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Urban homesteading

My version of Fight Club

I took a suggestion from Garrison Keillor this morning in honor of April Fool’s Day. Wrapped a thick blue rubber band three times around the sink sprayer handle and aimed it straight at the space where A’s body would stand while innocently turning on the tap. Not 2 minutes later, I tried to rinse off a baking tray and instead, the sprayer nailed me square in the face. Welcome, April. I needed that.

For most of March, I had to lean hard into the days like a toddler pushing a bike uphill. Not a lot of momentum over here. With the energetic crater of February came my seasonal depression that settles in until warmer weather airs things out a bit. Add to that the rearing up of my rabid inner critic and J contracting a case of hand, foot and mouth disease during a week-long rain storm…well, lets just say my mood has been flat.

Mr. Hand Foot and Mouth himself

As though the outside world has no understanding of my inner turmoil, things are really perking up. Those little vagabond plants that snuck in with our strawberries are freesias! And their succulent, yellow blooms swelled up and popped, so that corner of our backyard smells like a dream. And my ode to a driveway garden and backyard chickens was not in vain! We are now the proud owners of 2 redwood planter boxes I found on Craigslist and a chicken coop I scored after posting a coop-wanted ad on Freecycle. We picked up the coop yesterday—turns out it was sitting vacant in a backyard only 4 blocks away, and it just took a little internet miracle to connect us.

Oh, the things you can move with a Honda Accord...

As A and I slogged through the rain, pushing the mucky coop end over end, I thought, “This is like my version of Fight Club.” I haven’t seen the movie forever, but I connected with that need to be shocked into aliveness, to deeply feel and experience something beyond sitting in artificially heated and cooled rooms and eating Trader Joe’s bagged dinners. So instead of having the crap beat out of me by Brad Pitt, I’m going the chicken coop route. The combination of mud and wet working skin and purpose reminded me that I’m a creature. An animal with working muscles and bones. Alas, there IS more to life than the internet and man-made playground facilities and vacuuming and the internet. There’s the springtime blooming and rain. The pile of soaked clothes kicked off at the back door. And the promise of little green shoots pushing through and a dark corner for laying eggs.

Starting somewhere

You have to start somewhere.

That’s the line that’s on repeat in my head today. I’ve been reading The Mists of Avalon for the last couple of months. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a cult classic re-telling of the Arthurian Legend from the perspective of the women. I just finished the last page (p. 892!!) yesterday and still feel under a spell that only a pagan, goddess, earth-based, woman-power-festival book can cast.

Reading it has stirred the longing I’ve had, since I moved away from the small, arid town of my youth, to have the dirt and sky and seasons figure prominently in my everyday life. Instead of smelling the rain coming, I sit here and type and scan websites as though the internet will save me. My tangible connection to the natural rhythms of life consists of two things lately: hanging the laundry out on the line that we strung across a tree and our back door and digging bare hands into my daily kale salad to work the oil and lemon juice and salt into the leaves. And sometimes it’s raining, so I put the laundry in the dryer. And there are days when I’m sick of kale. On those days, my ribs hurt from sitting at the computer for too long, and I try to remember to look up at the sky when I’m sitting at the park with J.

It’s not enough.

During this recent Mists of Avalon bender, I’ve been noticing the cycles of the moon again. And remembering this experiment my mom and I did in our garden, where we planted half of our plot by the moon and the other half a few days before that, just to see if the whole farmer’s almanac, by-the-moon thing had any merit. Our by-the-moon potatoes and green beans were head and shoulders above the others–I still remember the site of that lop-sided garden. One half bushing out on mysterious lunar steroids. If the moon has that kind of influence, what power is it exerting over me every wax and wane? And why does my life have so little to do with that?

So I’ve been criticizing our life here, and how I unknowingly traded the slow satisfaction of life in the San Juan mountains for the hip here-and-nowness of living in a thriving urban community. I’m stifled by the high density of people and concrete and traffic here. For better or for worse, I was raised in the high mountain desert of Colorado. I grew up roaming on our 5 acres which was surrounded by dozens upon dozens of open, roam-able sage brush acres. Solitude and open and the sounds and smells of dirt and bugs and life were freely given every day. There was no seeking required. And now I live in our little cottage that I love. And I sit on our back deck and hear airplanes, traffic and cackling crows. The deck looks out over our back yard, for which we once had grand plans and has now become a storage receptacle for our family’s bicycle fetish (cruiser, road bike, tandem, cargo…!) and various J toys. Our front yard is a shared driveway. A very beautiful, recently re-poured driveway for which I am very grateful, because J loves to roll trucks and balls and ride bikes in it, and we have a nice table and chairs there where we enjoy warm evenings . But it’s a concrete driveway.

You have to start somewhere.

I have known, very clearly since our ill-fated trip to Boulder last year, that I want chickens in our back yard. And I’ve been putting it off, because in the back of my head, I think we might move (in the next year or two) since the 650 sqft that we occupy is, for the first time, starting to feel too small. So I want to live in our wee cottage for another year or two without my dream backyard chickens just because I might have to move them? Upon conscious thought, I’ve deemed that not a good enough reason. And my earthy, Mists of Avalon, pagan self needs chickens now. So, we’ve gotten approval from all of the neighbors and have an email in to our landlords for our final stamp of approval. Here’s our future chicken sanctuary:

Goddess willing, they’ll live just below my favorite walnut tree in existence.

I love to watch the drama of it leafing out in the spring, the crunch-crunch-crackle of the squirrel walnut harvest in July and August (which inspired this video), how in one or two days in November, it drops every single rattly leaf and is naked like this again. Locals have been telling me that the soil surrounding walnut trees is often difficult to grow in, and we’ve certainly found that true over the last 4 years. So replacing the stunted ferns and lilies  s l o wly  growing there with chickens seems like just the ticket.

The one edible thing that we have successfully grown in our walnut-ed, shady backyard are strawberries. And here are some rogue spring bloomers getting ready to pop on this lovely March day. I have no idea what this plant is, so if you do, let me know. I intentionally left them here instead of weeding them out in the fall and I’m so glad I did.

And last weekend, I snapped myself out of the internet hypnosis that always calls when J is napping, and instead I potted some plants and dragged them out to the driveway.

I’m rooting more succulents in the kitchen that will occupy another pot or two once they’ve got some nice trailing roots to show. I also want to build or salvage a long narrow gardening bed for our only sunny, vegetable garden-able spot that we’ve got–also in the driveway. I’d thought of this years ago, but A was worried about the exhaust from cars on the driveway, and so I shelved the idea.

You’ve got to start somewhere. And if that’s eating exhaust-y vegetables from a concrete driveway garden that is planted by the moon, so be it.