Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Rhythms of the Seasons

As we urban homesteaders continue to learn the skills of our forbearers we, too, learn a life in keeping with the seasons.  I think that is one of the nicest things about all the work involved in going backwards, it's rhythms and reasons are independent from all the assumed purpose and importance of modern living.  Not that we can or want to abandon the modern world (for lack of another phrase) but that the volume of it's singular logic is quelled by the logic and function of natural systems.

It has been a mere four years since I have tried to go backwards; since I started hacking up my yard, putting up my food and living further and further away from all the obligations and invitations of a summer removed from the harvest.  Funny to think what summer vacation was really about - helping with the sowing, growing and stowing of food for the winter or for market. All hands were needed.

And now, with those systems given to people and places we do not know we return to our backyards as a statement of intention to regain what was lost.  Clearly it is a herky jerky thing. We can or cannot do it.  We won't starve.  We won't be shamed by our neighbors or family for our sloth.  We have options, careers, educations, places to see and go.  We are international, transatlantic, traveling wunderlusters and Bali beach dwellers.  We are fire dancers and activists, anarchists and artists all expressing the beauty and pain of the world.  And we are urban now, almost entirely urban.  All on the grid getting our services and needs met by systems that used to make sense.   So going backwards is a balancing act at first.  We have better things to do.

But somehow the seasons, the budding and fruiting of things, keep coming and keep making a sense- a long eternal sense -that predates our modern intention. And it is that deep logic and rhythm that keeps me in the backyard planting and harvesting and putting up for the winter in some reverence and participation in a logic older then words.  

It is rainy this morning and one can feel the hush of winter coming forward.  Funny, the tomatoes are still green but they will come on as will the last of the summer vegetables.  I watch over them all and take inventory every morning.  And I love them all.  They have become me or I them.  Slowly the line is fading.  Like always I say I am more like a potato then a skyscraper.  Always I understand that I, we, were fooled into thinking we were more important then the soil.  

So this year I did not buy any cute summer dresses or strappy sandals.  And this year I did not sit out too often in a cafe at night with friends over cold beers or cocktails.  Rather we were in the garden enjoying the work of the summer days or still of the summer nights and making meals from the food we were growing and inviting in friends to sit with us in the quiet and never did I miss the newest place to be or thing to see.  I was too busy watching the grapes and berries and pears and apples and on and on and on and on making an appearance and then coming to full glory.  And now as I get busy with the harvest - putting up the beans and tomatoes and pears that are coming in full force and volume I walk in the rain and thank the natural world for the rhythm and logic I was always to busy to notice. 

Monday, August 11, 2008

Old Time Out Door Kitchens

I love my outdoor kitchen!  "Kitchen", well maybe just an outdoor grill with burner and sink from an old cafe that gets water from a hose and drains water into a bucket that then makes its way into the compost pile.  But still, it's a dream to be able to clean my fruits and vegetables outdoors, splashing water all over the place without a care.  And then there is all that summer preserving with boiling water kettles and jam pots.  

For anyone serious about putting up the harvest I strongly encourage putting in the time to come up with some simple design for cooking outside.  I admit to spending a bit for the grill and burner but that's because I cook dinners out there all summer as well and use my grill (that has a temperature read) as a stove for baking pies, biscuits and anything that requires, well, baking.

It's all very logical but somehow air conditioning and fancy kitchens drew us indoors.  And let's not start thinking about the kind of silliness the sends people to design showrooms for that ridiculous outdoor "entertainment" arenas I've seen advertised.  What a huge hype.  Just get a burner strong enough to sustain a rolling boil and you will be able to set up your canning pot for the time it is generally required to can most things .

Tonight, for example, I'm going to make a frittata for dinner with new potatoes, garlic and onion from the garden.  I have some canned tomatoes, anchovies, cream and eggs (from the raw milk crew) and I'm off.  And being that it is over 90 today I will be spared the heat dinner cooking adds to the house.

So that's the drill.  Build yourself a little makeshift outdoor kitchen and have at it.  You will be very happy for it.  

Monday, August 4, 2008

Balancing Act

Every since I first caught on to the notion of urban homesteading I have been wary of the time and commitment involved in adding more tasks to my life.  Yes, most of it is a joy but growing and preserving your own food and making your cheese and hanging out the clothes to try and buying in bulk and on and on and on takes time.  And not just on Monday between 2-4 but constantly, commitedly and separate from my own larger, longer and socially cramped schedule.

That I live so fully in this modern, summer-of-fun world with it's visits from friends, vacations, barbeques and competing outdoor events by the bushel, I find tending to the task of urban homesteading can be out of sync with the rest of my world.  

Not that I do not understand or am faltering in my commitment only I think this will be the conversation more folks will be having - how to make this new life mesh with my old.

And the old has lots of pull and barbs - good and bad.  Well, we all know the bad, or sorta know the bad as we individually define them.  And whatever they may be for us individually, they offer some sort of motivation to move forward in defining better solutions.  Speaking personally the bad of global economics and ruinous systems has caste me into this world of uber-local.  But that does not make it easier all the time.  I still find myself feeling overwhelmed at times and that is just the truth.

I think part of the problem is that my effort is not a family effort.  I do not have a husband or son or large extended community that works to this end.  I do not fault them.  My husband rather play golf.  I know, I can have an attitude about that but I'm careful not to because he liked to play golf before I chose to rip up all the lawns to grow food.  I have changed - not him.  And it would be lovely if he worked with me in the yard doing all the pruning and planting and harvesting and......but he wants to go swimming and that is his right.  And the kids??? Oh yeah. That's a joke.

So I march forward and do what I do while the neighbors party with their friends and have bad-ass parties every weekend which I always secretly long to be invited to but I'm afraid I'll like it too much and chuck it all in for a chance to stay up all night and sleep in all day and go, bleary eyed, to breakfast with all the other urbanites who seem perfectly content to leave the growing and preparing of their food to someone else.  

Of course I'm 55 or nearing it and I have had my share of all nighters which makes this commitment a little easier - in reality I know I'm not really missing anything.  Only it occasionally feels like a stoic march to a better world rather then a joyful leap into the haystack with the cute farm boy (sorry husband - only kidding).

Which brings me to our need to find fellowship and party and have community and dance at the revolution and glean and harvest and get bleary eyed on the opportunity to leave our children a world and soil in much better shape then it will be without us. 

So I leave you know to make some yogurt and pick the never ending beans and get ready for this week's tomato canning class.  And I am grateful that the 1/8 beef I ordered from a local farm is coming wrapped and frozen and that the raw milk I got comes in a bottle and not directly out the teat only because I probably wouldn't be writing this at 7:00 am but rather coming in from my morning chores for a second cup a coffee.  Ah, the modern world.  The good with the bad.