What remains

My late husband, Bill Knoble, was a potter, and a geologist, stonemason and mountaineer. It makes sense that he was adept at stacking a cairn.

He always had a reason for making one. On the trail, he might put together a cairn if the path was unclear. On the farm, cairns began to dot our hayfields—clear markers for us when we were on the tractor with a mower or rake or baler: avoid this spot, beneath lies a rocky outcrop.

The cairn pictured here has been guarding such an outcrop for the last decade. I want to call it “she” because I see a matronly farm wife in profile. Whether on the tractor or on foot, when I spot her in the back meadow, I smile.

For now, she is a bit of Bill that remains.

There’s green under there

Most people look forward to spring. I have mixed feelings. I love winter. Yeah, more layers of clothes to pile on, frozen water in the hen house, icy roads and steady stoking of wood stove fires, but it all makes me feel so in touch with the real world, with nature.

Right now, there’s a two-foot base of snow on the fields, with a crust that’s softening a bit today under the sun and above-freezing temperature. It’s always a miracle to me that beneath all the white there’s dark earth and soon-to-emerge young green.

This spring I plan to do a major nutritional overhaul on the garden. That sounds totally nerdy. I am nerdy about growing things, about splitting and stacking wood, about walking the same miles over and over again to see the day to day, week to week, year to year changes.

So, I’m gearing up for spring and I’m in nerd heaven this afternoon: ordering seeds.

The hens are the first to notice

About this time of year, egg production starts increasing. I have 25 feathered lovelies in the henhouse. From November to February, I’m lucky to get 3-4 eggs each day. It’s winter, after all.

But about a week ago—even with nighttime temperatures dropping to as low as -25F—I began collecting 5 or 6 or 8 eggs each day. Hens follow the sun. It makes sense. As days lengthen, they figure it’s getting more reasonable to start building a brood of eggs for hatching in 5-6 weeks. 

(Side note on chicken biology: hens lay eggs for a week or two, then begin seriously sitting on them to incubate. This means it takes longer than the 3-week incubation time for a hen to put together a satisfactory batch to hatch.)

Anyway, as I noticed egg production increasing, I also noticed a slight change in daylight hours. Yes, it’s cold and snowy and the icicles are two-foot long, but the hens know we’ve turned the corner toward a new season. 

This gal ain’t flying south

The unassuming chickadee is my favorite bird. Gray and black puffballs visit the feeders even on the coldest, shortest days of winter. In other words, they don’t head to Floridian condos or Mexican haciendas. We’re in this February thing together.

I’ve done my share of traveling and I am no longer ashamed to tell people that my favorite place on earth is right here on the farm. It’s not that I’m incurious about the wonders of our planet. Quite the contrary. My breath has been stopped by the high desert of the southwest, by European cathedrals, and the mud-hut villages of rural Cameroon. 

However, I am literally fixed to this dirt. After 50 years of being based on the same piece of ground, I know and love this place. I love it because I know it. That’s what makes it special.

This seems incredibly obvious, but what I’m talking about is more than just recognizing plants or trees. I’m talking about being able to read the ridges in the back hayfield and know they were made by the farmer before me—and why they’re still there. 

Okay, let me get a little weird here…I feel my predecessors on this land. And I know and respect the animals who live here now. Like the chickadee. Or, the coyote, whose howl is a song coming from the ridge almost every night.

It’s mid-February and nighttime temperatures are ranging from +20F to -20F. There’s a foot or two of snow cover, and the thermometer might climb to +30 during the day. I walk for a couple of hours every morning, and then I hunker in—writing, working via phone, crocheting, puttering with little house projects, reading, making bread and soup. And, of course, I let my mind wander as I watch a chickadee work a sunflower seed out of the feeder before flying to the crab apple tree.

There’s room at the window for you.


Welcome to the Boardinghouse North…for the weird and wonderful

Over the 50 years I’ve lived on this piece of ground, in this house, many friends, relatives and strangers have spent time here. This year, with the launch of Boardinghouse North…for the weird and wonderful, I’m making it official. I welcome you to be a part of the experience.

Call, text or email anytime. It’s winter and I’m inside after my morning walk. We’re expecting about a foot of snow, followed by a sub-zero night. I’m next to the wood cookstove. No better place to be.