We built our prairie labyrinth
on May 11, 2010. Clayton Miller,
Jae Clewell, our two interns that summer,
and Jane and Jim Bond,
two friends who volunteered to help,
took the 11-circuit Chartres design,
some instructions,
some supplies and headed to the top
of the hill overlooking the Big Pond.
On the spring solstice, we had determined
East as best we could
and set a stake for the entrance.
Step by step, we laid out the design
and when Clayton mowed the first quarter,
we cheered. When he finished mowing
the entire 82-foot-wide set of circuits,
he danced.

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Many people have walked the labyrinth
since then. Some, including us,
multiple times. It is never the same
experience. And lately,
once in the light of the full moon,
and a few days later,
with MaryAnn Sonntag on a beautiful
August morning, the experiences
have been more…
It’s never possible for me to describe
what happens. Connections are made,
I think,
with self, the sky, the Earth,
with others as we pass and part
repeatedly,
and with some connection
of wholeness,
life,
something beyond.
This labyrinth is big
and taking the time
to mindfully walk up the prairie toward it,
around it
and then to let go of everything
and simply follow the path through,
to the center
and back out
is to receive a gift.

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We are thrilled about our next labyrinth retreat.
MaryAnn, who has studied labyrinth facilitation
through the much-respected Veriditas program,
will lead and guide us through the day,
Saturday, September 19. You can register
on our website, on the calendar page.

The five keets
hatched from eggs
rescued from the nest
where Sadie the dog
had killed the Guinea hen,
just hours before they were ready
to break from their shells—
a tragedy that set papa Guinea
into grief-stricken cries
as he paced the scene of the crime
for two days—
were growing
in the safety of their pen
along the outside of the barn:
trotting around the pen
in their tight little gang,
eating lots,
already adolescents,
roosting up high
during the evening.
We had grown especially
fond of them. They were
survivors,
a pretty little clutch
that would make their parents
proud, we thought.

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When Ann went to the barn yesterday afternoon
to fill water containers,
gather eggs
and see that chickens, guineas, alpacas, goats, rabbits
were fed,
she opened the keet pen
and discovered a five-foot snake!
Four keets were huddled; the fifth,
a bulge inside the snake.
We thought the keets had grown big enough
that we didn’t have to worry about them
being eaten by a snake. But this was
a large snake.
I say was…
Ann nailed more boards
around the bottom of the pen
to try to keep any
other
snake out.

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We know
it’s impossible to protect all lives,
try as we might.
We had been alarmed earlier,
to spot a very large
coyote,
in mid-day,
crossing the country road
north of the farmhouse,
where chickens and guineas free range.
We know it’s the way
of nature, the life and death cycle.
If we bring them into our care,
we go all out to do what we can
to help protect our little farm community.
And so,
we understand Papa Guinea’s
grief
when someone dies.

We have four roosters
these days. And so,
there are three chicks,
growing fast, safely
ensconced in a pen
with their two mamas
inside the barn until
they’re old enough
to defend themselves
against cats. Meanwhile,
Dads are out and about,
keeping their harems
safe,
and on their toes
for the next visit
from the rooster
who has assigned himself
to them.

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A few months ago,
we could have butchered the roosters.
But adding a few new members
to the chicken community (we hope
the three chicks are all hens) is a good idea
and these four roosters aren’t aggressive
towards humans. The ones who are
end up in the soup pot.
Too, we enjoy them;
roosters are beautiful creatures.

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They, along with the Guinea fowl,
make the farm sound
like a farm. Roosters are crowing
before dawn
when the little solar barn door
opens and they can climb out
into the free range of the farm.

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They crow most of the morning—
one rooster north of the house,
another on the south side,
keeping their flocks—
and the other roosters—notified
of their whereabouts,
I guess.
When the Guineas join in,
it’s quite loud. When the cacophony
builds, it gets my attention,
makes me smile out loud,
which brings me back
to this moment
on this farm
and the reminder
that I’m in good company.

It was an August day,
so we typically would want to be out
at the bee hives
early as there was light
to start the harvest. And we were,
but it was 68 degrees
instead of the more typical 80-plus.
Nice…not so hot in the honey harvesting
garb.
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Friends and family had come to help
and learn and enjoy the festive day—
maybe not so festive for the honey bees,
but for humans, yes.
Ann and Frank have been checking the hives,
capturing swarms and making new hives
during the spring Canola-growing season,
bringing in queens when needed,
feeding them sugar during the winter,
planting trees and shrubs for food
in spring and summer…
This they do
because they know that honey bees
are threatened
and food production requires pollination.
And because they are fascinated
by the amazing life of honey bees.
Then too, there comes the wonderful day
when they bring in some of the honey
for enjoying all year long.
On the farm,
harvest days—
whether it’s wheat
or tomatoes
or honey
or, coming soon, pecans—
are moments of celebration.
Those who come to help
with harvest
and participate in the celebration
also learn more about the process—
in this case,
the wondrous life of honey bees
and how flowers
become sweet amber nectar.

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Checking the hives to determine which frames to harvest and which to leave in the hives

DSCN7832Gently blowing the bees from the hives that will be harvested

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The harvesting team: Barry Denney, Ginny Poindexter,
Ann, Frank, Rob Smith

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Bringing the hives into the greenhouse

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11 hives in all

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Baby bees (brood). This one went back to the apiary.

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Uncapping the tiny cells full of honey

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DSCN7884Extraction: Putting the frames of uncapped honey
into this barrel, then spinning it to extract the honey
from the comb

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There it is!
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Bottling

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Ann, Kate and Tripp Kupiec, Ginny, Craig Kupiec, Frank, Rob

Checking the hives in May,
Ann and Frank discovered four hives
without bees
so they harvested some honey
before they transferred bees into the hives.
That honey, along with the honey harvested
yesterday, totaled 203 pounds—
24 quarts and 101 pints
of luscious
2015 Turtle Rock Farm
honey.

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Friends and family went home happy—
thanks to chickens
and honey bees
and the community that gathered
to work,
learn
and celebrate
together.

I’ve hung the bird feeders
on the west side of the city house,
behind a fence, hoping
to keep the birds safer
from neighborhood cats. At dusk
one evening, I saw an orange tabby,
its front paws on the bird bath,
taking a drink. I did not see feathers.
Sparrows discovered the seed first.
I think there is a flock of about 60.
They line up on the fence
and take their turns at the feeders,
flutter away when something alarms them.

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That flock-fluttering sound
is a new sound; with windows open
I can hear in just about every room
of the house.
Cardinals and doves have arrived.

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A Blue Jay and a Mockingbird
have called from atop the fence,
but I’ve never seen them eating there.
I have watched three squirrels
feast from the seeds the birds drop
beneath the feeders. I don’t think the squirrels
have figured out how to get to the feeders.
Yesterday and this morning
I saw hummingbirds.

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The birds and squirrels are as much company
in the city
as they are in the country—
I watched an adult sparrow and a juvenile
share seed, beak to beak—
though here
there is lots more human company as well.
Friends who come to call
or gather in the living room for meetings
enjoy watching the birds too—
right there through the living room windows.

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I’m so glad to be able to spend time
in a city community
with lots of trees,
birds,
squirrels,
cats,
humans.

There are people
who can’t stand
to let kitchen straps, coffee grounds
go into the garbage,
or—worse—use electricity
(burn fossil fuel) to grind
them into oblivion
in a garbage disposal. There is gold
in those kitchen scraps!
But not everyone has the space
or a source of carbon (leaves, manure, etc.)
to compost. Wheeling
into your Norman or Oklahoma City
neighborhood or office complex
to save the watermelon rind, onion skins,
wilted flowers, coffee filters full of used grounds,
egg shells, shredded pizza boxes (!), etc.,
is Fertile Ground. Often on bikes—
“Dirt Bikes”—
the members of this worker-owned cooperative
make weekly pickups of buckets of clients’ scraps
then deliver them to the closest urban farm
or community garden for composting. Clients
know that they are keeping waste
out of the landfill
and helping support the local food economy.

11708056_696596357140090_3870419073066591634_oEric Whelan delivering kitchen scraps to a community garden

I happened by the pickup spot at CommonWealth Urban Farms
a couple of mornings ago
when Terry Craighead was meeting a client
who worked nearby and stopped
on her way to work
to drop off her bucket with scraps.
They greeted each other,
Terry exchanged the bucket for a clean one,
they bade their “see ya next week” farewells
and off to the office she went.
This amazing act of kindness for the planet
and the community
took a few minutes,
allowed her to keep valuable nutrients
out of the landfill or sewer system
and contribute them to the making of garden beds
for urban farms and community gardens.
For this service
she pays a small monthly fee.
Besides local residents,
businesses also participate in the service,
gladly paying the fee for Fertile Ground workers
to pick up all those coffee grounds
and scraps,
and shredded pizza boxes.

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Fertile Ground coop offers other services
as well: permaculture design for urban lifestyles;
construction, design and maintenance of raised bed gardens,
and zero-waste events for organizations and companies.

Today, I read news
of the loss of a five-square-mile chunk of Greenland’s
fastest-moving glacier (perhaps the largest calving on record);
more evidence of the biodiversity decline
in this, the sixth mass extinction on the planet.
Also, that the first airport in the world
to run exclusively on solar power
has launched in Cochin, India.
The huge news—good and bad—
can sometimes overwhelm us,
even paralyze our own efforts.
But the sight of a woman
bringing her pail of kitchen scraps
to Fertile Ground, a privilege
for which she pays $15 a month,
was deeply heartening. Seeing one woman
and a cooperative of workers
doing these simple acts
because they care about the planet,
is huge news.

It rained before dawn;
cloudy, sprinkles still,
early morning. The big garden
at CommonWealth Urban Farms
is quiet and, seemingly,
greener
when I take my pail of kitchen scraps
to the compost bin in there.
The more I get to know this farm,
the people who tend it—
constantly—
the more I love the place,
the people,
the mission,
the beauty.

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It is not always easy for some
to see
the deep significance for the planet
and all Earth life
in this garden
and the many plots
of an urban farm. But stopping
on a cool (it’s 62 by mid-morning)
August day
to take in,
savor,
value deeply
the growth here
is to be moved to beg
Earth herself
to help us
find our way
to support growing food
in the city—
in every space possible.
(Yes, we can live—
well, beautifully—
without grass!)
It won’t look like what we’ve
perceived as a beautifully landscaped
neighborhood. It will be beautiful
in a different way.
There will be composting areas
which means there will be
rich, organic soil.
Rows of squash plants
may be covered now and then
with a cloth covering
to keep the cabbage worms
out. This sort of method,
as well as others, means there will not
be toxic chemicals in the soil,
air, water,
in the food.
With deep mulching
and permaculture practices,
there will be growth
without the use of so much water.
There will be fruit and nut trees
in a forest
rather than large lawns of grass
that has to be watered,
mowed,
watered,
mowed,
watered,
mowed…
The air will be cleaner.
There will be more birds
living in trees and thickets.
There will be pollinating insects,
including bees and butterflies.
There will be supportive
community
to get all the work done.
Youth and children
will learn how to grow
their own food.
There will be healthy, fresh food
right at your front and/or back door.

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For the planet’s sake;
indeed, for our sake as well,
we must learn to see differently.
We must learn to redefine beauty
and then we’ll see
infinite beauty—
the deep, quiet,
lush, verdant, nourishing beauty
of a vegetable farm
in the heart of the city.

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