Recently, I was fortunate to meet my Mom’s cousin Patti, and spend time learning about her childhood and her love of the river and living off of the land. Their home on the island was surrounded by shallow waters that offered fish, muskrat, and plenty of good stories remembered well by Patti.
By the time Patti was four, a dam upriver was destroyed, which caused their island to be flooded, house and farm destroyed. The Smith family was forced to move to the mainland, but chose to stay close to the river that fed them so well. They made their home in a small fisherman’s shack, which Patti’s son still owns today.
At age 83, Patti has decided to write her memoirs of growing up there for her grandchildren to know of her life. Despite growing up in poverty, she reports a life well-lived and rich in stories and experiences. She says she wouldn’t trade it for anything, and wishes her grandchildren had some of her skills - like poling a boat, and strength - like climbing a rope to her bedroom loft, and endurance - like surviving cold winters.
Some of her stories tell of her experience going to school in a one room country schoolhouse. Patti gave me permission to share her writing and also gave me permission to illustrate it. So, the following graphic essay is just that. I hope you enjoy it as I do. Patti’s spirit and memory is as crystal clear as the waters of the Fox River from her youth, and I am grateful for her generosity in sharing these stories.
Above is an excerpt from an excerpt from the Fall Issue of Woolgathering. Enjoy!
Learn more about Woolgathering and get your free sample issue here!
Fox teaches us about camouflage. When we blend into our surroundings we can become keen observers. This is particularly necessary in nature when we want to observe wildlife without disturbing it, but I also like to blend in at parties. #introvert
This illustration is from the cover of the Fall Issue of Woolgathering.
Are you good at blending into your surroundings?
Learn more about Woolgathering, here.
Our daughter Penelope has wanted a pet pig for years! We have done all of the research on small, indoor breeds etc. When she realized that pigs are as demanding as human toddlers, she decided to get a guinea pig, instead.
The guinea pig is a great pet. Plus, we are able to visit the real piggies, a heritage breed, at neighboring farm, All Grass Farms.
This drawing is of a young pig we encountered on our farm tour so many weeks ago.
This is my last post about the farm BTW, which is fitting since we definitely ate some breakfast sausage from the farm store. The sausage was spiced with ginger, which I had never had before, and it was delicious!
Love new art supplies? Try sourcing your next pen from the woods!
This brief tutorial demonstrates how you can make intersting contour drawings with a twig and ink!
Surrendering control to a twig allows for interesting nature drawings, which you can add to your nature notebook!
Learn more about the Nature Notebooks Workshop at Spring Bird here.
As the story goes, the farmers cooled the cans of cows milk in the chilly waters of the Spring Bird creek, back when it was a dairy farm, a century ago.
With the cows long gone, forest has flourished, but you can still get fresh milk from All Grass Farms not far from Spring Bird.
We were able to meet the cows and a couple of their calves during our farm tour. The dairy cows, all with adorable names like “Daisy”, are productive ladies that are herded twice daily to the barn for milking.
In between milkings they are free to munch on fresh grass, since they are moved each day to new pasture.
We were careful to step over cow pies, which I was surprised to see were pie sized - or even larger - as we stroked the backs of these large ladies, occasionally swatting the pesky flies from their faces with the backs of our hands.
They were a highlight of the tour, for me, anyway!
Have you ever tried raw milk? I hear it makes the best cheese!
Oh boy! This was a good story! I don’t want to give any spoilers because the plot was so beautiful and suspenseful, but what I really appreciate about this novel is that it takes the ordinary and shows how it is truly extraordinary.
We all have trials in our lives, but this story shows how there is such beauty and so much love woven throughout them. This story begins when a scientist studying bird populations in the woods encounters a seemingly magical girl.
If you enjoy nature, the cosmos, the scientific method, a love story, a mystery, and a little magic, this book is definitely for you!
Also, this novel is so much like all the food it presents in its pages! There are weary days when you want to curl up with a good read just as the characters enjoy a grilled turkey burger and a toasted marshmallow after a long day of fieldwork.
I encourage you to take a look at Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah!
You’ll love it!
The first animals we visited on All Grass Farms were the egg laying chickens. There were 1,000 of them droning like a siren in unison and moving as a flock, too.
There was something otherworldly about the experience. It was louder than you can imagine!!! These dinosaurs lay 1,000 eggs a day, which the humans then have to collect. The humans also feed and water the chickens, and move them onto fresh pasture as needed.
A handful of chickens flew over the fencing, but Mike, our guide, reassured us that they mostly find their way back.
When the chickens were closer to the road, I remember seeing some that had crossed the roadside fence and then tried crossing Rt. 31. Or so the joke goes. Unfortunately, we occasionally see the remnants of chickens brought by owls and foxes to be plucked and eaten in the middle of Old Country School Rd. Their feathers blow about for days!
All Grass Farms sell fresh eggs daily! How do you like your eggs?
All Grass Farms sell fresh eggs daily! How do you like your eggs?
Did you know that Spring Bird’s neighbor is an amazing pasture farm called All Grass Farms? Just across Rt. 31, they raise dairy cows, chicken eggs, meat chickens, beef cattle, pork, and turkeys. All animals get fresh grazing land as needed and live happy, healthy lives until they are processed for our consumption. The dairy cows being the exception, of course.
All Grass Farms also has a farm store attached to an enormous red dairy barn, where you can purchase fresh produce and locally sourced food products in addition to the milk, eggs, and meat that All Grass Farms produces.
The farm has a free tour on Saturdays at 2:00 PM, and this past Saturday, Patrick, Penelope, and I hopped on the flatbed for a tour with Mike driving the tractor and guiding us through fences and over cow patties.
On the tour, we were able to meet and greet all of the animals raised at the farm, learn about how the farm takes care of them, and what life is like for these beautiful, healthy animals. More on that in subsequent posts.
For now, here is a drawing of the exterior of the farm store, which is open Monday through Friday 10:00 - 6:00 & Saturday and Sunday 9:00 - 5:00.
So, if you are coming to Spring Bird for a retreat day in the woods, you may want to stop at the store for some tasty treats. I quite enjoy the kimchi that they sell there, and their pork sausages are truly delicious. No time to stop? At the very least wave to the cows as your turn into Country School Rd.
Last week, we lost another large oak. Its trunk snapped about 15 feet up and fell taking small trees and branches with it. The insides look like pulverized dust.
I was, of course, filled with tremendous sadness. I always take it personally. Was there something that I could have done to help it live a longer life?
Then, I am usually relieved that no one was hurt - other than the plants and trees in its falling wake.
And, I noticed the sunlight pouring through - into the void. It was beautiful.
What has fallen has made space for other things to grow and thrive.
I sat in the sun smelling the oak’s dust, thanking the tree for being here, and wondering what will grow next.
Part of the work we do here at Spring Bird is to maintain trails that were laid out by Torkel Korling years ago.
The jungle like tendencies of the weed trees keep us busy with just their trimming, but every once in awhile a tree or larger branch will cross a path.
This tree has been arched over this path since before we came here. We used to be able to limbo under it. Eventually it sank too low limboing.
So, Pat cut the end off, and we walk around it, creating a bump in our path.
I think it is lovely. It is like a gate, a reminder that it is a gift to be able to walk through this place.
Anna Lentz, artist, writer, and creativity coach who blogs about making a creative life connected with nature at Spring Bird.