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a poem for the harvest

the long quiet of winter
kat heatherington

bird after bird after bird
passes through my hands.
all the long day in the cool autumn sun,
laughing, teaching, sharing
the work of killing,
the work of bringing food
from the living.
the bucket black with old blood,
filling red with new.
feathers by the handful.
leaves falling all day in long cascades
themselves dry feathers from a cloudless sky.
in the morning, crows, and then cranes.
in the evening, cranes, and then quiet.
entrails red on the ground,
left carefully out for coyotes.
in my heart, an uneasy silence.
the good work i’ve been given, in fullness.
and the hollow of the missing, the lost, the dead.
all the birds dispatched to their tables,
the long quiet of winter descends.

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sweat lodge!

This weekend, we built a sweat lodge, for use in the winter solstice ceremony (and potentially other ceremonies, of course).

we began by clearing a level site just west of the fire circle.
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some friends came down to help, and our three current wwoof interns all jumped into the work with enthusiasm.
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the cleared site:
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then we selected fifteen strong young elm trees, as slender and long as we could find, and stripped them down to become the poles for the frame. normally, this would be done with willow, but we are working from a principle of site-specificity. our property includes many thousands of elm trees that require some management, and no willow at all. so we used elm. it worked out very well.
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we measured the center of the lodge, tehn dug the hole where the hot rocks will go.
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then we laid out the poles to determine where to dig the holes to plant them into the earth.
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we dug the post holes about a foot deep, to give the structure strength and stability.
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then set the poles in place
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planted them firmly in the earth, with much careful tamping
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and bent them into shape.
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the poles are not interlaced, because they are elm, which is less flexible than willow. instead, they are laid over each other in courses.
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we fastened the bent poles to each other with wire. we used wire again because it was what was already available on hand, and also because elm is very strong, and somewhat resistant to being bent, and we wanted a fastener that would hold it firmly in place without supervision while it dries into its new shape.
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when all the long poles were in, we added the lateral support along the outside of the circle.
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and finished with a couple extra supports to hold the blankets above the door.
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we also began to add a berm around the low side, to protect the lodge from flood irrigation next spring.
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the final lodge:
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the frame is sturdy enough that i could do a pullover directly onto the top of it, and it barely moved.
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isn’t it lovely?
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the full set of photos is here:

https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver/sets/72157646902028803/

another change, in a season of change

i suppose i haven’t done a fall photo post yet. a lot of fall photographs are up on our flickr page, if you’d like to see some pretty leaves and grapevines.

i’m behind on taking pictures of Mahazda, for a couple reasons. one is that we’re both half moved in, and also waiting for the keva fireplace in the livingroom to be finished. i’ve got process pics of that, but want to be able to show the whole thing — it’ll be another week.

and by “we’re half moved in,” I mean that Jenny and Gawain are moved into the new house, but we’re still working on the kitchen, the office, and the common areas, so the space isn’t quite functioning as a community gathering space in the way we want it to. It will when the kitchen is fully moved over, but that’ll be a couple weeks while we finish installing cabinetry and appliances. And finish that fireplace in the livingroom, too. Alan and I are remaining in our yurts, Tristan in the Cottage, and Rev and Billy at Caer Aisling. While all of these are community spaces in different ways, Mahazda will be the common gathering place, for meetings, parties, events, etc. The Cottage front room will become a library later this winter (not that it’s very far from being one right now).

the other reason i’m behind on photography is that this is a season of change, in more ways than the house. Alan has been thinking for a year and more that he might need to move to the San Francisco Bay area for career reasons, and the time for this has finally come. So a couple of weeks ago, we packed up a rental car and drove out to Mountain View together, where we got Alan settled into a room at Tortuga Intentional Community. And a week later, he’s starting a job at Electric Cloud. Pow, just like that.

Alan is not leaving me, nor is he leaving Sunflower River; he’s very much still my partner, and a Steward of this community. He’s just a long-distance partner, and an off-site Steward, for as long as he needs to be in the Bay. This job is a very good career opportunity for him, and moves many objectives forward. So all in all, while it’s a really huge change for all of us, it’s one that we support his making, and will weather together.

And meanwhile, I’ll be flying back and forth to San Francisco more often. That just doesn’t suck. ;-)

Harvest Festival!

This coming Monday, September 1st, is the Sunflower River 6th Annual Harvest Festival.

that means it marks our Seven-Year anniversary as a community!

come on down to the farm and enjoy the sunshine and excellent company, from 1-6pm. we’ll have bobbing for apples, a game of horseshoes, a potluck (please label your ingredients and be aware of food sensitivities! many people are sensitive to wheat, nuts, meat, and other ingredients!), and as always, the ever-popular pie contest! bake your best pie recipe — or try a new one — or bake a pie for the first time ever — and bring it down to enter in the contest! our friend Sandy Bryan will judge the pies at 2pm.

later in the afternoon, we’ll have an open music jam; bring your instruments!

hope to see you there!

The Stewards of Sunflower River

(if you need directions, please email yarrow at sunflowerriver dot org!)

Hexayurts and Intern Support Infrastructure

Last year, we decided to construct two hexayurts for intern housing on our back acreage. Prior to this, all our summer interns have camped in the area we call the green belt, about halfway back on the property. Many of them enjoy the long campout, but it leaves them exposed to weather events such as spring windstorms and monsoons, and over time, the impact of having tents resting on various parts of the land has been somewhat detrimental to new growth in those areas. Hexayurts allow for quick, portable, weatherproof housing. They’re inexpensive, and considered a sustainable portable housing method, which emerged out of Burning Man culture and have been recently widely adopted. This project has also allowed some of our longer-term summer interns to learn the skills involved in building hexayurts.

on the first build day, Alan, Rev and Randy took the project from raw material to 6 “kites,” which compromise the roof.

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Parallel to converting rigid insulation and tape in to ‎hexayurt panels is site-prep. A ring of cottage stone will keep the yurt wall off the ground, while also elevating the structure enough to prevent irrigation water from getting in. The sand allows the cottage stone to be leveled (we’re ‘nominally’ leveling the stone, rather than having it it level across the span.) Cottage stone was chosen because it is easy to work with and extraordinarily easy to recycle. Off to the right you can see a garden our intern Justin created last year out of cottage stone leftover from building the pond.

cottage stone:
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The tent in the background of the first photo has become an exceedingly popular way to WWOOF. Alan sleeps in exactly the same product in his yurt, and made sure his own deck had uprights that could be usee to support a hammock. The 4×4’s you see here are for the same purpose: we’ll put them in the ground inside the footprint of the hexayurt so a guest can sleep in a hammock.

Alan asked Randy Ziegler to Sunflower River this year specifically to work on this project. The ‘Egyptian’ style survey markers are, to my knowledge, best practice for sites of this scale. This is entirely his work.

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It has only been the past couple years that we’ve reliably attracted people with the capacity to do this kind of site-prep, and was one of many motivators for Alan taking a Permaculture Design Course in 2012: to keep up with the extremely talented crews which we’re delighted to host.

cutting pieces for the roof.
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once the pieces are cut, the edges are taped with a durable woven tape to prevent deterioration of the edge. This tape is very strong, but not particularly sun-proof, a requirement in the high desert, where we get 360 days of sunshine a year — more, in recent years, with the unreliability of our summer monsoons. We added a layer of aluminum tape over the woven tape to protect its surface from local weather conditions.

the taped roof panels:
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Sunflower River’s smallest site overseer.
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over the course of the last year, it has become clear that the silver insulation panels of Hex One are visible from space from at least a quarter-mile away. they don’t integrate visually with either the farm or the neighborhood. so i decided to paint the next one before we got it set up. at some point, we’ll paint the second one as well, when we can figure out how to get at the roof without taking the whole thing down. meanwhile, after some materials tests to see what would withstand the weather, we decided to go with exterior spraypaint, and i spent some afternoons painting trees and sky on the panels for Hex Two. the sky came out a lot brighter than the trees — i rather regret getting talked into turning it into an art opportunity at all, and instead wish i’d gone with my original idea of just painting the whole thing camo green. which is probably what i will do with Hex One. meanwhile, at least it blends into the environment considerably better.
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inside Hex One, various interns who have stayed there over the last year have built or found an assortment of furniture to make the space more homelike, including a pallet bed platform, a set of wire shelves, and a bench. last fall, Marisa even built a cute funky clothes rack from sticks pulled from the stickpile.
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we got a peacock!

he’s chilling with the turkeys until he settles in, at which point we’ll free-range him. now we’re looking for one or two peahens to hang out with him, to see if we can breed them.

isn’t he pretty?

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he was free, because his previous owner has a small flock of free-range peacocks. his neighbor has a big plate glass window, and this peacock spent a lot of time standing in front of her window, showing off. the neighbor was so disconcerted by this, feeling that the bird was watching her, that she complained to the county. so the owner was keeping him in a small pen, and looking for a new home for him.

we’re getting him a mirror. so he can see himself whenever he likes.

Mahazda!

So, between my general delinquency at posting here this year, and the server crash a few weeks ago, it looks like i seriously owe you all an update on the house remodel project.

so we bought that place?
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and we gutted it?
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and early this year, we hired general contractor Bryan Jabaay to come do the remodel for us. He, in turn, has pulled in assistance from a number of directions, most notably Cadmon Whittey at Paja Construction, who did the strawbale wrap.

we’ve got a lot of great things going on with the place. and we’re getting pretty close to being done with it.

This includes:

radiant heating/cooling system (i somehow did not get a shot of the sub-floor piping. so here’s the manifold.)
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awesome strawbale wrap around the exterior (strawbale has an insulative value of about R-45-50, compared to the average house’s R-19 walls. this place is *cozy.*)
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wood flooring over the slab
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niches in the old adobe great-room
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gorgeous big windowsills brought to you by strawbale walls
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new roofing (i apparently did not get a photograph while i was up there; it looks just like a new vinyl roof. you’ll have to imagine it.)

and Jenny and I are working on a penny-tile floor in the small bathroom. she said, this is what comes of choosing your home improvement projects off of Pinterest. isn’t it pretty? i’ll probably do a real post on that project as soon as i can get around to it. but here’s a teaser:
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this has been taking huge rafts of our time and energy all year. we’re getting very excited to see it complete! we’ll probably be moving in over September/October.

server crash. we appreciate your patience.

so, we had a big whooptidoo with the server the last couple weeks, as you’ve noticed if you’ve tried to access our website at all. we’re very sorry about that! it’s newly remade and doing much better now, and running from a backup copy of the site… so if you notice something that’s off, do please bring it to my attention, so i can try to fix it.

we lost four blog posts — the one i just restored, and three others, regarding the path project: changing the way we walk the land, finishing the earthbag wall, and roadrunner habitat. all our photos are stored on flickr, so they are all still there, intact and findable in albums and through the photostream. i’m not going to re-create those posts. i’ll just recap the data in new posts as time goes on.

i’m glad i’ve been slow with the posting this year. just as well.

on which note, i’ll try to get some new content up here soon. meanwhile, the latest gratuitous kitty pic:

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from snow to spring (recovering lost data from March 3rd, 2014)

february started with small snow, and closed with small rain. we’re grateful for the moisure, however little it is against the specter of deepening drought.

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apricots are in full bloom, and both trees hum with bees all day. if it doesn’t freeze, the fruit will set and we’ll have a harvest this year, but the odds are stacked against us; for all the unseasonable warmth of the last few weeks, it would be pretty surprising (and unnerving) for there to be no further freeze between now and april. they say you get a good fruit harvest one year in five in the high desert, and so far, our experience bears this out.
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that said, they sure are pretty. there’s a great deal of spring springing up everywhere.

yarrow in the herb bed
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walking onions
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a lively regrowth of water celery in the aquaponics bed
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and i think this is year three or four on the perennial chard in the main garden.
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bulbs are opening up as well.
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as always, these are last week’s; i saw hyacinths coming up this morning, but it will probably take me another week to get their photo onto the internet.

and of course, here’s your gratuitous kitty picture:
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a small snow

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I am remiss in posting updates here. Winter is escaping us. It’s mostly been warm and dry, not entirely atypical (“it’s a desert,” right?) but much drier than the norm. Dangerously so, in terms of the absence of mountain snowpack that creates next summer’s river flows.

So we are celebrating last night’s small snow. It’s dry and slight, but it’s something, and anything is better than nothing. Migratory birds were wheeling excitedly all around this morning, clearly pleased with the overcast weather.

Many things on the farm have been moving steadily forward over the winter, one step at a time. the contractor is working on Mahazda now, getting permits and organizing the plumbing and electric and such. we’re starting to make very concrete decisions about various bits of the house, which is exciting. it is about to become quite tangible.

Our winter intern, Barbara, built a fabulous new door for the chicken coop — a daily quality-of-life improvement for anybody doing animal chores here.
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Jenny has been working hard on paths, fences, and the small ritual ground. Soon the front acre will be fenced in, for full containment of dog and child, and the path to the greenbelt will run up the north side of the Mahazda field and along the south fence. Already there is a bridge, a thicket cleared, much deadwood removed, and new gates going in, in all the right places.

Seeds are ordered for this season’s garden, and we’re a month away from the arrival of most of our baby birds. in fact, the plan for this weekend includes tilling the garden, if things aren’t too wet. it doesn’t feel that close, yet, somehow, with the grey sky lowering over the day, and snow on the ground.

and ice monsters in the aquaponics tank. (under ordinary circumstances, these are plants.)
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the aquaponics tank siphon, having a weather experience.
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three wheelbarrows:
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barnyard in snow:
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poultry enjoying the novel weather:
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in the field:
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volunteer broomcorn. i suspect this is growing here because we used broomcorn seed more or less symbolically in an Ostara ritual one year, and since then we’ve had some volunteer patches of it.
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a wider shot of the field:
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the view across the neighbor’s field:
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snow in the playground:
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and Kat’s yurt:
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and making mandalas on tables.
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as always, there are more photos on the Farm Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sunflowerriver