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!

Sunday

Today we’ll slow things down a bit. No racing about, no running for things in town. We’ll spend some time at the farm, visit with the donkeys, we’ll layout the picnic basket. As often as I can, I walk a loop with Sally’s dog, Frazier. He and I travel the narrow and windy roads away from the farm, passing the neighboring fields of cows and sheep, just to admire and take in the incredible beauty of Ireland.

An afternoon tea with “Teddy”….try and tell me that Teddy is not adorable!


The word ‘profound’ always comes to mind when I am asked to describe the landscape here. It is a landscape that seeps into your soul….it feels grand, it feels bigger than life. An arrangement of green and rock, mountains and expansive field, that is close to God.

Today,I am thinking this….
“Look around you. Appreciate what you have. Nothing will be the same in a year”.

Also, I’ll re-post this poem by Paul Corrigan( which I love). It always reminds me of how fleeting life can be…even with the things we savor. Then there are the uncertainties and unfortunate moments that fall on all of us, and we repeat the proverb “this, too, shall pass”.
Stay in the moment. Pay attention. Don’t wish a moment away.
Have a good day everyone.

He, To His Wife

Sit with me here on the landing
and watch how the moon hangs
like some pale, winter fruit
in the branches of our crabapple tree.
I noticed it last night, but you
had gone to bed. And since last night
the moon has ripened and is full
and looks ready to plummet off the tree
and drop below the horizon.
Sit down here beside me.
It’s not something we’ll see
every month. The leaves will hide it,
or the clouds. One of us will be away,
or we’ll both be asleep and it will rise
and hang in the branches without us.
How odd not to have seen it before now;
to have lived in this house a year
and not had a cloudless night when the leaves
were down and the moon was waxing.
How soon will it be before clear weather
again reveals it in its brightest phase
hanging in those bare limbs?
We ought to watch the skies more faithfully
and try to be here on the stairs
to catch the next rare conjunction
of the moon in our tree
Come sit with me in the dark for awhile.

by Paul Corrigan

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…..

These Days

Soon, I am off to Ireland to help my friend Sally with some farm projects. We have some ‘irons in the fire’ with regards to Herdwick sheep , in addition to collecting more oral histories. I’ll be writing about this later and more than likely from ‘that side of the pond’, as they say.
In the meantime, here are a few things happening at Fernwood as we ready ourselves for the colder months ahead….
Some of the potted begonias have been brought in with hopes that I don’t kill them over the winter ( can you believe that someone who co-owns a nursery can kill a houseplant in no time at all!).
The Ray’s Calais corn has been brought in from the garden, shucked, and is now in the greenhouse for further drying. Those jewels of kernels, beautiful, yes?
The winter squash has a couple more weeks of curing and then we’ll haul them in for storage
The carmal colored Adzuki beans are now on the top of the threshing list.
Swiss chard continues to thrive and wave like a row of rainbow flags in the garden.
Playing around a bit with shorn ( uncleaned) fleeces and felting them to processed roving, the result being a ‘sheepskin without the hide’.
And, the knitting continues…

Home

picture-3771Home now from my trip away, though Ireland is still very fresh in my mind. The good friends I have made, the rolling green pastures, and the snow capped mountains are all still very present. Then, of course, there’s my time with donkeys, enough tea to float a 25-pound turkey (today is Thanksgiving!), and the great fun I have with Sally traipsing through farms and cow pastures, through gorse and over stone walls, like two wild children who have escaped school for the day. If we were children, I am certain we’d have a secret hideout built with found objects and discarded lumber, a place to tie our ponies and go off exploring the fields and woods, looking for treasures. Of course, we’d have a picnic basket full of goodies, just like the one we never leave without, to keep us well fed while ‘adventuring’. When we are together, my friend and I, although we are mid-life in age, we revert to our Huckleberry Finn/ Pippy Longstocking personalities. I’m so glad for that.
Now home and as I settle back into my familiar stomping grounds, I will join with loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving. Family and friends will gather for a meal, some will come in from a long morning of hunting ready to fill their bellies with stuffing and cranberry sauce, others will have enjoyed a lazy morning preparing a side dish to bring over. I hope they stayed in their P.J’s while stirring pots. The house will be full of chatter, laughter, and hugs. I’ll be glad to be home. I am glad to be home. I love the landscape and the community that is felt in both places….Maine and Ireland. I love going to Ireland and feeling the acceptance of the people there, who are all so generous and welcoming. Jo Noonan, who I learn so much from. Cathy and Frank who invite me for dinner and share stories of their past. Charlie, of course, Charlie!, who one might like to tuck into their pocket to bring home….a long ride for my 91-year-old friend who has never stepped foot out of Ireland. I also love coming home to my tribe here, my friends and family, who really are the essence of home to me.
So much happening in the world, lots to be concerned about, work ahead of us all, but today I will focus on cooking a meal, listening to loved ones, and being grateful. Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Almost Out The Door…..

_dsc4527Three more days and I’ll be out the door and back to my home ground. After a long and busy season at the nursery, it sure has been nice (and restorative) to step away from our very busy life and have such a different and delightful change of scenery. Travel is nice, but home is home, and there are still plenty of chores that await me. While here in Ireland, Sally and I do seem to cover a lot of ground without really ever venturing far from her roots in County Kerry. However, tomorrow we head up to Galway for the Christmas markets. Fun, fun, fun! I am looking forward to being in the city while they begin ‘dressing’ up for the Christmas holiday. There’s a bit more room in my suitcase for a nice little tree ornament or some hand-made gifts….we shall see! In the meantime, I am trying to find a creative way to package an old enamel canning pot for air travel….hmmm. Any ideas?
Happy day everyone!_dsc4583

Wreaths, Scones, and Tea

workshp-094workshp-080_dsc3744_dsc3650Sally and I offered a wreath making class to neighbors and friends here in Ireland. Great fun! It was held up the road in the donkey pasture. The donkeys and ponies seemed to enjoy having a little gathering in their field, they all stayed close by, getting regular pats from the wreath makers. First thing this morning we were out foraging for material, then baking chocolate almond scones and preparing tea, and filling baskets with the necessary tools for wreath making….. wire, pliers, hand clippers, gloves. All the ladies that came did a fantastic job making their wreaths…. beautiful really, each and every one. We started by making a frame with willow, then adding other foraged embellishments….holly, hawthorn, various evergreens, lichens, and berries. Almost any wild found material can add a little something to these home-made creations. What a treat to have an abundance of greenery available. Back home in Maine many of the herbaceous plants have died back, leaving mostly coniferous plants for wreath making.
During our class, each person used their unique and thoughtful talent to assemble their very own stylish wreath. Check them out…..
I do hope everyone went home to display them on their front doors …a picture perfect entryway, I’d say! workshp-041workshp-071workshp-069workshp-043workshp-050workshp-063 workshp-074 workshp-092

Rossbeigh

100A day of kicking around. Tending to Sally’s donkeys, picking up some groceries in town, and a late afternoon picnic at Rossbeigh beach. Tonight we’ll go see our friend Charlie at the nursing home. Charlie was featured in the book Sally wrote about the ‘horseman of County Kerry , called ‘A Fair Day’. Charlie’s stories and reflections on how life use to be in rural Ireland have been a delight to record. I think he likes sharing them. I know I love hearing them.108074
Back home I am certain that our country is caught up in the whirlwind of this year’s election. I did cast my vote before leaving. I think it is safe to say that regardless of the box we may choose to check, this year has brought all of us a good measure of angst and uncertainty. Tomorrow we’ll know the outcome. For better or for worse. In response to this election, I have made up my mind to practice ( even more than I do), as much respect, honor, civilness, and goodwill as possible. Hoping that this pledge to be mindful, always, of these very important attributes, the ones I believe we were all taught at one time in our lives, will help steer us towards a more just and considerate future. That’s not too much to ask, is it?