Two years ago Pat started to transform a grassy meadow near the barn into a forest garden. I couldn't explain it at the time, but I was struggling with our altering the natural environment. (Turns out, it would be the first of many projects that have altered the natural environment at Spring Bird). I was afraid of losing something or somehow wrongfully altering the landscape in some way, but as Pat it explained, it was one of the few places here that had some sun. So, this meadow, that had sported the horseshoe stakes and burn pit, had to become a garden.
Pat began with surrounding the garden on three sides with a dead hedge composed of honeysuckle branches and old logs.
The depth and height of the hedge would discourage deer from jumping over it, since they'd be unsure of where they could land. He planted some gooseberries, a pair of pawpaws, strawberries, onions, comfrey, roses, willow, and raspberries. Last year, he created beds using the lasagna mulching method layering organic matter on top of cardboard.
This year we are planting in those beds along with attempting to establish borders and paths using what's on hand- more honeysuckle branches and tree slices. While the main purpose of a forest garden is to grow perennial, edible plants for consumption, we are also using part of it for dye plants, and because the deer eat everything everywhere else, I weaseled a flower garden into the space, as well.
So, we have planted a flower bed with foxgloves, lupine, sunflowers, hollyhocks, weld (for dyeing), canna lilies, iris, phlox and gooseberries. One bed is a devoted herb garden with lavender, oregano, sage, thyme, pots of rosemary, peony (from Penelope's birth), lemon balm, and yarrow. There's a small rose patch, a rhubarb patch, a squash patch, a ramp patch, and a zinnia patch for dyeing. The kids took on a fairy garden with pole beans, nasturtium, pie pumpkins, and parsley. And if that weren't enough, we've ordered angelica, false aster, wild geranium, hairy beardtongue, and obedient plant.
Aside from planting, I hope to transform the garden by adding three Aldo Leopold Benches, willow arches, a bird bath, and some weaving on the fence.
I should also mention that there are some woodland perennials that have found a safe place to grow in the shady areas. Red trillium and Jack and the Pulpit have taken root. There is also a prolific mulberry in one corner, and a good third of the garden hasn't been touched since the ducks have been grazing on it this Spring. Once they are moved to another meadow, we will continue constructing paths and beds on that side.
Sigh! It is an immense amount of work, and I can see the decades ahead of working this one bit of land and still not arriving at any sort of completion. That said, as meager and basic as it is at this moment, it already feels more inviting than before. I'm hoping that it can become a useful place for walking, gazing, and meditating for future guests to Spring Bird. It's a start!
PS This is the first in three projects at Spring Bird. We hope to plant around the watering hole, that we made last summer from the run-off water. Also, we are going to transform the pool into a pond with a screen porch at one end for sitting bug free. The work never ceases, but it will be so worth it when it is all complete for us and guests to enjoy!(And for the plants and animals! Our cats love rolling on our herbs! :()
I can't remember exactly when I promised myself that I would make a quilt, but I must have been around twenty. Making a quilt seemed like an enormous task--like running a marathon. It seemed like the kind of project that you only get around to doing once in your life. Growing up, I remember seeing the ironing board perpetually positioned at a forty-five degree angle to my Aunt Kathy's dining room table. It would be dressed with trips of pieced cloth alongside a cool iron. The sewing machine took up post in corner, frozen mid-stitch. The two seemed to beckon my Aunt Kathy who was busy making dinner after a long day at work. I imagined her thinking, "I'd rather be quilting".
So, somewhere in my college years, I decided that I was going to make a quilt--that I had to make a quilt. The call came from no certain place, but it was as true as can be. Fifteen years ago, I graduated from college, and two weeks later, got married. After such enormous moments, came a strange liminal place--the kind that I dread most. (I loathe being in between.) Pat and I were waiting on a Peace Corps placement and living with my parents. It was a strange time with no studies, no work, and a heap of wedding presents with no home to put them in. We were in a state of suspension. Meanwhile, my Mom's neighbor was cleaning out her spare bedroom and offered me her old singer sewing machine. Her timing couldn't have been better. I'd never used a sewing machine before, and I had no idea how to begin a quilt, but it was time.
With an armful of library books, I taught myself the basics of piecing quilts. On graph paper, I excitedly scratched out a design--a simple green and white ninepatch. I called it my "wedding quilt" because it featured fabric with a fern motif. (Ferns were a big part of our wedding theme). Anyway, by the time I worked through numerous glitches in the sewing machine --troubleshooting my way through tension problems and hand winding bobbins (because I didn't know any better), I was ready to start quilting. By then, It was also time to begin our volunteer work at Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas. (Peace Corps didn't work out, another story for another time).
I finished that first quilt at Annunciation House, and almost immediately began a second (pictured above). Turns out living in a homeless shelter and confronting your own unearned privileges is emotionally taxing, and sewing is immensely therapeutic. I had to keep going, and therefore had to keep sewing!
One of my responsibilities at Annunciation House was maintaining order in the basement clothing bank. I pilfered some homemade moomoos and a tie-dyed t-shirt or two. I also purchased some bright knits at a local shop. (I was choosing all the wrong types of fabric, but I had no idea.) I cut up each garment and fabric into tiny 1 1/2" squares which I HAND pieced into 12" strips, which I then I HAND pieced into 12" squares. Once I was reunited with my singer, I machine pieced the 12" squares together before hand quilting spirals over the entire quilt--which my Aunt Kathy pointed out I was doing incorrectly. I had started from the end--instead of the middle! So, maybe I didn't read those books so thoroughly. . .
A dozen quilts later, I found myself in grad-school finding my way through my thesis. I really wanted to make quilts with the young adults I was working with at a Chicago homeless shelter, but making an entire quilt was too much for the residents and me in the time we had together. My supportive advisor recommended pieced pillows instead. It worked out brilliantly. Together we made dozens of pieced pillows, and I made a quilt commemorating the project--pieced from documentary photos from the project printed on fabric. I hope that making pillows brought some comfort to their liminality. I know it really helped me.
So, it turns out that I sew through uncertainty, and when I heard that my good childhood friend had cancer, I knew I had to make her a quilt (pictured below). Since she lives in another state, it felt like something concrete that I could do to alleviate her suffering --even if it was just to keep the cold away for awhile. The design was inspired by a collage by artist Ed Cheverton. The spiral is pieced from fabric scraps and upcycled clothes. The navy is Kona Cotton fabric. For me, the spiral is a powerful symbol of finding finding one's way through life--it's joys and challenges. It also represents creativity and new beginnings.
I made my friend's quilt and immediately after, a second one like it to sell. I'd like to make the same design in various color combinations. I've never made multiples of a quilt design before. I am curious to find out what I learn from this experience. It feels very exciting, for sure. Sew, here goes nothing! (sorry, not sorry)
PS if you are interested in purchasing the Margo Snake Quilt or subsequent MSQ's check out my Etsy Shop.
Oh my gosh! There has been so much happening at Spring Bird. Spring was late, but Spring has delivered, and in the case of a Mama deer, she literally delivered a fawn last Thursday. On a walk through the woods and not far from the house, my own Mom and her friend discovered the fawn with its mother near a yew tree. The mother and some other adult deer ran away leaving the fawn, who attracted my curious cats. Ninja got close enough to sniff, and that's when I stepped in to pull her away. We instinctively pulled away from this sweet baby who was bleating like a goat and locking eyes with us, but the fawn started to follow on the wobbliest legs. "Ugh oh" we thought, "We are not your mother baby!" It was an exhilarating moment of delight, surprise, panic and fear. We did not want to come between the mother and the baby, but we also couldn't help but witness this brand new life. We did move on leaving the fawn behind near a big oak tree. We were afraid that the mother wouldn't come back or that we had disturbed the bonding process. Since our fawn encounter on Thursday, I have not seen it since. Hopefully as the fawn grows, we'll see Mom and baby together. I am pretty sure this baby will remember the three of us and the two cats. I think the experience left an impression on all of us!
Also, super exciting news in the barn! One of our three ducks decided to sit on a nest this past week! Last year, we had some intermittent nesting happening, and we were never sure if our domestic ducks would have a strong enough instinct to commit to a nest. So, the good news is she has been sitting consistently since Tuesday. She is safe in the barn with plenty of food and water. The other two ducks and drake join her at night, but Pat will be moving them to the meadows sometime this week. The bad news is that we have no idea if any of the eggs are fertilized. So, her commitment could be for nothing, which breaks my heart. I am sure there are a dozen other things that could prevent successful hatchlings, too, but it is exciting nevertheless. In a couple of weeks, we could have ducklings!
Although we generally respect her seclusion, I snuck the above picture of her this morning. She was squawking at me as any protective mother would. Also, just a curious note, when a duck chooses to nest, she will sit on all of the eggs that are laid -- even those by other ducks. I think this is really interesting to think about in terms of evolution.
Finally, the birds seem to be parenting, too. We have a very protective wren dwelling in the birdhouse near the patio. A couple of cardinals are building a nest next to our front door. (I'm hoping they relocate for their own sake--somewhere far from our cats). And we watched a pair of Blue Jays attack a squirrel. Now, I'm not sure if they were protecting their nest or their nuts. Either way, that was the first time I've seen a squirrel deterred by blue jays.
Also, animals are reproducing in other parts of the world. (Imagine that!) Below are photos from South Africa and Florida. My sister-in-law took these photos of a lioness with her cubs and the mother and baby elephant on her weekend safari. While in Florida, our friend has been studying in her back yard a father duck and his ten babies! So, I guess life goes on everywhere.
And finally, a very happy birthday to Penelope who turned 8 yesterday! She very graciously shared her birthday with me as it was also mother's day. Penelope is so smart, funny, creative, curious, confident, and a visionary. If I can be half the woman that she already is, I will be most satisfied. I love watching her become herself and develop grand plans for how she wants to live and as she discovers what she wants to offer the world. She knows what she wants and is not afraid to ask for it. Look out world, Penelope is here!
Recently, we were very fortunate to connect with Lisa Frank, the founder of Rettlers, a platform for connecting travelers with "radical homemakers, farmers, environmentalists, artists, and community builders providing intentional hospitality in the rural midwest." In early April, Lisa traveled from Minneapolis to stay at Spring Bird cottage. It was lovely to meet with Lisa and learn more about her work, promoting and assisting in the development and connections of travelers to rural life. Also, it was affirming to learn more about the other like-minded souls seeking similar lifestyles to ours.
"The Path Less Travelled" can feel lonely at times even though you know it's the right path for you. Having Lisa Frank understand what we are doing and strive to do, helps to feel seen, and that is no small thing. Being seen and understood by even one person can help you to keep going--to plow past doubt, fear, and the skeptics.
I do believe that we all hunger for natural environments, which can be embodied in a variety of ways. In fact our bodies are embodiments of nature. Spring Bird is just one particular place with its own landscape, characteristics, watershed, animals, plants, insects, and people. We are stewards of this place for the future inhabitants, but in the meantime want to open our doors, pull down our fences to share this place with anyone seeking some woodland retreat.
OKAY, enough of my bumbling words, please read Lisa Frank's story about Spring Bird here, and check out the other Rettlers Stays here. It's the perfect time to plan a trip!
Many thanks to Lisa for the beautiful photo (above) and for being a heartfelt, community builder, who is carving many beautiful paths throughout the midwest!
Since his passing on April 19, I have been thinking about how to write about David Bartholomew, previous owner/tenant of these wooded acres. Everyday that I have lived at Spring Bird, I have thought about David. I think about him in his carefully tooled signs, in his neatly stacked piles of logs, in the crutches that he fashioned for to prop the heavy bows of the yew trees, and in his fashioned handrails made from tree branches. He has left his careful, thoughtful marks on this land through his nurturing of it. I pray that we will be as loving to this place as he was.
In the fall of 2014, I interviewed Martha and David about Siloam for a grad school project. I recorded that interview on my laptop--you know, that brand new mac that I spilled my coffee on and ruined. We think that we saved the recording on a hard drive, but it may require a tech wizard to retrieve it. Anyway, all of this to say, I was really hoping to share with you David's telling of falling in love with this place--which at that time was Torkel Korling's arboretum. In that interview, David described arriving at Korling's open house with Martha and their son. They came to see the trees. They weren't intending to buy the property, but as he walked down the cement staircase he told himself, "No, I don't want to move!", but his body knew that this place was next to be his--for him to care for.
I have felt similar magic travelling down those stairs. One summer, Penelope and I sat on one of those cement steps surrounded by boxwood, sheltered by the dry stacked, stone wall. She told me how much she loved that staircase and suggested that we should make our own place there for just us. I wholeheartedly agreed.
Also, in that interview, David shared much more wisdom and advice, and if I can ever resurrect it, I'd love to edit it for you so that you may benefit from it. In the meantime, we have his signs and his woodland works to contemplate. In fact one of his famous signs has since disintegrated. It read, "You Are Here". I am sure I have written about it before, but this sign, for me, is the greatest joke and philosophical wisdom all wrapped into one. I love it so much that I printed it on tote bags, and I hashtag all of my Instagram posts with it as a constant reminder/invitation to remember that You Are Here--like right here--right now! So What! Now What?
Thank you David for all that you have done and been! Just like your sign, your body may not be here anymore, but your spirit very much is. I will continue to meet you in the trees!
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.