Spring Arrives in Maine

Spring Arrives in MaineToday is the first day of spring everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.  What it looks like in my neighborhood is huge piles of snow and a really cold morning, but with a bright sun leading us into a clear day.

Margy and I hosted an Equinox ritual at our house last night.  It was a small group of five this time, and most of us were weary from the winter, so our ritual was simple and low key.  We named the friends who had joined us for Solstice and Imbolc, and sent blessings to all of them.  (You know who you are!)  We shared thoughts and readings about our lives and about winter and spring.  We talked about what we wanted to let go from the winter season, and what intentions we wanted to carry into this new season.

I thought about the next several weeks until Mayday.  The snow will disappear, and the ground thaw, and begin to fill with green.  Our plants will arrive from Fedco:  an apple tree, a peach tree, two blueberry bushes, three hazelnut bushes, a mulberry tree, a licorice plant, 25 asparagus plants, and 3 golden seal plants.  By Mayday, I hope they will be in the ground.  Our friends volunteered to help with the planting.

I remember when we first imagined this new home, when we began to lay out our intentions to find greener housing in the summer of 2015.  Our intentions included creating a permaculture garden, and having space in our living room for people to gather.  And here we are!  Living those dreams into reality.  The magic of deeply felt intentions can be surprisingly powerful.


Portland Gardens

About a hundred years ago, in 1912, Jacob Wilbur decided to “develop” the large area of  land in which the old white pine tree lived and is living.  He purchased it from H.H. Holm. He called it “Portland Gardens,” but the first thing that happened was that he had a plan created in which the open land was divided into very small rectangles.  Over the years, some roads were created and houses built, but the area in the upper left corner of the plan–where our old pine lives–was never completed.

Plot plan Portland Gardens

In 1924 that area was sold to Amato Kataruchi, and then a couple years later the City of Portland took possession of it for taxes unpaid.  In 1969 the city sold it cheaply to the D—– family that had bought our house when it was first built in 1967. (Our house is actually in an adjacent development that was called Sunset Heights–it was “developed” by a firm called Jordan and Hammond in 1967.)

I learned all of this by searching online land records and deeds via the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds.  After thinking about the pine tree’s possible 162 year life, I was inspired to see what I could learn about the history of the land to which we now belong.  I didn’t realize how easy it was for anyone to trace one aspect of the history of their land through deeds, its so-called “ownership.” And, I didn’t realize the challenges either.  The boundaries of our yard were formed in 1969 through the combination of two lots–front (where the house is) and back–which in our deed is actually described as four small lots, and a corner of another.

So I could trace the “owners” of our yard from us back to the D—– family, with three families/individuals in between.  But prior to 1967, I had to start searching separately the front and back sections–the back section leading me to the Portland Gardens development plan in 1912.  Then the search got even more complicated because tracking how the developers acquired the land meant investigating multiple sellers, and entirely different descriptions of the land.  Still working on that.

All of this feels important to me as part of understanding our relationship to this land, and as part of a decolonization process–moving beyond the norms of our society which treats land as a possession, rather than as the place to which we might belong. And understanding the many ways that colonizers sought to acquire land–through purchase, through theft, through trickery, and through misinterpreting the early agreements made with indigenous peoples–they treated the offer to settle here in right relationship with the indigenous people as instead granting ownership of the land for whatever use they might want to make of it.

There are so many land records in the registry of deeds.  So many pieces of paper dividing the land into large and small pieces. There are whole professions built up around establishing who owns or owned what pieces of land.  Title insurance, title search companies, and all the rest.  I want to understand the history, but it is wearying to track such an ultimately destructive operation.  My ancestors were not part of this process here in Maine, but perhaps by learning more about this land right here, I can better understand the process as it happened over the whole continent.  It is a long story of the ways those of us who have European descent broke our relationship to the land and to her peoples.



This coming summer, I plan to retire from my ministry at the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church.  I have loved being a minister and have loved serving this congregation for 12 1/2 years.  I think the congregation would also say that it has been a good match.  But last summer, I began to think I might need a change.  I have been dealing with auto-immune health issues for some time, and just don’t have the energy I used to have. I will be turning 65 this coming summer, and that means I will be eligible for Medicare–which in turn makes it possible to consider this change.

Unlike when Margy and I were searching for greener housing, and had such a clear sense of intention guiding our efforts, this change is more mysterious.  It comes from a deep place of weariness in my body, and a deep hunger for spaciousness in my spirit.  I am not sure exactly what the future will hold.  One thing I do know is that I need to tend the garden in our yard.

We’ve already ordered a bunch of trees and other perennials that will arrive in the spring:  one “Honeycrisp” apple tree, one “Contender” peach tree, an “Illinois Everbearing” mulberry tree (that one is mostly for the birds), three hazelnut bushes, two blueberry bushes–Blue Ray & Jersey varieties, a licorice plant, twenty-five Asparagus plants, and three goldenseal plants.

My spirit feels like the ground hidden under the snow, or the berries encased in ice.  I am trying to find quiet and solitude to listen to what it wants to tell me, to find out, as David Whyte says,

What shape waits in the seed of you to grow and spread its branches against a future sky?”



The Visitor

Woodchuck hiding under woodpile

Our neighbor mentioned this little woodchuck (aka groundhog) had eaten her flowers when she planted them, and now she or he has been visiting our yard.  When we saw him the other day through the side window, he was eating something in the grass between our two houses.  I went outside to take a photo and he lumbered over to hide below the neighbors woodpile.  So cute.  But the next morning, some of my kale plants had been eaten. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Ever since we’ve been planting trees and making new garden beds, we’ve had many more birds and other critters come into the yard.  So mostly that is a wonderful thing.  But we are hoping to grow food!  So I will be searching the internet for natural ways to repel them.  Have any good ideas?




We just found out that we were chosen to be a Permablitz site this season, on June 24!  Permablitzes are organized by the Resilience Hub in Portland, and as described on their website:

Permablitzes are essentially the mother of all work parties, permaculture-style.  With permablitz events we tap into our own local “barn raising” ethos to help each other install edible landscapes, renewable energy, water collection systems and more all in one day.

Our hopes are to install several rain barrels, create a frog pond and a fire circle, maybe help with our bittersweet control, and do more soil enhancements and aeration.  We think of these as structural components of our garden, and it is also suggested by permaculture experts to do any earth shaping projects near the start of your work–the frog pond is in that category.   Also, depending on where we are in our planting process, we might get help with sheet mulching and plantings for our cherry tree guilds, and Sylvia’s herb garden.  Our friend Sylvia, who helped us plant our cherry trees, has studied herbal healing.  She doesn’t have land where she lives, so we invited her to create an herb garden here at our home.  We are so excited about this collaboration!

I have been to several Permablitz work parties over the last few years, and while there is a great benefit to hosting a Permablitz, there is also a lot of benefit to participating as a worker. Along with the joy of helping someone’s garden grow, I have learned a little more each time about the principles of permaculture, about strategies for water collection, about soil health, about growing gardens in general, about ideas for edible landscapes that I might never have heard about.  It is also a lovely way to meet folks who care about the earth, and our relationship to it.  So if you will be in Portland on June 24th, you are invited to come to our  Permablitz.  When the event is posted with all the details, I’ll share it.

Permaculture Design, Phase OneThis is a section of our evolving Permaculture Design for our yard.  (It didn’t really work to try to put the whole design into one photo, so this is of the half of the yard nearest the house.) I had started this design by measuring everything in our yard and putting them on grid paper–the grids equate to 3 feet square.  Then we had lots more input with our Intro to Permaculture Design class, and a conversation afterward with the leaders, Heather and Julie.

Last weekend, I went back to the original, and filled in some trees that were already on our land, and then began adding the design elements that are among our first steps in the plan.  I added color!  I haven’t drawn in all of our future ideas.  We are growing our garden slowly, so that we can learn what we need to learn as we go, and not take on more than we can handle right now.  (I am thinking of taking this design and making copies on which to draw our speculations for future ideas.)  I also haven’t yet drawn in Sylvia’ herb garden, which will be near the ornamental cherries, but she hasn’t determined the configuration yet.

I love the design part of the process, and while I sit in the back yard, I am always getting new ideas about where future plants might go.  Blueberries, hazelnuts, apple trees… and then I step back and breathe, and let myself go slow, and enjoy.  Because every step of this process has been such a joy!

Planting the Cherry Trees

Today was the perfect day to plant our cherry trees, May Day Eve.  I had figured out the locations, and marked them the day before.  Our friend Sylvia came to help with strength and muscles.  She dug the holes!  Thanks, Sylvia!

Our friend Mihku had given us compost from her garden (Thanks, Mihku!) and we realized we needed even more, so Margy drove to buy some, while Sylvia and I positioned the first tree.  I applied mycorrhizal inoculant to the roots (from the wisdom of Mihku), while Sylvia held the tree.  Then we filled in what we could.

Cherry Planting Hands in Dirt

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

When Margy returned, she took photos while Sylvia and I finished filling the hole with compost and dirt.  I placed the Lapins Cherry closest to the patio, and the Black Tartorian Cherry about twelve feet beyond. We discovered the soil under the Black Tartorian was darker and richer, so we used some of that to fill the first hole too.

It felt so good to have my hands in the dirt, to give good energy and nutrients to these young beings that will live with us in our home.  It also felt good to have help from a younger stronger friend, my aging body just not able to do as much physical labor as I used to do.  It felt really good to share the process, to create a celebration of earth and sun and soil and friendship and the fertility of the land.

More photos:Sylvia starts digging

Myke & Sylvia – Version 2

[Photo by Margy Dowzer]

Cherry Trees in the Ground

Sylvia and Margy

Plant Swap

Yesterday, Margy and I participated in the annual plant swap at the Resilience Hub.  We didn’t have plants to swap, but Margy gathered seaweed to bring, and I made some grain-free, sugar-free cherry brownies to share.  We were able to get lots of plants we need for our cherry tree polycultures–plants that we will place around the trees that help the trees to thrive and also have benefits for us.  Back at home, I put them in pots and set up a little “nursery” area near our water spigot, for them to live until we are ready to put them in the ground.

Plant Nursery – Version 2Some of the plants and their functions:

  1. chives–use in a ring around the base of the tree to deter pests, attract pollinators, provide anti-fungal support (cherry trees are prone to fungal issues), plus herbs for eating
  2. comfrey–draw up nutrients from deep in the ground, attract pollinators and beneficial insects, cut the leaves to create mulch, and use for herbal healing
  3. rhubarb–more mulch, and delicious eating
  4. oregano–aromatic pest confuser, anti-fungal, can handle foot traffic when harvesting cherries, and cooking herb
  5. thyme–aromatic, one of my favorite herbs for cooking and health
  6. chamomile–anti-fungal , attract beneficial insects, draw up nutrients
  7. lupine–nitrogen fixer
  8. kale seedlings–especially as the tree is growing, to use the space for growing my favorite vegetable.

We also plan to plant daffodils around the drip line, to deter pests, attract pollinators and have beauty; plant the perennial seakale for good eating, maybe some asparagus; and sow white clover in the spaces between other things, as a nitrogen fixer.

The plant swap was a lot of fun, meeting other permaculture gardeners, and learning more about some plants that I didn’t know about.  I also met someone who was using my book for teaching classes at her Quaker meeting. How great is that?

Plant Swap