The Humble Gardener

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I was sitting in the orthodontist’s chair when I realized something – I was considered a master gardener (yes, I have adult braces — let’s ignore that and move on). The revelation smacked me as the assistant settled in to remove my rubber bands and explained, “Oh! I’ve been waiting for you to come in so I can ask you a question….what do you think of Zoo Doo? Is all the hoopla worth it? Should I sign up for the waiting list?”

Whoa there, when did I become a master gardener?

The title is emphatically undeserved. I’ve only had a real garden for two years. Yes, I’ve had a “potted” garden for years prior, devoured many soil and gardening books, even got my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences with a focus on soil and land use, but does that make me the go-to gal for advice on manure?

Let’s rewind this a bit. In fact, quite a bit. My love for growing things came about when I was about eight. I meticulously prepped a bed for my vegetables. I weeded, tilled, and worked all day until I had the perfect fluffy bed. When I excitedly showed Dad the fruits of my labor, he said, “That’s great dear, but that spot doesn’t get enough sun to grow anything”. You see, in my ignorance I had only accounted for 2 of the 3 necessary requirements to grow plants (besides a few tenacious weeds, anyway). I’d thought of land (soil, check) and I had thought of water (watering can, check) but I had neglected to think of solar requirements. The spot I had chosen was basically smack in the middle of a grove of rhododendrons. Barely a ray of sunshine made its way through the gnarled branches and thick leaves. My dream of being a farmer was immediately shattered. But only temporarily.

Fast forward about 5 years and I found myself transplanted onto a small island outside of Seattle. My mother had decided that she wanted to garden, and I was determined that she would not have all the fun. But I had no knowledge, no understanding of how to grow things. I just possessed an unexplainable desire. With a bit of whining (as teenage girls are prone to do) she conceded a small plot of my own to grow herbs. Perhaps not as exciting as tomatoes and cucumbers, but still important! And most importantly, less fickle to grow. This is where I cut my teeth and quickly learned growing things wasn’t as simple as scattering a few seeds in the soil, crossing my fingers, and letting Mother Nature take her course – that is if I wanted to cultivate anything other than dandelions and creeping buttercup. I learned quickly that gardening was a series of constant little battles. Is the soil to dry? Oh, I better water it. Is the soil to wet? Then maybe I should mound the rows to keep the roots from drowning. Not getting enough sun? Well perhaps I should chop down those darn blackberries that are towering overhead. And the battle royale? The slugs. Oh those pernicious slugs! The garden turned into a mine field of tubs filled with Miller High Life in the hopes of luring the slimy monsters to their death with the champagne of beers.

If gardening doesn’t teach you anything else, it will teach you persistence. It took me years to unlock the secret to successfully growing plump, tasty tomatoes. And I’m still learning to properly thin the carrots (it just seems such a waste to pull any of them!). And I’ve discovered that it’s not a single-season endeavor to cultivate the perfect soil bed that’s rich with humus and teaming with microbes and mycorrizae. In fact, it can take many, many years.

Regardless of all the “little battles” and the patience it takes to garden, I’m hooked. I can’t imagine at this point in my life not having a garden. Where else can I get dark red, super-flavorful tomatoes that put those hot-house fruits to shame? How else could I pick candy-like sugar-snap peas right off the vine? And how would I fuel my love for cool cucumber drinks on hot summer days? Yes I’m hooked. And I’ll enthusiastically share my love for all things gardening if you dare to ask. But am I a master gardener at this point? I don’t think so. Though it is a title I hope to earn one day. Instead, I think I just happen to be the only person many of my co-workers and friends know that gardens at all. And because of this, I’ve become the de-facto pro.

So back to that question the orthodontist assistant asked me. What do I think of Zoo Doo? You may be surprised to learn that I’m not a fan. Why? Other than fundamentally not supporting the confinement of wild animals, I’m also not confident that manure from the zoo is free of antibiotics and other residue (sedatives, anyone?) that is left over from treating the animals. These left-overs can have a negative impact on the soil biota as well as be translocated (taken up) by the plants you grow to eat. While most of these medications would have broken down during digestion, some simply do not. Heavy metals, such as arsenic and mercury, sometimes used in animal supplements, persist. I’d rather not risk it. Instead, I choose to compost the nitrogen-rich manure from my chickens. Chickens are little poop-machines – so why waste it?  And if you don’t have your own chickens, find a neighbor that does. If they are like me, they always have excess chicken poop. Otherwise, check out Craigslist or reach out to local farmer. It may take a little effort, but it’s well worth it.

Happy gardening.

Guest blog courtesy of Chelsie Johnson at Humble Bee Farms.

 

Growing a Cottage Business.

Herbal soaps and Whimsical minions, Salvia and Echinacea, Herbal apothecary, and a loaf of uncut lavender soap.

We have lived a year and a half on Whimsical Moon Farm now. A full growing season under our belts plus the original fall garden I planted while we were getting settled has given us much to be thankful for. As I contemplate what we have accomplished, I find myself already figuring out where to build new raised beds next Spring, how I want to increase the herb garden, possibly with a small turtle pond (our turtle Grover has almost outgrown his aquarium), plus I would like to create an herbal medicine wheel near the barn lot. We  have added a small flock of laying hens, a handful of farm cats, and we are researching Dwarf Nigerian goats for milk. (They are adorable!) A never-ending process of growing, experimenting, and enjoying the harvest.

Our local Farmers’ Market, raised bed, owl soaps, a loaf of soap ready to be cut, and my daughter Kayla holding one of our new chicks. 

 Mindy works off the farm so we can make ends meet while I handle the farm chores, the gardening, as well as regular care of my special needs fairy adult child. It dawned on me one morning, while enjoying my first mug of extra bold Sumatran coffee on the front porch, that a small farm business would be a pretty darn good idea right about now. I handcraft herbal soaps for gifts and for sale at the farmers’ market, I figured herbal body products would be a great ‘cottage’ business I could run right out of my kitchen. I grow most of the herbs I would need for the soaps and sugar scrubs and I could work around chores and my daughters needs.

I passed my brilliant idea by Mindy that evening and she said, “um….okay” and thus began my business adventure. I’ve always been a rather ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ type of person, and working for anybody but myself has always been rather unappealing but I did promise Mindy that I would put together a business plan. My research consisted of re-reading Chris Guillebeau’s book, “The $100 Start Up: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future” (which I highly recommend), Blake Mycoskie’s book, “Start Something That Matters” (of TOM’s shoe fame) and “Creating an Herbal Bodycare Business” by Sandy Maine.

I learned from Blake, “When you have a memorable story about who you are and what your mission is, your success no longer depends on how experienced you are or how many degrees you have or who you know. A good story transcends boundaries, breaks barriers, and opens doors. It is a key not only to starting a business but also to clarifying your own personal identity and choices.” Well, I certainly have stories. And the story about Whimsical Moon Farm certainly identifies my mission and is easily entwined within my business purpose.

 Butterfly on Echinacea flower, me holding Mamie, one of our Ameraucana chickens, and a field of wildflowers near the barn lot.

As I hammered out my business plan, I decided simple was best. So, I determined I had products to sell: herbal soaps, bath salts, sugar scrubs, and dream pillows.

I considered who my targeted customer base would most likely be (besides my loving family): those people, mostly women ages 16-90 (approximately) interested in lovingly hand-made, natural body-care for their personal use and as gifts. Although I also create a wonderful beard oil and soaps for men, I have found women are usually the ones initially attracted to my products.

And, I figured out a way to get paid, or how I would sell my products: an online market/website plus my favorite farmers’ markets and seasonal festivals. I chose Wix.com as my e-commerce site not only for its ease of navigating through the complex dashboards plus their on-going support, but also because the cost was budget-worthy and I thought the name Wix was catchy. Not to negate Etsy or Shopify, (or any of the other many possible markets out there) they are excellent sites as well, but I felt Wix.com would be a good fit for my farm soap business.

After stewing and fretting over my business plan, which now exceeded three paragraphs, I felt confident I could present to Mindy who, by the way was now listed as CO-OWNER, the details and the budget for OUR ‘cottage’ business start-up. I had determined a nice round figure of $1000 would be sufficient to get the business up and running with a little cushion for padding. Where we would get this $1000 was undetermined at that time but after an informative meeting with our bank customer service rep, we walked out with a zero-fee, zero interest-rate for 15 months, credit card with a cap of $3000. We still intend on keeping the business costs at or below the $1000 we planned for and figure if the business is not paying for itself in 15 months, then we would surely need to reconsider our options. I, however, am confident that between the two of us and the story woven throughout our farm business, we will be prosperous. Well, you know….something like that!

Our goal is to have our web-site up and running by early November, but we are shooting for Halloween because it seems rather auspicious and fun. I have been learning about marketing via social media (I had NO idea there were so many sites to get involved with) and I have been crafting soaps like a mad-woman. The kitchen smells incredible as does the pantry where I dry the soaps and any other flat surface in the house that isn’t occupied at the moment.

I am looking forward to growing, experimenting, and harvesting this newest ‘crop’ endeavor here on Whimsical Moon Farm, and I will definitely follow up with our experiences and adventures.

Stay creative and have a prosperous Whimsical Moon day!

Soul Cozy!

 

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    Cozy! Fluffy socks, flannel pajamas, a good book, and comfy chair.

There are times in our daily lives when we need to remember how to relax and just do cozy. Maybe it was a rough day at the office or the plant or on the farm, or a child woke up with a fever. Maybe your bad dog just piddled on your favorite rug, or the farmer next door loudly rolls into your yard from the cornfield with a combine spewing black smoke and wants to borrow your garden hose (true story). These are moments that require the practice of what I call soul cozy.

Starting a small farm from the dirt up, raising a special needs adult fairy child, and creating a cottage business from scratch has provided me many opportunities to breathe, let go of expectations, and just say, “okay, I surrender”. I have developed several options that I may choose from when I desire to refuel and nourish my soul. I would like to share some of my favorite soul cozies with you.

Fresh baked black raspberry pie, a hot mug of cocoa, a hearty bowl of potato soup.

I have found when I am troubled or frustrated getting in the kitchen and cooking or baking helps me to unwind and focus on simpler things. Whether it is something as elaborate as a home-baked black raspberry pie or as simple as warming up a mug of hot cocoa with whipped cream on top, the act of measuring, stirring, preparing, and then enjoying tasty food is a fulfilling soul cozy.

I believe a thick, hearty soup contains more than just vegetables, stock, meat/and or bacon, and cream. (Yes, I did say bacon!) For me, soup is the perfect accompaniment to warming the soul and rebooting my attitude. It possesses nourishment, many good memories, and can be easily shared with family and friends who also may be in need of a good soul cozy.  Throw in freshly baked yeast rolls and you have the perfect soul food.

Autumn snuggled in her blankie, Winter looks for loves, Mosey cozy on his couch, Sweetums and Bella Boo are relaxed and comfy.

Animals fully understand the concept of cozy and comfy. I have found I can learn a lot from my dogs and cats in both the easy attitude and the many forms that soul cozy can take. It seems my pets have a built-in soul radar that knows when I need a rub on the leg and a loud purr, or a big head in my lap to pet, or a puppy who will wiggle under the blanket and snuggle while I read. Animals are soul cozy in action.

Simple rituals like lighting a fragrant candle, picking up a favorite book of inspiration, or just sitting on the porch for a moment and taking a deep breath, often help me soften my attitude and count my blessings. Gratitude is my favorite soul cozy. I try to practice it often.

What do you do when you are in need of a good soul cozy? I would love to hear about them. I hope you are enjoying many whimsical blessings and moments of soul cozy.

Potato soup picture courtesy of http://www.happybellyfoodie.com

 

 

Walking the Path of Herbal Lore

Raised bed of Echinacea angustifolia (purple coneflower), Salvia (sage), Echinacea with a butterfly, apothecary counter, and raised bed of herbs and vegetables. 

                                 Featuring Echinacea (purple coneflower)

“True health comes from loving relationships, good food, time spent in nature, daily hugs, inner peace, meaningful work, and breathing thankfully of the richness of this life.”  Nancy Phillips, Herbalist.

It is time to do my early morning chores, so I bundle up in my thick sweater, fuzzy socks, and warm hat to ward off the chilly air of Autumn. As I toss the chickens their favorite scratch and apple slices, I find myself turning over in my head the contents of my herbal medicine cabinet. This is the time of year I need to make sure I am stocked up on all my favorite teas, tinctures, and salves. The one herb I turn to over and over again is always Echinacea. Whether in a tea, tincture, or even a throat spray, Echinacea angustifolia is the foundation of my herbal remedies and I want to make sure I am prepared for cold and flu season.

I have grown Echinacea for many years as I have found it to be a lovely perennial that is not fussy to grow. It can get to be three to four feet high and loves the full sun and warm weather.  Purple coneflower, as it is commonly known, blooms beautiful cone-shaped flowers and is well-loved by bees, butterflies, and many wild birds that enjoy their seeds in the fall.

Many herbalists and natural medicine practitioners believe Echinacea to be an important immune-enhancing herb with very few known side-effects. It helps protect cells against the many viruses and bacteria we are often exposed to, plus it has antifungal and antibacterial properties. This makes it an important remedy for many of our common infections and illnesses.

It is particularly useful against bronchial and respiratory infections, sore throat, and the common cold. I use it anytime my immune system needs a boost or I have been exposed to somebody sniffling and sneezing. Echinacea can be taken as a tea, tincture, or capsules and should be used at the first sign of a cold or flu.

 

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This is my herbal apprentice, Winter the farm Chihuahua

As a cottage herbalist, I usually practice with simple formulas rather than mixing several herbs together, so I take Echinacea either as a tea, a tincture, or in capsules. I prefer tinctures as it tends to be more potent when I begin to feel crummy, but it isn’t the most palatable going down. I often mix it with orange juice for that extra push of vitamin C, but it can still be gag-worthy until you get accustomed to it.

You can purchase the teas already made (just follow directions on the carton) as they are usually considerably tastier, especially with a dribble of honey in your cup, or you can make your own tea by placing 4-6 tablespoons of dried herbs into a clean quart jar and pouring boiling water over them, filling the jar. Let this steep a good 30-45 minutes, strain it well, and drink about a quarter of a cup every half hour for a total of 4 cups a day.

As I prefer the tincture, I usually try to get a batch started towards the end of summer so it will be ready for flu season. To create your own, you will need fresh or dried Echinacea root, a pint of 80 proof or stronger vodka or brandy, and a clean glass jar. Place these roots in the jar and pour enough alcohol over them to completely cover by a good 2 or 3 inches. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a warm spot and allow to soak (macerate) for 4 to 6 weeks. Try to shake the tincture regularly. Once a day is fine, but don’t worry if you forget a day or two. Strain the herbs well and store in clean, dark bottles. Your tincture will last for two, even three years.  You should take 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of tincture every hour up to 6 teaspoons daily.

You can also purchase already made Echinacea tincture and tincture blends at most drugstores and many grocery stores.

I do keep Echinacea capsules on hand, but I usually purchase them from the drugstore as I have found I usually make a huge mess when I encapsulate my own pills. You can take 1-2 capsules every two hours up to 8 pills daily.

A wonderfully soothing sore throat spray I have discovered is to mix together one-quarter cup of your prepared tincture, one eighth cup of vegetable glycerin or honey, one eighth cup of fresh water, and 1-2 drops of peppermint essential oil. Mix that all together and place in a spritzer bottle. Spray directly into the back of your throat as needed, about every half hour or so.

 

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Porch Herb Garden

I believe we need to restore a healing tradition in our country that allows us to understand beneficial herbs and nourishment to our bodies and our souls. We need to learn how to rely on the wisdom of our bodies and community with each other for basic healthy living.

If we trust our bodies ability to heal and function in a balanced way, we will be able to make informed and wise decisions about our health and well-being.

Herbalism is about our connection with plants and how they can be used to nourish and heal each of us. As I walk this herbal path, I continue to learn how to listen to the plants and how to listen and trust my self.

Please note: This information is meant only to increase your knowledge about herbs and how they can be used in your own healing path. I am not a licensed medical doctor not do I ever intend to be one.  Always seek the advice of your doctor or health care professional for your individual conditions. 

Thank you to Rosemary Gladstar and Nancy Phillips for their inspiration and guidance along my herbal journey.

 

Turning of the Season on our Farm

The last sunflower of the season; Mosey sniffing newly-harvested cornfield; the garden is winding down; lazy autumn cats; end-of-summer barbeque.

 

Since I’ve moved to our farm, I have found my year is now measured not by the days of the month but by the seasons. My calendar is based on the work and events on Whimsical Moon Farm and the farmers around me.

People who farmed had a different way of understanding time, one based on sunlight and seasons, ebbing and flowing in activity like river water. Their year was alive, growing and dying.”  Jenna Woginrich, sheep farmer.

Living on a farm, you would think that Spring would be my favorite season of the year. You know: renewal, Mother Earth waking up again after a long Winter, newly planted gardens, baby animals….but truth be told, I am all about the Fall. I love the cooler temperatures, the slowing down after a hectic summer, harvesting and ‘putting by’ the last of the garden bounty, and the beautiful fall colors. Orange, russet, yellow and red.

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Autumn glow at a nearby lake. This picture was taken last fall.

Although my summer garden beds have pretty much been laid to rest, there is still plenty of activity all around me.  The agri-farmers have begun frantically harvesting their corn and soybean crops. The weather here in East Cornfield has been spectacular for this time of year but the farmers still race against the perfect timing of dried corn on the stalk and the possibility of a thunder storm stomping across the fields.

The dance of combine, tractor, and over-flowing wagon has begun circling around us, as we are bordered by crops on three sides of our tiny farm. We hear the revving of Farmer Matt’s tractor early in the morning and prepare ourselves for a day of loud engines, blowing chaff and dust, and the abrupt change of our landscape.

Farmer Matt maneuvering his combine across our tiny road into the soybean field on the east side of our farm, cleaning up freshly harvested corn field, hauling the filled wagon to the grain bin, harvesting the soybean, the corn field next to our farm as it is cut down.

The hard-wood trees have begun to change color and the squirrels have been frantically busy burying dried corn on the cob, black walnuts, and dried seed heads they discover in the flower bed and herb garden. Many of my favorite wild birds have already flown south for the Winter, so all I have at the feeder now are nuthatches, a lone red-headed woodpecker, and mourning doves. I’ve kept the hummingbird feeder up as I still have hummers swooping in each morning and evening.

Even though the days are growing shorter, the chickens continue to lay their eggs, keeping us supplied with tasty omelets and frittatas.  They have become fat and sassy chickens, their feathers shiny, and their loud ‘crowing’ when one just laid an egg never fails to make me smile. Sometimes I will sit on the side porch sipping my first cup of coffee of the morning, and listen to their gentle clucks and watch as they scratch the ground, entertained by ‘Farm TV’.

There are plenty of chores around the farm that need to be accomplished before the weather turns cold, including shoveling over the garden one more time, cleaning up the compost pile, closing up the storm windows, and maybe even getting that shed painted. The furnace needs to be serviced and we still need to fill up the propane tank. (I never look forward to that!)

The ‘girls’ rearranging their attic, autumn fire-pit, the tip of a recently buried cob of corn the squirrel placed in a fresh mole hill, falling leaf tangled in a cobweb, I LOVE Halloween!

Yes, I love Autumn. And I love living on Whimsical Moon Farm. As I’ve grown older, my definition of success has changed dramatically. Living a life that makes me happy, surrounding myself with freshly grown food and outdoor activities,  working with the seasons and the rhythm of the farm, and building a sense of place and community, Autumn is that time of year I can take time to reflect and appreciate this simple way of making my way in the world.

I send you Whimsical Moon fall blessings with hot spiced cider and fresh baked pumpkin bread on the side.

 

 

 

This little farm or…How can I save the world?

 

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Earth image from Nasa.gov.

“Each of us feels some aspect of the world’s suffering acutely. And we must pay attention. We must act. This little corner of the world is ours to transform. This little corner of the world is ours to save.” –Stephen Cope, from The Great Work of Your Life.

I recently read this quote in one of my favorite yoga magazines, and I was like….WHOA! Pulled me up and shot me down. Listen: you have received a small plot of land with vast possibilities…whatcha gonna do with this?

My first response was: Hell if I know. Give me a clue.

I am an herbalist. Practically from birth. So, I’m gonna grow me some herbs. And maybe a few vegetables. I landed on this little farm through default. My room-mate grew up here, in East Cornfield, Indiana. We came home to help her dad die. We knew when we sold our home in Virginia we were coming ‘back to the farm’ to assist in a most important mission to let her dad go ‘home.’ Once I got here, I knew I had a purpose.

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The last good-bye

As I make my way here on the farm, I consider all of my  dreams and expectations. I believe all of us, individually and as a society, are affected by the Earth’s welfare. And we do have the power to make changes, even little tiny ones, that can impact it. We pulled up to this farm on a whim and a dream. And I realized, I could make a tiny impact. I can grow an herb farm. AND, I can save the world, one little mindful step at a time.

Each of us, individually, are affected by the Earths’s welfare, and we do have the power to make changes, even little ones, that can impact it. This is my plan to change my world!

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Sunset on our farm

Listen up:

  1. Recycle your sh*t. All of it. I live out here in the middle of a cornfield and we recycle every little thing. We have a row of bins lined up just outside our kitchen door and we toss plastic, glass, and cardboard and we haul all of it to the recycle center in town. Unless we can reuse some of it…we recycle it. I know that most cities and many towns have a recycle center or pick-up service, so there is no excuse. Recycle your sh*t!
  2. Let’s talk about food. Grow your own, buy local, eat simply. What? It’s simple. Actually, just simplify. If you have room for a garden, grow some vegetables. If you have a balcony or porch, grow a few potted herbs, tomatoes, even peppers. Not interested in growing your own, check out your local farmer’s market, CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), or neighbor community garden plot. Many neighborhoods have community gardens…get involved.
  3. Begin eating with the seasons. Lettuce, peas,  and spinach in the early spring, zucchini, corn, tomatoes mid summer, and squash, pumpkins, and my favorite apples in the fall. And maybe consider reducing meat consumption. Yes, it seems we have deemed ourselves carnivores, but we can reduce our meat consumption by a meal or two. I am not gonna go into the cost of growing that perfect T-bone, but letting go of our ‘meat and potatoes’ diet can actually make a difference toward our impact on our health and the environment. Specifically water consumption and methane production. What is that? Big huge cow farts and poop. It is just fine to replace all that beef  with responsibly harvested fish/seafood, organic chicken, or ‘shut your mouth’ TOFU. (I have tasty recipes, give me a hollah if interested.)
  4. Let’s talk about energy. And gasoline. Can we get by with one vehicle in a family? Maybe walk or bicycle to work? Share a ride. And turn off lights in the house. Turn down the thermostat. Toss the TV. ( I know, sacrilege.) I am fighting tooth and nail on this with my room-mate, so I get it. Even though all we have is local broadcast, she insists on watching Mystery Science Theater 3000. (Can you feel my pain?!?)
  5. How about we all just spend some time with nature? Get your ass outside. Go play! Seriously. Take a hike, sit next to a river, hug a frickin’ tree (okay, yes, I do commune with trees), ride your bike, swim in the river, listen to the ocean lapping against the shore, spend some time outside!
  6. Okay! This is a big one for many people. How about just simplifying? Give away all that stuff you don’t use any longer. I’m pretty certain all of your unused ‘stuff’ will be happily adopted by somebody else that needs it.And if we are simplifying…how about living in smaller homes? Less stuff, less space to heat or cool, less furnishings, just less! Unload what you don’t NEED and give it to somebody that will appreciate it.

Yes! I am a Mother Earth hugging, Lola Granola, Birkenstock wearing, unapologetic passionate creative and I believe we can change the world. One tiny corner at a time. We need to consider our environmental stewardship, our thoughtful consumption (I hope), our involvement with our community, (neighbors and our world), and our responsibility as fiscal earth dwellers. Consider your impact each day, and let it inform your actions in this world.

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Suburban garden

This is my ‘take over the world’ manifesto. It is simple and direct. This is how I intend on occupying my tiny corner of the world and growing my farm and my cottage business.

These Here Parts: Ol’ Nessie

The Pond and Ol’ Nessie

Nestled within a thicket of hardwood trees in the middle of the farm is the Old Pond, the nature-claimed remnant of a small gravel pit which was filled and stocked over a generation ago. If you move slowly, crouch down, and stay silent, you might see red-eared sliders sunning on a downed trunk, blue-gills or sunfish splashing out of the water after skimmers, or a great blue heron preening in the afternoon light. Crickets and cicadas chirp and buzz, and wood ducks quack softly on the banks of the nearby creek.

Even though the mosquitos are harassing you and whining in your ear, you stay still, because you see bubbles break the lichen-covered surface of the pond. Two eyes and a nose push up from the water, set on a triangular face no bigger than four inches across. It stays there for a couple of minutes before disappearing. Then you see the bow-wave rippling across the pond and the depression behind it as the water rushes close over a long, curved carapace.

The small face appears again, this time near the shore. The creature hauls itself up the gentle incline one halting inch at a time. The face becomes a stony olive head at least seven inches wide, with a horned beak and bulging jaw muscles. The carapace is so overgrown with moss, you can’t see the three rows of spiked plates arising from its back. The feet and legs bear heavy olive scales and move in measured, deliberate steps that indicate the burden of the massive body.

This is Ol’ Nessie, your alligator snapping turtle friend. Nessie’s gender cannot be ascertained from a distance. Its shell is approximately three feet long, and its mouth is wide enough to accommodate your entire hand, so you’ve learned to live with the gender mystery. Nessie has been in this pond for all of your life, and likely a generation before. Members of her species may live up to 200 years, although nobody really knows for sure. No matter if she’s 120 or 180, you get the feeling that you’re looking at living history. This reptile has managed to survive through at least one and possibly two world wars, years of industrial-age pollution, predation and hunting, and all manner of weather extremes, to peer at you from the edge of the pond. Its motion, and its stillness, give you the impression of stepping back into the Mesozoic Era.

Ol’ Nessie hears a twig snap as you lean to see over the undergrowth. It turns its hulking body around and slips back into the water, leaving a swirl of lichens in its wake. You’ll return again to visit soon.

-Writing and photography contributed by Melinda Hall