All the Possibilities

by Mimi Hedl

Thanksgiving bouquet

We brought wine bottles from Colorado forty years ago, half of them filled with home brew. Now that I don’t make beer and wine but once every 4 or 5 years when I can’t resist the abundance of elder flowers, all those bottles simply take up space down in the root cellar. Plus the back room of the hand-dug cellar needs refurbishing. The railroad ties Ron used to line the walls have deteriorated and allowed mice and other earth dwellers to tunnel in. We’re going to rebuild the interior with fresh lumber, making it somewhat smaller, and it’ll pose problems for the tunnelers trying to gain entrance. All those bottles would get in our way and we’d have to move and then move them again. I asked Elizabeth if they could use any. She said maybe a dozen but she could take a photo, post it on Facebook, and ask for bids. And she did just that. I don’t do Facebook so this was a new experience.

Door to the root cellar

A few weeks later, she had two offers. Sarah bid the highest so she had first dibs. She’s starting a business for stress relief. One of the rooms will be a rage room where kids will break glass. In another room, they’ll splatter paint all over themselves and onto a canvas, and another room will host gender reveal parties. She’ll use the vintage bottles, filling them with blue or pink powder, maybe both, she exclaimed, for the new parents wanting to celebrate their baby’s arrival.  All this was new to me. I hadn’t heard of any of it and for a moment I felt possessive of the bottles: “Those bottles have wine and beer in their souls. They shouldn’t be used for anything else!” And then that patient voice spoke to me, “Let go of your preconceptions. Move on. Embrace change.”  When I watched how Sarah handled each bottle, looking with satisfaction, holding them up to the sun and how she expressed her gratitude for the bottles, I relaxed, smiled and let go. Ahhh… 

After helping load 70 wine bottles into every nook and cranny of Sarah’s SUV, I came in to find a message from Elizabeth saying she and Cody had been out in the woods and harvested 7 pounds of oyster mushrooms. They had already dried as many as they’d need for winter and did I want the rest? This is just one more act of kindness two of my new gardening friends have bestowed on me.

Oyster mushrooms

Petra and Patrick, Elizabeth and Cody represent the first gardeners in forty years who have a similar passion to what Ron and I had. How odd to meet like-minded people after so many barren years. It makes me believe in the possibilities of anything.  OK, here’s another example. Ron and I used fluorescent shop lights to start our seedlings. When the old bulbs burned out, with an awareness of energy-saving LED lights, I recycled the frames and bulbs and moved on to LED shop lights. I assumed, I didn’t research, that these lights would give the same output of energy. My seedlings last spring did not measure up. I knew I had to make a change. I asked Elizabeth for suggestions. She said they use an LED grow light from Spider Farmer and produce healthy seedlings. One fixture would cover a 3’ x 3’ space. When the box arrived, I expected a 3’ x 3’ box and almost panicked when it arrived in a tiny box. This fixture measures 11” x 12” and feels heavy and substantial. It’ll cover more than enough space for my seedlings. Once again, that kind voice reminded me, “the world has moved on, you can too”. I’m excited to watch this year’s seedlings thrive and thrilled to have advice from someone’s experience. (Elizabeth and Cody inherited the LED shop lights. They needed new ones and were pleased to get them. Yes!!)

All three of us homesteading couples have a unique piece of land with its own glories and challenges. For example, the road to Elizabeth and Cody’s is so steep my ‘96 Honda scraped bottom the first time I went down. Now Elizabeth picks me up at the top of the hill, a taxi service, after I park in front of the gate. Their land has a remarkable diversity of plants and animals, a huge lake, 18’ deep at the deepest. They get flocks of wild geese and all kinds of water birds. They’re making paths through their beautiful woods and have many wildflowers, vines, trees and oodles of mushrooms of all kinds. Their permaculture gardens inspire  me. Elizabeth scatters seed to the wind, letting everything grow in a mishmash, successfully. She uses strawberries as a ground cover and has thousands of runners.

Petra and Patrick’s place sits on top of a steep hill with brilliant views of the sky. The stars dazzle with no interference from trees or buildings. A spring-fed pond keeps the ponies happy. Because most of their land, like ours, was pasture, they get to landscape it and grow whatever trees and shrubs they like. Petra has plans for an oak savanna and edible natives everywhere. Patrick is looking into wind and solar power and moves about on their tractor like a pro. They set up a clothesline early on and I smile in solidarity when I see their clothes blowing in the breezes. They insisted on a riding mower with a bag. Patrick spreads all the clippings on the trees and shrubs Petra has planted. In one short year they’ve increased the biodiversity a hundred fold. What a pleasure to know these couples.

The head gardener and I have our own autumn tasks. Stashing the bamboo and spreading mulch chief among them. We put up a large, tall wire basket to store the branched bamboo. I like to stick these pieces in the gardens to give the birds places to hide and perch but the freezing and thawing of the soil pushes them out and then I can’t get them back in because the earth’s frozen. So this year the head gardener thought ahead and made some hideouts before the freezing cycle began. We staked down this big basket so the wind can’t topple all the wonderful pieces that vines love to twine around. And birds have discovered a refuge from the cold winds.

Look at how neatly the head gardener uses the obvious storage holes for the unbranched bamboo. When she threads the pieces into these openings it feels like we have a bamboo lumber yard. Sometimes I’ll amble over to the storage bins and poke in some bamboo pieces. She frowns at me. “One at a time,” she’ll shout! Oh yes, she loves order and if one piece is poking out, she’ll take out the whole lot and redo it so it’s neat and tidy. I have to confess, it does make it much easier to get them in, in the autumn and out, in spring. Come spring these horizontal canes provide a sheltered space for a vining plant to begin to grow, protected and shaded once the summer sun comes.

The birds mercilessly hit the windows. I’d put up a line of feathers on a string, but as my daughter pointed out, I needed larger feathers than the little ones I used. And then bamboo spoke to me. I split a cane, drill a hole near the node, put a strong string through the hole, hang them, and watch them move with the wind, telling the birds not to come near.

Jeremy, Johnny, John, Patrick and 3 year old Easton all filled the woodshed with beautiful oak. I stood out visiting with them as they stacked, told stories and teased each other, and of course me. There’s something special about being out in the cold, doing a job together, watching the woodshed fill up.

Our Lady has her autumn garb. And a new head. With no more bushel basket gourds, I felt puzzled. Then I looked at some frames for unfinished baskets I inherited when Walt, my friend and fellow basketmaker had passed. He did unexpected things that made you laugh or smile, I can give him this. I know he’d be tickled to see one of his frames become the head for Our Lady. And she loves the way the wind blows through her mind, clearing the cobwebs and freeing her to dream.

5 thoughts on “All the Possibilities

  1. Love the photos and happy for your fellow homesteaders. It is wonderful for you to have some kindred souls near you. Kudos to Colleen for the feathers in the window idea.

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  2. Several friends have asked what’s in the bouquet: Heavenly bamboo(nandina domestica); and deciduous holly berries,(ilex decidua). The first non-native, the second native.

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  3. I realized, just last night, that you and Bud visited us in July of 1989, when Ron was digging the root cellar. You saw its beginnings, that big dark hole.

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