Out of the Storms – Into the Unknown

We have not posted anything in a long, long time. We are still alive, though! 2017 was an eye-opening year. The reason we never did any blogging after last March – and we deleted our Facebook page later in the year – was simply life didn’t let us maintain an online presence beyond Instagram.

To those starry-eyed dreamers that want to create the perfect life on a homestead know it is hard. Such an obvious thing should hardly need stating, right? We started this effort knowing it would be hard. And our first year (a partial one, the latter half of 2016) was hard, indeed. But it was far harder than we expected. So we entered 2017 expecting it to be hard like 2016. But again it was far, far, harder than we expected. Now we enter 2018 expecting it to be hard like 2017. I can only hope for our sanity that it is not. But we’re still here and we intend to keep going. If it ends up being harder than 2017, well we’ll just have to take it day by day. 2017 nearly did me in! But I survived. Yet merely “surviving” is a far cry from the rich, full life I had dreamed of cultivating…

To those starry-eyed dreamers know it is harder – far harder – than you can imagine. I think most people with our backgrounds would not be able to succeed in setting up a homestead. I can only say if you think you want to take the challenge, do it when you’re 20! Don’t wait until your 40 to start.

I won’t bother to list all the big challenges of 2017, there’s no point in dwelling on that. But among them was the failure of our best investment. That investment all but guaranteed a living income while we labored to get the homestead off the ground. Yet it failed. Establishing a homestead is a 24/7 job. If you have to pause that work to earn dollars, each hour spent earning wages is an hour lost developing your home. And only by building that home can you alleviate the need for dollars. It’s a vicious circle. We called it the “five year plan” while we assumed had income coming in automatically. That is no longer the case. Will we be able to do it in five years? Will we even make it five years? I don’t know. But we’ll try.

As we start our second full season we now have to move the homestead forward (with all the work that entails) as well as solve the riddle of how to pay the bills. But financing the needed “capital” expenses? I haven’t the foggiest…

Our yields from our first full season of growing last year were not very good at all; and a lot of what we did harvest we failed to preserve. As disheartening as that was, those failures were huge learning experiences and we’re very optimistic about the  2018 growing season. We have a tremendous amount of research to do before the season gets underway. But, unlike last year, we feel we’re on top of it. The reading piles are huge but they are being chipped away at a good rate. In less than three weeks I’ve finished three books and am halfway done with two more. I still have yet another six to go but April isn’t upon us yet. Additionally last season’s horticultural “failures” are making a lot of sense given what we’re learning. We won’t repeat mistakes. I’m sure we’ll make a passel of new ones, but I think we’re on the cusp of actually being gardeners!

And inspiration has hit in a new way; a big way. The work of one man, regarded as an eccentric by some, an out-of-touch dreamer by others, strikes me as nothing less than insight into the true essence of agriculture. Masanobu Fukuoka is not exactly a household name, and that’s unfortunate. His “Natural Farming” or “Do-Nothing” farming penetrates to the heart of nature itself.  He was a commercially successful farmer who never plowed, tilled, nor cultivated. He never used fertilizers or even prepared compost! He never used herbicides, insecticides, nor fungicides either.  Yet his yields were at least as good as any producer in Japan and his soil improved every year. The only inputs were seed, a little poultry manure, and hand labor. He managed 1.25 acres of grain fields (a normal amount for a family production farm) and 12.5 acres of citrus orchard (a large amount for a family production farm). He did this for decades.

The publishing of the English language version of The One Straw Revolution in 1978 would change his life and the world. While global agribusiness (largely driven by North American agricultural models) has written off his work as overly-idealistic, impractical to implement on large scale, etc., Mr. Fukuoka’s work has shed great light on possible means of reversing desertification and implementing reforestation.

You may not be able to implement true natural farming on a commercial farm of one hundred acres or larger. But it certainly can be implemented on a farm of just several acres. Given the simplicity and elegance of it, to say nothing of eliminating the need for all those unnecessary inputs and unnecessary labor, to say nothing of the unnecessary fossil fuels and money that must back large-scale operations… perhaps this all means that giant farms are not, in fact, the most efficient way to feed the people!

Just maybe a new generation of farmers can take up small plots of land, use very simple tools, use minimal inputs, and work – but not work too hard! – to produce the most nutritious food ever dreamed of for local consumption. There’s no way large-scale operations can produce the quality of food these operations create, and certainly not anywhere near as efficiently as the small operations can. Large-scale distribution networks are therefore not necessary. Nor the carbon footprint that goes along with them. Nor the chemical industries that keep them running…

The small-scale natural farmer can market directly to local customers and do so at a margin far higher than even the typical organic market gardener who makes use of fertilizers, sprays, two-wheeled tractors, and cultivation equipment. This isn’t just theory, these small scales farmers are out there doing exactly that right now. And making a living wage without killing themselves. The best thing of all?

They want others to do what they do. They want to help others succeed. I have talked with several of them all across the country and I’m constantly shocked at the attention they give and the lengths they go to help beginners. Even though I’m just a homesteader, not a commercial producer, they still just want to help! It’s a pretty humbling experience when someone who studied under Mr. Fukuoka for years, and has been farming that way since before I was born, is not only willing to converse with me, but happy to do so on a first name basis.

I think our scrubby patch of field – about two acres of hard-packed loam, depleted of most of its organic matter, and inhabited mostly by tenacious, low-growing weeds – can be transformed. Perhaps into something magical. It could take years. Even decades. But it doesn’t have to languish in it’s current form.

The garden is built! We don’t have to build that again. And we will work it intensively this season; hopefully with decent success (and then our problem can shift to preserving the food). But we can start working the rest of the land, too. Who knows what it could be?

Nature does.

We may not know what the path forward looks like. But we’re not sunk yet and nature is the actual professional farmer. We just have to help make it whole again. Maybe in doing so we can solve more of the riddle of paying the bills. But putting food on the table is a miracle in and of itself.

Good luck to all of us this year!


C’est moi!

So, I turned 40. And that amounted to nothing much different except that we had a nice excuse to take a break on a couple of days to celebrate.

Nothing was really speaking to me in terms of ways to properly mark the occasion until I learned that Buddy Wakefield had booked a show in Portsmouth, NH, a mere two hours south of us via I-95. The show was on the 10th of March, and my actual birthday is on the 1st, so that afforded us two chances to goof off. On the day itself, we opted for what we hoped would be a brunch experience on par with our beloved Boise eateries. What we got was passable, but nothing to write home about. However, we did have a wonderful time exploring a place called Cape Rosier that a friend had recommended and shown us how to get to on the infamous Maine gazetteer.

We learned early in 2016 that Oregon was not to be home for us for a number of reasons, many of them especially sound for people who want to farm and homestead. But we still have occasional pangs of missing the west in general and our beloved Oregon in particular. This little spot reminded us of hiking the coastal rainforests there and we had a marvelous time exploring in spite of the persistent fog and access roads being nigh, or completely, impassable that day.

While I haven’t posted here since late December, I spent most of the “off” time from then until about a month ago working on a project that had been on my back burner since the early 2000s. You can see my #100PhotoProject at my blog. This was a way for me to get familiar with my camera again and keep up the practice of both shooting and writing. I’ve found in the month since I completed the project that I definitely need some kind of prompt to keep myself in the habit of doing that work, especially while all of our farmsteading work consumes most other waking moments. I have yet to solidly choose another project, but I’ve had some ideas and Lance gave me one this morning that would keep me more active here on our blog and keep you all more aware of what’s happening here as our farm takes shape. We shall see if that materializes. In the meantime, here is one I took of the ever-elusive moon early in the morning as it was waning last month. This was not part of my project, which had already concluded. Just something to let me know my skills improved a bit during that time. It also might make a nice bookmark…

Finally, the work. The (almost) all-consuming work that has kept us both plugging away at our respective tasks since the 2nd of January and kept me glaring with increasing (and obviously ineffectual) menace at the weather report as the winter has stayed long past its welcome is about to go from the planning to execution stage. Four plus months of research, tedious data entry, calculating, recalculating, software woes, sore bums, and strained eyes will lead ultimately to ONE crucial day of orchestrating the miraculous feat of standing up a full-fledged microfarm with the help of a few friends, family, and minimal machinery. And, while I know that the work is going to get harder before it gets easier and that we have way more than one day of backbreaking labor ahead of us to really see it through to its fruition, the nervous mother in me that has been tending and nursing seedlings along, some since mid-February, will be overjoyed and quite simply relieved just to have the space and the cooperative weather to get these babies outside where they belong and begin the long, arduous task of making sure they are protected and nurtured to the natural end of their short, glorious lives.

I continue to say my metta meditations for them, for you, for us, for me. Happiness, peace, health, safety, and liberation to all beings. ALL beings.




One Month Down…

We’re one month into 2017. Dani and I have been diligent in our work, although we have also made sure to get enough fun in to keep ourselves from going crazy. It’s all been book work, online research, copious note taking and working with software. But the real, physical side of things are beginning to manifest.

The seeds have all arrived and Dani has painstakingly sorted, cataloged, and stored them. Dani continues to do the heavy lifting in the garden planning including bed plans, rotations and the schedules for seed starting/transplanting as well as the direct-sow plans. Details are still falling into place but it’s likely seed starting will begin in one week or so.  As we build the seedling nursery in our living room – because there is no other place for it! – it underscores the proper utilization of our space; in 1-2 months we will also have a brooder with baby chicks in the same place!

Our 700 sq ft place is not actually 700 sq ft in the winter because a large portion of it is the “front room” which only stays a few degrees above ambient, outdoor temperatures. We have one spare bedroom, but it is always closed off to save heating energy. Consequently that room is always about 50 degrees. So neither of those two spaces are anywhere near warm enough for either seeds or chicks. The remaining space is about 500 sq ft and is comprised of a minuscule bathroom, our bedroom (which has about 18 inches of clearance on three sides of our bed), the small kitchen and our living room. Hence our living room gets to be the nursery and the brooding area. It’s exciting to think we’ll get baby chicks keeping us company for several weeks! But the reality of keeping a brooder clean enough to be housed in the center of our living space is not lost on us.

And that leads to my tasks. What have I been up to in the past four weeks? I’ve read four building/carpentry books. My notes so far are about 11,000 words. I still have a 5-6 hour building video course to work through, too. Once that’s done I will consider myself ready to at least ask intelligent questions. This Spring we will build a chicken coop, many raised beds, a garden shed and attendant fencing. As soon as we have the means to buy building materials then will follow building a solar thermal greenhouse, repairing two sections of our house’s post foundation, and designing/building a big garage/shop. There is a lot of building work to do.

I’m only 1,100 words into my chicken notes so far, but that has been the most recent study activity and I’m not that far along.  I still have yet to finish re-reading two general chicken books that I read last year, then read two more books on coop design, then read about a dozen articles on chicken nutrition and growing your own feed. Yes, I’m going to try growing and storing as much feed as I can.  I didn’t buy a scythe last year for no reason!

But growing implies soil that can grow something. Our land was all forest at one point. Once it was clear-cut nothing ever was done with it. Most of the organic material in forest soils is in the top layers that the trees protect from the weather and renew annually. With untold decades of no trees and no soil husbandry we have two acres of weathered, compacted silt loam. Dense as hell and chock full of stones, our soil has almost no activity below the first half inch. Japanese beetles and Asiatic garden beetles love it, however, because they have all the shelter they need and no competition (apart from the crows and skunks that love our yard and forage for white grubs frequently).

I’m hoping to change all that through sustainable soil management processes. The most amazing soil book I’ve read (granted my experience is very limited) on the matter is Building Soils for Better Crops by Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es through the University of Vermont.  This amazing book was loaned to me by my friend and mentor in all-things-woodsman-and-blacksmithing, Rob, the Troy Tree Guy. I’ve since bought my own copy because this is invaluable reference material for any prospective farmer (micro or otherwise) that is concerned about sustainability and ecology. The other book helping through this process is another amazing and rare find, the Northeast Cover Crop Handbook by Marianne Sarrantonio. I had the pleasure of getting a little one hour presentation about green manures and cover crops from Marianne at the Common Ground Fair last year.

I’m only halfway through the first book and have merely thumbed through the second. Yet I have compiled 23,000 words so far in notes and prospective plans for our “Favorite Day Farm” (or whatever we end up deciding to call it). So reading these books, all the chicken books, the remaining build courses, and all subsequent note taking are all to be completed in February. We’ll also finish our high-level “build out” of the farmlet including goats, barns, fencing, power, irrigation, and crop fields for feed, bedding and green manures.

2017 will see my first efforts into growing feed and bedding as well as all the green manures needed to adequately maintain all our raised beds (nine 100 sq ft beds, intensively-planted). The raised beds will not be cover cropped in the off season; we will do a lasagna bed treatment on them overwinter. In order to minimize organic fertilizer needs for the raised beds I have to grow the right amounts of the right kinds of green manures at the right times. That means developing cover crop and rotation plans for the fields supplying the green manures for the raised beds. Planning that all needs to happen in February as well – at least a good first stab at it. Such a herculean task will take years to refine. But I must at least start this season; I must try to build soil on the property that can grow something other than dandelions and can be manipulated with tools more subtle than a mattock.

Tremendous compaction and tremendous deprivation of organic matter are not trivial soil problems. But our silty loam has very good “bones” for agriculture. I have a plan continually deepening that not only gives me hope but out-and-out optimism. Like in brewing or cultivating sourdough, nature does the heavy lifting – all humans have to do is some timely, strategic guiding.

One month down in 2017 and one month to go with all the “book learning” and planning yet to finish. Things have gone very well so far. I’m feeling good; March will descend with us as ready as we can be. One year ago we were wrapping up our Ambling Full Tilt journey. One year ago we had no idea where we would live. One year ago we had no home.

Now we are home. Now the real work begins.

A Look Back, a Look Forward

2016 opened with Dani and me quite a ways apart from each other. On January 1st I said goodbye to Green Gulch Farm of the San Francisco Zen Center. I had spent five days there as a rogue (unnofficial) volunteer in the kitchen, clandestinely sleeping in a very frigid Charley where I wasn’t even supposed to park overnight. I had performed a pilgrimage to  one of the two burial sites for the ashes of Alan Watts. As I left Green Gulch behind that day I headed to the other burial site: Druid Heights. I was the guest of the last original residents of Druid Heights, the sublime Ed and Marilyn Stiles.

As Ed made me coffee and regaled me with  stories of the light and the dark side of Alan Watts my thoughts drifted to Dani who was still at her meditation retreat. Dani never had the joy of meeting Ed and Marilyn, which is a tremendous shame. We now live on opposite coasts of the country and they have had many health challenges. Our hearts go out to them and we hope 2017 will be wonderful to them in spite of the challenges.

On January 2nd I picked up Dani from her retreat. We don’t like being apart from each other for very long, so the ten days we were separated were not easy. But joyously reunited, the Ambling Full Tilt journey continued with trips through the redwoods and a return to our Mecca: Yachats, Oregon. The remainder of the AFT journey was spent half expecting to find a parcel of land for our micro farm. We drove over most of Western Oregon in that search with a major base of operations at Ecolodge Gardens with our friend and benefactor Marcel (whom Ed had introduced us to remotely).

With a lot of work we managed to fail in finding anything that we could see through. It was with feelings of disappointment that we wrapped up the AFT journey in an anti-climatic fashion – nothing went according to plan the last few days.  In early February we re-adjusted to our new lives not-on-the-road back in Boise.

Through April we continued our search for our future home in earnest, including two trips to Nevada County, California, where we made offers on two different pieces of property. The deals each fell through for various reasons, all the more painful because of the time and energy we put into the process. As a consolation exercise we started searching for land in Maine with zero expectations of finding anything. How wrong we were…

There were enough promising leads and contingency options that we decided to move.  I drove Charley back to Nevada County, CA to pickup a trailer we had purchased as a tiny house foundation and left there thinking we would find land nearby before too long. We were wrong. I picked up the trailer and had a harrowing drive to get it over Donner Pass in the Sierras during a blizzard and far enough across Nevada (pitch-dark in pounding rain) in order to rendezvous with Dani and her fully-laden U-Haul in Wyoming the following day. Thus began our sprint across the continental United States.

In early May we landed in Dani’s parents sun room where we lived for another two months as we searched for land. And searched. And searched… But, as you all know, it happened: we found our future home. At the beginning of July we moved in and began the word of setting up a homestead and micro farm.

Even working ourselves to exhaustion I think we finished only half of the things we had hoped for in 2016. Progress is slow when you have to learn everything from the ground up! Once the snow started flying we both enjoyed an excuse to have “couch” days; to spend time just reading, writing, and pursuing individual leisure activities. We were both surprised at how quickly late November and December flew by!

Yet the winter was always going to be our planning time for the future farm. As the snow gently buried us on the last evening of 2016 we knew we could have one last day of fun and quiet celebration on new year’s day; but then it would be high time to get back to work.

So on this second day of 2017 we have both been diligent in our work pursuits. The to-do list is tremendous. We need to complete our full build-out plan for the farm, develop budgets for each phase of construction, then decide what infrastructure projects can be funded and executed this year. The house’s post foundation has two bad spots that need to be repaired, which will be a very big project. We need a garage and shop. We need to decide on the extent of raised bed construction for this season and develop our crop rotation plan. We then need to start the seeds, which will require growing infrastructure indoors. We have to finalize the plan for chickens, coop, run, paddock and chicken garden. We have to devise a comprehensive fencing plan. We hope to do all the major earthworks this season even if we don’t have the farm built out for several years. I want to start growing hay, feed and green manure crops outside raised beds. That means hay and feed storage must be figured out even though I have no idea how any of that works beyond “there’s a reason haystacks were a thing.” We need to devise a plan for growing season extension and expand our food storage program. We also hope to develop cottage industries like a farm stand and value-added culinary products like spice blends. I’m rather smitten with blacksmithing and we want to build an outdoor kitchen. Therefore I’m devising a plan for making my own charcoal out of hardwood I harvest on the property. Further I’d like to build at least one solar oven. Our two day power outage has convinced me that some kind of wood heat solution needs to be implemented before next winter – a huge undertaking.  And, of course, more winterization work needs to be done on the house; the cold and the snow prevent it from being done now. And all construction work needs to be funded so we’re looking at ways to raise money for that. Cottage industry will help, I hope to self publish a couple of small books soon, and I’m putting the word out that I’m available as an unskilled worker…

So there is a lot to do! But we’ve got our living expense budget figured and it should be funded soon, we’ve got almost all of our reference materials assembled, we are reading through our reference materials, creating the high-level plan, and formulating strategies for the specific tasks. And today we managed to work on all that as well as doing the laundry (line-drying is interesting in below-freezing temperatures!), we shoveled all the snow that needed shoveling, and got the generator buttoned up and back in storage mode.

I hope all your dreams for 2017 come true! But dreams don’t come true without a lot of hard work. C’est la vie. At least it’s a labor of love.

Happy new year!!

Picture Pages – Volume …Since September

When people ask what we’ve been up to, I find I’m always a bit dumbstruck and I can rarely enumerate more than a few items before trailing off and wondering to myself what HAVE we been up to lately. On the one hand, I know we’re keeping plenty busy because I feel remarkably well-adjusted at a time of year when I am traditionally a bit cagey and morose with the winter doldrums. On the other hand, our days are so much more calm, relatively speaking, than the mayhem of this past spring and summer, that it seems like nothing much is going on around here if thought of at only a cursory level.  Only upon deeper reflection as I write this do I see that we have been bustling with activity even now that we are in the “off” season.

Without belaboring every minute detail, let me see if I can break down the last few months in the form of a photo essay of sorts.

With my desire to try extending our somewhat foreshortened season, Lance built a hoop house structure over our largest raised bed. This was covered with reemay and some poly and we experimented with various ways of collecting and holding heat in our makeshift greenhouse.  I was a bit overly optimistic and late by about a week or so on getting the fall and winter harvests planted, so we didn’t have the success I’d hoped for, but we did get some produce and certainly learned how to do better next time!


While we didn’t produce everything we wanted, I was able to preserve most everything we did and augment our food stores with some purchases from fellow farmers. I spent several days canning and freezing veggies and fruit, and derivatives thereof in the form of sauces, jams, and relishes. I also dehydrated herbs for cooking and tea, and we dried and saved a number of seeds and beans for future propagation.


Our little place is about 10 miles due north of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), which is home to the Common Ground Country Fair. We came to the fair when we rolled through here to visit my folks in 2015 during Ambling Full Tilt. It was one of the highlights of our trip, and our one-day visit let us know that that particular resource would be one of many reasons why this would be (and is) the perfect place to set up our homestead. This year, our attendance was for all three days and we scheduled ourselves for as many classes and talks as we could now that we were (are) actually involved in the process of building a micro-farm. There was such a wealth of information to absorb that we often had to divide and conquer and hardly saw each other, let alone many of the little things that make the fair festive and fun. But I did manage to take a break long enough to witness a chicken on a leash…

And Lance picked himself up a custom made scythe with the goal of eventually growing and harvesting cover crops to use as green manure and feed for our future chickens and (maybe) goats.

Lance learning his scythe. #mowah #nocupholderthough #simplify

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Lance is also getting rather handy with powered cutting implements. He’s managed to apprentice himself to our friend and professional woodsman Rob. This has come in handy as we have about a half acre of woods surrounding our property on two sides (and landscaped treelines on the other two sides). One birch decided to save him the trouble of felling it and we found it suddenly toppled onto a couple of our spruces on the east end of the property. We got to use our recently acquired farm truck, Kermit, to pull it out the rest of the way and then Lance went to work turning it into kindling (and logs)!


About the time our house was overrun by ladybugs, we started thinking it might be a good idea to snug the place up a bit. They helped us find all the little nooks and crannies that needed sealing by appearing out of and disappearing into them like the ghosts in Pac-Man. We had to evict Inky, Clyde, Pinky, and several (like, more than 50) others so we didn’t have a crunchy carpet blanketing our floor. But Blinky and his lesser known brethren, Blaze, Bitey, Brazen, and Burney are still hanging with us trying to ride out the winter.

Ladybug. Feet. Prints.

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So with most of the little draughts sealed, we decided we had better insulate the attic with something more than the ghosts of ladybugs past and mouse droppings. Lucky us, the gas stove we had ordered (and had to convert to LP and install in place of the temperamental electric clunker we inherited with the house), and the mountain of insulation showed up on the same day.  Motivated by the desire to both eat and stay warm, Lance and I managed to get the stove installed without blowing ourselves up, and he somehow managed to haul 18ish bags of Roxul up through a hole barely big enough to accommodate him, and then install it in the attic without completely ruining his knees or sustaining (too much of) a head injury. Bless him.

NOW we're cooking with gas. Literally. #ngtolp #amateurhourallday #noobs

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This is how insulation works, right? #kindabulky #mainewinterprep #staywarmfriends

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Naturally, colder weather turns our thoughts to food to help us stay warm. Actually, I’m always thinking about food, such is my affinity for culinary creativity. In addition to the aforementioned methods of stocking the freezer and pantry, I added fermentation and wild yeast cultivation to my playbook. I’ve made two successful (and one utter failure) batches of kimchi and so many sourdough boules (and other starter based creations) that I’ve lost count. Lance has also dabbled in wild yeast for beer-making, but the experiment is ongoing, so results will have to be reported by him in a later post.


As if my food-related endeavors at home weren’t enough, I’ve also been volunteering most Thursdays at the Unity Food Hub, which is where we get our Maine Farm Share (it’s like a cooperative CSA). I’m generally moral support for my friend Sophie, who is the coordinator for the distribution, and help her with distributing shares, but my primary function most weeks is cooking samples out of recipes I have devised based on the share produce for the week. I also occasionally do recipe write-ups for the weekly newsletter that gets distributed with the shares. It’s a lot of fun and a great way to meet and talk food with both patrons of the program and contributing farmers in the local area. Lance and I have talked a lot about establishing a bit of a cottage industry and this might be one way I can share my wares with the community. The angle we are most interested in and find somewhat underrepresented in the offerings around here is zesty seasonings and sauces. It’s no secret that we love our herbs and spices, and I especially love nothing better than crafting tasty sauces and soups. I have been dabbling in making our own curry powders and have already been asked to package and sell my pesto, so maybe there is a bit of a market for such things. We shall see!

Carrot ginger soup for @unityfoodhub . #presentation #localnoms

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Speaking of crafting things with fire, though this is a bit hotter than the sort you’d use for cooking, Lance has also taken up tutelage under Rob for blacksmithing. My poor partner spent 15 weeks of Tuesdays at a welding class he didn’t love (the class was fine, it was the welding he could have done without) in an effort to learn how to repair our vehicles in an area notorious for eating the parts and bodies right off of them. The very last thing he learned, which only had one class devoted to it, was blacksmithing. He thoroughly enjoyed the little bit he did and was glad to find that Rob is a willing teacher and has a shop and the equipment to practice with.

Fun with the forge for my photo project. #100photochallenge #burn

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Industrious though we have been, we’ve had some time to get out and explore and indulge ourselves in more leisurely and artistic pursuits. We’ve braved a bit of ice trekking on the bog down the road from our place and taken advantage on a couple of occasions of a splendid trail system that spans from the hills of nearby Unity to the coast in Belfast over about 40 miles of public and private land. I’ve (obviously) abstained from writing very much here, but I have been getting back into photography and doing a bit of writing to go with it in a project called the 100 Photo Challenge on my personal blog, danijamesdayton.wordpress.com. I’ve also been knitting a fair bit and occasionally dabbling in the lost art of letter writing as a part of assembling care packages with knitted and canned goods to send to loved ones.


Lance intrepidly testing out the mostly iced over bog while I trepidatiously waited on the embankment.

Dappled. #hillstoseatrail #hikinginmaine

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I don’t have photographic evidence of this, but I’ve also been cutting my own hair and making nearly all of our toiletries and cleaning products from scratch. I don’t have to wear my own knitted hats all the time (I couldn’t anyway because I keep giving them away), so I think the crunchy granola homemade haircuts and products are working out alright. I’ll document more of the latter in the Mad Alchemy section of the blog at a later date.

As the new year approaches, our thoughts are turning to getting prepared for the next growing season. We’ve both enjoyed a decent amount of leisure and writing research reading of late, but soon we’ll need to hit the homesteading books again and come up with a game plan for the farm. It’ll be a lot of work, but it’s definitely not an unpleasant task to peruse the vibrant  pages of seed catalogs and work at building my own while the garden beds and future buds sleep under a blanket of snow.


Wishing you all well as we dream of beautiful beets and busy bees! Happy 2017 and Cheers!

Funky fresh beets. #eyecandy #feastyoureyes

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Another garden friend cruising the nasturtium flowers. #lovethebumblers

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Dani and Lance

Remember, Remember!

The FOURTH of November??? No, that’s not quite how it goes. But that is a significant date. Thanks to the annals of Facebook, we have recently realized that 4 November 2015 is the day we rolled into Tulsa, OK, which was an oasis of friends, family, and memories for me to share with Lance about the place I spent most of my formative years (which years ARE those exactly?). We had hurried there from Roanoke, VA, with nothing of interest for us (except fantastic Eastern Indian fusion cuisine we found for lunch in Nashville by random chance) in between. When we left Tulsa a couple of weeks later, we again pushed through all the way to Albuquerque, NM, in one day just to get somewhere desirable. Though we did have very good Vietnamese food while slightly delayed getting Charley fixed in Yukon, OK, and then fantastic flatbread pizza in Amarillo, TX, that same night. Maybe the trip should have been called Ambling Full Tummy… But I digest… Digress!

So one year ago, we were roughly in the middle of the country, though well past the middle of our trip. But we were still quite far from knowing how/when/where we would end up.  Today we realized that from that point it was exactly six months and countless miles, meetings, and missed targets later (May the 4th Be With Us!) that we pulled up in my parents’ driveway again with Charley, this time with all of our possessions in tow, ready to start our new life in Maine. And that date was exactly six months ago today.

To some outside observers, all this tallying of synchronicity and seeming cosmic significance might appear to be a tedious rehash of mere coincidences. But for us, every moment we spend making our dream manifest, right down to the minutest task, is nothing short of miraculous. We frequently write about awe, wonder, and gratitude because we are full of all of the above. And we are humbled every time we stop to think about what brought us to this place where  virtually everything and everyone is new, and how much we have accomplished and managed to learn in what is a relatively short amount of time.

Six months here already. Closing in on a year since we finished the Amble. I would say “where does the time go?”, but I know exactly where it’s gone. Just about every minute. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to Be Here Now.

Ever humbled,


Simple Solutions to Zeno’s Paradoxes?

This post is a celebration of nerdery; it’s a sign that our hard labors are nearing their end for the season. I need mental exercise to keep my soul content much like Dani needs physical exercise to keep her body content.

I got plenty of exercise in my tasks of our divide-and-conquer homesteading efforts this season, so I’m beginning to revel in sitting my butt on the couch, reading, and thinking. I charged up my ancient Kindle (for other geek reasons, which I will not get into here) and found on it somehow Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I’ve listened to him lecturing and speaking countless times. But I had never read any of his books so I thought I’d give it a try.

I quite enjoyed it. With clarity and wit he tackles the ponderous subject, making it approachable and digestible. Definitely worth a read if that sort of thing interests you. Dawkins mentioned Zeno’s Paradoxes at one point and I had to pause my reading to go off on a Zeno’s Paradoxes rabbit trail. To date the only person I’ve heard discuss them was Alan Watts (who focused on the race between Achilles and the tortoise). These puzzling word-pictures have stimulated minds for millennia. At first blush they seem like they must be wrong. But it can be a bit of a challenge to say in what manner specifically they are wrong. Continue reading

Not Eating the Couch

“I firmly believe that we all need to find something to do in our lives that stops us from eating the couch.”

― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Rest assured, the couch is safe. For now.

What Ms. Gilbert is referring to in the quote above is how a creative mind that isn’t busy creating will actively seek destruction instead. Like the unemployed border collie she mentions  in the aforementioned couch-eating metaphor, those of us with endlessly restless minds will tend to wreak havoc on our environment, others, and ourselves just to have something to do. Most of my adult life up until I gave myself permission to live authentically can be characterized by such cycles of self-sabotage and destruction followed by hopeful rebirth. Falling down just to have a reason to stand up.

“I’m no longer interested in watching you rise from the falls you keep taking in vain just for a reason to stand.”

― Buddy Wakefield, Live For A Living

Lucky for me and my couch (and my life partner and anyone else who has to put up with me), there is no shortage of tasks to occupy my monkey (border collie?) mind these days. The reason I haven’t managed to write anywhere other than in my head for the better part of at least a month is because I have, as some kind of weird insurance against boredom and/or cabin fever in the coming winter months, signed myself up for some extracurricular commitments in addition to the care and feeding of the homestead and myself.

As we tick off the winter preparation musts around the place and bring in and preserve the last of the summer harvest, I’m volunteering time, cooking, and recipe write-ups to the Unity Food Hub, sorting cranberries at a local farm, helping a caregiver friend bring in her cannabis harvest, and playing volleyball forty minutes from home in Belfast. All of this is in the interest of reaching out to and becoming a part of the broader community, as well as diversifying my knowledge and giving me something to write about other than my unending gratitude for having the chance to manifest my dreams in a place that is one big scenic route. No designation needed. Seriously. If there’s an ugly part of Maine, I haven’t seen it yet.

So, while I haven’t been creating in the literary sense, as the trees get more and more bare, our pantry gets more and more full of the fruits of this bountiful region we now call home. I’m creating a food store, community connections, friendships, and a little space for myself to get some exercise and different perspective, a kind of exercise in and of itself. And then there’s all the knitting it was too warm to do, and all the planning for next year’s garden and the beginnings of our ventures into small livestock raising. Not to mention the ongoing projects that will be reconstructing this house and adding outbuildings and landscape infrastructure to the property.

The benefit of having nearly everything you are doing be brand new to you is that it makes you more game to try the unfamiliar and less devastated by failure. Though I am saddened by every preventable loss in the garden and will certainly be worse when it comes to the inevitable loss of the chickens we don’t even have yet, I’m learning to take ego and apprehension out of the equation and just try, try again when my efforts don’t quite pan out as hoped. And Lance and I are both learning that “good enough” is sometimes just fine.

Vegetables and flowers grew. Major hurdles have largely been tackled. We’ll likely survive the notorious Maine winter in our little camp-turned-home, and reasonably comfortably at that. We’re quickly closing in on six months here. And each day that passes, as well as nearly every person we meet, lets us know this is the place our creative minds will be forever soundly occupied with the business of living and cherishing every lovely detail, just the way we hoped they could when we dreamed all this up in the first place.


Time Marches On. Strap On Your Boots.

It’s a little hard to keep in mind all the aspects of what has been transpiring here for the past three or so weeks. It’s also hard to keep up on writing with everything else that’s going on – to say nothing of the things that still need to happen before winter!

Since we last posted, we attended Common Ground Fair and got a stack of homework that seems appropriate for a semester in college. Even though the fair was two weekends ago, I only just now received my snath in the mail that I ordered at the fair. A snath is the shaft upon which you mount a (“European” style) scythe blade. I’ve spent the past two weeks reading books and studying everything I could in order to get ready to have it. And today it arrived! I couldn’t wait to try it out:

Lance learning his scythe. #mowah #nocupholderthough #simplify

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My first attempt at mowing was pretty lousy. But there were a lot of things not in my favor. I’m still very optimistic and it was enjoyable enough that I want to keep trying rather than capitulate and buy a weed whacker.  My hope is to not only trim the field and roadside with this, but to actually grow hay and feed for goats and chickens and use this tool to harvest all of it. No moving parts. Almost silent. And it costs far less than a professional grade string trimmer (which couldn’t harvest shit).

As Dani documented previously, we had a tree unexpectedly come down on the property. The cleanup required me to finally dig out the chainsaw and get to work.

At the end of that session I still have seven trees to fell and buck. But three are gone with no (significant) incidents. My good friend Rob (the professional woodsman) is coming over tomorrow and I hope he’ll show me how to cut wedges in the field; I definitely need some! And he says there is no reason to buy them. So the tree clearing still remains to be completed but we’re well under way.

After completing research into power outage history at our address I concluded a gasoline-powered backup generator will be sufficient for our first winter. So I bought one new; no small investment, but I managed to do so without breaking the bank. I had it on good authority that current Harbor Freight generators were actually Honda knock-offs. So they are cheap and perform remarkably well. I did a little digging and found the story sound. So, waiting for the right sale/coupon combo to pop up I managed to get a new 7000W (continuous) 240/120VAC generator for about $540.

I thought acquiring it was the end or our problems, but it turned out to be the beginning of the single largest project I’ve tackled on the homestead. Where do you put it? How do you connect it? How do you protect it from the elements? How do you protect it from thieves? How much gasoline do you need to store? Where do you store that? How do you accommodate the airflow, exhaust and noise while it runs? Can it run in inclement weather?

These questions drove me to my plan for a generator “dog house” outside our kitchen. A LOT more will follow, but the short story is I found myself designing and then building the most complicated project attempted to date. For people who are actual builders I’m sure my consternation would be laughable. But for as humble as it looks this was terribly challenging for me:


It’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting there. I hope to have it all done in the next 1-2 weeks. I’ve already completed the metal roof, but have lots or doors and hinges to make as well as to build the “power inlet” side of things.

Both this build and the scythe work will become full page write ups as I find more time in the future. In the mean time we marvel as the leaves explode in color and are now beginning to fall in earnest. Dani is officially published by another entity – hooray! The hoop house is covered (with strategic bee vents). We have our first pseudo cold-frame built and the “groundwork” is being laid for passive solar thermal season extension. If that works it will also be the subject of a dedicated page.

Otherwise we’ve seen some garden plants die off, and bees are becoming infrequent visitors. The robins are all gone and the blue jays are setting up their squawky, winter homesteads. We have officially been invaded by lady bugs. The goldbrickers didn’t show up once while the garden was in high gear, but now that it grows cold a couple hundred invaded the house (many more hundreds surround it and crawl into every nook and cranny). We caught and released all the interlopers outside. Yet half the insulation in the attic is the carapace remains of innumerable lady bugs. I don’t know why they come here to die. They would have a lovely summer here if they just came to visit. Regardless, while we turned the “invaders” all loose outside I caulked like a madman on the inside; trying to seal up every inlet they were using. This is pretty fortuitous, actually, because we had a LOT more openings to the outside that I ever could have guessed and this will help us increase our energy efficiency.

With every project I have done outside recently I have been graced by countless friendly, small, red dragonflies. The big, black or green dragon flies earlier this year were awe inspiring in their numbers and relentless hunting each evening. We’d sit on chairs and just watch thousands of them patrol the dusk air over our land darting hither and thither in pursuit of their tiny prey. One got caught in our deer fence. We clipped him out and he was fine. One died trapped while we were not near to notice…

Both the black and green ones kept their distance from humans. But these little red guys really like warmth and are not shy. While I built the dog house one landed on my head twice. They frequently will ride on my shoulders while I do all kinds of tasks around the place. Once they find a good sunning spot they’re reluctant to move. When one picked such a spot on the dog house (the same guy that liked my head, a picture of him is below) I had to apologize as I moved power tools around it; I tried not to knock it off it’s perch as I clambered into and out of the dog house during various tasks of construction. Frankly I thought he would find it much more agreeable to migrate  to one of the countless other sunny perches in a 20 foot sphere that weren’t frequented by jigsaws, drills and impact drivers. Yet he stayed put so I was reluctant to disturb his resolute repose and simply worked around him.

Really? You like the sound of an impact driver? I swear there are a dozen perches in the sun on the shed like twelve feet to your left. No power tools. No Lance leg-lift-over-the-wall hazards. No? You really like it there? Honestly I think you’re crazy, but it’s getting cold and you’re not going to get additional hassle from me…

We also are beginning to dabble in wild crafting. I’ve made hemlock tea (the conifer, not the poison shrub!) which is rich in vitamin C and delicious. I have found wild strawberry in limited quantities and goldenrod in unlimited quantities on our land. I have yet to find lamb’s quarters or sarsaparilla or wintergreen which are all things I’d love to have here. But I know they grow in the region and I hope to transplant next year. We do have wild raspberry and wild blackberry on the property! Limited berry production but tasty as could be hoped for.

We have two apple trees, a large one that’s not in great shape and whose apples are small, hard, green and so out of reach I haven’t had a chance to taste one. My hopes are not high. This tree is pinned under the world’s most leaningest gray birch that threatens to crush the apple tree (half of it has died under the weight of the leany birch).  The birch is garbage and I would have no problem taking it down. Maybe I will. Regardless there is a second apple tree. Scarcely a tree at all. I didn’t know it existed until I was working on the generator dog house and heard a THUNK come from the front of the property line. I stopped working and though to myself: “How can a maple tree make a sound like an apple falling?” Knowing that the answer was:  “It couldn’t” I went back to work.

The next day I walked by the maple and saw an apple in the front yard. I wondered: “What kind of jerk would pick an apple up from the west end of the property (where the big apple tree is), carry it all the way to the east end of the property, then toss it in the yard?” No one. That would be stupid and pointless. When I realized that I looked up. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I realized the giant maple that is by far the dominant feature on that property corner grew up – and through! – the middle of an old apple tree which is VERY close to dying. Close but not yet. And for its diminutive side and having to scrape out an existence adjacent and under the maple, it was surprisingly prolific. Apples dotted every mature branch. Unlike the big apple tree on the west end of the property this one had apples whose green skin started turning red as the nighttime lows dipped to the 40s. I plucked an apple from the branch and bit into it.

Heavenly. Perfectly crisp. Tart, but backed by enough sweetness to keep you munching. I couldn’t stop. The tiny apple was gone in a few bites. And there were a couple dozen hanging in the very few fruiting branches. I’ve eaten many apples from this poor, mangled tree. I would love to graft it on to the much better “place” that the big tree is growing in on the west end of the property. It’s apples have never been in reach and never been anything but bright green. Who knows if they’re edible. There is a LOT to learn about this and this is only with two neglected, misfit apple trees!

I also started cultivating purslane, which is taking nicely to our lousy, rocky soil. It’s DELICIOUS, very high in omega 3 fatty acids and some say it’s as high in nitrogen as chicken manure! I’m still dubious on that last claim, but even without that, the plant deserves FAR more regard than mere “lawn” which it is poisoned out of all too frequently. I also harvested a sumac bob down the road and am hoping to give that a fair shake on the property, too. Many other “weeds” are wonderful plants and I’m hoping we can get more in to medicinal wild crafting next season, but every small step is a bit of progress!

To round things out, lest anyone think we’re bragging, there is far more gunfire here than I’d like. What I’d like is zero. No such luck. As much as I wish all guns could be vanished from the face of the earth (which obviously will never happen), still, being occasionally, rudely awakened by gunfire is preferable to endless days exposed to the incessant sounds of traffic punctuated only by emergency sirens. I just wish the gun nut jackasses would not fire their guns off at dawn. It’s not hunting season yet! Wait till after coffee, you lummox. Yet if that’s the biggest problem we have, we’re doing good.

There is an interesting cross section of “flavors” at our new home. From the irritating to the sublime, each moment of each day reminds us: “You’re here. You chose this.”

We did. And it’s perfect. Challenges happen, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Big Deal(s)…

Winter is a big deal in Maine. Like a boogeyman almost. Many times we’ve mentioned we’re new to Maine only to have people grow a little quieter and ask “Have you spent a winter here?” From some of the looks in their eyes you wonder if they’re thinking “Are these people going to go crazy? Or die? The poor fools!”

We’re trying our best to get ready for winter, but there’s just too much to do and we don’t have the expertise to complete (or even begin) everything that ideally would be done. We will finish the bare minimum, yet the spectre of winter still hangs over everything even as summer transitions to fall. In late August, even though we had highs into the 90s, colors began changing in the leaves as soon as the nighttime lows began to drop. Way to ramp up the pressure, Nature.

We have a hoop house skeleton built on our large bed, but not the two smaller ones (yet). Dani is on her third round of canning. We’re dabbling in seed saving. I’ve been prepping for my first foray into tree felling and chainsaw usage so I can take down and remove the dead trees before the snow does it for us and makes a mess. And every day with each outside task done or errand ran we see the leaves changing more and more. There are now streaks of red like flame in the otherwise green arboreal vistas around our place. There are leaves beginning to fall on our property.


Very late on the night of Monday, September 21, 2015, we arrived in Maine after the hardest push of the whole Ambling Full Tilt journey: from Niagara Falls, Ontario to Dani’s parent’s place in Waldo. Driving through Vermont and New Hampshire that day was the first time I ever laid eyes on the fall colors of New England; I was spellbound.

The Saturday after we arrived Dani’s parents took us to the 39th Annual Common Ground Country Fair. We were among 65,000 visitors that descended on that tiny patch between Thorndike and Unity, Maine (where only 3,000 people live). This fair is a big deal, too.

Now as we close in on the one year anniversary of our AFT (and my first) visit to Maine, we are combing the pages of this year’s Common Ground fair guide making a plan to attend every workshop we can over the three days of the fair.  But this year we are not visitors. As we set up home in this small, out-of-the way rural Maine location, I turned 40. Common Ground is also tuning 40 this weekend. We get to celebrate that as Mainers. As residents.

One year later we have a home and the beginnings of a farm. Even though the home needs work and the beginnings are very humble, Dani recently said:

This year, for the first time, I went from saying “I want to…” to “I am…”

Humbled. Amazed. Profoundly grateful.

Better words could not be spoken.

We spent four weeks here last year. We saw the trees progress through all their autumnal splendor. As we left Maine we were sad to be departing the first place that felt like home since leaving Boise.

Now, one year later, we are entering into that same beloved season in that same beloved place. And it doesn’t just feel like home – it is home.

Humbled. Amazed. Profoundly grateful.