Hi, Dear Folks!
Sunday after Thanksgiving, all is quiet. Stephen and Kerry are at the dining room table reading the Sunday paper and petting their cats. Baroque music is playing on the radio. Marsha is not back yet from her holiday visit to her mother in New York. Jan is in San Diego with Ellen. Sourdough bread is rising in the oven. Dark clouds loom outside, spitting mixtures of rain/sleet/snow. Good day to hunker down, make a cup of tea, put some wood in the stove, and write to you.
Out in the barn are two Jersey calves, one of them born last Monday, the other last night. A boy and a girl, so far, with one more heavily pregnant mom out there in the cowyard. The Cobb Hill dairy is underway, ready or not!
Actually, not. Ready, that is.
Kerry and Stephen have been scrambling around acquiring used dairy equipment (of which Vermont is full), but the milking machine isn’t installed yet, hung up on some bank procedure. (Just try telling the credit officers at a bank that the milk starts flowing when the milk starts flowing, not when the papers are signed.) Marsha has been working like a yeoperson to get her cheesery done — a big excavation last week finally allowed storage tanks to be buried for the wastewater. But she’s still waiting on a plumber, who is supposed to turn up tomorrow. Until her setup is done, she’s planning to drive the milk twice a week over the mountains to Weston, where there’s a temporarily unused cheesemaking vat she can borrow.
Meanwhile, Linden is still producing colostrum for her calf, but Alder is into real milk production, so Stephen and Kerry are hand-milking twice a day and hauling into the house beautiful, fresh, organic Jersey milk, with a thick band of cream on top. We are turning it into yogurt and pumpkin pie. Yum! It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it!
In all fairness, these two calves are a week early. We will soon set up a system whereby neighbors can come pick up milk, with the bulk of it going into Marsha’s cheese. This is just the startup. We’ll get the kinks out. Some day, when we have 10 milkers going, Stephen and Kerry and Marsha will all be making money from the dairy.
Meanwhile, the calves are SO CUTE! Reminds me of lambing time on Foundation Farm. Within a day they’re trying out their long legs, hopping and skipping around. (I must say, calves don’t skip with the utter abandon of lambs. On the other hand, lambs don’t have those wonderful big doe eyes.) Most of the local CobbHillians and their children stopped by this week to admire the firstborn. Stephen says that never before in all history has such a fuss been made over a Jersey bull calf.
All the livestock on the farm seems to be doing well. Tristan, the new gelding, is in a paddock with the two older horses, now that the pastures are frozen over. He is getting his first experiences of being harnessed for work, with lots of loving brushes and soothing words. As soon as there’s snow on the ground, he’ll get to try some pulling.
My chickens are not enjoying the short days, but I’ve got a light on a timer to give them more active time, so egg production, while low, isn’t disastrous. This is the season when the older hens molt and grow new feathers and stop laying, so this year’s pullets are carrying us through. The others will come on line again in about a month, as the days start lengthening again.
It is so dark! I hate November! Not really light till 7:30 in the morning, dark again already by 5 pm. Everything seizes up, as the temperature falls decisively below freezing. We rig up electric water heaters to keep the stock tanks liquid — anybody out there know a good sustainable alternative? Even the pansies in the garden have given up the ghost, though I can still bring in salads of mache and spinach and arugula, and there are frozen stalks of Brussels sprouts and kale to harvest. But basically we’re living from storage now. Not that that’s a problem. Potatoes, squash, onions in delicious abundance. Freezer full of blueberries and peas and green soys and corn and yellow beans and cider. And fresh organic eggs and milk!
Kerry has expanded her EMT training into a wintertime job at the Ascutney Hospital emergency room. She had to work on Thanksgiving, so we celebrated on Saturday instead, with Stephen’s parents and sister and other relatives arriving for a feast. A humongous Blue Hubbard squash stuffed with rice and wild rice and pecans. A huge mahi-mahi fish that Kerry bought somewhere. (She figured everyone else had had turkey on Thanksgiving, so she got creative.) Brussels sprouts and potatoes and salad and rolls and two kinds of cranberry sauce and three kinds of pie. My goodness!
To work it off we walked up the hill to the construction site. The duplex that will be Stephen and Kerry’s and Jan and Ellen’s is almost framed now, so we can walk through their rooms and admire the view out their windows (though so far there are no windows). The concrete crews have continued to show up erratically. Some days they just all decide to go hunting. But we do have four more foundations poured, for the furnace building and three single houses. Two more duplexes and two more single houses to go, and that will be what we want to get finished over the winter. A new concrete company is supposed to show up tomorrow; maybe they will be more reliable. The framers are about to move over to do Gail’s house. (It’s fun to be able to assign names to the houses.) They can frame a whole house in six working days.
I’m beginning to understand that construction is like gardening — the real work is in the part you don’t see, preparing the soil, or in our case blasting the trenches, laying the pipes and wires, getting the foundations right. It looks like nothing is happening. Then all of a sudden June comes, and a garden pops up — or the framers pull in and a whole house goes up in a week.
I know there’s another slow phase to come — the plumbing and wiring and inside finish details. Presumably that will keep the builders busy all winter. Then in the spring we move down the hill and put in the remaining foundations for the second half of the community, including — last of all — the commonhouse, where my apartment will be.
Oh, well, I get to live here and cheer the whole thing on every day.
If all those who have presently spoken up for membership actually go through the clearness process, Cobb Hill will be officially sold out, with a waiting list already forming. And such good and interesting people! I know that going through this phase with them — in which we make million-dollar decisions together but don’t see each other on a day-to-day basis — is probably not preparing me for the next phase — in which we actually live together. Hard to guess which phase will be more stressful. So far, at least for me, the pleasure is way higher than the stress. And we are accomplishing major work together that none of us would ever be able to do separately. Even when the concrete guys don’t show up, even when everyone tracks mud into my kitchen, even when the community is in upset over a clearness meeting that wasn’t so clear, still I haven’t the slightest doubt that this is the right thing to be doing.
I’m happy to report that I’ve been putting most of my time into Sustainability Institute business this month. Beth and Phil and Drew have been pulling together material for our first weekend-long “systemability” workshop, to be offered at the Hartland Library next weekend. It’s oversubscribed, so we’ll probably offer another one in February. One in January is already scheduled for Boston. Ideally we’ll put on one a month from now on, and as all of us get experienced in leading it, we can branch out and train others to do so. It’s a major project for this year, to build our capacity, and others’ capacity, to teach this stuff ever more effectively.
I made two trips over the mountains last week (in my little Insight, which has dropped way down to 60 mpg, now that the weather is cold and the snow tires are on). One was to the heart of the Green Mountains for a VHCB board meeting on sustainable housing and sprawl in Vermont. The other was to the center of the White Mountains for a Northern Forest Alliance meeting at which Drew presented our Northern Forest model. The White Mountains drive took me across the Kankamangus highway right after the first mountain snowstorm of the season. Everything was caked with white and spectacularly beautiful. What a great part of the country I get to live in! (And you should have seen the Insight’s battery recharge like crazy as I coasted down the far side!)
Both meetings were interesting, particularly the Alliance, which is a coalition of New England environmental groups concerned about the forest. Of all the groups we’ve presented to, they asked the most penetrating questions and, I think, absorbed the systems messages most readily. Of course that might not be a fair comparison, because we’re getting better at communicating. We’re getting plenty of practice. Drew has a grant to support him in talking to all kinds of industry, community, government, and environmental groups throughout the forest region, and he’s good about setting up opportunities to do it. It will be interesting to see if we can plant the seeds for a more long-term-oriented and whole-system-cognizant region-wide discourse. That’s the goal.
Meanwhile, speaking of short-term-oriented and self-interested discourse, the U.S. under the Clinton-Gore administration has torpedoed this month’s attempt to reach a global climate agreement. It’s hard to imagine a Bush administration doing better, but it could hardly do worse. Clearly it’s time to stop waiting around for our supposed leaders and just quit emitting greenhouse gases on our own.
Hey, I could make a column out of that paragraph!