Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thanks Jenna, for letting us know about The Need Fire

Hello everyone,

I hope you are all well. 

I'm sure there've been a couple times when I mentioned how much I enjoy Jenna Woginrich' Cold Antler Farm blog

And I'm telling you again today!  Below you'll read an excerpt from her upcoming book, Days of Grace.  She describes a ritual of beginning anew - after problems - within one's neighbourhood or community: the Need Fire.  Specific religions may be set aside; what's important is the "coming together to work through pain" and the work done by people to begin the Need Fire.

It is likely that many of you have been following the tragic events in Elliot Lake, Ontario, and hoped that the people trapped in the collapsed building would survive.  Like me, you might be struggling to remind yourself that families and neighbours and communities do pick themselves up, come together and continue after awful things happen ... and that the recovery takes many forms, unique to the people who come together.  Still shaking my head at the latest news coverage and the pain in the eyes of those whose loved ones died, Jenna's book excerpt helps me take a breath and feel a bit more centered.  I wish friendships to everyone in Elliot Lake who is affected by the deaths and the job losses. 

And I wish friendships for all of you.  I hope you find your own meaning in Jenna's post.

Best regards,

Why's Woman
 from Jenna Woginrich' blog, Cold Antler Farm   

"There’s an ancient tradition in the Scottish Highlands called Tein'-éigin (Tine-Aye-Gan), In English: The Need Fire. Whenever a group of farmers or clansmen felt a particularly bad patch of luck had hit their cattle or community, all the home’s hearth fires were put out and a new fire was started for all. This fire was special, incredibly so. It was a fire for the commons, started not with a match or fuel, but by friction. You needed to light embers with the traditional methods of rope against wood because it was a blaze to be earned. Once it got started in earnest it burned high and wet wood was added to create smoke. Lots and lots of smoke. Farmers would run their cattle or horses through it, a baptism and cleansing, a prayer on the ashy hoof. The smoke was supposed to heal, and all it touched would aid those in need.

After the fire was smoldering, prayers sent up to the likes of Brigit (Saint or Goddess, depending on personal leanings or time period)—everyone grabbed coals and burning logs from the common fire, and took it home to start anew. They lit their own hearths again from that ritual, knowing that the whole clan was there together in whatever happened. They’d deal with the cattle, the limping horses, the bad crops—they were a community and they had the embers to prove it.

I have yet to gather my own clan up here for a Tein'-éigin, but I can assure you this much, they would all come. Everyone will have different ideas about religion, some will have no faith at all, but the Need Fire isn’t necessarily about deity, it is about each person’s trust in the larger community. That as a group we are more and capable of support and the healing of each other than any household or farm alone is. If my farm hosted a Need Fire I’d know Jesus, Buddah, St. Brigit, and Gaia would be present in the hearts of the attendees. Each religion would walk us separately to our bonfire. All those beautiful internal fires of belief just add to its strength. Like different woods create different sparks and slow burns, they come as one under the heat of the moment, the need.

And whether your friends and family actually create a smoky fire in a state park or just meet for coffee, the point and spirit of the Tein'-éigin lives on. It’s about coming together to work through pain. We see examples of it every day: Town Meeting Night over in Vermont, Personal interventions with addicts, prayer groups in church basements, Rotary Club and Girl Scout meetings alike. These are all examples of common hearts and minds coming together in support and change for something bigger than themselves, something better. Perhaps it is the farmer in me, or the romantic, but I can’t see a difference in any of these examples. I see the same hope swirling from the smoke of a 1356 Bonfire in the Highlands and the steam coming off a coffee cup in a church basement’s AA meeting. Strength comes from community support, so does change for the better.

So, dear friends, who would light a Need Fire with you? Who are the members of your clan? If there is something you ache for, or wish to heal, why not gather the support of your people? It took moving to a farming community for me to fully understand the idiocy of self-suffiency. Either in survival or spirit, community is what has the ability to thrive.

You don't have to be a religious person to let the Tein'-éigin burn in your heart. You just need to believe that a better life is something worth believing in. May your clan light the way.
-Excerpt from Jenna Woginrich' upcoming book, Days of Grace.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Another critter surprise!

Good morning,

Hope you are all well.

Last evening Chris came in and said to me that all the fireflies in the neighbourhood were in our yard, and we should go watch them.

So we did.  We stood on the steps, arms around each other, enjoying the darkness and the winking of firefly lights from nearby purple coneflowers and Melissa mint to the swamp milkweed and hyssop that are just starting to bloom in pink and blue, to the shrubs and trees.  Dozens of fireflies, and somehow brighter than usual.  Maybe it's something in the diet.

We were talking quietly, about texture and height and how everything looks different in the dark - softer.

And then I glanced downward to see a teenaged skunk gazing up at us.  Pretty little skunk.  Curious face in our direction.  Tail up ... thankfully in the other direction.

We probably looked like a comedy sketch.  Moving very slowly, one foot onto a step, the other foot, another step up to the landing, last foot and then right into the house.  Laughing away.  Skunk!

Probably the last thing we said to each other, even after "goodnight".  "There was a skunk!"  Still laughing.

Best regards to all!

Why's Woman

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Hello everyone!

I hope you have all had a lovely surprise in the last few days.  However, I bet few of you can have had the sort of surprise we had on Monday evening.

I was down in the vegetable garden and heard peeping.  Turned around and saw some fluttering of potato plant leaves.  Turned away.

Heard peeping. Turned around again and saw something yellow move along the ground.  Weird.

Walked over.  Didn't see anything.

Waited.  Heard peeping.

Out walked a duckling!

Shook head.  Rubbed eyes.  Shook head.

Duckling walked away from me and under a red current bush, which is hard by the raspberry patch ... which has been rather surrounded by the Jerusalem artichokes which are being overtaken by hops.

I've been meaning for weeks to get in there and do some thinning out of plants.

Thank goodness I didn't!

Spot - I named him Spot because of the brown mark on his beautiful little head - came back out, peeping.  Other peeping sounds called after him from the overgrown plants.

You can bet I went dashing into the house to get Chris and son Dylan to come see.

And by the time we came out Spot was gone.

The wonderful thing is that he came back and did a lot of wandering about over the next two hours before dark.  If anything, he kept going so far afield that I was getting worried.  He came right out into the path - 4 metres from home base ... wandered back towards the peeping.  He wandered beyond the path - 8 metres ... and finally back home towards the peeping.  He wandered all the way over to the cut back (a work space) which is 15 metres from home base!  And, with a bit of Chris walking behind him in the direction of home, he finally went back into the currents and raspberries, and the peeping of brother and sister ducklings we never did see.

Well, we talked and worried over the evening.  Our house is three blocks and a 4 lane road from the Thames River!  And even if Mama (who we hadn't even seen yet) decided to take the babies west instead to the creek - 3 blocks the other way - we weren't at all sure if there was any water this dry spring.  And we headed to bed.

8:00 a.m. Tuesday morning there wasn't a sound.  No peeping.  No Spot.

Chris headed for the computer - google search - and found out that within hours of ducklings being hatched the parents walk them off to the nearest water source.

So, they were gone.

And we've decided that the best ending to the story is that they all reached water safely and are getting bigger and stronger every day.  Especially Spot.

Best regards,

Why's Woman

Monday, June 11, 2012

Local apples? Not this year.

Good morning everyone,

I hope you are all well ... and gardening ... whether on your windowsill, patio, sideyard or kitchen garden, boulevard, community garden, or farm.

On Saturday just past, I, and the woman I spoke to, had a teary-eyed moment.  I'd asked her: "How much of your apple crop did you lose?"

"97 percent," was her reply.

Not, "about 80 percent" or "quite a lot."

This farmer knew exactly the extent of loss her household would suffer because of the early hot weather, followed by cold (-5 degree nights) we've had this spring.  No doubt she could have given a dollar figure too, but this is not something any farmer wants to discuss in a casual conversation with a customer at market.

Southwestern Ontario - most of Ontario - and states all 'round the great lakes have suffered huge losses in fruit crops this spring.  Local Apples, pears, plum and cherry fruits won't be in big supply this harvest season.  80 percent loss is common. The news headline is that Ontario farmers are asking for disaster relief.

If I started on the inter-relationships between local agriculture and international economy, I'd get depressed fast, and would do neither of us a service on a Monday morning.

So ... buy something "grown local" this week.  Or as locally grown as possible.  Buy something at a farmers' market, or locally produced at the supermarket.  If it is organic as well, buy local and organic.  If it comes from a small scale grower, bonus.  If the price seems higher and you can do without a cell-phone upgrade, use what you'd have spent on the electronics to buy local, organic food ... which is good for you, the soil and the farmers around here.* 

From Lyn Ogryzlo's cookbook, The Ontario Table, 641.59713 at London Public Library system

If every household in Ontario spent $10 a week on local food, we’d have an additional $2.4 billion in our local economy at the end of the year. Keeping our money circulating grows those dollars to $3.6 billion and creates 10,000 new jobs.

I've got to remember that figure!!

We won't have any pears from our own backyard tree this year.  We'll cope by harvesting a lot of mulberries from trees nearby we know about; mulberries flower and set leaf far later in the season than other trees.  And we'll figure out which fruit bushes are hardiest in our area, so we order for fall planting.  (the unknown is the increasing unpredictability that will become the norm as climate change develops ...).  This isn't going to replace the all-round apple, but it's a household start.

Slightly disjointed post.  I feel pretty disjointed about this topic, and have a busy day ahead.

Best regards and I wish you a food (typo! I was going to say good) day!

Why's Woman

p.s. I have to put this part in ...It will also reduce the fossil fuel resources used to grow and transport that food.  And fossil fuel over-use has gotten us into this climate change mess that we won't be getting out of soon.  (there's another new report out by Western University professor Gordon McBean, who was a senior member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).