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August 20th, 2009

Good Light

I was spun out from this familiar place last week, on location elsewhere as a photographer, and in the carbon-fueled hassle of plane and rental car travel felt completely unhinged from the goings-on of the farm.But Daisy took good care of chickens and cats and the greenhouse, Heidi weeded and harvested, Miles helped with compost. The little farm trundled on fine without me.


Supper in the garden, umbrellas on stand-by.

I flew in to New York shaking off the usual thunderstorms, and returned before dawn just as the sky began to slowly unfold, blue over black, and the night-lustered scent ofnicotiana was releasing itself into the still air over the farm.

Wakefulness at this hour is magical. From years of shooting gardens for books and magazines, I’m familiar with the secret, transitory beauty of twilight. The world seems to hold its breath, insect legs stop their determined rasping, and birdsongs have yet to be summoned by any indication of morning.

Then the day comes, and there is the usual damage assessment after a storm: The tight purse of the soil again pummeled into a swill by rain, the folds and clefts made by hoes and thoughtful hands all leveled, the tomatoes in a sad, rain-spilt tangle, the small-by-nature varieties of pepper and eggplant – confused by the inconstant weather – reduced to props for my daughter’s American Girl doll.

And despite all that, a smile. The Buddhists tell you that only by leaving your home can you know it for the first time. Knowing this place, with all of its quirks and provocations, is a gift.

Heidi reminds me of that. She reminds me not to become a grumpy farmer, grousing on about apocalyptic weather and the latest Book-of-Revelations pest that’s decided to stop by, and to find the good light (use a photography metaphor and he’ll understand…)

That night, we tossed a big harvest salad ofmesclun greens and loose-leaf lettuce, sweetened with sun-warmed greenhouse grapes, and made fresh pesto with skewer grilled eggplant and pepper. We ate in the garden as the little hens wandered aimlessly about our feet, and – with little effort – found the good light, filtering through the apple trees. - mb

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August 10th, 2009

Animal Farm

ires to equilibrium – a balance between taking and giving, hard woIf a sustainable farm asprk and bountiful harvest– then a few critters prowling or clucking the grounds can do wonders for your sanity when you’re off kilter. They’re also great comic relief. I’ve never known a vegetable to make me laugh. (Although there was this very silly carrot…)


Whisker deep in the big ruddy

Last week, I sternly accused my cats of raiding the tomato patch while we were away, They took the fifth (clever boys), hired one of those freaky hairless Sphinx cat attorneys, and took refuge. The next morning, our tabby was caught with his whiskers deep in the warm, submissive flesh of a Brandywine. Maybe our soft, tomato-hued cat had found his vine-tethered likeness, and liked it.


Furrowitz, Wiskerstein & Purr, LLP. Cat calls welcome.

In a year of such tomato scarcity, this feline misbehavior is salt in the wound. But maybe they figure they’ve paid their dues.

We were once sacked and plundered by a band of snarky roof rats. They came in from the dark woods like drunken Huns, getting into all and everything edible (sheetrock: a bit dry, but not bad). The cats rose to the occasion with gusto, however, and treated these marauders to an endless gladiatorial round of “toss and swat” (very much like tennis, only with paws, and rats), and we stood around them in a circle, our thumbs in the air like so many Caesars, celebrating each critters quick and squeaky demise.

We had another orange tabby a few years back that had decided to come in from the feral cold and adoptus. We named him “Agent Orange.” He never came too close or asked for too much, but was just a stealthy presence in the long grass. He was an old cat, with all the markings of a life spent in the brush or the dustbin. And the day Agent Orange died, we wrapped him in a linen pillow case and buried him beneath a patiently trained espaliered apple tree in the kitchen garden. The next Spring, the apple was dead. The other painstaking espaliers soon followed. What’s in a name? Intractable fate, apparently, even beyond the grave.

With so many lives in the balance, animal and vegetable, the critters somehow keep you, and your conceits, in check.  -Mb

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August 8th, 2009

The End of the Beginning

We’ve reached the halfway point of our first season this week. Spears of slender purplegladiloli are in flower, their tall stems crowned in a ripple of blooms, signaling what we hope will be the end of a long bout of adversity with weather. How appropriate, then, that this “funeral flower” should emerge just as we bury the last of our blighted and dearly departed tomatoes (best Monty Python accent: “I’m not dead yet!” “Well, you will be soon!” Thwack!)


Funereal gladioli in bloom in the greenhouse garden. Will we move on to a blight-free afterlife?

I have to say, adversity has been great fodder for this newsletter. Let’s face it, we like to laugh at it; it’s a form of self-preservation. There’s nothing funny about unremitting success.

That said, we came home from a few days off the farm (at the ocean, no less) to deer-trimmed brambles that were just about to fruit; a hen who went urban and decided to lay her eggs on concrete (no survivors); a cat who has decided that field mouse taste better with tossed heirloom tomatoes on the side; and a greenhouse carpeted with leathery, pulp-less grape skins, the tell-tale bingeing of a fussy raccoon (who then washed his paws in the fountain, no doubt). (laughter).  - Mb


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