Organic Seed Alliance

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2016 Seed Conference goers, looking at winter trial fields at Territorial Seeds in Cottage Grove, OR.

Every other year, since 2012, I’ve looked forward to the beginning of February and the relatively quick trip up north to attend the Organic Seed Alliance biannual conference. My first year in attendance was memorable; a car crash left me stranded in Portland, en-route to Port Townsend, WA. I was able to quickly reach out on a ride-share page that was organized by the conference and found myself catching a ride from two Ashland farmers, one of whom I had met in remote Northern India four years earlier, a testament to how small and beautiful the world is! I felt very green at that conference, a bud just starting to form, but not yet open to receive the world of pollination and inoculation. Although much of the information, names, places and concepts were overwhelming, I knew that this was the beginning of something deeply important to me.  In the four years that have followed, these sentiments have fully bloomed and have even set some fruit!

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Oca tubers from Peace Seedlings, Alan Kapular’s Farm in Corvallis, OR.

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Chris, showing the group a dormant Sea Kale stock, a perennial kale species.

It has now been a month since returning to the farm from this year’s OSA conference in Corvallis, OR. The energy that I was able to take away from the conference this year was so enlivening that I’ve been running on the fumes of it since, putting newly gained knowledge into action, maintaining contact with new friends and farmer mentors, pulling ideas from my notebook and sowing their seeds into future workshops, collaborations, and future farm endeavors. If in the first year I felt green, this year I was a rainbow prism: the fuchsia spectrum of ancient Oca tubers, brilliant orange of trailing eight different Delicata Squash varieties, the blue of ice surrounding the Svalbard Seed Vault in Norway (Cary Fowler gave us a vivid virtual tour during his key-note address), the all entrapping, bottomless absorption of black, the pure canvas of white, ideas reflecting, with insights openly shared, and of course, more new-growth green as knowledge buds.

When sowing plants in the legume family, it’s common to inoculate the seeds with a rhizobacheria, this symbiotic relationship allows peas, for example, to take gaseous nitrogen out of the air and fix it into the soil, where it can benefit soil organisms and plants alike. The image of being dipped into a rich inoculum couldn’t escape my mind, as throughout the many days of the conference I became activated, pulling theories, meanings, research platforms and objects out of the buzzing air and fixing them into my present framework of understanding. In crowded rooms of hundreds of people, seeds, both physical and metaphysical were endlessly being exchanged. Their germ plasm inside destined to one day tap their roots in deep and yield sweet fruit. Knowledge and connections made their way around the room as little grains of pollen, some dancing with the wind on loud vocals, other grains moving about, sticky and sweet, bonding to buzzing two-legged pollinators carrying ideas from one farmer to the next in excitement and astonishment. Here, in this hive I’ve found a kindred home, an alliance, one where the Queen heralds open-source, open-pollinated, organic production, resilience, community access, telling and honoring of stories, stewardship, education and diversity.

In my return home to Homeward Bounty Farm I carried with me new inspirational books, field notes that will grow with bounty, colorful seed packets sustaining stories and history, and many little grains of sticky pollen gathered at the hem of well-worn work pants.

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Crocuses in bloom at Homeward Bounty Farm. These wild pollinators are happy with this find!

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The season is off to an early start, with onions, leeks and brassicas growing happily in the greenhouse.

The Cold Muse

The happy high tunnel ecosystem!

The happy high tunnel ecosystem!

The cold muse sauntered in unseasonably late this year. Summer flew away on the wings of staggered chevron teams of Canada Geese.  However, there was no haste to their migration. They didn’t tug at the warmth of the sun or take the flowers with them and we didn’t get morning fields, held in freezing fog, from their exiting draft. They would call, as geese do, their gossip perky, echoing on dry, unwintered, mountain tops.  The geese have migrated with prediction, unpredicted has been lettuce, cabbage, even the stray tomatoes out in the field, that have continued to seize the mild weather and sustain their growth in the moment.

The cold muse’s tardiness allowed for unprecedented extention of our Siskiyou County harvest window. September tumbled into October, and October into November, as months in single harmony. The end of the season sprint kept curving around the bend with no noticeable ending.  The cold mornings usually play their roll in taking the season away, the dutiful farmer in turn tills it all in and sows the closing of the season and cover crops, until spring ground is broken.  But this has been the fall of perpetual harvest, can one really lament? It’s been an extended season of bounty, fresh salads and soups, more sharing and lengthening of connection to the harvest. The Mt. Shasta Harvest Connection for example.

Jonathan kept me together at markets!

Jonathan kept me together at markets!

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The cold muse has been late this year,  and with it so has my reflection of the season, this cold morning by the fire to write, ponder and absorb. Now, with snow on in the Eddies, on Goosenest, Black Butte and a white Shasta, the season can begin to close and go in. An eminence of blessings and thanks for another powerful season of growth can radiate out.  In MANY ways this was the most challenging season yet, with the heat and earwigs taking the farm into a deep hole for the month of June. July and August were kind and our mega-late summer kinder still. Homeward Bounty Farm’s Fourth Annual Harvest Dinner, yet again, held special space and was visited by an auspicious lunar eclipse. The high tunnel is teaching me volumes and produced the most stunning cauliflower crop I’ve have had the honor of growing. This beautiful community, my Siskiyou County home, continues to support, value and connect deeper with the local food experience! This land continues to find connections in family and friends. People who want to give to this property, this farm, to the earth and plants, to step into the pattern and cycles. Farmer and farm couldn’t be luckier and happier or more honored.

4th Annual Homeward Bounty Harvest Dinner

4th Annual Homeward Bounty Harvest Dinner

Garlic starting to pop up. 2016 already in the works.

Garlic starting to pop up. 2016 already in the works.

Lettuce still growing in the field. One of my favorite varieties, Drunken Women.

Lettuce still growing in the field. One of my favorite varieties, Drunken Women.

Brassicas growing happily.

Brassicas growing happily.

The cold muse that has finally brought a slowing ease to the season, did indeed come later than expected and with it I’ve delayed my favorite poem of a season’s close.  A poem that usually comes in with the geese and frost comes in now, mid November. May we have a defined wet winter and a poignant start to spring and continued seasons of bounty.

The Summer Ends   By Wendell Berry

The summer ends, and it is time
To face another way. Our theme
Reversed, we harvest the last row
To store against the cold, undo
The garden that will be undone.
We grieve under the weakened sun
To see all earth’s green fountains dried,
And fallen all the works of light.
You do not speak, and I regret
This downfall of the good we sought
As though the fault were mine. I bring
The plow to turn the shattering
Leaves and bent stems into the dark,
From which they may return. At work,
I see you leaving our bright land,
The last cut flowers in your hand.

 

The First & The Last

An askew view of spring.

An askew view of spring.

Spring is here, but it hasn’t been one I’ve been  hungry for. The dormancy of winter was never pulled down deep. The weight of snow, and dark and deep toned clouds didn’t encompass the past days, or weeks, or months. There wasn’t that moment of movement, when the sun pushed the clouds way, and how they oblige, to see the earth below bask in the rays of warmth. A moment of complete and utter presence for us all, human, animal and plants. No, the farm didn’t  have that. We’ve had Mediterranean, we’ve had the sound of lawn mowers and the indelible smell of fresh cut grass. The heavy winter coat has been on the hanger for months, the frost cloth has been stored since fall, the heater in the greenhouse rarely gets asked to perform. The orchard is in bloom, the daffodils laugh, the lilacs are budding. We’ve had rain and mosquitoes, we’ve had rainbows and colorful butterflies. That sudden moment of transition to spring has been under-clouded by constant warmth, and all is inspired to just go on growing. We’ve had a procession into summer, a parade that has been given the sunny green light, to go marching along.

Last basket of 2014 onions.

Last basket of 2014 onions.

Our vacation to Steep Ravine Cabins near Stinson Beach.

Our vacation to Steep Ravine Cabins near Stinson Beach.

Cleaning up the farm! Oh, the last load of metal recycling!

Cleaning up the farm! Oh, the last load of metal recycling!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring usually vaults fourth with juxtaposition and edge.  The delineated distinctions from dark to light, dormant to vibrant signs of life, are monikers of our accustomed seasonal patterns. The first and the last, beginning and end, cold and heat falling on their appropriate time line, not all mixed together to form patternless webs. The firsts and lasts are still noted, but are on a timeline of chaos. The last of the stored onions and winter squash are being enjoyed, the last of the daffodils have shown in bloom, the last seeds orders have come in, the last multiple day vacation, and the last (hopefully) scrap metal pile has been recycled! The first cucumber beetle was found feasting on the Napa cabbage, the first transplants were planted out in the field, the fist bales of frost cloth have been unwound to prepare for an April 1st tease freeze. The first phlox and yarrow have opened up in texture and color, the first porch hosted dinner was pleasantly enjoyed. The first harvests of Fall planted herbs and brassicas  happened weeks ago, as they grew this winter with little resistance from Jack Frost.

Chard, kale, cabbage, Broccoli, cauliflower get transplanted out on a warm sunny weekend of spring!

Chard, kale, cabbage, Broccoli, cauliflower get transplanted out on a warm sunny weekend of spring!

We are steadily learning that out of sync is now in sync. That to be farmer and farm in this paradigm is to not only be in tune with nature’s cycles, but to know that these cycles can be more like coils, a scatter plot graph, a Rorschach Test. One way of looking at it is that we’re experiencing heightened diversity, and how we love and celebrate diversity here on the farm! Diversity in species from our animals and plant friends. Diversity in soil life. Diversity in our community which grows strong with local food. And how we embrace diversity in this unorganized system of weather, in this lion and lamb walking hand in hand through the gate of spring. The diversity of the firsts blending with the lasts. Welcoming a spring that nested itself in winter. To a season and farm and farmer that’s constantly, ever changing.

Tucking starts in for the night as the nights are going to dip down to freezing levels.

Tucking starts in for the night as the nights are going to dip down to freezing levels.

 

The Earth held still.

Wind and Rain

Wind and Rain

July exits with a bang. There is lightning over head, loud and cracking. The rain is descending from all angles, slanting to the side, dripping down vertically from the eves and is somehow finding a way to mist my face, even thought I’m sitting deep in the shelter of the covered porch.

This month has been extreme. It approached and exited quickly, although that is not to say that it didn’t carve out 31 full days. The days were all very much here. There were wedding days, birthdays, bliss days, Farmers’ Market days, and many work days. There have been days filled with sticky sweat and exhaustion; 100 degree days and evenings of rain and their arching bows. They have been some of the heaviest days I’ve know, the passing of a dear friend. And there have been days of emptiness, the density of sorrow shifting from a solid and evaporating.

It has been a month of soul searching, of finding and loosing. It has been a month where I’m aware of my anchor, the soil, and how thankful I am to sink my hands in, my mind in, and feel the earth. At times I can find myself getting caught up in the cultural construct of money and time, and doubt the validity of this path. My mind uprooting this calling and placing itself within the walls of a definable ‘job.’ But the days of this July have seeded something inside me. They’ve helped me understand deeper the tone with which this earth work is done. Being with the farm this month has filled me with peace. The farm has often been the center of my lessons, learning about life from the rotation of crops and seasons. But this month, as beautiful and sad life happened around me, the earth held still, the Meadow Larks still called out, the plants continued to convert light and squash incessantly needed to be harvested, still.

 

The sky is black and salmon, mixing together the colors move in striking beauty. Lightning is bolting to the Northeast and the clouds are turning themselves inside out with rumble. July is exiting.

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Growing a Farm

 

Jonathan captures the sweet Killdeer nest.

Killdeer nest – Photo by Jonathan Mann

How does one grow a farm? What’s the adequate amount of sunlight, nurture, preparation, vision, IPA, planning, replanning, selection, drive, dive, hands? This farm has been a true manifestation of place and community and vision. But, it’s been a humbling process to realize where to jump into the circle, already in turn. This farm needs to grow from deeper than the soil up, it needs to start in the soil itself. To grow soil is to grow plants, to then grow a farm, to grow nutrient dense food for the community, to be able to sit back and enjoy an IPA, to stretch and get up and dive into the circle again.

I think about the emergence of this season and it has not unfolded as planned. Successions of brassicas (cabbage, broccoli and kale) have gone into the field in little waves, in hopes to determine best planting time for our alpine-mediterranean-high desert climate. And each have been taken out by incoming tides of cut worms, chickens on the loose, ants and what I’m finding out is a micronutrient deficiency of Boron. Lessons have come in on these tides too; fennel and cilantro have been too potent for most of these pests, where there is a bite, there’s always a bug and mental note to grow more lettuce, with their hardy rippling leaves of joy.

Split stems - A sign of Boron deficiency in Brassica crops.

Split stems – A sign of Boron deficiency in Brassica crops.

There are many things in active  growth, besides farmer and farm. These not planned unfoldings are blessings and keep me grounded in process and true wealth, like of being  always conscious of the Killdeer nest in the middle of the field. This knowledge which kept the constant rattle of my brain anchored in the present when navigating from point to point, as to not place unwanted steps. The same with the vernal appearance of the farm resident Gopher Snake, who’s grown since last spring, and alerts me in a fashion that raises my heart rate higher than the bird’s nest. A toad! I remember as a child a large toad that lived by our yard hose. It was one of those moments that didn’t carry on into the years, as it moved on and wasn’t seen in subsequent springs. Seeing this large toad in the field makes me happy to the core. It has dug a hole right at the end of the lettuce bed and can be found under a Red Coss leaf umbrella from time to time. I hope it’s adapting its diet to one of plump cutworms, please!

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Killdeer chicks and Mama

Killdeer chicks and Mama

Climbing peas with fennel in the background.

Climbing peas with fennel in the background.

Things don’t always work out as planned. I’m not immune this feeling, but I’m starting to know it well. The stomach nausea after a killing freeze, a plant taken out by a hula hoe, the mass munching of grubbing grubs, a flat of dropped tomatoes. So it goes. I’ve transitioned beyond ‘young grasshopper’ phase with these lessons of life, of letting anger pass,  of honoring cycles, the gift of the moment and the reset button in one’s heart. The stomach ache is always the last to shake however, the sour sorrow of the core. Sweet Mama I’m sure is housing this same ache, one of her speckled investments of instinct and care, unable to unfold its origami wings from their constellation shell – suspended as the farm circle turns.

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Big Bon-Fire Birthday

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A Year. Homeward Bounty Farm is officially a year old. The farm now can teeter from one season to the next on two strong legs, big dreams are starting to grow in and are able to sink their teeth into the meat of juicy ideas, the soil is building, and the land is recognizing and reidentifying – ‘I’m a farm.’ It’s getting easier to sleep at night as I know everything is going to be alright. I’ve had phases of worry and stress, probably natural for any first years farmer, but I’m realizing more and more that this farm is not wholly dependent on me, that this farm is truly being held up by a family, a community and a vision that is greatly deeper than my sole capacity can create, thank goodness!  I’m eager to be a midwife and support this project, as it develops and grows into something I believe will be sweetly rich and self knowing.

A mantra that surfaced during last year’s farm clean-up party was, ‘the farm provides.’ And it was true. You need a shovel? Look around and soon enough you would find one against the fence, a solitary tool that has stood the test of time, a patiently leaning relic of the last owners, or the ones before. Upon purchase, it was quite apparent that this property represented strata of hobbies from dwellers throughout the years. Anything I may need, and plenty I didn’t need, came with the farm.  The farm has provided, it has provided many trips to the dump and metal recycling, it has provided stray shovels, and loads and loads worth of fuel for bon-fires to keep us warm and in a festive glow.

This first year birthday was appropriately celebrated with one of the best candles yet! We tackled some worthy projects, cleaning out windrows of renegade tumbleweeds, dead trees, derelict fences came down and the mother load rotting wood pile traded its BTU’s with impressive ignition! And the farm provided and the vision shown true, as amazing members of the community came out for an afternoon of splendid productivity. This is how I know that as this farm grows it will not be from my hands alone and that this vision is creating itself. I know because it’s the younger brothers of my high school best friends, now men who came out with excitement. It was Paul’s uncle Danny, determined to tackle it all, the most loyal of CSA members that value the connection with the earth and have with out fail supported Homeward Bounty Farm. Three generations were represented, folks new to the community and neighbors…..and the farm totem, the wind, decided to hold off until the night hours, the rains came and the big birthday candle when out with the prayed for wish of rain. The farm provides! The farm provides! Happy Birthday and Many More!

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Water Tone

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A New Year has crested and with it the days start to tell a story. A story of the present and tales of themes to come. We are the ones that define the new calender, its tone based on our goals, resolutions and resolve.

In my mind I’ve constructed hats, fashioned caringly and in detail, of which I’m striving to wear in balance this year. However, during these times in crafting what WE want, we are often overlooking the patterns of reality. How do we consult our shiny new goals of balance with the deck that will be dealt to us? What notes will be played, to ring out with realism in the bell of clear January days?

Predictable small talk this winter has comprised of winter farm happenings, holiday gatherings and the weather. Conversations warm up and then dominantly plateau about the sky and how it’s not falling, and because it is not, it feels like it is. We talk about the lack of rain in a cathartic way. Our voices come out strong, in hopes to hide the quiver. Our tones dip into fear, but sustain faith,  as if we’re conversing about a dear friend who is acutely ill. I’m at the point of exhaustion towards these conversations – parched, by the talk about the state of California and our declared drought. It can be felt on the roof of my mouth and it fills my eyes as I look at a fourteen-thousand foot mountain with a dusting more appropriate to August.

The conversations continues in my head, with less postured strength in my inner voice. The shallow depths of the water table a reality for life on this farm. Is this the year to establish perennials, will they get a big enough drink to sink their roots in? I comb through seed catalogues for ‘drought resistant’ and xerophytes and I revisit my hats.  In lieu of my personal goals I create a new hat. This one made of glass.  This is the hat that matters. It is the one that will keep me dry when the sky falls with rain, when the creeks rise and the trees take in their fill. Most importantly, a hat that will magnify the melody of rain in my ears. Each drop ringing loudly and filling me with relief and a true sense of balance for the year to come.

Water

I was born in a drought year. That summer

my mother waited in the house, enclosed

in the sun and the dry ceaseless wind,

for the men to come back in the evenings,

bringing water from a distant spring.

Veins of leaves ran dry, roots shrank.

And all my life I have dreaded the return

of that year, sure that it sill is

somewhere, like a dead enemy’s soul. Fear

of dust in my mouth is always with me,

 and I am the faithful husband of the rain,

 I love the water of wells and springs,

 and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.

I am a dry man whose thirst is praise

of clouds, and whose mind is something of a cup.

My sweetness is to wake in the night

after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.

Wendell Berry

A slight snow storm in December, freezing fog and some mild rain has been the only winter moisture.

A slight snow storm in December, freezing fog and some mild rain has been the only winter moisture.IMG_1912 IMG_1915

 

Heartvest Dinner

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Another season to honor. One to name and define, to catalogue. Wedges of present moments strung together under concise themes: a day, the moth of August, a row of tomatoes , but contain truly nothing that can be defined in such simple ways. In reflecting on this, I guess the challenge lies in remembering each memory as pixilated as possible, the quality in every dot that makes it a whole, to remember and feel the authenticity of moments.

This year, not yet done, but cresting, has had many truly authentic moments and has been a season unlike any I’ve experienced before.  It was Green, not exclusively in the eco sense, but in its young tenderness, it’s vulnerability and wide-eyed wonder. We were novices, the soil, the seed, the farmer. Playing in an environment where a little beginners luck would be welcomed and the learning curve proved steep.

The season brought together Home and Bounty, as was manifested through its namesake! The family grew this season, extending to encompass yet more and more lovely smiles, warm hearts and willing to work hands. A community, with a deep appreciation for community, for local vibrant food and an even greater passion to share meals with ones dear! At the heart of it all it truly IS about eating! About making beautiful meals that make you and the ones around you glow. Each individual bite one to savor, like each pixel that makes the whole. The way the white lights caught the smiles amid animated conversations over a Harvest Dinner table. The zinnias shining out, the rain hydrating the cover crop seed, a night and a season beautifuly and richy authentic.  Thank you all for this wealth, this support and the pulse of a farm famly bond, the beat of anther successful Heartvest!

The spread - YUM

The spread – YUMIMG_1552IMG_1546 IMG_1558

Welcoming a beautiful rainbow.
Welcoming a beautiful rainbow.

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A storm rolls in.

A storm rolls in.

In the Groove

CSA Basket - Week #12

CSA Basket – Week #12

If a farming season is like a marathon, then I believe we’re somewhere around mile 19.  Yes we, as the runner may say in third person…. ”Come on legs, we can do it!”  Here on the farm it truly is a we, the soil and elemental unfoldings, the bellies and pocketbooks, the seeds and leaves and fruits, the calloused farmer hands and worn farmer feet.  “Come on gloves, (which look like they’ve already reached the finish line, but have been begged to keep on going) we can do it!” It’s at this mile where you’re pooped, but also very much in the groove. I’ve never run a full marathon, but after a few farm seasons you get the true sense of stamina, pace and drive. To know how hard you’ve worked and know, that now in August, you’ll be asked to pick up the pace, to get up at the same time you did in July, even though the sun is getting to sleep in, to maintain and even, accelerate. You pick up the pace, kick a little harder, because it’s harvest time and the bounty has arrived. Volume! You may think you’re a giving person; now, consider the humble zucchini! They say that wood warms you six times. I feel the same about zucchini: the bed prepping, planting, weeding, nurturing, harvesting and harvesting, hauling out of the field, and warmth of the kitchen as one zips around finding many yummy ways of getting it into your belly.

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It’s mile 19, the BEST part of the season! The beginning of the season opens with jaw-dropping -color-centerfolds. Oh yeah, seed catalogs baby! Now, in the heart of abundance, it’s a succulent recipe treasure hunt of salivating salvation. It’s finding gems like Sweet and Sour pickled Red Onions and Zucchini Bread with Lemon and Thyme.

It’s the time to honor and identify the season too. This year will be marked with eggplant dishes and okra. Last year there were tomatoes abound, salsas and sauces. Moving the abundance into bags and jars, extending the season, you encapsulate the year, define it, and give thanks.

Rolling up my sleeves to clean yet another squash, to reach tongs into a boiling bath of water, to spend extended hours on tired feet (tapping around a kitchen floor), long after the work day is done, in the name of preservation is exhausting. But it’s fuel, it’s drawing out the abundance to have lasagna in the winter months, pickles as the snows thaw and sweet fruit as spring arrives. Another season’s work ahead, one of beauty and paced rhythmic breaths. Feeling out the cadence and getting excited for mile 19 and zucchini! As you lace up your shoes and stretch,  a whisper from the fields, ”On your marks, get set, go” and you’re off!

Zucchini Oatmeal Cookies

Zucchini Oatmeal Cookies

Pickles!

Pickles!

Joy is a Taste

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Homeward Bounty fields mid July

Homeward Bounty fields mid July

The summer has been full. It has been a full glowing moon rising slowly and reaching with grace to watch over the fields like the eager tassels of the sweet corn, they both stretch and bless.  The summer has been full of heat, full of thought and study and work. My mind is running over, how to be present with the successes and the not unfoldings? My day is penciled with ‘dos’ and notes that continually expand and tumble, rolling into the days and weeks of the future that catch up the present quicker than I thought the sun could move.  It has been a season filled with bushels of questions, optimism, recognition, dedication, work and rework. There have been backpacks full too, oranges and chocolate, goggles and towel, wildflowers, wild vistas, plunges!

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It has been a patient year. The bounty unfolding with a tease of anticipation. How eager I am for a plate of sun ripened tomatoes, a smile of watermelon, to hydrate while working in the fields by crunching into the watery cells of a lemon cucumber! I can see the fields playing now, and not just hard to get. Fruits are growing heavy and full, the dawn of the much anticipated Bounty! In these last hot breaths of July our taste buds start to excite as color and beautiful flavors grace our plates. Doesn’t it make you feel alive?

The Plum Trees

Such richness flowing

through the branches of summer and into

the body, carried inward on the five

rivers! Disorder and astonishment

rattel your thoughts and your heart

cries for rest but don’t

succumb, there’s nothing

so sensible as sensual inundation. Joy

is a taste before

it’s anything else and the body

can lounge for hours devouring

the important moments. Listen,

the only way

to tempt happiness into your mind is by taking it

into the body first, like small

wild plums.

Mary Oliver

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