Monday, November 2, 2009

A $1 House, Chickens, Ducks, and Morning Glory

Admittedly, I know nothing about the Earth. Big "E" Earth and little "e" earth. I don't understand how we stay afloat in the universe instead of sinking into nothingness at an uncontrollable rate. And I certainly don't understand how we can bury a little nub of a plant in dirt and within days see proof of life emerging from the ground. While I will probably never understand the complexities of scientific law that propell us around the Sun, I can start to understand where I get my food. And that's where Kathleen Bellefeuille-Rice comes in.

I met Kathleen through Clare, her daughter and LACW community member. Kathleen is jolly, a hard worker by nature, and eternally passionate about gardening. She had extended a few invitations my way to visit her in Olympia, Washington, to learn about gardening and get my hands dirty. I decided to take her up on that offer.

Early October, I arrived in Olympia via public transportation. I paid a total of $6 to get from Portland to just blocks away from Kathleen's home. Granted, it took me 10 hours to complete the trip, I was stranded in Longview, Washington for 3 1/2 hours, and did hear the story about a mother being hit by a train (see previous entry). But the people are the glory of the adventure, aren't they?

Kathleen and her husband David live in a house that was physically moved from one lot to the current location. The house itself cost $1. It is now sitting on a nice plot on a hill in Olympia, surrounded by a garden that feeds Kathleen and David throughout the year. While they didn't live in a Catholic Worker house, they raised their two children in a similar lifestyle, valuing the traditions of simplicity and nonviolence. They do not own a car, relying on the public buses and their bicycles for local transportation. The food that doesn't come from their garden is purchased at the local food co-op, farmers market or straight from the farmer. David works as a water meter reader in order to provide an income and but not pay federal taxes (aka: war taxes). And Kathleen spends her days tending to the garden.

Although, "tending" might not be the accurate word, and the garden is not the sole venue of work. Kathleen labors year round to supply food her home. This includes the basics of planting, watering, weeding, pruning, and harvesting. There are also three chickens and three ducks that need food, water, and eggs to be collected. That is enough to keep anyone busy, but as I mentioned, Kathleen is a hard worker by nature. In the autumn, she spends much of her time around the stove, dehydrator and porch. The stove is the headquarters for canning. When I was with her, we made salsa out of tomatoes, parsley, onion, garlic and hot peppers. Kathleen also experiments with tinctures, homeopathic remedies and shampoos. (Science is a series of experiments, she says.) The dehydrator provides crisp slices of pears, handfuls of sweet kiwis and crunchy raspberries, flakes of nettle, leeks and onions for soups and rose petals for teas. The porch is the temporary resting area for the freshly harvested gourds, squashes, tomatoes, potatoes and other fall produce that aren't ready for in-house storage. Many of the vegetables later find homes in boxes under beds, under the house or in the attic.

This is just a quick overview of one season's worth of work. Did I mention that she often does it all by herself?

I don't want to project onto Kathleen, but I think she was happy to have another day laborer. David claimed since she knew I was coming, Kathleen started lining up more projects for me to do. We re-roofed her small greenhouse, cleared a few beds of produce, yanking morning glory out from the ground, and planted cover crops. Before some days began, I would join Kathleen for pre-dawn yoga. I was getting exhausted at 6:30 and going to bed at 8:30. I hadn't worked so hard in... well, a while. After working in her garden, a day at the Hippie Kitchen sounded like vacation. But it was wonderful work.

I had an established morning routine I looked forward to. First, I walked out to the Asian pear trees to coax the fruits off of the branches. The chickens followed and jabbed their beaks at the fallen orbs. Then to the raspberry bushes that were still producing juicy morsels. Spiders had found the thorny stalks and each day, I saw that one more had knitted herself a home between the aisles of bushes. My third stop were the kiwi trees. I reunited with the chickens who had declared a special roosting place near the fruits, and would chaperone my harvesting. They pecked at the ground for a second-hand feasts and clucked to each other incessantly. I would end the morning harvest when either the colander was full of the small, fleshy fruit, or when the chickens began to mistake my feet for grub.

Ripping fruit from its stem, however, was the extent of my garden knowledge. I spent a lot of time with a confused and/or apologetic look on my face, and Kathleen spent a lot of time telling me, "It's okay! You're new at this!" One evening, in preparation for dinner, I harvested an entire celery root instead of a few stalks as was asked of me. I mistook another plant for a rutabaga. Kathleen chimed in once more with reassurance as I hung my head in embarrassment.

When I wasn't making novice mistakes, Kathleen and I engaged in wonderful conversation. As we hauled clippings and weeds to the compost, harvested squash and loaded the dehydrator, we laughed and told each other stories. Kathleen openly shared anecdotes of her faith and snippets of motherly advice. We make breakfast, lunch and dinner together, and chatted about the place we found ourselves in our personal journeys. Our workspaces were warm with care and intention.

The entire two weeks were a blessing for me. Kathleen and David welcomed me into their home and into an intimate understanding of simplicity, peace and family. While I'm not sure I would be able to cultivate my own livelihood from the ground up just yet, I think I'd be willing to try in the future. So, thank you, Kathleen, for giving me an insight into the love that goes into the earth, and resurfaces to nourish us.