The Slow March of the Seasons

 This is our first Autumn at StarField Farm. In fact, this has been nearly an entire year of firsts since we closed on the property in January of 2017.

While I’ve lived in the northeast my entire life and the march of seasons is nothing new to me, this is the first time I’ve been in a place where the natural world is front and center instead of a backdrop.

The woods around us don’t really care about us. They permit us to transit through and live beside them, but they were here before we were and will be here long after us.

Strangely, there is something comforting in that reminder of our impermanence.

Fall is an unmistakable reminder of change.

This nest had been in one of our peach trees. Some tiny bird was hatched here and is long gone, and the nest blew down in a storm.

Perhaps next spring, a new nest will be hidden among the peaches.

 

 

It takes a certain kind of patience to live in the woods.

I am learning  how to listen and how to observe. Some days I am rewarded for that patience. This little creature tarried long enough for me to take his photograph.

 

Every day here brings a new discovery. I have no idea what these plants are called. They aren’t grasses and they aren’t trees, but some kind of leggy plant that flowers and then goes to seed. The red is astonishing, especially in dusk light.

 

 

And the pace of our lives is also changed. There is a mindfulness to simple chores like stocking the house with wood for the wood stoves. The morning ritual of stoking the fire takes on a meditative quality, somehow. The days seem to lengthen when we can pay attention to the moments. And even mundane tasks can take on a kind of joy.

And it’s not like we are living in any sort of primitive conditions: we have supplemental electric heat, hot running water, internet. It may sound like I’m romanticizing the whole rural life – a kind of carpet-bagging where suburban folks play country manor on the weekends and secretly mock the locals. That’s not who we are.

We chose this place because we wanted to live in an active farming community. We wanted to own land and become good stewards of it. We wanted to become part of the town and both support it and be supported by it.

I certainly don’t want to turn back the clock and have to survive through subsistence farming on an isolated homestead, but I do know that living in this more stripped-down way is a balm to my spirit.

Will I also feel this way when full winter hits and I have to crawl out of a warm bed to heat the house? Or will there come a time when I resent the demands of the physical work of having a home in the woods?

Based on my reactions to this place over this past year, I think not.

Besides, we have a tractor now. That makes it official.

 

 

The Hardwick Fair

Cow
Moo!

I grew up in and around New York City.

Cows are not something I saw much of, outside of a petting zoo, yet somehow, I have had a long and enduring fascination with them.

I have absolutely no idea why, but seeing cows makes me happy.

Baby cow
9 day old calf

This is “Bambi”. She is a 9 day old calf. She and many others of the bovine kind were on display at the Hardwick Fair last weekend.

When we were looking at properties in Central Mass last summer, our realtor told us about the Hardwick Fair, but we were unable to attend, as we were out of town that weekend.

Once we purchased StarField Farm and were living in the area, I knew I had to make sure I could be there this year.

I was not disappointed. After a rainy Friday, and after the fog burned off Saturday morning, it was a spectacular day on the Hardwick Commons.

The Common was a colorful blur of people, laughing and enjoying the day. There were food trucks, arts and crafts demonstrations, informational booths by local organizations, a road race, parades, competitions, and live music. There was a low ropes course built on hay bales for the little kids. The dunk tank never stopped all day long! I tried to get to everything, but I missed the frog jumping contest.

 

This little boy was all smiles just before the tractor parade. There were tractors from probably a hundred years of history, all still working, still driving down the street.

 

That’s a lot of miles!

There were antique cars as well. This one had a sign on it that said it had been driven nearly half a million miles.

This horse-drawn cart carried people around the square all through the day.

 

And of course, there were the competitions: scarecrows, displays of vegetables (including fanciful food creatures!), quilts, photography, knitting, crocheting, sewing, woodworking, ceramics, canning, cooking, . .

What else do you do with zucchini?

 

 

While I don’t think the “Scary Crow” won a ribbon, it was definitely my favorite of all the scare crows. Then again, as a writer, I do love puns.

The quilts on display were astonishing.                              

 

 

There was even a literary contest, with categories for children, youth, and adults. I was foolish/brave enough to volunteer as a judge and I had a wonderful time meeting my fellow judges and reading for the fair.

And I figured, hey, I do pottery. I can enter something in the fair.

Then this happened.

My silly dragonbelly teapot took first prize and a rosette.

So, I guess I’m hooked. 🙂 I was informed by the organizer of the literary contest, that I was now going to be a lifer with the fair.

 

I think I’m okay with that.

Did someone say peaches?

Peaches!

I’ve never had fruit trees before.

Last fall, when we were looking to buy the property that became StarField Farm, the sellers pointed out the three peach trees that were planted along the driveway. When we took ownership in January, all the trees were dormant, the plants buried beneath the snow.

We had no idea what would emerge in the spring and summer.

Now we know.

Very happy trees

The peach trees were amazingly prolific this year, after last years terrible weather resulted in an absence of all stone fruit north of New Jersey. There were no local peaches last year. Not one.

I was ridiculously upset earlier in the spring when I culled about a third of the very small, “proto-peaches” off the trees. It pained me to throw away what I knew would be good fruit. But the health of the tree and the ultimate quality of the peaches depended on it.

Honestly? I could have culled up to half the peaches and still had too many to handle. I suspect I’ll easily have 4 boxes full. Maybe 60 lbs or more.

Still more peaches

I’m glad I removed the fruit that I did. As it is, the branches are heavily laden and nearly touching the ground.

Perhaps it is what isn’t there that ends up being the most important.

Edited fiction is often more powerful for what is removed, distilled, and concentrated.

Negative space is vital for artwork.

Ceramic pieces are balanced and shaped through the trimming process.

There’s probably a metaphor in there for life, but I’m too tired to find it right now. Something about the silence and stillness between thoughts – that pause which makes room for gratitude and grace.

I am grateful for this place. For its peace and for its bounty. I am grateful for the home it will become and the place of creativity we will create here.

The construction is also something new to us, along with the peach trees, the apple trees, the concord grapes, and the asparagus.

I am in awe of the building process. A few weeks ago, this was a hole in the earth. Now, it is a recognizable structure. It is both going faster and slower than I had anticipated. I keep imagining what it will be like when the addition is complete and they break through the dining room to join the old house with the new.

I know we will marvel at the house as much as we marvel at the fruit trees. And we will measure this harvest in years of joy and laughter.

 

Raise the Roof!

When the lead builder promised me that once construction began, it would move swiftly, and we’d have a weather tight structure in 10 weeks I didn’t believe him.

It’s not that I thought he was lying, it’s just that I couldn’t imagine how two workers alone could actually build a house.

When we realized there was a confluence of disparate events that rendered the main garage unable to fit the car lift it was designed for, I was certain we’d lost our window for the house to be finished by winter.

But, here we are in early August and the builders are raising the roof. Literally.

And mad props to George Abetti and Geobarns for their communication and swift action when we realized there had been what might have turned into a fatal error in executing the design.

One of the key elements of this project was to allow for storage of 6 cars, including a car lift to allow Neil to do his own automobile maintenance. As such, one section of the garage needed to have 12 foot ceilings to accommodate the lift and the posts and to allow him clearance to work beneath the cars.

Well, when the foundation contractors went to pour the concrete, they realized that because of the way the land broke, and they way the clearing had been done, they could actually pour lower walls. They figured the rest of the height could be made up for with the wood. In their calculation, this was an excellent turn of events because it would be cheaper for us.

Unfortunately, they hadn’t effectively communicated this to the build team or the designer and it had serious ramifications.

The beams had been ordered to fit the specs BEFORE the concrete pour and the resultant section of the garage ended up a foot too short for the lift.

Cue panic and distress (Neil) and concern (me).

In a burst of emails between us, George, and the onsite build staff, the Geobarns people apologized, took complete responsibility and promised to fix the problem. And they did it in a way that wouldn’t cause a major delay or require tearing down of what had already been built.

Do you know how unbelievably rare that is in today’s world? I am so impressed with the Geobarns folks. To find a designer and builder who have an aesthetic that jives with yours is hard enough, but to find a team that operates with the highest of ethics, humility, and honesty? That’s priceless.

Weeds, weeds, weeds, weeds, and weeds

Corn, corn, corn, corn, and corn – If you’ve seen the movie “Second Hand Lions” you’ll recognize the reference.

I’ve never lived in a place that had a farmers co-op. There is one in Hardwick, MA and we joined as shareholders one of our first weekends there. Right now, I feel like a major fraud whenever we shop there. I’m no farmer. I am skilled at ignoring plants to death. But Neil is a master at growing flowers and vegetables, from seed, and with lots of TLC.

 

These lovely flowers are growing in the area we fenced in for the pups. To me, they look like miniature daisies and I didn’t want to pull them out, but the dog run was overrun with them, so Neil had me play plant-slayer with him. We decided to leave clumps of wildflowers AKA weeds, to make it look a bit like a meadow, but with places for the dogs to ‘go’.

 

 

I know these are Queen Anne’s Lace. I also know that Neil is very allergic to it. How do I know that? When we were first dating, I picked some wildflowers from near where I lived to give him a bouquet. What I gifted him with was a bunch of allergens. 😉

 

 

The “carnage” after clearing out the dog run. I was all pleased with myself over the work I’d accomplished. Then Neil told me it would have to be done again. And again. And again.

Apparently, weeding is a never ending task.

Who knew? Not this city girl.

 

We actually accomplished a lot this weekend, aside from the tiny progress we made in weeding. We bought and put together outdoor patio furniture and an umbrella and it’s like having an outdoor living room!

Some assembly required. . .

And speaking of assembly, the foundation work is done and the leveling is complete. Here’s a photo of the build site ready for the slab pour!

Next up: Framing the actual building! Wheeeee!

The slow march of construction time

We’re closing in on the end of June and we have little progress on the build to show for it. Some of the delay has been because of the unusually wet spring we had in New England. It’s hard to move dirt when it turns into mud in the torrential downpours. Part because of communication lags between the excavation phase and the foundation phase. Part because this is a small project compared with the larger commercial projects our contractors also are responsible for, so when the choice is between pouring concrete for a large building or a subdivision versus our garage project, it’s not hard to see why we’re still without a foundation.

But we have footings, and we’ve heard from the builder that the foundation will start to be poured tomorrow. Keeping fingers crossed.

The other way of measuring time is by watching the seasons progress. When be first bought StarField Farm, it was deep winter, full of stillness and silence.

Now, we revel in the sounds of birdsong, wind rustling in the trees, the brook gurgling over rocks, frogs and crickets in the evening.

And everything is green.

Green all around
Summer green

The peaches on our 3 trees are getting noticeably larger each time we spend a weekend here. They are now about 1 and 1/2 inches in diameter. The last weekend we were here, they were about half that size. That was the day I culled about 25% of the fruit on the trees, lest the weight of the peaches bring the limbs down.

culled peaches
These were the peaches we culled from the trees. :sob:

 

 

 

Last night, just as I was remarking to Neil that I was disappointed that I hadn’t seen fireflies, they started sparking in the low light of dusk. We watched from the back porch as the fireflies were replaced by the distant wink of stars overhead. I think we even saw the ISS zip by.

Digging in

Still Life With Construction: the view outside our kitchen window

 

We have a big hole in the ground. While it looks like a mess of earth and rocks, this is what will be our barn/addition to the house at Star Field Farm. It took some doing, given the weeks of rainy weather, but the preparation work is done and they will begin the next stage of pouring the foundation starting on Thursday.

 

This is what will be the mudroom and new entrance to the house; a connector to the garage and the new master suite above it.

I’m a woman of fairly simple wants. I don’t care about jewelry. Don’t like roses, long stemmed or otherwise. But sweet talk me with a description of a mud room? :swoon:

We had a great meeting with Rich from Geobarns, who will be coordinating the build. Even with my difficulty ‘seeing’ things in my mind’s eye, I could absolutely envision how beautiful this will be, how much it will reflect our aesthetic, how wonderful it will be to have friends and family come to visit.

Our neighbors were upgrading their living room and gave us their old sofa. One U-haul trip later, and they are now in the middle of our dining room. Eventually, we will get a table and the sofa will be moved to what will be my office/spare room upstairs.

We’re in this interesting transition phase: we weren’t ready to move and can only realistically use the place a few weekends a month, depending on Neil’s call schedule. The sellers were not quite ready to move up to their new place in VT. So we have an arrangement where we’ve rented the place back to them for a low rent in return for access two weekends a month. While they are transitioning out, we are slowly moving things in.

The dogs are already at home.

I took them on a long tromp in the woods, despite the threat of ticks. The dogs have their sorresto collars, I have a set of dog walking/hiking clothes I treated with permethrin. And a friend made us a spray bottle with essential oils to try.

After a good 40 minute walk, I was tick free, Mya had one I squashed. Dustin, because he’s lower to the ground and has longer hair, had a half dozen. Most clinging to his tail fur. Interestingly enough, I had sprayed his paws and belly with the essential oils, but not his tail.

What a difference 2 weeks makes. When I was here last, the ferns had just poked up from the ground. I could have harvested a ton of fiddleheads! This weekend, everywhere I walked I saw miniature fairy forests of ferns. (Ohh, good alliteration!)

 

 

 

There is also a profusion of both raspberries and blackberries growing wild all along the woodland paths. It’s going to be a race between Lisa and all the critters to see who gets the ripe berries first!

And speaking of bumper crops! This is one of several peach trees on the property. If you look closely, you will see little baby proto-peaches!  Having never had fruit trees before, I think I’ll need to do a bit of research. I already know I’ll need to cull many of the peaches if I want to have a decent crop, otherwise they will overwhelm the tree’s ability to sustain that many.

 

I will leave you with the glowing eye of Mt. Doom. . . . Or the first bonfire of the season. We sat out on the back porch watching the fire dance and listening to the crackle of wood.

 

The reason New England farmers were taciturn

Hey look! A harvest of rocks!

 

Everywhere you dig in New England, you find rocks.

 

Some of these are pretty sizeable boulders.

Rocks, rocks, and more rocks. We knew this at the outset and much of these will be used to grade the slope around the driveway.

 

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall …”

Ever wonder why there are so many picturesque stone walls in New England? A matter of frugality. When you have an abundance of rocks to clear from a field, you mark your boundaries with those rocks. You build a wall.

There are walls like these running everywhere in the woods of Central Mass.

That’s because just about all the forest in New England is at least second growth. Much of this land was used for grazing animals, some for growing crops.

This is the build site for our addition/barn. And after  bringing in the special hammer drill to get out a particularly large boulder, the excavator found ‘ledge’. That would be a layer of rock under the ground. Which is not good news for our building schedule.

At some point, I think all this lovely gravel will be laid down to smooth the build site ahead of the foundation pour.

 

Despite the frustration of a several week delay, it is still a joy to be here. I had to be at the property today to meet with an electrician and got to enjoy the lilacs. I also discovered that there is asparagus growing. And the apple trees are laden with blossoms.

Welcome to Star Field Farm!

In January of 2017, Lisa and Neil “bought the farm”.

Fortunately, not in the metaphorical sense, as we are both quite alive and well!

While not quite a farm (yet!) our new piece of heaven is a lovely cape-style home on 54 acres of land in Hardwick, MA.

Neil aspires to be a gentleman farmer in retirement (sometime in the unspecified future) and Lisa is planning to write, daydream, and hold writing retreats there.

We just broke ground on what will be an addition, including a 6-bay garage, a mud room connector to the existing house, and a new master suite.

This is what started on Saturday:

We will be documenting the build here, and posting photos as we discover what blooms on our new land.