The Gifts of Birds and Berries

Blueberries and raspberries from our garden

Right now the garden is happy with berries: the raspberries are loaded with fruit, and this is the first year for a blueberry harvest. We planted these blueberry bushes in 2017. This year, I put up some fence posts and draped the berry bushes with gauzy fabric after the berries started to form. (Tried it first without the posts, but the weight bent the bushes over when it rained.) This is to keep the birds from eating all the berries. But we have three younger plants in the back that I left open. And the raspberries do fine on their own. So every other day, I go out and pick a bowlful of ripe berries.

Blueberry bushes wrapped with tulle fabric

The fabric barrier is a bit ironic really. I don’t mean to discourage the birds at all. But expert gardener’s advice says that they will eat all the blueberries before we can. I think of myself as a very novice gardener. Our garden only provides us with a very modest harvest. Last year the squirrels took all the peaches, and cabbage moths are now eating a lot of the kale. I have given up on the idea of creating a food forest that will provide all our needs. This year, I haven’t had the energy to give any of it much attention at all.

But somehow, in the midst of it all, the garden keeps giving back to us in unexpected ways. The orchard has become a bird heaven. We now regularly see cardinals, a robin couple (who, after two failed attempts, are again playing with the nest on our porch), gold finches, house finches, sparrows, chickadees, catbirds, starling visitors, not to mention the turkey mom and her two babies that keep coming through, and so many more. The small birds love perching in the fruit trees–and I love seeing them there. They ate the few cherries, which I didn’t try to protect. I think they are also eating a lot of bugs. They even love perching on top of the stakes in the zucchini bed. We provide sunflower seeds in the bird feeder, and they planted sunflowers all around it with the droppings. So we are gifted with all this beauty.

Sunflowers in bloom around a green bird feeder with a small sparrow on it.

This has been a summer of much gifted beauty. Another example is the wild evening primrose. I pulled all of the primrose plants that had sprouted up in the orchard, because I knew they would be too tall and block the paths. But I purposely left the ones on the other side of our back porch, this one in front of irises that bloomed earlier. And now they sparkle a bit like a Christmas tree in July.

Tall evening primrose in bloom

Each year I do learn a bit more about how to garden. This year, it seems that what I am learning most of all is how much the earth gifts to us and to all her creatures, how generous and abundant she is, when we merely open to her and open to other creatures, and stop trying so hard to make something specific happen. I am feeling the interconnected family of beings, and especially the joy of birds who now find a home in our yard. It’s amazing! Finally, I just want to also express gratitude for a monarch butterfly who came to visit a few days ago.

Monarch perched on volunteer elecampane flowers

Winter Solstice Dawn

Photo: Solstice dawn seen through trees in our town.

After the longest night, the shortest day dawns with beauty in the sky, and draws me outside into the cold and colors of morning. Snow is covering the ground at last, which has brightened up these last few dark days. Margy and I are learning to play backgammon for holiday fun during the isolation of COVID. After our first full game, we ate a Solstice Eve celebration dinner last night. Traditionally pork is eaten at this season in honor of the European goddess Freya. Later, we pulled out runes for a message for this turning of the seasons. My rune was Gebo, the rune for giving and receiving, for love and partnership.

As the light returns, and the days lengthen, may our human hearts turn toward generosity and compassion, in reciprocity with all of the beings with whom we share this planet.

Winter Solstice

Sun shining over brook on winter solstice morning

It is the morning of winter solstice. I take a walk to the brook. The new sun is shining in a misty sky, fresh and gentle. Snow covers the ground here in the homelands of the Wabanaki, the stolen land called Maine. I am awestruck by so much beauty everywhere, grateful for the brook and its trees, for the light of the sun, for this neighborhood walk. Now that the gardening work is asleep under the snow, I am trying to go back to taking walks in the morning.

Kisuhs koti-apacuhse” is the Passamaquoddy/Wolastoqey way to say the winter solstice. It literally means “the sun comes back walking.” So maybe I, too, can come back walking–nkoti-apacuhs nil na. Today I was able to do my 20 minute circuit. Some days ago, I had started with 10 minutes, then 15–by going slightly different ways to the brook and back. For some reason, perhaps a new supplement I am taking, my energy has been returning in the mornings again. It is much easier to walk on sunny days than on cloudy ones. By the way, the sun is also known as the one who walks in the day, espotewset kisuhs.

Tonight just after sunset, there will be a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn low in the southwest sky–perhaps it will be too cloudy to see it here–we’d have to drive somewhere in any case, because the southwest of our yard is thick with tall pine trees. I think of Jupiter as the planet of expansiveness and generosity, Saturn as the planet of limitations and boundaries. 2020 has certainly been a year of limitations and boundaries for so many. So perhaps these opposites coming together give a glimmer of new hope, that we might find our way out of this restrictive place we’ve been in. Ironically, it has been through restrictions that we have had the hope of surviving, but we also need generosity to ensure our survival as a people together, to come out the other side with possibility. Can we learn both boundaries and generosity? Can we find a way out of the individualistic greed demon that plagues our society? I pray we can.

I pray that this Solstice may be a turning toward greater light and truth, a recognition of the interwoven fate of all humankind, all life kind, on our beloved planet earth.

The Layers of Community

Before-marked for fruit tree beds

[Before–Growing beds marked with flour and flags]

On Saturday, we hosted our Permablitz! (See “more before” photos here.)  Over 20 people came to our yard and worked together on projects such as installing rain barrels, building a composting system from pallets, building a fire circle, and creating five more  growing beds for future fruit trees, raspberry bushes, & hazelnut bushes, and one bed for flowers & herbs.  We also got the first shovelfulls dug for a pond.

Opening Circle-Sylvia, Cathleen, Ali

[Opening Circle]

At the end of the day, I got teary-eyed with the sense of Gift.  The generosity of so many individuals coming together and creating something so beautiful and full, helping us to realize our dreams for this piece of land was deeply moving.  There is something about this giving and receiving of human attention and wisdom and care, that feeds our hearts. Much of our lives are shaped by transactions—we pay a certain amount of money, and receive a product. Or, we put in so many hours and receive a paycheck.  But giving and receiving freely and generously touches something much deeper. Giving and receiving must trigger deep neurotransmitters in our internal chemistry, sparking a profound sense of well-being and belonging.

I also realized how many layers of community are involved in such a project.  One layer is this community of people who care about the earth, and who come together to give and receive, to learn, to share, to grow, to get to know each other.  People connections are made.

Another layer is the community of the soil.  During the blitz I was mostly working with several others on the project for creating new growing beds.  We were adding nutrients through sheet mulching so that the soil could create a thriving fertile community.  I have learned so much about the variations in soil communities from the book The Holistic Orchard by Michael Phillips.

What a food forest needs, what fruit trees need, is soil whose fungal community is stronger than its bacterial community.  In contrast, annual vegetables and flowers and grasses prefer soil with a stronger bacterial community.  A bacterial community is enhanced by tilling the soil and incorporating organic matter by turning it into the soil.  A fungal community is enhanced by no tilling, but rather adding organic matter on the top of the soil to decompose, as it happens in the forest. (Similarly, compost that is left unturned will generate a stronger fungal community.)

Forking the beds Cathleen

[Cathleen forking the soil]

We prepared the soil by aerating it with garden forks–since it had been rather compacted.  We added some granite dust for mineral enhancement, then put down a layer of cardboard to kill grasses and weeds.

Raspberry Bed-manure & chaff Mihku & Heather

[Mihku & Heather adding manure and chaff]

Then, we added chicken manure, coffee chaff, seaweed, leaves, grass clippings, composted manure, and a really thick layer of deciduous wood chips.  We were able to get a delivery of 8 yards of wonderful ramial deciduous wood chips–these are chips which include lots of thin branches, which have more lignin content that is not yet woody.  The wood chips are the most important part of enhancing the fungal community.

We also made several pathways with cardboard and wood chips, and I will complete those bit by bit in the next days.  Now, the process works on its own–I add some water or it gets rained on–and the microbes will work together over the next several months (and years) to create a thriving soil community.  We will plant trees and bushes next spring.  My friend Roger Paul said that the Wabanaki word for “soil” means giver of life.After-Fruit Tree & Flower/Herb Beds