Category Archives: Leaving Traverse City

The Farewell Storm

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We’ve stayed in Michigan through this time in June to celebrate a few events, including my middle daughter’s birthday yesterday, with friends and family. This last week has become kind of a farewell storm of gearing up for the big trip and meet-ups with friends and family. And the last few days have been especially fun.

Thursday eve was graduation. My girls have had the good fortune of attending a wonderful school in northern Michigan with a heavy focus on outdoor education. The educators are like family, and the girls so closely bonded with friends there. I think of the Greenspire School as a junior high where the difficult years are met with support and respect between students and among students and teachers. It was the one thing that held us here until the very last proverbial bell of the semester rang.

Yesterday, my daughter turned 14 right where I turned 14 (I’m suffer from a condition known as extreme sentimentality), on the shores of East Grand Traverse Bay, braving the chilly water to escape the thick June air. I could barely keep my toes in the water, but these kids stayed in the water for upwards of an hour swimming! My little fishies.

The evening prior, a dear friend I’ve known since high school, and the son of my farming
mentor, invited us to his farm for a send-off gathering. Following one of the best potluck dinners ever, we were met by a wall of wind and water in one of the most wicked storms I’ve seen since last August. We took shelter in the old greenhouse, seated on old wooden benches lit by candlelight. There, we told ghost stories and ate pie to pass the evening until the rain subsided enough for us to partake in the cannibal hot-tub. (Chris is now convinced we need one of these).

This cannibal hot-tub is made like an over-sized barrel with a submerged aluminum wood-fired stove. The water was a consistent and comfortable 98 degrees. Whenever we got too warm, we simply laid our heads back and let the cool rain wash over our faces. Lightning flickered in the distance and the low rumble of thunder shuddered over the churning waters of West Bay. I couldn’t have imagined a better send-off than that.

In the next few days, we’ll be loading the trucks, prepping for the long haul, and by Tuesday eve, arriving back home in New York. Having weathered the storm of this past eight months, it is finally time to put down our roots. Home awaits.

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Trying to decide

I’m trying to decide what to do with Healing Tree Farm. It has been a remarkable part of my life and has really helped me come to a genuine place of healing after a difficult health ordeal. And while the move out to New York doesn’t constitute starting over, it does feel like a refreshing next step in the direction of a dream. Do I owe that next step a renaming or re-branding? Part of me yearns to step away from the connection to illness, but another part of me feels I owe that process some ongoing recognition.

At the same time, I feel like we’ve outgrown the name, heading into a direction so well-photo 1 (5)rooted in fiber, despite our continued adoration for apple trees. I have no intention of giving up fruit-growing; I just want to broaden the scope to include a full-scale fiber operation.

When people have asked in the past about Healing Tree, I find myself feeling obligated to share the full story. In NY, there’s a kind of freedom from that, if that makes any sense. I’m no longer the girl who got cancer and started a farm out there. I’m the woman who wants to launch a fiber business.

And it’s purely psychological. Naturally, I don’t have to launch into the full story every time I’m asked about the significance of the Healing Tree, but even if I don’t share the story outwardly, it runs through my mind.

So, as we pack up the fencing and materials at the farm this week, I am engrossed in this ongoing dialogue. Remembering, reflecting, and thinking about which elements to carry on with us, and which to leave behind, both literally and figuratively. And I can genuinely say, it’s a healing process.

Dream a little (big) dream

photo 2I’ve started my new job in New York, from Michigan, which makes for a nice transition to a new house in a new community within a new state. We leave at the end of the following week for closing on the house and we’ll make a few trips out prior to the big move with the kids in June.

This whole process was kicked off by a series of events in the deep of winter early in 2015 with a serious evaluation of our long-term goals.

Chris and I have similar goals across the board, save for the one about opening a burger joint (though the food would be fantastic, I can attest), which made the envisioning process easier. Some things were immediately clear: 1) We were not living the life we dreamed of in the way we hoped to live it, 2) We could not alter the situation without a change in location, and 3) We have two kids quickly approaching college-age and one not far behind those two.

It was early February of 2015 when Chris showed me a farm for sale in Western Massachusetts. I said, “There’s no way I’m leaving Michigan.” And he said, “I think you’d really like it out there.” The rest is history. Eastern NY is very similar to Western Mass. And the land is affordable, the soil profiles are outstanding, and the people are straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

After five trips out East, we finally located the right property in line with our five-year plan, right in the middle of the Schoharie, with an agricultural college just minutes from the front door, and universities scattered within a three hour radius in every direction. It isn’t a farm, but there’s enough land to grow food and a large field adjacent to the property, so who knows. We will keep chickens and bees, tend the Shiawassee Beauties, and continue gardening, while growing our savings to accommodate dreams of opening a fiber mill in Upstate NY.

Moreover, I hope the girls can finally feel the satisfaction of being part of a community, rather than living in the outskirts. Apart from college, there is so much to experience in New England, from the history around every corner, to the natural features of this old, old land, to the simple joy of riding your bike to the movie theatre on a summer afternoon.

And you bet, I’ll still be processing and spinning fiber. It likely won’t be local Michigan fiber, if you can forgive me, but I can promise some local Schoharie Valley fiber to keep our friends in beautiful northern Michigan warm.

This is succession.

We bought a house! (FINALLY)

We spent the weekend in NY house hunting again, after the farm we tried to purchasephoto 2 (3) previously fell through. The timing was good and we found a great house for sale in the Schoharie Valley, where we had hoped to land. The community is welcoming and the setting is tranquil and beautiful.

During this trip, we were pretty sure about the property, so we planned a day for house-related stuff and then a day for fun. It was a quick trip, but we managed to get an accepted offer on the house, watched Zootopia (awesome film!), and even found time for some cave exploration – think boat, underground river, Goonies…

We also enjoyed some downtime at the inn where we have stayed on previous trips out. This trip we brought along our son and youngest daughter, who wanted to offer her opinion of our housing choices. She was a big help and it was delightful watching our two youngest bonding as siblings.

photo 1 (4)Games, ice cream, and stories were devoured on this trip.

photo 2 (2)[My favorite part of being 200 feet underground on a boat floating down a crystal clear river? Hearing a woman behind me say, “It’s our time; it’s our time down here.”]

This plan to relocate has been in the works for more than a year, which has given us time photo 3 (2)to prepare emotionally for leaving home in the quest for a new place to call home. It has also provided us with opportunities to get to know other families in communities from all over the region, so the move isn’t as scary as it might have been otherwise. Our agent has been such a good friend to us in this process. He’s made this transition so much easier – we love this man! (Brad Morley – Benson Real Estate)

photo 3 (3)I can’t tell whether I’m more excited to link up with other farmers in NY State or sharing the history of this incredible region, known as the breadbasket of the American Revolution, with our children. There are cannonball holes in the sides of buildings here. Wha?!

Moreover, the house is near a state university dedicated to agriculture with barns filled to the brim with sheep, goats, cows, and horses. Yep, an entire college for agricultural studies. My kind of town!

We made sure to visit our friends at the ‘Il Cafe’ in Little Falls and Sunset Corners in Ames, the smallest incorporated village in the state of NY. The kids love this place especially. It really feels photo 1 (2)like you’re stepping back in time.

Feeling grateful also to those kind TC folks who helped us out while we were away. Thank you to Levi (RealEyes Homestead) for watching over the alpacas and kitty and to the Marker Family for taking on Louis Dog, who I have heard has been very well behaved (our sweet boy is growing up!)

Time for coffee and reflection. So many changes ahead. Thank you for the messages of support and encouragement. We appreciate them as we take this next, big step toward a dream realized.

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My Side of the Mountain

Last night we gathered near the fire to begin reading My Side of the Mountain, a story published in 1959 by J. Craighead George about a boy leaving NYC for his grandfather’s abandoned farmstead in Delaware County, NY. As with any group story hour in our house, there was much interrupting for the first few minutes, but after a while, even the toddler settled into the rhythmic tone of the book.

schoharieIn many ways, we’re seeking much the same – a simpler life in the Catskills, working on those tasks and chores that bring us meaning. I think most people can relate to that desire on some level. Even the kids relate. The girls began asking about building a tree fort that they could stay in overnight and before long I listened to my two eldest daughters debate the merits of eating fish eyes over collecting dew, if dehydrated. (I’ll never regret sending them to an outdoor education school over traditional middle school, if only for these conversations).

While driving East through Canada, I was struck at how anxious I felt. It used to be that on long treks like this, I would rely on road signs to get me to my destination. And while I would periodically get lost, most often I ended up exactly where I needed to be. Somehow, with my printed map, GPS on the phone, and even built-in GPS in our car, I actually felt more vulnerable. I’ve grown so accustomed to using this technology, perhaps, that trust in my own instinct has faltered some.

I think about what the boy in the story, or pioneers of long ago had to navigate their way. The stars, word of mouth, stories. Risk of starvation, illness, dehydration, death ever present. And yet, they did not stay put. They left the cozy cabin of the big woods for an unknown life on the plains, or the shelter and safety of the city for the mountain, or the stillness of routine in a place that was sufficient for the insecurity of achieving that experience that is ultimately satisfying- a life lived outside of careful navigation. A life that explores those paths that are revealed in getting a little bit lost along the way.

Last night, I listened to my husband’s kind voice carry through the room and closed my eyes to remember what the clouds looked like when they circled the rounded mountains of the Catskills, or the way the sunlight played at sunset with those steep angles, knowing that one day I would be able to share more than just the story of this magical place with my family.  Though I will never, ever eat fish eyes.

Letter to the Greater Schoharie Valley

The woman in the photograph is my great, great grandmother, Rose Render. She lived onphoto 3 (1) a farm in middle Michigan, raising her boys and her livestock on her own, without the help of modern conveniences like electricity and running water. My mother remembers going to Grandma Rose’s for dinner, enjoying chicken raised on the farm and processed by our grandmother’s own hands. My mother described her visits to the farm as travelling back through time. The tiny, sturdy farmhouse walled off to the approach of a fast-paced modern era.

I assume the desire to farm runs deep. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, save for that year I wanted to run for president in the seventh grade. Some of my earliest memories involve planting radishes and pumpkins in a garden beside my mother’s house, beside the neat rows of cherry trees that stretched out for miles in three directions.

We’ve faced hardships as farmers. We’ve lost animals to predators and had to learn to harvest our own birds for meat. We’ve had animals get out of the paddock to explore the lake or visit town. Last year, we lost nearly 200 apple trees planted with love, by hand, to a brutal spell of unprecedented cold winter that followed an equally brutal drought. I’ve wept in the soil for these losses and questioned many, many times why we do this thing called farming.

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The answer always comes back to the successes. Grafting apple varieties on the brink of extinction in order to preserve this unique living cultural landscape. The raising of sheep, of alpacas, of learning to shear by hand, of washing these fleeces with great care and following this education down to carding each, and learning to spin so that the farm could support raising these beautiful animals. The reward in each of these feats far outweighs any set-backs.

Farming has also taught me to follow my instincts, to see failures as opportunities for growth, to find strength in vulnerability, and to be bold, despite the risks.  And this next bold move has taken us down some narrow roads – exploring the limits of our own fears and anxiety as we venture forth from Michigan to New York. Last fall we sold our house imageand have been staying with family as we make trips out east to locate a farm where we can finally put down permanent roots.

It has taken several trips out, but we finally feel comfortable in saying we would like to land in the region of the Schoharie valley, somewhere between Canajoharie to the undulating, aged mountains that rise up from Roxbury. And we’re seeking help. We’ve met with farmers, and are currently putting out feelers for any farmer or land owner who may be considering selling their farm. We are hoping to locate a farm with a house (we love older homes and are not afraid of renovations) with as few as four acres (more will be put to good use). A barn is not necessary, but a barn or outbuildings are a plus.

IF you know of anyone who may be able to help us, please feel free to share our email address healingtreefarm@gmail.com. We appreciate any help and look forward to becoming NY farmers this year! Thank you._o4xWwwKByO91WVxwu-cQcT7gkqweBxIjtCdCjO2G2U,NuqeJjwABcK9WcVXgvNf4Tkear9KK_FbgJqF45848_s