Sunday, October 20, 2013

Is Several Gardens Farm Haunted?

We first put in an offer on Several Gardens Farm (which was then known as Used Car Alley) in late Summer 2001, right before 9/11.

The offer was turned down just days before that event, and we submitted a counter offer, which I began to frantically reconsider when the planes hit.

Our orchard sits directly below the landing run of SeaTac Airport's second runway.

Pregnant with my first (only) child, and in the state of confused anxiety we all felt about the future, I wondered whether a house with low flying planes rumbling overhead was a wise choice.

Thoughts of fire, anthrax and general mayhem were universal at the time and I was not immune.

The loudness of airplanes was another matter, which we had already determined we could handle. We were right on that count. The animals don't even look up as 747's lumber in low on foggy days. We suspend conversation if we are outdoors - inside we don't even hear them.

We soon decided not to, as they say 'let the terrorists win' by changing our life to suit our fear.

But from the beginning, before we moved here, Several Gardens Farm marked, for me, my passage from carefree adult to responsible parent. All parents must have some version of this. Bad news stories suddenly aren't just sad, but devastating. Seeing people struggle with their children is no longer just 'other people's kids' but possible glimpse of ones own future. I became at once more tender hearted, yet tougher and more resilient. 

My goal has always been to do this without losing perspective and becoming only a parent. I want to be happy in my own right. I want to enjoy my own accomplishments, tell my own stories and pursue my interests, not at my child's expense, but in the same way I want him to do those things. But finding a balance is tough.

Several Gardens Farm started throwing ghosts my way almost from the start. 

When we bought the property, there were a number of old, partly collapsed out buildings in the back yard. We removed them right away because they seemed to harbor rats and mildew. The soil inside them was bare, dry and powdery and instead of filling in with grass, it grew sorrel and other acid loving plants.

One day, as I was getting our chicken roosts set up, I glanced over at the void where the recently demolished shack was and saw the apparition of a woman in late middle age, wearing an old fashioned tennis outfit. Nothing further came of this and I have no explanation for what I saw - though she did bear more than a passing resemblance to a neighbor who I met later and who has proven to be one of the best possible people to have in the area - supportive yet discrete and totally unfazed by bees.

The next two hauntings are very personal and a little hard to tell. They don't involve seeing ghosts but how we react to the unexpected and fearful.

The first was the loss of our chickens. About a year after we moved, and just as we congratulated ourselves on how well our fence was keeping out predators, Noah and I both came down with a very serious stomach flu.

He was sick enough to go to the doctor, but thankfully not sick enough to hospitalize. I was sick enough to be able to give him the care he needed but nothing else - not look out the window, make a bed, or even feed the chickens. David was at work, but did the animal chores morning and night.

Some time while Noah and I were at the doctor or lying in bed during the day, a dog climbed the chain link fence and killed four of our five chickens. Joy, the Speckled Sussex, had somehow remained in hiding and was alive but very lonely and scarcely able to fend for herself.

At this point David had come down with the bug too, and I was just enough better to lock the chicken in a kennel until we could get up and deal with the problem.

Being a working, farming mom is never harder than when everyone is sick and a dog kills the chickens. But about a week later we had found the weak spot in the fence, eliminated the problem and Joy was out ranging the yard, lonely but safe.

Out the corner of my eye, I saw what looked like a huge crow, scratching like a chicken in the loose leaves of the neighbor's yard. For several days I would see this shape, bobbing in and out of shadows, looking more and more like a chicken.

She was a chicken. She and Joy would hang out together across the fence, not exactly friends but allies.

Eventually the neighbor kids were out playing soccer and I asked if that was their chicken. Nope, she was a stray. They caught her for me, and we named her Providence, for the way she appeared to answer our great need. Future events proved her to be a horrific bully but that's another tale.

Two days later, we asked some other kids at the park if they knew whose dog was wandering around killing chickens.

They did not, but they had some chickens their mom wanted them to get rid of so they brought us a little flock of bantams, including Cosmo, the dear rooster who is with us still.

The whole story had a supernatural element that indelibly marked Several Gardens Farm as special, and a bit spooky.

The next episode is the most personal of all. I had to think hard before posting it, but it is a fact and I can't change it by choosing not to remember it. It goes back to when we were new in the neighborhood, and I was new as a mom.

One day, around the time Noah was losing his ability to nap but still needed to, I took him on a drive specifically to get him to sleep. I tried not to do this but on this day I was exhausted, he was exhausted, I was alone and it reliably worked. When he finally fell asleep, I was nearly home from the drive, and stopped, got out of the car and checked the mail. A white car behind us pulled next to our car, and a guy got in and drove off with my car.

I won't describe the next twenty minutes, but I am grateful to say the driver was looking for a car, not an abduction and he abandoned the vehicle when he saw a child. I will also say - don't do what I did. Just don't. If your child is in a car, you are in the car. Period.

The spot where I was standing when the car pulled out became haunted to me. I still stand there sometimes, ten years later, and imagine an alternate universe where I never saw my child again. For some people this alternate ending is reality. I can never again think of parents who lose their children as just someone else. They are me with a horrible ending instead of a reunion. They are also with me in the eternal struggle between protecting a child and giving him room to grow.
Ugh. I am going to move on now to two more 'hauntings', both animal related.

Noah and his friends would go in a group to each other's houses. They avoided a certain spot because one of them heard  lady scream as she walked by it. She didn't report the scream to any adults, but later told all the neighborhood kids, and a bunch of them also claimed to have heard it at various times.

Finally one day we heard it together, and went to investigate. The ghost was a peahen. the-phantom-pea-hen

The other ghost lives in Lightning's mind. Lightning, the energy goat, was born in a fenced off area where other goats wouldn't bother the mom and her babies.

It had everything a goat would want - an open area with blackberry bramble to nibble on, a shelter from the rain, a nice strong house to go in at night, sunshine, shade - it was a perfect little kidding pen.

But Lightning being the energy goat that she was, wanted nothing more than to dig her way under the fence and go play with the big goats.

Her shy brothers and cousins stayed inside but she was everywhere and anywhere she could go - until a broken leg slowed her down for a few weeks.

Once all the babies were weaned, Jeannette, the aging matriarch, took over the kidding pen. As she slowed down, I started feeding her there instead of making her come to the barn with the other goats.

She spent the day in her straw filled house, with her beloved chickens climbing on her, dust bathing near her, and forming a sort of guard of honor.

Till very near the end, Jeannette could fight off the more energetic Lightning and the bigger and stronger Meggie, through sheer confidence and will.

Late each afternoon, the other two would pay her a visit, go for a round of head butting, and then abandon the effort and leave her in her arthritic solitude.

When it came time to say goodbye to Jeannette, the kidding pen had somehow become so much hers that the other goats would no longer visit.

Within a few months of her passing, it became heavily overgrown with weeds, and even the chickens were afraid to go in. Did her ghost live there? I have a hard time imagining Jeannette coming back as a mean, territorial creature that kept others out of her space, but the animals seemed to think just that.

So we did a ceremony for her. I pulled up the weeds, burnt them, and spread the ashes over the ground. I placed bunches of lavender at the four corners of the pen, and hung a bunch of sage from the rafters.

More importantly I dragged in a ladder and taped up the roof where it leaked.

Then - most importantly of all - I fed them in the pen.

The ghost did not try to stop them, and now they go there often, content to share the space with their memories.

Because in the end I don't know how to think of a ghost except as an echo, a memory, a wish or a fear. The longer I walk the earth the more of them I have. For me, Several Gardens Farm - or anywhere I live, risk and make mistakes - will always be haunted.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lawn to garden conversion - green shoots

 When I last wrote about the front lawn, I was in despair. It was a pit, full of shredded cardboard, raw food scraps and burlap. 

I wanted to be optimistic but was having a hard time. The only green was our John Deere.

There are green things at work in it now.  Besides the  tractor.
It is fall. 
The rain and darkness are beginning. 
Like everyone in the nation, I am watching in mortification and shame as our congress grinds the government to a halt. 
But outside, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower is bringing the life back into a space that looked like the city dump a few months ago.

 In July, I hosted a play day for a bunch of boys, aged 7 - 14.

It was an organized day, with themes of beginnings, middles and ends. We began the day by expelling the goats from the garden, later we broke bread, we ended with a heroic battle of the gods against the frost giants.

In the middle, we plowed the earth (the wood chips, really), planted oats and buckwheat, and ran relay races over the newly sown ground.

I wasn't sure this was a good idea. Usually when I sow seeds I compact the ground, but this seemed like overdoing it.

But low. And behold, where the seeds were, there are green spears of life.

The oats came in first.

They looked distressingly like - well, like the lawn we worked so hard to get rid of.

A lot of grasses look about the same.

But the oats are crucial to this project.

Their roots are sinking down, through the rain damped wood chips, right through the crumbling burlap into the ground.

They will hold the soil, the chips and the burlap together this winter. Their roots will act like little living anchors, keeping the rain from washing it all away.

Many of the oats should overwinter and go into rapid growth in the spring. I can either cut them down and let the roots break down into soil, or let them grow.

My chickens do love to jump up and pluck the seeds out of a spray of oats. It's free food and exercise.

I also planted some other things.

Fava beans are super hardy. They fix nitrogen.

When I covered my yard in wood chips, I experienced a moment of doubt. Would the chips decompose too slowly, tying up all the available nitrogen?

The breakdown should be the right speed for the plants I plan to grow, but just in case, I'm adding a share of beans, peas, and clover for nitrogen and for their flowers, beloved by bees.

I had planned all along to grow heather, but I was going to add it next year.

Then the fruit stand had an end of season sale and gave me 12 gallon pots of them for a dollar each. 

What could I do? 

What can I say?

I am a lifelong reader of Wuthering Heights. The bees buzzing lazily in the heather bells have left an indelible impression on my brain.

I had to have them. 

I put them in the ridges of decomposing sod. The grass has all died, and the roots have broken down almost completely. The soil crumbled away like potting soil and let me put the plants in like putting a baby to bed.

And the zucchini? Why, pray tell, did I plant that?

I wanted to see what happened.

I chose a greedy plant - one that needs nutrients and water. I put it in mid-summer, watered once, and left it to its fate.

A squash plant may be greedy, but it's not dainty. It has big, strong roots that went out and found whatever it needed - food and water, enough to grow these lovely green leaves that today, the fourth day of October, have no mildew whatsoever, while in contrast my garden zucchini are covered with white growth.

So it's liking the location.

 As are these King Stropharia mushrooms.

This spring I will be putting in fruit trees, which thrive in fungal soil.

I have been cultivating fungus by providing wood chips.

I cheated by also providing fungus in the form of a mushroom kit.

If any of these guys has few enough bugs, slugs and mites, I plan to eat them.

So far, they are a wormy mess. Alas.

But importantly they are helping the wood chips turn into the kind of mulch and soil my trees will want.

The stairs we put in at the start of summer are looking established now. The lavender, heather, and thyme are filling in the raw soil, and so are the dandelions and the crabgrass.

Winter is not just a metaphor for deaths and endings. A lot of things really do die over the winter. My beloved spiders will leave egg cases behind as they slip away to wherever good spiders go.

Many of the seeds I planted will rot, or freeze, or be eaten. Many of the things eating them will freeze, drown, be eaten or starve in their turn. It is a season of hardship. Like all seasons, really. And to the seed that fails, or the spider that dies without seeing her offspring, it is not a cycle of renewal, but an ending of self.

But for me and for the front lawn, I hold out a bit more hope. The dark season will be a time of rest, or of slow, invisible growth, or of growth couched in the form of loss and setback. But the course I chose is pulling itself forward, and I will do everything I can to help it. And in the spring, I will plant trees.

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