Home

Home. Home to trees and fields, dirt roads, and cooler temperatures. Home to the family. Home to my friends and community.
When I arrived on Tuesday, the house was woodstove warm and welcoming. Both dogs were overjoyed that I wasn’t ( apparently) gone for good. Aah, home.
Now back to work. Winter projects on the docket. Work on the board and batting for the studio. Re-shingle the back of the house. Wool to spin and send out for the yarn CSA.
Speaking of wool, in Ireland the landscape is covered with sheep. Most are breeds suited for the conditions there, cold and wet, and most breeds are raised for meat. The market for fleece is not great and it may be difficult to find yarn made from Irish sheep. Real Irish yarn, that is. Not likely that you will find merino sheep on an Irish farm. The merino would not stand the conditions in Ireland. The breeds in Ireland tend to be a courser breed of sheep, great for rugs and weaving. The fiber in Ireland would be considered ‘carpet wool’, strong, coarse fiber truly great for weaving tapestries or rugs but often considered too scratchy for garments. But, I love wool and back in the day, even our wool here in New England was typically more scratchy than it is now. Remeber those wool snowsuits kids wore? Breed importing has improved over the last 50 years and raising sheep breeds that have soft, fine fiber, are now widely available here. Our weather in the Northeast being dryer allows us to manage with some of the finer wool breeds. Still, I personally love that old fashion course and strong wool all sweaters and socks ( and snowsuits!) were made from in year’s past. Bartlett wool and yarn from Briggs and Little are still companies that produce yarn using fleece that is a mixture of breeds, all put into a wool pool, and spun into yarn. Lots of my socks are knit with wool from Briggs and Little. I call them ‘socks that are not for the faint of heart’. They are a bit scratchy (I don’t get the heebie-jeebies from scratchy wool on my skin) and they are tough…the course wool does not pill or tear as easily after lots of use. In Ireland, I did find a shop that carried true Irish yarn ( in Donegal) and it is scratchy, but I love it. My green wool hunting pants are scratchy. My vest from Filson is a thick felted wool that is scratchy. But both are two of the warmest garments I own. The sheep we raise at Fernwood are a fairly longwool breed, soft and lustrous, beautiful wool….and warm. They are a sheep breed I find really works for all the various knitting and felting I do.They grow excellent lamb for the freezer. I’ll always buy some rough and tumble yarn for sock knitting or for that outdoor barn sweater I know will stand the test of time (and abuse). Among the other projects on the needles these days…a baby sweater, some mittens, a few scarves, there are also some hearty socks in progress, made with tough and gnarly wool, just waiting for the inevitable cold our Maine winters bring. And I know they’ll do their job!

Barn Dinner

Before I left for my time in Ireland, I catered a dinner in a barn/studio for a friend. It was the end of September, the nights were perfect for an outdoor fire and to have the big barn doors slung open to let some sea breeze in. There was still plenty of garden produce available for salads and side dishes and it was also cool enough for several crocks of baked beans. Steamed lobster, a broth made with mussels and saffron, and ice cream sandwiches made with home baked molasses cookies, helped to round out the meal. Every year I cater a limited amount of these farm to table dinners. I love doing them. I enjoy cooking at different locations, working with the scenery and atmosphere that each one offers up. Next summer I hope to offer a few Tear Drop trailer dinners. What do you think… vintage Tear Drop trailer, an ocean view, and a meal prepared with food from our farm and locally sourced ingredients?
Here are some photos from the barn dinner….and, yes that is a sheep making her way through the dining area. I did mention the word barn, didn’t I? Oh my! If you have any interest in having a very special meal prepared and served out of the cute and cozy teardrop trailer, email questions at fernwoodnursery@fairpoint.net. I’ll even brings along some sheep if you’d like!

A Few Things….

In Ireland….wear boots, always. Understand that when the sun shines, regardless of the time of day, it should be coveted and celebrated. It also reveals a brilliance that I’m not sure is experienced any where else in the world. The view is long, unlike home where the trees break up the scope of things, you can see long distances and this will make you want to put on your walking shoes (boots, remember) and start covering some ground.

Sally’s latest addition to the farm…Herdwick sheep

Around every bend there will be donkeys, and a sea of sheep, and fields and fields of grazing cattle. Horse fair are held in the middle of town and they are meant for trading. The grass, even in November when Maine farms are already tossing out hay to their critters, is green, green, green… but soggy, so as I mentioned before, you’ll want boots. The wind blows sideways ( I kinda like that) and the rain just shows up anytime it has a hankering to do so. A good rain jacket to go along with your boots is a good thing. The air smells smokey and peaty and moist. Quite nice and earthy. Learn to like tea, learn to love tea. And scones, with butter or jam, and definitely eat lots and lots of local yogurt, because that green green grass helps to grow great cows, which produces rich and tasty milk, which can be made into sweet and tangy yogurt. And butter. And cheese. And who wouldn’t travel far and wide for delicious cheese and butter?
Well,that’s really all for now….more to come, I’m sure.

Sally and her trusty companion, Frazier, laying in the green, green grass

Video

What Are You Doing There Now?

I am often asked this question when my friends and family back home find out that I am flying off to Ireland again. Coming to Ireland in the late fall, after the nursery closes and the firewood is put up and the hay is mounded in the barn, is something I have been doing over the last several years (7 years?). The first time I came was to help my friend Sally with a photo exhibit she was doing here in the town of Kilorglin. Next, it was to help her with her book project and collecting stories for A fair Day, The Horseman Of County Kerry. After that, I just kept coming and because we were (and are) having so much fun we’ve had to dream up new projects to warrant little ol’ me getting on a plane (which I don’t love) and leaving my home ground in Maine (where I am happily rooted) and then spending a goodly portion of the fall traipsing behind her as she conjures up new adventures. This year it has been helping her reclaim a farm in Glenbeigh. Reclaiming isn’t really the right description…. the land has been lovingly farmed and cared for over many generations. It is where a man lived his life and raised his cattle and did his chores and cut silage and helped birth calves and worked daily as all farmers do keeping with the tradition of such things. Now the man is gone, and though his nephew will continue to graze cattle and make hay on his uncle’s land, Sally has stepped in to help ensure that some of the buildings and barns are preserved. Right now the old house is getting a bit of a make-over….insulation, a new floor, a kitchen,, and a heating system. Like many of the old farms the house was not terribly insulated and therefor quite drafty…..a bit like our old farmhouses in New England, yes? The work has been going on for the last several months and before long ( 3 weeks!!!??) the house will be ready for a small gathering. Hooray!
Outdoors, two amazing stone workers (who are also sheep farmers) are busy mending some of the grand old stone walls that frame in the farm’s lush green fields. They’re building some new ones, too.

Lar and Pat
Farmers. Stone Builders.

I am in awe of their work, their keen eye for each stone placed or rock split perfectly and then positioned. True craftsman, really. I do love seeing the house being transformed into a much warmer and well lit dwelling. The crew working on that part of the project are genius as well, but it is the keeping and tending of those old stonewalls that has my attention. Knowing that each stone was handled before by some diligent farmer with an intention to contain his livestock and to create separate grazing fields reminds us of the work that was done before mechanization. Now history is coming full circle and being preserved by two thoughtful men who are honoring their roots and rural traditions. Slowly, carefully, and with great craft they are re-building the stone walls. Beauty, behold. Because I come from a long line of farming, my own roots dating back to the earliest settlers of New England and where stonewalls are a part of our own cultural landscape , I truly appreciate this commitment to land and farming and community. As I have said many, many times before…..traveling away from my life in Maine is never easy, but coming to Ireland is always a profound blessing.

And….Off I Go

Off I go to Ireland, to walk that beautiful landscape, to visit with friends and farmers, to help Sally with all her projects ( sheep, farm dinners, classes, and house renovations), to enjoy the mist and truly the most emerald green pastures, to drive those narrow curvy roads that lead you up and around and down windy bends, to visit those butcher shops that I love, and to settle into the now familiar and delightful routine that will greet me as I step off the plane. Home is home. Maine is home. I’ll be back soon enough ( December). Isn’t it nice though to find a place that feels almost as good as home? I’ll write when I land, I’ll post pictures, I’ll keep my friends abreast. Til then…..

Please Rain!

We so desperately need rain. It was well over two weeks ago that we had a good long steady rain. Almost an inch, I think. The lack of it makes me anxious. Watering the thousands of plants we have in pots from our very amazing well does the job but during times like this, we’re always concerned about its ability to sustain itself. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the things that cause stress in our lives. I am curious about how it differs from person to person. The idea of not having enough water in our well is stressful. Water is an important commodity here at the farm/nursery. I feel a twinge of frustration every time I hear the weatherman declare “another beautiful weekend…no rain in sight”. If he’s trained in weather patterns and has at least some inkling of how important rain is to the well-being of everyone and everything, don’t you think he could use his position to encourage water conservation, comment a bit on the consequences of not getting enough rain, and stop saying, “another perfect day here in the Northeast”. No, a perfect day at this point in time ( here in the Northeast) would be to have a week of days with a good steady rain! Life is not always sunny! We don’t want life to always be sunny! The weather around the world has us all concerned for too much of a good thing ( rain is good, sun is good)…but too much heat and sun with no rain dries our crops, empties wells, and drains aquifers, and too much rain floods our communities, washes away fields of grain, and can be disruptive and destructive in itself. These weather trends are not controllable, we stand aside and learn to cope. As we well know, extreme weather patterns can be disastrous. The heroes of the day are not the sun itself or the desperate need for rain, but a balance of both. It is quite obvious that across the board the weather is out of balance. Extreme appears to be the new norm. That’s not good. My plea is that the weather folks here in the northeast stop insinuating that these endless days with no rain are perfect, just what we wanted, no rain in sight. It’s annoying.
Rick and I have been considering a new car. The old Subaru is tired. We’ve gone several times to look over a new purchase and consider upgrading to a vehicle with less than 190,000 miles on it and a working radio ( and a back window in the passenger seat that can actually still go up and down). The salesman told us that people consider buying a new car one of the most stressful things in life. Not for us. I can wander around the new car lot, look at the shiny hunks of metal, read the price tags, and then circle back to our scrubby maroon Subaru and think, ” aw, she’s not so bad” (we’ve done this three times already!). Stopping for an ice cream on the way home drowns out any inkling of stress from this car searching activity. We’re not bothered by it. Endless days of sun and unseasonably warm weather with no rain, that’s stressful. Buying a new car takes consideration, parting with our hard earned cash is a thoughtful process, no doubt. I guess our instinct and our points of concern really lie in the way we live our lives…at home, at the nursery, growing things and living in unison with the natural world and its events. It’s why a forecast of no rain doesn’t equate to “another beautiful, perfect and sunny day here in Maine”. Water. Water. Water. It is essential. It is lovely. It is beautiful. We need it. Would someone please call the folks who deliver our weather forecast and ask them to be fair in their assessment with regards to a “good day”, give rain and water its praise, please! Thank you.

Peach Season

Peaches are in season. Not the final fruit to be harvested, eaten and preserved, we still have apples and pears to look forward to. But doesn’t a fresh peach pie along side some home-made ice cream (ginger ice cream, maybe? Yes!) seem just about the most decadent thing you can devour at summer’s end?
Here’s a poem by Kate Barnes about peaches…and a reminder that what we think we know may not always be true. Enjoy!

Peaches
by Kate Barnes

Jenny, because you are twenty-three
(and my daughter),
you think you know everything;
and because I am fifty-three
(and your mother),
I think I know everything.
A week ago you picked up two green little peaches,
only half-grown and still hard,
from under the loaded peach tree
and put them on the kitchen window sill;
and I thought
(though I didn’t say a word):
they’re too small, they will just rot
but I won’t move them, Jenny put them there.
Now the summer is over and you are gone,
the mornings are cool, squashes conquer the garden,
the tree swallows have flown away, crickets sing—
and the sweet juice of your peaches runs down my chin.

Done

Well, pretty close to done. We still have to add the batts to the boards once they’ve dried and shrunk a bit. We’ll put a latch on the inside so the door doesn’t mistakenly swing open while in use. We need to find some appropriate reading material for any “extended visits”. So, that’s the last of the outhouse posts from Fernwood. If you want to see more, you’ll just have to come and see it…or use it. I’ll leave you with an outhouse poem by an unknown author….

The Outhouse

The service station trade was slow
The owner sat around,
With sharpened knife and cedar stick
Piled shavings on the ground.

No modern facilities had they,
The log across the rill
Led to a shack, marked His and Hers
That sat against the hill.

“Where is the ladies restroom, Sir ?”
The owner leaning back,
Said not a word but whittled on,
And nodded toward the shack.

A Sea Of Winter Squash

We have a sea of winter squash trailing through the landscape here, they are growing with an intention of both vigor and determination. That’s good! Butternut, Delicata, Buttercup, and Spaghetti Squash, all for our winter larder. I’m already thinking Thanksgiving!(sorry). In addition, growing right alongside our marathon winter squash are rows of dry beans….Vermont Cranberry, Jacob’s Cattle, Black Turtle, and Adzuki. Not acres of beans, but enough to fill some shelves in the pantry. Earlier in the season, I was given some open pollinated flint corn, a variety called Ray’s Calais, and though we were late getting it in the ground, it is tasseled out and forming good solid ears. Ray’s Calias is seed that originates from the Abenaki people of the Northeast and Quebec. This corn will be ready to pick some time in October when the corn stalks are good and dry. Once picked they will hang in a cluster to dry for another couple of weeks before the kernels are removed from the cob. Next, they’ll be put through the grinder. I’ll pass along a substantial helping of ground corn to the friend who gave me the seed and who helped with the planting. Corn, beans, and squash a-plenty! The pantry shelves are filling!!

In The Studio

Through the remainder of August and into September we’ll be featuring some local artisans in the studio. If you’d like to get a jump on some holiday gift purchasing and want to support some local artisans, this may be your chance. The studio will be open Wednesday through Sunday, 9-5.
Our friend Sett Balise (brambledragon.com) is an accomplished potter from Liberty, Maine. Sett has a beautiful and functional selection of pottery available ( we eat oatmeal out of some of his bowls all winter!), come check it out!
My friend Sally Savage, photographer and mixed media artist, left a small collection of her polymer clay ‘beach stone’ necklaces for purchase. Sally will also be teaching a class this Fall at Fiber College if you’d like to join the fun and make some stones on your own.
And of course, there will be yarn for sale….handspun, hand-dyed yarn from our own flock of Blue-Face Leicester sheep! It’s never too early to increase your winter yarn stash!
Come check out the studio, wander the gardens, and find out what’s happening these days here at Fernwood!