A Pacific Home Companion

Weeks Thirty-Seven and -Eight (13 -31 October 2014)

It was two quiet weeks in Lake Wobegon. I craft this entry, belatedly in mid-November, as Madame Pele continues promising to wrap the nearby town of Pahoa in her warm embrace.

By the grace of God, we remain perched in relative safety at higher elevations, albeit drenched by the seemingly never ending rains (it is that time of the year).

More of the Same (and Exciting, Nonetheless)

In the tradition of international marketing icon Juan Valdez, rising each morning along with his trusty burro in the mountains of Columbia to hand pick the little red cherries that were his livelihood and that make up much of the world’s morning brew, we continued to build our collective body of expertise in coffee picking.

Continued, if not accelerated, were efforts to establish more longterm food production, to put more seed and sapling into the ground, as we strive to build this land and secure a future supply of good eats. Just to give you a sense of the direction and magnitude of this endeavor, added to the expanding repertoire during these two weeks were 10 more varieties of banana, 3 types of avocado tree (each bearing at different times for year-round guacamole), star fruit, clementines, passion fruit, turmeric, ginger, taro (for poi), black Iroquois corn, more strawberry and blueberry and pineapple, purple sweet potatoes, black peanuts, turnips, garlic, radicchio, 25 pounds of more forage grass seed on the site of our future pasture, and more.

New Banana Plant and Greens Bed

Parallel efforts in the nursery saw us potting coffee, cacao, purple passion fruit, avocados (for root stock and grafting), ginger, turmeric, and others–some destined for market and patches of dirt tended by others, some destined for the land for which we are currently stewards.

My Mushrooms Are Still Kickin’ It

A trickle of a harvest ensued. We netted one, marble-sized emerald blueberry. (It did not easily split six ways.) A lovely cucumber made a hasty and surprise appearance, as did a poha berry. (That’s right. We are picking fresh berries and ripe cucurbits in October!) Meanwhile, our eldest mastered lemongrass chicken using clippings of that fine culinary enhancement growing just outside of our tents and chicken stir fried with leaves of our very own Curry Leaf Bush.

We rearranged the campsite to make room for some sheds. Amazing how little a kitchen remodeling project costs when you are roughing it.

While it is that time of the year for the chickens to divert energy into molting instead of egg-laying, our very pregnant goat continues to move quickly toward a delivery date as her undercarriage enlarges with milk and she shows increasing signs of needing to rest and, in the well known fashion of the SNL Coneheads, eat and drink mass quantities.

A Dragon Fruit Plant

In need of a stealth huntress to manage the rodent population, this little lady joined the homestead team.

Maya, the Snow Footed Siamese (Named After Dr. Angelou)

Efforts to work the local farmer’s markets and craft shows continued to build. A turmeric sold here, a soursop seedling traded for two chickens there, a hand crafted scarf exchanged for a few coppers.

As we continue to wait for word on the part-time federal jobs to which we applied (see previous postings), other income streams continued to provide; indeed, on the newspaper delivery front, the company gave us a $50 a month raise and customers collectively graced us with $50 in tips for October.

Trials and Tribulations (and Some Random Pictures)

Time for a little grousing. Despite the incessantly positive tone of my journal entries here, living in paradise ain’t all fun and games. In fact, beyond the everpresent crime and natural disasters, we almost daily find ourselves taking two steps forward only to take one step back. The trials of Job often come to mind. Lest you blindly attempt to follow in our footsteps, allow me to share some detail.

Green Leafy Garden

To start with, our free-range chickens love to dine on my newly sprouted seedlings whenever they find them in an unprotected, permaculture bed–lacinto kale and bok choy sprouts, corn seedlings, baby papaya trees. In turn, the puppy, ever growing in size and strength, loves to “play” with the chickens…at least until they stop moving. We lost two egg producers during this period and, to discourage further carnage, tied one of the carcasses to the leashed up pup over night. That was an unsightly and foul smelling mess, but seems to have led her to think twice before doing the “rag doll shake” with any more of her feathered friends. Playfully, she has also damaged or muddied camp gear too numerous to count, and she decided to use my perscription glasses as a chew toy. I can barely see and now sport duct-taped glasses in true Poindexter fashion (but with an earthy hippie-farmer twist).

Halloween Party Costume Contest at a Church Gathering

Meanwhile, the cat’s obsidian-sharp claws have punched holes in our tent’s bug netting that are plenty large enough for many a biting or stinging insect to slip through. (Did I mention that we oft smell of bug spray?) And I should mention here that Maya is not our first mouser. Oh no. We first brought home from a shelter a tiny black feral kitten named Cinder, who was caught in the jungle. After one night in a tent being hand fed and demonstrating how unfamiliar she was with the concept of a kitty litter box, and to the great dismay of our youngest, she ran for the bamboo groves the minute she could touch the ground unimpeded. (She remains ever present–in the shadows, like a silent guardian–only slipping into camp at night and when it is quiet, to steal some of the kibble from the dog’s outdoor food bowl.) Meanwhile, our beloved insect control officer, the sharp-shooting chameleon known as Camille, was unexpectedly found on the floor of our eating area one morning–black and stiff.

Installed Rear Jump Seat Makes Jeep a 6-seater

The goat has managed to slip off of her tether a few times and has volunteered to “prune” several of my newly planted (and costly) fruit trees. I think they will all survive, but they have been set back a few months. She has also learned how to navigate through our campsite to find our ever full fruit basket (she is particularly fond of bananas). Have you ever wrestled a full-size, pregnant goat off of a four-level utility-rack-turned-pantry after she has firmly lodged her front two hooves on your spice shelf about halfway up the structure?

Builder Marks Dig Points For Excavator

Now going on three months of campsite living, our humble quarters have, at times, flooded. Our tents have hosted unique and interesting colonies of life forms from the fungi kingdom. The puppy and cat have punched many a hole through the netting on our tents and our gazebo-like eating pavilion, leading us to further invest in duct tape. We have been surprised by maggots in our ice box and our food, on occasion. Some of my nicest (and favorite) shirts now have mold growing on them.

Weaving Chicken Pen from Guava Saplings

Slugs working their way across the flatware in our camp kitchen drying rack would be of little concern were they (and their trails of slime) not hosts to the adorable rat lung worm–a parasite that can take up residence in humans, inducing an encephalitis like condition. We also remain alert for any signs of skin fungus that can affect recent arrivals who camp in local, tropical conditions and, just days ago, we spotted our first poisonous centipede on the property (no fire ants…yet). And don’t forget the pickle worms! I am now working up neem oil concoctions to organically battle the little fellows (and ladies), who wreak havoc on a number of edibles that we have maturing in our veggie patch.

Neighbor Surprised Us by Landscaping Our Drive with Money and Ti Plants

Did I mention that for the past five months we have been wearing only the clothes that we brought with us…the clothes that would fit in our cars during the cross country trip and in our luggage for the plane ride over? Our household effects remain in storage in California until we can securely receive and store them (probably another four weeks away, at best, with our recent acquisition of a few basic sheds).

Then there are our adorable kids, who continue to show tremendous flexibility and resiliency given the circumstances of their new life, but who are still very much kids. For now, I’ll just say that when they do not listen to mom and dad, do not use their heads, or fail to pay attention, the ramifications on a homestead can be considerably graver than the same behaviors in a more conventional setting. For instance, failure to clean one’s room in an urban flat and failure to shut off the siphon on your cistern (the family’s only local water supply) carry very different weights in terms of potential consequence. (How many gallons of water can flow out of a tank overnight through a ¼ inch diameter hose?) The impact of forgetting to store one’s bike after a whirl around a suburban cul-de-sac and forgetting to secure the family’s farming tools from acid rain lie in very different locations along the spectrum of oversights. No one has lost a limb yet, and the bride has so far managed to prevent me from throttling anyone, but–for those of you who are praying for us–please make this an area of deliberate focus.

Signing Off

…And that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average. (Yes, we have public radio here and Garrison has an audience, it would seem, in the Pacific isles.)

**A quick note for our regular readers: As we have moved into a bit of a more routine (though never dull) existence, blog posts will now go up monthly, absent any newsworthy events that carry some measure of immediacy. This entry closes out October, the eightth month of the classical Western calendar, which was long ago slid over two places to occupy its current spot at number 10 (with no name change for clarity’s sake and to the consternation of all ESL students).


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