Skip to content

Education and Wisdom at Regional Biodynamic Gatherings

November 11, 2015

2015 Colorado Biodynamic Workshop Series

By Cache Stone Hunter

Workshop at Sustainable Settings (by John Ray)

Workshop at Sustainable Settings (by John Ray)

This year I was fortunate enough to attend three in a series of four biodynamic workshops in Colorado and Nebraska as an apprentice in the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program. In July we gathered at Meadowlark Hearth, where Beth and Nathan Corymb are growing and saving seeds for the future, in addition to milking, and cultivating vegetables. Here we explored the spirit of the plants, reproduction, the various gestures and roles of different plant families, and some projective geometry exercises. I also helped to milk their beautiful cows in the morning and inoculate one compost pile with all of the compost preparations.

I was unable to attend the following workshop at Pat Frazier’s home in Paonia, where they integrated biodynamics with permaculture and holistic management. In September we hosted a workshop at Sustainable Settings with Brook Levan and Lloyd Nelson where we made and buried horn manure, barrel compost, nettle, chamomile, dandelion, and oak bark compost preparations. This was my second time attending the prep-making workshop, and it was a profound experience as we honored and sacrificed our cow, Tulip, together. We came into intimate relation with these preparations as we cut, stitched, stuffed, dug, and buried them. As a group we felt the potency in our shared creation of preparations specific to our region, and the responsibility we carry to give devotion and gratitude to our farms with the help of these homeopathic remedies.

We closed this series of workshops in Boulder, at Shining Mountain Waldorf School and Lightroot Community Farm. Three other apprentices and I stayed at Lightroot during the three-day workshop, and we got to participate in the morning milking of an eclectic group of cows with Daphne Kingsley. At the farm I witnessed Cameron Genter’s honed skills as a horseman, and helped to harness and drive the draft team. We practiced Goethean observation individually and then shared our insights in small groups. At Shining Mountain there were presentations on Rudolf Steiner’s life and legacy, the threefold social order and Camphill communities, and communities stewarding agriculture with the transition of biodynamic farms from for-profit enterprises to community-supported commons. We harmonized together as Cristina Geck led us in several eurythmy offerings themed around the unfolding of the plant world and the rhythmic exchange of receiving and giving. This practice of receptivity and sharing permeated our conversations, and I believe we all felt nourished in heart and community when we left to return to our homes.

I grew up at an intentional community in Colorado and have known biodynamic practitioners including Beth and Nathan and Dennis and Bailey Stenson since I was very young. Now to be an apprentice and represent the younger generation that wishes to carry this work forward with these mentors is a true honor. There is an opportunity to focus the perspectives and lessons we encounter at broader gatherings, like the biennial Biodynamic Conference, or in our smaller regional groups. Not only does this allow for us to make preparations and collective offerings that are appropriate for the part of the Earth we call home, but it is also a recognition local wisdom carried by practiced elders and the need for this to be shared with younger farmers. From this exchange there may arise broader visions for the future that are informed by the wisdom of the experienced and sustained through the enthusiasm of the younger generation. There is a collateral education between apprentices and mentors — and a meeting of the past and the future in the present. For me this presents the possibility to work in our immediate communities and refine our practical, personal, and spiritual activities.

This workshop series was organized by Colorado farmers and educators with support from the Biodynamic Association and the Colorado Farm Development Initiative (CFDI).

Light, Warmth, Devotion

October 22, 2015

By Delmar McComb

Originally published in the Fall 2015 newsletter of the Biodynamic Association of Northern California (BDANC)

cf cows(1)A dear friend asks, “Will the cows be part of the business plan?” It is indeed a fine question. After all, they aren’t currently a “money maker” component of our farm, so including them in the farm business plan doesn’t make sense.

Or does it? If one looks at this question from a biodynamic farm organism perspective, an associative economic model perspective, and/or a spiritual scientific perspective, the answer would be: “Yes, why would you even ask?” The cows are invaluable — priceless even. That is, they shouldn’t be thrown into the purely economic sphere but instead should be seen for the bounty they produce on the farm in the form of fertility, land management, community milk, and the immeasurable addition of soul qualities to the farm individuality.

We all struggle with the challenges of today’s economic system and how to function in this world in a “right living” kind of way. There are no easy answers. Without careful consideration of how a cow, for example, fits into a farm business plan, then a farm can then struggle to the point of collapse because of economic pressures. So indeed, these types of questions must be considered thoroughly.

But really, if we are to ultimately break free of the predominant contemporary world view that imprisons us all in the realm of the economics sphere while eclipsing the cultural and rights spheres of society, we must be bold and learn to trust that higher forces will guide us into new ways of seeing and being. Our minds are full of factoids and words, and endless chatter that tell us nothing. We think we understand what water does when it “evaporates” just because of the word. The word stops our mind there. Or even if we go to the definition of evaporation, “the changing of a liquid into a gas, often under the influence of heat (as in the boiling of water),” it really tells us nothing of this incredible miracle. How about our neighbor the “moon”? Does the word begin to capture even a fraction of the meaning and majesty of this “being” so near to us? Of course not. Cognizing doesn’t happen in the intellect. It happens in the feeling/soul realm.

I bring these two separate subjects, the economic viability of cows and the halting limitations of words and the intellect together for a reason (and yes, I do realize the irony of writing in words to convey this; alas, it is the best we can do in these times to offer ideas). If one looks into the eyes of a cow, there is a seeming infinitude of depth, a consciousness that is not ours but is nonetheless profoundly sacrificial and wise. If we are ever to understand a “cow,” we must be with it, honor it, and love it and learn to sacrifice as it does. If we are ever to understand Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Lectures and his Social Threefolding ideas, we must also learn the arts of collaborative work and sacrifice. And this all must be done out of love. If we do this work Mary Martyr-like, without transforming our consciousness to involve “Mitgefühl” (German for “with empathy”), there is no evolution. “Mitgefühl” was what Steiner said human consciousness needs to evolve to so as to transform the cold logic of the mind. Light,
warmth, devotion in our work are foundational.

This is the task: losing ourselves to gain ourselves. And, in so doing, we assist the living being of the earth while it gives back to us. Our mutual and interlinked destinies can then be fulfilled as we aid in giving the world back to the cosmos in a higher form while we ourselves evolve. This is the heart of Steiner’s work.

Our minds can’t yet quite grasp this, but our hearts can. It is a challenge to all: what are we willing to sacrifice, with “Mitgefühl,” to sneak towards this goal? I have the sad thought that my answer may sound something like “I’ll sacrifice more if you will, but I don’t really trust you, so I’ll keep on doing the same old destructive behavior because I have to survive in this world.”

How can we begin to “heal the wounds of reason,” as the poet Novalis wrote? Are there baby steps we can do together — form co-operatives, barter, start more true CSAs, have more Goethean conversations with each other, etc…? What are your thoughts?

Delmar McComb is co-owner of Blossom’s Farm in Santa Cruz, CA and Director of Horticulture at Suncrest Nurseries.

Sharing the Loss: Embracing a New Agricultural Paradigm

August 27, 2015

By Jeff Schreiber, Three Sisters Community Farm

Three Sisters CSA boxesAs many who read our newsletter know, the philosophy of community supported agriculture (CSA) is a favorite topic of mine. So it was with great interest that I recently heard a different take on the idea while listening to a farming-related podcast. In this episode of the excellent Farmer-to-Farmer podcast, host Chris Blanchard discussed the core values of CSA with Dan Kaplan, the long-time manager of Brookfield Farm in Amherst, MA – one of the first CSAs in the US. Kaplan stressed the often-heard notion that CSAs are about consumers and producers sharing risk. But then he took it further: CSA, like no other farming model, is also about consumers and producers sharing loss.

Whoa – that’s a crazy notion. Why would people want to pay money to experience loss? Kaplan explained: Modern life – modern American life especially – is about avoiding loss at all costs. We don’t want to know about it, and our culture hides it well. Death, for instance, is not typically a topic of substantive conversation in our media. And the marketplace is adept at covering it up; consider the overflowing abundance of the shelves at the local grocery store.

But on a farm – and in the natural world generally – there is loss. Guaranteed. And often this loss comes after you’ve put a lot of work into something, like when a blight kills the tomato plants you’ve nurtured for months. Or when a predator kills the chickens that were just about to start laying eggs. Such losses are nowhere to be seen in the bounty of the grocery store, a fake bounty in reality propped up by such externalities as fossil fuels, the exploitation of people’s labor, and much else.

So, CSA (or, more directly, growing your own food) can be a way to have an experience of loss, to have an experience of the reality of the natural world. That’s much different from the very controlled experience of the marketplace.

Control. To some, that notion may be the very definition of agriculture: we control the natural world to produce the things we need to survive. In the marketplace, if you don’t make it, it’s because you don’t control nature well enough. Such an impulse perhaps wasn’t such a big deal before we started using fossil fuels. But now? Well, just look around….

Perhaps it’s time for a new agricultural paradigm, one that replaces the rigid impulse of control and dominion with a more fluid impulse of expecting change, of anticipating – maybe even celebrating – loss. Perhaps if we worked with nature, rather than against it, our farms and communities might look quite different than they do now. Maybe, in the absence of relationships based on control, there might be room for relationships based on trust.

Three Sisters Jeff and KellyCan you experience this new paradigm through a CSA newsletter? Perhaps a little. But, if you’re able, it would be much better if you actually came out to the farm and experienced it with us firsthand. Visit the farm a couple times each season. Help us plant or weed a certain crop. Come back later and you’ll see that some part of that crop probably didn’t make it; it died for some reason or another. It might even be the part that you lovingly tended to while you were here. Does that mean your work was for nothing? Shall you throw in the towel, go back to buying your food from the grocery store?

No. Easing up on control and embracing change does not mean inaction. You keep weeding, keep cultivating, keep nurturing. You continue to strive – earnestly, sincerely, with humility – with no attachment to the outcome, with no attempt to control, knowing that some of what you do will not yield results, that there will be loss. And that’s OK, because then you know it’s real, that it is alive. The more alive something is, the less can it be controlled. And maybe, by trusting the wisdom of living nature, we might also then experience real abundance and bounty.

These are lessons that many a 21st century American could stand to learn, farmers included. CSA offers one way to begin to experience them.

Farmers Jeff Schreiber and Kelly Kiefer met while working at Wellspring, a Milwaukee-area farm-based educational organization. In 2011 they started Three Sisters Community Farm on Kelly’s family’s land.

Originally printed in the August 2015 Three Sisters CSA newsletter.

Soulful Reflections

August 3, 2015

By Sally Voris, White Rose Farm

For the last five years of her husband’s life, my neighbor sat next to him reading as he dozed in his recliner. He had been a feisty, skilled farmer. Now he barely spoke. The last Christmas he was alive, she made him his favorite cake: fresh apple cake with black walnuts. He ate one piece. Perhaps she knew on some level that he was dying. That January, he had heart surgery. He died 16 days later.

white rose farm - cow and calfI relate that image to my work on the farm this year. I am attending to the health of a loved one: the farm. I focus on keeping its rhythms going in the midst of chaotic weather. I remember how my father’s vital signs became erratic as he approached death with Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, he could no longer regulate his own temperature. He died the next morning.

Imagine the farm as a living organism, said Rudolf Steiner, the founder of biodynamic agriculture. The farmer brings the farm to life and orchestrates how animals and plants work together in harmony.

white rose farm - chicken in flowersWhen I came to the farm eleven years ago, the land had been rented for years. I worked hard to improve the soil. I fixed fences, repaired buildings, and planted trees, flowers, and herbs. I tended animals. I sold produce, meat, and eggs. I kept the words beauty, bounty, and balance as touchstones for my work. Two years ago, the farm’s energy changed; it began to feel whole, to have its own unique presence, its own soul. Visitors felt it; I did too. Now this farm is one in a worldwide network of biodynamic farms that promotes a connection between forces of Heaven and Earth as erratic weather buffets the world.

This year, we have had sudden, strong storms, driving rain, and circling tornado-style winds. May was dry and hot; June the rainiest month on record. Storms came unexpectedly; predicted storms dissipated before they arrived.

In his book, Climate: Soul of the Earth, Dennis Klocek notes that the Greeks found the concepts of wind, breath, soul, air, vapor, and vital principle all had an underlying commonality—they were all related. During the Middle Ages, he writes, the human soul was known as the “air body.” Likewise, the air, or atmosphere, was considered the soul body of the Earth. World-class gardener Alan Chadwick spoke of the importance of air in maintaining health in humans and plants.

white rose farm- geese and buildingI check the weather channel often. In June, the forecasters predicted one severe storm after another. They did not reference the soul of the Earth, nor have I heard anyone connect weather as an expression of the Earth’s soul with our own soul development. As I have worked in my garden this year, I have wondered: could they be related? What is the essential commonality?

“Nature…surely takes our breath away; old breath, stale breath, leaving us full of fresh Air. Life is curved, moves in swirls. Wind and Water borne. We are children of Earth’s Weather,” writes Skye ann louise Taylor in her book, A Monk in the Beehive.

white rose farm - sally with pigsPerhaps we now can take some responsibility for the soul of the Earth. I am now tending the garden and the animals to maintain the farm’s dynamic life force. I am working harder and getting less produce, but what is more important than the underlying rhythm of life itself​​? What are we without wind, breath, soul, air, vapor, and vitality? Other farmers are using hydroponics, greenhouses, and hoop houses to grow food under controlled conditions. They are growing food that feeds us physically. I now know that our souls are nourished when we grow and eat food that has a vital connection with the flow of energy into and out of the Earth.

Are we connecting with the life force that sustains the natural world? What can we do to right the imbalances that we have created in our culture and in our world? We must find our own soulful answers. Perhaps it is as simple as connecting with some aspect of Nature every day—a bird, a tree, a flower, vital food.

As we do our own soul’s work, we may restore our climate: the soul of the Earth.

Sally Voris farms at White Rose Farm in Taneytown, MD. Sally combines gardening, storytelling and writing, teaching and organizing. She has been recognized regionally and nationally for work sharing the stories of her home community of Elkridge and the Patapsco Valley. Sally completed a year-long part-time training program in biodynamic agriculture at The Pfeiffer Center in New York in 2008, and the farm was recognized as a mentor farm for the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Training Program (NABDAP) in 2010.

The photos are from the May 2015 Chesapeake BioDynamic Network meeting at her farm, courtesy of Ingrid Cowan Hess.

Deepening Children’s Connection to Nature at Angelic Organics Learning Center

June 22, 2015

By Erin Schneider

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air is softer and the morning more fragrant than ever again. — Elizabeth Lawrence

This May I had the good fortune to accompany the third grade class from Prairie Hill Waldorf School on an overnight farm trip to Angelic Organics Learning Center in Caledonia, IL. The trip was the culmination of a year spent expanding their knowledge of the earth and the role that plants, animals, and humans serve on it. Throughout the year, third graders participated in daily chores, cared for a flock of chickens and collected their eggs, studied and built models of traditional shelters from around the world, built raised garden beds using hand tools, and planted a vegetable garden. Through these hands-on, experiential lessons, the children gained knowledge beyond that which is learned in books, deepening their connection to nature that leads to a greater sense of stewardship toward the earth.


Group camping area with outdoor kitchen, composting toilets, and raised garden beds

caring for the chickens

Evening chicken chores

When we arrived at Angelic Organics, we were warmly welcomed and guided to a beautiful group camping area nestled among large oak trees and views of scenic pastures where cows grazed in the distance. After working together to set up camp, the children were give a bit of free time to explore the area, check out the composting toilets, and sneak a peek at the family of goats in a nearby barn.

meeting the goats

Learning about the goats and how to care for them

Once settled in, our two highly skilled farm educators introduced us to the working farm, shared the farm rules with us, and provided an organized overview of our stay. Over the two days, students (broken into groups) prepared and cooked meals for the group, worked together to clean up after meals, weeded and prepared raised garden beds and planted seeds, shoveled and hauled manure for compost, completed animal chores for the resident chickens, goats, pigs, and cattle, milked goats, and made goat milk ice cream. As both a parent and a teacher, it was impressive to watch the children give their full hearts over to the tasks at hand — they were completely absorbed in their good work. I watched as groups of children cooperatively solved problems, divided up tasks, and worked effectively as a team.


The organized and thoughtful schedule allowed children to participate in multiple farm chores

enjoying ice cream

Making goat milk ice cream

In addition to participating in farm chores and tasks, students were given an opportunity to tour the farm and follow the journey of a seed — from when it is first planted in the greenhouse to the planting of vegetable starts out in the rich soil of the farm fields. It was a wonderful opportunity for the children to see the work that goes into growing vegetables.


A wonderful setting to cultivate a child’s connection to the earth

Beyond the deeper appreciation and gained knowledge of how our food is produced was the ability of students to participate in the cyclical nature of the overall farm ecosystem. From participating in the nitrogen cycle through the use of the composting toilets, to shoveling manure to create compost that will someday be used on the gardens, the children experienced firsthand how the different processes and organisms work together to create a healthy farm and healthy food. Being absorbed in the beautiful farm setting, paired with skilled and caring farm educators, provided a rich learning experience that I’m certain will remain with the children for the rest of their lives.

ErinSchneider-WiscErin Schneider holds Scholarship Fund and Education and Online Groups roles with the Biodynamic Association. She has a BS in geology and a BS in secondary science education. After graduation from college she moved to Anchorage, Alaska, where she spent eight years teaching high school geology, astronomy, environmental science, and integrated science. After returning to Wisconsin with her family, she began her MS in environmental education and interpretation through UW Stevens Point’s College of Natural Resources. In addition to her background in science education, Erin is also a simplicity parenting coach. She is a mother of three children and in her free time she enjoys reading, camping, hiking, and playing in nature with her husband and children.

A Group of Passionate and Committed Citizens

June 16, 2015

The Society for Biodynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario’s Response to the Provincial Neonicotinoid Regulation Process

By Karen Davis-Brown

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead

bee on sunflowerIn November 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) posted a discussion paper regarding limiting the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in the province, as one approach to supporting pollinator health. This paper presented and examined recent scientific findings related to this issue, and proposed “an aspirational target of 80 per cent reduction in acres planted with NNI-treated corn and soybean seed by the year 2017.” The news of this courageous and hopefully trend-setting goal spread throughout the organic and biodynamic communities, including the membership of the Society for Biodynamic Farming and Gardening in Ontario.

Ontario is a large, diverse province in every way — culturally, geographically, agriculturally — and the biodynamic community reflects that diversity. Getting together in person is challenging, and we depend a great deal on email, phone, and our monthly newsletter. Fortunately, our community has also been encouraged and supported by the Society leadership to share their unique experiences and perspectives with each other across the miles. These precedents for strong communication and ownership came into play in the community’s response to OMAFRA’s process.

Some members tracked the process of the regulation and kept the rest of us informed via emails. Reports on the process were (and continue to be) published in the newsletter every month. But in the few weeks before the deadline for public comment on the discussion paper, something very special happened that took the Society’s work to a new level.

It started with one member asking the Board, “What should we, as individuals, write that represents our shared viewpoint?” A flurry of emails across the province, and even Quebec and the U.S., took that question seriously: “How do we best convey our concerns and support regarding neonic pesticides and pollinator health, as a community, in public comment to a governmental body?” Over the next few days, ideas and feelings and phrasing flew across the miles, for negotiation, comment, fine-tuning. Demeter USA and Canada were both consulted regarding their current guidelines. Differences were discussed and negotiated in a camaraderie and collegiality that could only come from a strong foundation of respect and shared pragmatic idealism. Many members submitted individual comments, and both the Society board and Demeter Canada submitted official statements of their stands.

In April of this year, Society Board President Chris Boettcher and his wife Gabi (a crucial and active member of the Society in her own right) attended a large banquet put on by the Organic Council of Ontario, where the OMAFRA Minister was the keynote speaker. He spoke knowledgeably and articulately regarding many issues, including the pending neonics regulation. To the group, and to Chris and Gabi personally, he expressed his gratitude for the comments that had been submitted, saying that they had a substantive effect on the subsequent work of the Ministry on the regulations.

On June 9th, the following was included in a press release by the Ontario government:

On July 1, 2015, new regulatory requirements for the sale and use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds in Ontario will come into effect and be phased in over a period of time. The requirements will support the province’s target to reduce the number of acres planted with neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seed by 80 per cent by 2017 and are focused on ensuring that neonicotinoid-treated corn and soybean seeds are used only when there is a demonstrated pest problem. Reducing neonicotinoid use in these two crops presents the greatest opportunity to decrease pollinator exposure to the neurotoxic insecticide.

This decision makes the Ontario government a continental leader for what we hope can only be a trend in the rest of Canada and the U.S. In this case, a group of passionate and committed citizens did, indeed, change the world, in working together in support of their shared understanding of agricultural and environmental health.

Chanticleer: A Memoir of Light and Love

May 13, 2015

An Excerpt

By Marney Jane Blair

chanticleer coverI hold yellow and maroon seeds. I planted their parent plants six months earlier. Now that the green bean plants have created the pods for their young, the plants will wither and die.

By Halloween, all the annuals will die and leave their offspring to survive the cold winter. I love to hold the fruits of our labors. Running my hands through the barrels of corn and sorghum seed stored in our barn, I travel back in time to the early spring. Lisa and I planted all this season’s plants by hand, each seed cupped gently in our palms.

We planted three acres this year. For the corn and beans, we use a wooden stamp to make a diamond pattern in the bed. We place each seed in a divot in the moist soil, crawling next to each other on our hands and knees as we move down the row pushing the seeds into the warm bed. Our meandering conversation warms the seeds as they move from our palms to the soil. After placing each seed in the divot, we gently cover it with a mound of dirt.

Hands are the real tools of a farmer. These tools are sensitive and can serve as a conduit between the farmer’s will and the object she is touching. Sorghum and sesame twirl in the fingers as they cascade into their furrows. Squash seeds need a thumb to press them into a mound. The flax, an oily seed, requires a certain fling of the finger to set it free. If she cares to,
a farmer can move love for that object through her hands.

My wife’s hands are strong from years of hard labor, but they’re also sensitive like the artist she is. In the same day she can build a chicken coop and gently rub salve on my tired back. The skin on her right hand is scarred from burns endured as a young adult. Her hands, like her solid hips and shoulders, thick salt and pepper hair, and fearless eyes, project strength
and confidence.

photoLisa arrived on this land before I did. When she was a young adult, her father had taught her to target shoot on the site that our house now occupies. She knew the oak groves that fed the deer and wild turkeys. She knew the thick brush that lined the creekside. In her late thirties, she decided to make it her home. Lisa’s mother, passing on her inheritance to her daughters, provided the financing for what became a two-year project to build a house. Her brother-in-law provided the design, but Lisa provided the labor. A hard job for a man, an even harder job for a woman.

When I first stepped into her home several years later, I could see the loving craftswomanship. Even though we had met just a few months earlier, I knew that we would build our dreams together. I could sense that we would be each other’s muse, and that our hands would weave a magical tapestry of life.

Together we could see the beginnings of a farm.

* * *

“Look Marn, this would be a fantastic spot for the first growing area!” Lisa said, as we walked through the tall grasses and around a large outcropping of boulders. She had walked this field many times while she was building her house, and she had had her eye on it. She knew the types of plants that grew here and how the water moved during winter rain storms.

“Let’s stand here and see,” I replied. I listened to the wind move through the grass. We both knew that an open flat field with full sunlight and good drainage would be a good start for our row crops. I imagined the acre reflecting the primary green of corn and beans, the blue green of chickpeas, and the vibrant green of millet. I took the shovel I was carrying and plunged it into the moist soil at my feet. I set my right foot on and then my left. The shovel with my weight traveled at a slow, steady, satisfying rate. I flipped the clod of precious earth over. We let our knees touch the ground as we bent over the aromatic clod of loamy clay soil.

“That smells good,” Lisa sighed.

We looked at each other and smiled. We felt confident about the future but also humbled by the enormous responsibility we were taking on. The spader that my tractor would pull would forever alter this land we were standing on. We had a strong obligation to do right by nature. Mistakes were inevitable but integrity would be essential.

And this was how we built our farm. Each chicken coop, fence line, orchard, and milking barn built by our hands and celebrated as part of a living entity. A living, integrated farm. Some of the buildings are whimsical. Some of the fences meander, and the stanchions in the milking parlor curve to the shape of the cow’s neck.

We built our first fence out of manzanita, a scrub that grows throughout California. The woody part of the plant is dense and gnarled. The bark is smooth and apple red. Because not a single branch is straight, the fence undulates with the earth beneath it. What joy, what freedom to build such a fence! We were in heaven. The construction took us weeks. It was very unconventional, and the lack of convention set our imaginations bubbling with other ideas. What type of gate, we wondered, was worthy of such a fence?

The inspired answer was a fulcrum gate, a gate that doesn’t swing on hinges but rather moves effortlessly from one balanced point, the fulcrum. We constructed it from larger, thicker, and older manzanita. At the end of the gate is the counterweight. Angle iron that has been blacksmithed into a hook eye moves through a drilled hole on the large beam of the gate. Attached to the iron are whimsical, round clay figures. Together they supply the correct amount of equalizing weight for the gate. When one opens the gate, it feels light as a feather. But it also requires the gate opener to be present, for the gate can quickly get away from you. It needs and draws attention. The art is functional and animated.

* * *

marneyArt was always part of my life.

My mother Beverly was an artist. The hands that held me to her warm breasts, the thumbs that snapped together my clothes belonged to an exceptional artist. As a young child I watched her place the oil on her newly stretched canvas with long, confident strokes, moving color, form and feeling around the huge eight by fifteen foot space. She was pulling some visual scene from memory and sharing it with us. I watched in silence and awe.

When I was growing up Mom would tell us the story of playing in the corral. While her brother Charles was happily occupied practicing his lasso on the calves, she lay with her head resting on a calf’s belly, her face turned to the warm Oklahoma sky. The calf’s steady breath lured her into a meditative muse. She watched the clouds move by and the dancing of the light between blue, gray, and white. She watched the dust sparkle in the bright sun. The scene dazzled her. It marked the beginning of a life of visual exploration.

Art was always part of this California farm as well. My mother passed the torch from her creative hand to mine. My canvas was the soil.

Marney Blair is a farmer. For the last fourteen years she has made a living from this land in Northern California. The bounty nourished her. Seven years ago she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal eye disease that usually leads to blindness. The memoir takes the reader on a journey deep into nature. It is the light and color that radiates from the natural world that helps to heal her.

Generic cover image


Marney Blair



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,302 other followers

%d bloggers like this: