely rewarding. Just remember to wash the blood (or poop) off your hands when you’re finished.


I’d just quit my most-loathed waitressing job and begun an internship on a medicinal herb farm when my parents decided to express their extreme disappointment over my lack of career. My mother called on Monday, near-tears, to declare she “doesn’t know where she went wrong.”

“Eventually you’re going to have to sell out!” she cried. “Your twenties are ending and you’re not even getting started!”

Thinking I’d find reinforcement on the paternal side, as soon as I shook her off I called my dad to get his read on the situation. In cold tones, he let me know that he feels “anger, pity and fear,” when he thinks about me and my current life situation. Awesome. Nothing boosts the ego like having your parents inform you they think you’re a fucked-up waste of space.

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