hands not hooves

lolli nursingIt was a joke I had with a cat, once. She would ask to come in, or inquire for dinner, and I would show her my hands and say, “Look! I have hands, fingers, and thumbs! Ha ha!” At the time, I guess I was thinking that night vision and the ability to run on four legs kind of made it even.

I’ve had cause to re-think that lately, on the advent of our first bottle kid.

Our oldest goat had her kids in late February. The delivery was smooth enough, if a little exhausting, at 3 a.m. Probably she could have done it without us, but I was glad we were there to witness. Birth is always special.lolli birth pic

The twin kids are beautiful. A doeling named Lollipop, and a buckling named Buddy Booboo. Mamma goat Annie cleaned up her kids, everyone nursed and cuddled up, and we went back to bed.

Then it rained.

Lollipop wandered from her cozy shelter with her mother and brother and stood out in the rain. She got chilled, and by the time I saw what was going on and put her back under cover with her mother she was already too thin, and didn’t express an interest in nursing. Mamma Annie called to her and licked her, and tried to nudge her back towards the teats, to no avail. Thus, the great advantage of hands and arms. I could pull my babies to me. I could hold them. Annie can’t do that.

We kept Lolli in the house for a few nights. She seemed to be having seizures. I would wake at 2 or 3 a.m. for a night feeding and many times wondered if I would find her alive. She was not happy to take the bottle. We took her back outside for as much of the daytime as possible to hang out with her goat family.

There is a sensitive time in the life of goat kids on our homestead in which they are small enough to slip through the holes in the goat pen fence. Since most kids are intimately attached to their mothers, they don’t go far. They take themselves right back through the fence to get to the milk bar.

I kept trying to put Lolli back on her mom. But eventually Annie lost interest in trying. She still responded to Lolli’s cry, gave her an occasional sniff, but little more. Because Lolli is not attached to her mother, when she wiggles through the holes, she has no reason to wiggle back.

We lost her a couple times this way, not seeing which way she went, and having to track her down as she trotted out into the winter woods, where a fawn colored goat kid, looks just like the forest floor. I was amazed each time we found her. Eventually, she slipped out on a rainy dusk when I was busy putting the final touches on dinner.

Headlamps on, hoods up, we scoured the woods around the goat pen. We looked at the nooks under logs, down the steep banks of the creek, in the brambles of roses and blackberries. We exhausted our flashlight batteries. We walked under the dark, trees dripping with rain, the first songs of the tree frogs ringing in the night.

It was a somber dinner, so tired, knowing she couldn’t make it through a night alone in the rain. We reviewed the facts. We had done the best we were able. If her instincts were not developed enough to keep her coming home, this was just a way of nature taking its course. But it didn’t stop us from being sad, from wondering what we could have done better.

I awoke at 11:30 that night to the sound of Annie calling out. Again, her lack of hands foiled her – she heard a cry, but she didn’t have a flashlight and couldn’t operate the gate, so all she could do was cry out in return. I, on the other hand, scrambled for a headlamp and coat and ran out into the yard and listened. Sure enough, a little goat-kid cry came from up the hill. My heart thumped. I thought – this means something just got her and now she’s a gonner for sure. But then she cried again and I rain for the noise.

She was tangled in the remnants of an ancient woven wire fence line. We had walked it in our search without detecting her. She was sopping wet. Skinny. But strong enough to holler.

I untangled her and carried her down for Annie’s inspection. Then I took her into the house, dried her off, and lay her in a box with a hot water bottle. I waited for pneumonia to set in, but it didn’t.

In the following few days of her recovery, she pitched herself off the porch, and fell down the stairs in the middle of the night. But she also started taking the bottle willingly, and nibbling on dry leaves. Her seizures stopped. Much to my amazement – she lived.lolli 1

It’s a mighty job, a big responsibility, having hands, arms, this oversized brain, and heart. We mess up a lot.

It’s not hard for me to understand why many farmers don’t bottle feed the little ones who struggle.  Were our herd much larger, or our management system not so, um, “intensive”, I don’t know that she would have made it this far.  Lolli is still a little behind the curve. Despite our hours of investment, she does not act like the other goats. Her coat isn’t as soft, and she isn’t as strong or playful as her brother. She doesn’t stay with the herd when they graze. She follows our children like a puppy. Her future is still uncertain. But to have NOT put our hands to work would have been denying an instinct toward life. There are times when instincts conflict with reality, and there are hard choices to be made. But this was the first time for us. We had to try.

After all, we have hands, not hooves.lolli early


I’m helping to organize a really great event.  It’s the Fellowship of the Preparation Maker’s Conference.  The Fellowship is a dedicated small group of Biodynamic Practitioners.  Each year they gather in a different region and explore a facet of biodynamic agriculture (a multi-faceted field, to be sure).  But this group is so much more than a handful of sustainable ag geeks.  That’s why I agreed to help throw this event in our neighborhood.

February 9-11, if it’s your sort of thing, please come.  Here’s a link to some more info.

This is a piece I wrote about the experience my Fellow Man and I had attending last year’s conference in Kincardine, Ontario.  Maybe it will help persuade you to come to this year’s event.  Or you might just like to take the ride vicariously.  Either way, enjoy.


When we crossed the Canadian border into Sarnia, the sky was light, and there were sparkles of snow in the air. The effect was tropical, to my southern eyes. We don’t get partly cloudy snow down in our part of the world. I was enchanted. My Canadian husband was less impressed and directed us to a store to pick up some anti-freeze windshield wiper fluid. It was a cold weekend, and we were poorly prepared, but the snow that day, and into the night, was magical.

I knew when we walked in the door, nearly at the end of Friday’s opening day session of the annual Fellowship of the Preparation Makers Conference, that we were in a good place. The conference was held in a historic community meeting hall. It was a singular spacious room, with a small kitchen curtained off in the back and chairs circled up in concentric rings. In the middle sat Hugh Courtney, pendulum in hand, holding onto a sizeable apple young apple tree in a pot. I have always considered Hugh a true “mensch” – a worthy and reliable member of humanity. I appreciate how he answers questions without assuming over-arching authority – he is simply sharing what he has learned. He has influenced many of the people who have influenced me, and has shown a steadfastness in his dedication to the work of his life that is uncommon in our day. It was a pleasure to see him in this context – in a room of listeners, really absorbing the information he has to share – his life’s work, laid out for any who care to try.

Hugh’s presence is an important piece of the Fellowship of the Prepmaker’s work. Their stated mission, to insure that there are sufficient biodynamic preparations available across the continent to meet the needs of all who want to use them, emerged from the recognition of Hugh Courtney’s work at the Josephine Porter Institute for Applied Biodynamics, which largely fulfilled that demand for many years. As it is, the Fellowship is a collection of deeply dedicated biodynamic practitioners, intent on exploring their craft in its blood and bones, as well as its heart and soul.

After a satisfying dinner and some mingling in the warmth of strangers who were surely about to become friends, we lined up the chairs again and set out to listen to Reverend Jonah Evans, of Toronto. I’ve never heard a sermon like that before, and I would travel to hear it again. Jonah is an engaging speaker, and he challenged all of us in the room to engage our own inner world in terms of the work we do on our farms. He asked us to explore the resonant parallels between the activity of preparation making and the activity of the human soul. Consider the qualities the fresh manure gains from spending the winter underground in a horn, in deep darkness. What do we gain from passing through periods of darkness, uncertainty, hardship, ourselves? Certainly, under the right circumstances, the passage through darkness increases the creative capacity of soul, and soil. On both counts, it is a journey whose worth becomes apparent upon returning to the light. (I could spend this whole article ruminating on Rev. Jonah’s message that night. Please just take the opportunity to hear him whenever it presents itself.) Laying my travel-weary head down that night, I thought Hugh Courtney and Brother Jonah set our foots on the path for the weekend to come.

Saturday morning, snow-covered and bone chillingly cold, we met the day together in song. It was reassuring for a new-comer to the Prepmaker’s Fellowship (like me) to feel that we were maintaining the strong soul-connection that was set up the night before. The rest of the morning was spent hearing perspectives from biodynamic farmers in different places. Chris Boettcher gave a carefully prepared talk about the feedback loops of farming fertility, from animal, to plant, to cosmos, and ultimately, in human farming activity. Jeff Poppen followed with a comical account of his personal and professional transformation through biodynamics. The juxtaposition of those two interesting speakers gave us plenty to think and chat about over lunch.

After lunch, we were called to open up to our own perspectives and our capacity for perception. Pat Frazier led us on a choose-your-own perceptive/creative journey which prepared us for the meat of the weekend: horn manure evaluation at the Hack Farm.

The cold crisp day didn’t stop most of us from jumping on a hay wagon for the short ride to the farm. We un-earthed some horns and passed them around. Some of the horns were new, and others had been used before. Hugh Courtney spoke of the differences he had perceived in working with old and new horns in the past. It was an interesting exploration, but I have to admit that I was distracted by the flat expansive fields (the kind you don’t see much in middle Tennessee) and the black earth (another rarity in our parts) that Uli says goes about a foot and a half deep. As part of the afternoon tour, we entered one of the Hack Farm outbuildings, where Wali Via prepared us to encounter Horn Manure in a different way. On a long table, there were 12 samples of Horn Manure. Each was on a plate with a number on it. There were no other indications about each one. We were each given a pencil and paper and asked to circle the table and quietly mingle our senses with the samples, scoring our first impressions, and second impressions, and any other impressions as well. Some of us pulled out pendulums. Others squeezed the samples, and smelled them. I was amazed at how different 12 samples of manure packed into cow horns and buried in the ground could be. One was black, another reddish brown. Many were sandy and nearly dry. A few were moist, and one nearly spongy wet. Wali pointed out to us later that this exercise boiled down to experiencing 12 years of biodynamic work all at once, as so many of us only get to handle our own horn manure, year after year. It was a powerful exercise, and most of the remainder of our time together was spent discussing our impressions.

The crowd around the coffee and tea station was thick when we returned to the meeting hall. As we warmed up, so did the discussion. With Wali guiding us, we shared our impressions and in turned learned the ‘biographies’ of the preparations we had met at the Hack Farm. It became clear in short order that the exploration of our experiences and what they mean coupled with the stories of the preps could have gone on all night. Thankfully, our mindful hosts turned our attention to some other information and prepared us for some fun.

Following another beautiful meal, we took a stroll through the garden inside, led by Gabi Boettcher as she played Beethoven Sonata No. 8 Op. 13 (Pathetique) for us. Her son followed her with a trumpet piece. And then, we were visited by a theatrical presentation of rhyming little troll who danced on a table and played a ukelele for our pleasure. This display of the local farming families’ artistic abilities would have been a superb ending to the day, but they weren’t done with us yet. Our chairs were stacked in the corners of the room and we partnered up for a rollicking round of social dancing (which is fun whether you can dance or not). When we sufficiently warm from the dance, a line of chairs returned to the center of the room, an accordion was pulled from the closet, and the group played the most competitive game of musical chairs I have ever witnessed. Emerging flush-faced into the dark, cold night, I was reminded that winters are long in Canada, and by necessity, these folks have mastered a number of ways to strengthen their community and enjoy themselves in the off-season. What a treat!

Sunday morning, our curiosity was piqued and we were ready to continue our discussion of the horn manure samples. It was interesting to note that though our impressions of the samples differed greatly, there were some parallels that emerged. Many of the same people had a negative impression of several preparations, while many others would have a positive impression about the same group of preps. Personally, I was not able to rate any of the samples poorly, but I was more attracted to certain individuals than others. Hearing different people from the group voicing their experience with each sample was a great lesson in differences, understanding, and the potential power of this kind of perceptive study in a group setting. We came away with a lot of information, and maybe as many questions as answers. In other words, a great success.

Circling the chairs one more time, we set about to close the weekend with a final sharing circle and ceremony. Pat opened the sharing circle and asked us to bring forth our questions as well as our impressions. The pouring forth that followed was lovely, and served to open our hearts for the closing ceremony, led by Wali.

I want to tell you about the closing ceremony, but I’m not going to. It’s too good to share in print. If you want to know, the best way is to show up and become a part of it. This is what I will say – it was a privilege to pour out intentions and dreams into the shared vessel of this event. It was a privilege to share in the great celebration of all creation that is at the heart of biodynamics, and at the heart of the Fellowship of the Preparation Makers.

kincardine 2

it’s about time

cavernWhat is time?  What is time for?

The measurement of a breath, the space between breaths.

Sleeping, waking, toil, and play.

The passage of a season in planting, tending, harvesting, and preservation.

The celebration of birthdays, holidays, moments of intensity.

The currency of our lives.

In the time it took for me to mulch my tomatoes, a family of sparrows hatched and fledged from an abandoned harvest basket on our porch.  The sparrows and I were busy with the same work – toiling with the materials at hand in an effort to feed our families.  The sparrow children grew up faster than ours, though some days, it feels like it may have just been a week ago that ours were born, too.cute kids

Time stretches and contracts.  It is constant but not consistent.

Once I heard my Tibetan Buddhist friends say that time is our own creation.

They weren’t talking about creation in the Biblical sense, of dividing the day and night. They were talking, as they often did, about perception, and our perception of time. In this age, when busy-ness is glorified and nearly inescapable, it’s worth consideration.

If we didn’t create the way we look at time – who did? If we didn’t decide how to use our precious time – who does? Who tells us whether “time is short” or “we have all the time in the world”? We do. We learn it early on, from others who have learned before us. And we are given training in schools to unify our perceptions and hustle when the bell rings, regardless of the task at hand. We are not taught to question this perception, and it takes a substantial degree of study and reflection to re-train these perceptive reflexes. Here lately I’m thinking it’s a worthy effort.

There are never enough hours in my day. I’ve heard myself say and think that phrase over and over. How exhausting!  It’s high time to break that habit.  Not that I will all of a sudden get everything done that I hoped to do in a day, but maybe I will be relaxed about the fact that my life is full.  It’s full of beauty, food, friends and family.  Full to bursting with the stuff of life and love.  What is time for but to love?

Last year, as we tapered off our writing habits, it felt like there was just too much going on to be able to write about it and be honest. And of course there wasn’t time.

Now, it feels like there’s too much going on, and to NOT write about it wouldn’t be honest. There’s no more or less time than ever. But I have missed this place to share thoughts at hand, visions, the beauty of life out here, so I’m choosing to take the time.

Because, this is another important thing that time is for – sharing.geese and girls