Category Archives: Okanagan Living

The end of another season at Ravens View Farm 2015

August 31 2015 – It feels like the end of another season at Ravens View Farm

This has been the season of all seasons. It started way earlier with a warmer winter and then a warmer spring, which continued to deliver the hottest summer on record not only for the Okanagan, but the world, and possibly the driest, but that is not altogether unexpected in the Okanagan Valley, which is a dessert after all with only 9 inches of precipitation annually.

However clouds, not the smoke from Washington’s wildfires, have rolled in the past few days and the temperature has dropped with the light rain we received. Last night in fact held a maker for fall when I put on an extra sweater because the evening breeze was chilly. With the overcast skies I slept until the dogs awakened me at 6:30. But after feeding them and letting them out I went back to bed with a cup of tea to finish the book for book club tomorrow evening.

There are still some jobs to complete on the farm. Aren’t there always? But my sense of urgency to get out there before the day gets too hot to work has diminished, because my body, which is fitter, firmer, leaner and meaner than ever before, is craving rest, the deep rest that comes with fall.  And this is speaking louder than the demands of the farm.

Fall has never actually been a favoured season here in Canada, unlike my years in the lower 49 states, because it portends the temperature inversion that brings the blanket of cloud that put the orchards and gardens to sleep for the winter. It also foretells of the much shorter days to come above the 49th parallel beginning on the Equinox just a few three weeks away. This may be why I love the bears that are our constant companions this time of year. Their search for food in ours and the neighbors’ orchards, instigating the encounters with our dogs to get the plums, is a reminder of the coming season of hibernation – a reminder that there is a time for bodies to relax, for minds to release and spirits to rise.

This year I find myself looking forward to fall. I have grown weary of getting up with the birds that began to stir at 3:45 am and were in full song by 4:00 calling me out of bed by 5:00. But what a glorious way to start a day with the mating songs of so many species of birds that decided that Ravens View Farm, whose ravens had moved up into the cooler mountains, was the place to call home for the summer. With our daily refreshed birdbath and a constant rotation of irrigation on the fruit trees, they were assured a good source of water and as it turns out food as they proceeded to take a bite out of every fourth peach as they ripened.

This was a also season of new pests, from tent caterpillars to the dreaded spotted wing drosophila fruit fly as well as many diverse pollinators I had never seen before accompanying my favourite insect the honeybee. It also marked the arrival of more creatures.  We have seen more lizards and garden snakes and rubber boas this year than ever before. It feels like we created an oasis in the midst of the intense drought when their natural habitat became too hot dry and food became scarce. The insects and mice and rats (both Pack and Norwegian) and of course the snakes, lizards and spiders have all come along to savour the “fruits” of the farm. So this is a year of all kinds of abundance in the midst of our experience of global warming. With it however we lost a higher percentage of our peach and plum crop to birds who created the seconds that I and my customers turned into jams and chutneys. We fed the rodents a fair percentage of the chicken feed.

Now I have to address the spotted wing drosophila that has become the scourge of the fruit growers in the northwest and British Columbia.  My most important chore right now is to rake all the rotten Italian prune plums into black plastic bags and heat them up to kill the larvae and determine what I can do as an organic farmer to ameliorate them in future seasons. Without our annual cold snap that kills off so many of the hibernating predatory larvae in the ground beneath the trees we will be inundated again next year earlier with even more. So plans to finally renovate our heritage plum orchard through deep and strategic pruning are already underway with marks being made on the branches to be cut come winter. The result will be less fruit but healthier, easier to harvest in a timely manner at the just prior to full ripeness to avoid the fruit fly. I will probably end up with just what I need to sell to ensure the farm remains viable. I look forward to a more manageable orchard next year and the feeling that I have restored and reinvigorated the old plums.

At times I feel a distinct other presence in the orchard. Mark has identified it as the fairies that live in the trees. Now while I am in the old orchard cleaning up and contemplating which branches to prune, I am sensitive to the fairies that guard and protect the trees. I believe they invited us here in the first place to save the orchard and they have been watching ever since to be sure that we are good stewards. In that spirit and perhaps with their guidance we will endeavor to do the plum orchard justice and the peach trees as well.

There’s much more to recount of this growing season here at Ravens View Farm, but my cluttered desktop now beacons me to begin the process of filing months of papers that have been accumulating, lying in wait for this cloudy cool day to be addressed. And of course this is the year that the farm will be assessed by the Farm Bureau to be sure that we are indeed a working farm and deserving of the small tax breaks and lowered water rates that farm classifications bestows. There are always chores to do on the farm and now I get to dig into my least favourite, the paperwork.

Until my next moment of procrastination, enjoy life and all it has to offer as I seem to do here on Ravens View Farm.

 

 

Musings on the Equinox March 2013

Equinox March 2013. An amazing day.
Master teachers and yogis advise their students and disciples to observe the phenomenal world.  When was the opportunity to ponder more inviting than on this spring’s equinox?  It is a day of balance when the amount of light is equal to the amount of darkness; the day that marks the beginning of spring.  And what marvellous weather did Mother Nature share with us to proclaim the change of seasons?  A dark cold cloudy morning just like
all the others that preceded it all winter long; then a break in the clouds and an incredible bright blue sky beaconing people to come outside! 

And then a snow squall and brilliant sunlight, and yet another snow squall and gorgeous blue skies, then corn snow bouncing off the still dormant earth, and again the blue skies of spring.  Wow! It was a day to celebrate the seasons, a day to let us know that things are changing, but not quite yet, a day to wonder about opposites, dark and light, sun and snow. One might consider this equinox as a dramatic display of opposing forces or one might consider how
perfectly planned this whirlwind of weather, bundled into one day, the equinox, was to encourage us to pay attention to our phenomenal world.   

Second Summer on our Okanagan Valley Farm

It is the beginning of June.  Actually now it is the exact end of June, tomorrow being July 1 Canada Day. It is our second summer in the Okanagan and on the land we are calling Ravens View Farm.  It is hard to believe how much two middle-aged novices have accomplished in our ambitious and slightly, well more like very naive endeavor of becoming farmers and developing an organic farm. It is overwhelming how much there is to do on a farm, but the correlate is how much there is to learn and that makes it exhilarating.

I had an intern once who grew up on a ranch. When, even before I had moved and the reality of our undertaking had fully emerged, I pondered, how, at my age, could I take on something so daunting? She responded,“Don’t you know that your body, your strength, and your stamina grows with your garden?”  I think of her and this insightful comment often these days. With each passing week, I get stronger.  At first I could only do three hours of hard labour. Then it was four hours and, with a rest, an hour more. Then it was five hours and now it is up to six or eight if I take the midday siesta.  I am fueled by water, which I now drink in profusion. I believe what they say that dehydration leads to fatigue. I am able to work much longer, but I drink a giant glass of water many times throughout the day.  I am also fueled by the fruits of my labour. I have learned that you do what needs to be done at this moment on this day during this season.

There are also many lessons to be learned.  For instance, if you don’t know what the particular plant is don’t cultivate it.  Get rid of it!If it is meant to be there it will grow again and even if it is meant to be there it will surely come back.I am referring to weeds. For which my favorite definition is simply a plant in an unwelcome location.But then we have the “noxious and invasive” plants that gardeners across North America are trying eradicate. And there are plenty on our six cultivatable acres.  It has been a season of identifying the most invasive and prevalent plants (leafy spurge, knapweed, teasel, which they refer to as Salsify and looks like giant dandelion and the beautiful hounds tongue which turns into obnoxious burs and finally creosote bush then of course there is baby’s breath) and weeding them out before they go to seed. Then of course some of them are beautiful and so you don’t realize that they are an invasive and unwelcome species.  The other lesson about weeds is once identified just pull everything as you go. Last summer I just pulled out knapweed as I walked by and it is amazing how many fewer plants there are this year. Keep you mowers in good condition and keep mowing if you don’t have sheep as this helps as much as anything. This has turned into a summer of reclamation and observation.

I am cultivating my skills of observation. I am observing myself and all that is transpiring around me. I have learned about my own personal rhythms of work and attention to work. I realize how distracted I truly am by things that catch my eye. IT is in all aspects of my life that I need to cultivate greater concentration

Today Fourth of July we are harvesting the sour cherries. It has been an opportunity to stay focused and follow through in harvesting every cherry on every branch and clear the tree and stick with it until the tree has been harvested. Then they must be processed immediately as they begin to discolour and must be popped into the freezer.45 minutes to pick and an hour to get into freezer bags.

Got to run.

Alison

 

100 Year Event – Coldest Spring on Record 2008

It is a cool cloudy spring day which is par for the course for this “100 Year Event” coldest spring on record in the Okanagan.  But given that we are having a huge septic system installed which is digging trenches over irrigation lines so we can’t water the many fruit trees which are just finished blooming and did not get caught in the killing frosts of two weeks ago, it is a relief. I can spare the sun for a few more days until the septic is in and we have dug up and checked more than 75 sprinkler heads around our six/seven acres.

It has been a trying and wonderful eight nine months. I suppose when spring finally arrives my gestation period will come to an end and I will have to enter into my new life as a farmer for better or worse and I love it (at the moment) which is accompanied by unexpected tulips and forsythia appearing in beds which I thought barren.

So by now you know that we are pretty sure that the farm will be named “Ravens View Farm” you will get it once you sit on the porch with a glass of wine and watch the ravens soar from pine to pine cawing and clicking to each other with the Okanagan Lake spread out below you with views all the way to Naramata. The Cottage has the best of what the septic guys call a “million dollar view”. I made a joke that we are going to call the garage when it is renovated the “Rook’s Nook” Sound like a guest house already. Don’t know how much will be done by the time you all get here as every construction worker is busy for MONTHS! We do have a lovely guest room and there is tons of places to stroll, to sit and read, and hang out.

We were able to research and secure “eco-lawn”seed, prepare the septic field and spread and water the seed along with wild flowers. Then we were able to get a lawn mower and mow the peach orchard.  Obtain more than enough of the miscellaneous parts that are required to piece together our irrigation system after the septic system installation and finally we prepared and planted an 80 x 3 foot bed along the top of the peach orchard for our first vegetable garden.  Needless to say we made good use of all the time this long Victoria Weekend and we are utterly exhausted.  Thank goodness for this cloudy showering weather today.

Alison

Happy New Year 2008!

The theme of this “Musings from Peachland” is “the more things changes, the more they stay the same.” 

I am captured by the reality that with all the things that has engaged me over the past year and with all the dramatic changes in Mark’s and my life things are much the same. How can that be? It simply boils down to,as we all know, you are who you are. You can change countries, time zones,homes, jobs, avocations, clothing styles, and hair (no I didn’t dye my graying head) and you still wake up to yourself in the morning with your same old hopes, dreams, beliefs, worries and, most of all, habits. So the more you change, the more you stay the same.

In this new country with new friends and colleagues, I am still perceived as energetic and enthusiastic, even though I am in my fifties.I am thought to be upbeat and positive. I am still huggable (Artistic Director, David LaHay doesn’t miss an opportunity to show his appreciation for hard work and engaged dialogues about the future. One of the affirmations that accepting the position as Development Manager for Ballet Kelowna was, after a week orientation and about 25 meetings, when I put out my hand to shake

David’s he just wrapped me in bear hug.) This new job is definitely a good “fit”. David is passionate about creating a preeminent Canadian Ballet Company and I am passionate about art, especially dance, and this young company is nothing short of amazing. An easy sell for someone who thrives on communicating the best of what I believe in.

But this brings me back to the more things change. I live on a farm and I work out of a home office. I am close to easy beautiful walks and a refrigerator. But when I start to work, I forget to stop for lunch unless I have a lunch meeting and I had best eat something before I start in for the day. Little habits I had developed in the workplace have established themselves at home (and I think, no I know, I drive Mark a little crazy.) Like, I tidy the office, now house, before I sit down to work. Everything needs to be in its place so I can focus on work with no distractions. The Boulder County Arts Alliance office was always tidy and ready for drop-in visits by artists. Well,no one is dropping in on us now, as it takes an effort and more than map quest to find us. This might be one of the few things that have changed. So far I like it. I think that I am ready to have a little bit of uninterrupted time. I feel less frazzled and more grounded when I am not jumping up and meeting and greeting folks. It may explain why the Ballet Kelowna board seems impressed with how much I have accomplished in four short months.

Another thing that has definitely changed is the weather. Although the Okanagan Valley only gets 9 inches a year, the lake is filled by melting snows in the mountains above us, it is cloudy from November to, or maybe, through March. (They say the sun shines the rest of the year and we get HOT summers.) For Mark as a Coloradoan and me as a transplant with 16 years chronic sunshine under my belt, it is quite depressing.  Mark is thinking of taking up sunbeam chasing, following the one shaft of light that comes through the “lake effect”cloud every other day.  This is more grey sky than we bargained for so we now have a “blue lamp” and are taking vitamin D and we run outside anytime the sun shines to prune a tree just to soak it in. Another great reason to work out of the home when we live on a farm. 

We are attending Kelowna Friends Meeting, which is under the Vernon meeting.  Mark and I make the tenth and eleventh attender in Kelowna. It is just like our first meeting,just as small, intimate and, yes friendly, as the Quaker Springs meeting in upstate NY. We have been welcomed with open arms and feel blessed as we share our contemplative experience of the morning over food at the end of the often”gathered” meeting. Two members of the Meeting are in their third year of homesteading just north of Enderby and have taken us under their wing,mentoring us in the ways of pruning, heritage seed/ vegetable cultivation and other farming activities we are now, or soon to be engaged in.

This is the big change in our lives and has become the calling that brought us to Canada, if you don’t count, what we politely refer to as the militarist fascist policies of the United States that saddened us so deeply and led us to make this move of conscientious objection. Pruning an orchard has become a new “practice” as it is slow methodical and is an art as well as a science. This is a wonderful way to become grounded and experience renewal. After the leaves pop and the blossoms show, we can measure our success against our inexperience.

Cleo is barking to get in after barking for what seems like, and could well be hours, at all the wildlife. She is diligent in protecting our orchard and her farm from any illegal trespassing by deer or coyotes. I hope it effective against the bears when they come out of hibernation and want to see what is cooking at 5010 Elliott Ave in Peachland.  We have a pair of bald eagles cavorting in the skies above the ravine that are clearly unaffected. I fear for the lives of my yet non-existent flock of chickens by these birds of prey and have decided to wait to get beehives started until we get our Great Pyrenees and I am sure we have deterred the bears. 

Well it is another cloudy day, but a good one to draft grants and write final reports in addition to Peachland chronicles for friends and family. 

Best wishes in 2008. May we experience more and lasting peace this year. 

Love, Alison

 

Our First Canadian Thanksgiving 2007

Our First Canadian Thanksgiving 2007

Dear all,

This missive is a small attempt to capture and to communicate aspects, pieces and/or insights into what it means to first move, second move to a new community far from family and friends, and third move to another country. I have known for several years that the decision to expatriate in order to divorce our taxes from the war machine that the US has become and to take up residence in a country that, although a member of the coalition of the willing, is not imperialistic and has retained a focus on its people that our democracy has lost was going to be challenging in many ways that could not be anticipated.

As an immigrant to this country, Canada, there is much to learn about its history, culture and values. It will take more time and much attentiveness to develop an understanding of this new land, sometimes referring to itself as a “Nation of Immigrants”and its people.

Chai is brewing on the stove for the first time. (For those who know that I make my own Chai each morning as a way to start my day, this is an important marker in my transition to a new home.) I sit here at our small café table in front of the sliding glass doors looking past the porch, past the orchard, past the giant Ponderosa pines that stand like sentries around the property, down the ravine and valley to the expanse of water which is the Okanagan Lake and then to the small rocky rolling hills beyond. It is a beautiful view. The massiveness of the water equals the drama of the Flatirons of Boulder Colorado that have been my constant companion for the last 14 years. I have moved from earth to water as the “ground’ in my life. Water is about transition; its flows and cuts gently and sometimes violently through the earth to create valleys and canyons. It is appropriate that, at this point in our lives which is all about change, our constant companion in this valley is this beautiful lake.

People have asked how I am doing and I ask myself that off and on as well. Interestingly enough I am just fine, at the moment. I think that this is because I am living very day-to-day and I am present with this experience. I believe that I am overwhelmed and this keeps me in the moment. The move was physically and emotionally hard. Both Mark and I have lost many pounds and are pulling our pants up. (For me that just makes everyone I am meeting think that I was a ballet dancer sometime in the past. This might also be because when you are in the presence of ballet dancers you automatically stand up straight, align your spine, pull your center of gravity up and out. I probably look a whole lot taller than I am as a result.)

Most days I spend being grateful for what I have in life even though this move has been hard forcing me to look at what it means to be courageous and cultivate fearlessness. I am thankful for all the friends that called to give us moral support, offered to help us and came for hours, some on several occasions, to help pack, and those who brought food and provided hugs when needed, who had flowers at the Ballet Kelowna office when I arrived and who shooed Mark out of the house at the end. I am grateful for Mark who busted his proverbial buns and stayed behind after I left for Canada to start my job and packed up the rest of the house which was overwhelming, despite the fact that we tried to get rid of 50% of what we owned before we left. (He was the one left to manage two moving sales and move my bees to Sandy’s house with yet more friends) I am grateful for my daughter Cait who drove up here with me and worked to clean the house and paint to make this home our own. I am grateful for the kindness, friendliness and neighborliness of everyone we have met in Canada. Entry could not have been easier as we find we must “rely on the kindness of strangers.”

This is Thanksgiving in Canada and we have a lot to be thankful for. (We have even been invited to our friends Kathy and Dave’s for dinner tomorrow.)

So that is the nice touchy-feely stuff, but what is the reality? Well, we learned everything that was wrong with the house we had been living in for 16 years and what had to be fixed, painted, or replaced before it could be rented. (Thank goodness for Beth of Boulder who managed this for us; I don’t think one can ever repay that kind of help.)We are learning everything that is wrong with this house. But at least we finally have heat. And heat is necessary when fall comes unusually early at this latitude. I am glad to be warm. The hot flashes that I have just come to experience don’t last long enough when the nights dip to 5 degrees centigrade and it is only October. I learned how to network our computers, (thanks to yet more friends) and got us all set up with new Canadian email addresses for work.

I had better become expert in irrigation systems and mower repair before next spring because caring for an orchard is a BIG responsibility. Oh yes and I am learning a new math measurement (metric) and I have to learn the Kings, actually Queens, English. When I write grants, I am misspelling everything and spell check doesn’t catch it!However, it is sort of a relief to walk into offices and see the Queen smiling at me instead of George W. It’s quaint but quite real. I live in a bilingual country where every label is in French and English. This country mayspeak English and share a border with the US, but it has its own culture and I am an immigrant. What an experience. Thank goodness I thrive on learning. Thank goodness friends are only a phone call away.

We share this lovely land with quite a lot of wildlife that,of course, call it their own, as it is theirs as well. Mark is competing with the squirrels to harvest the walnuts first. The bears got all the fruit in August and only visited the first few weeks that we were here just to make sure they got it all. (Now they off down at the creek fishing for Kocannee Salmon as they swim up to spawn beneath Hardy Falls below our property.) The coyotes come through on an evening and drive Cleo nuts.There are cougars in the hills and we will have deer before too long and possibly some elk. It is going to be lot of work to restore this land and to do so organically and in partnership with the wildlife that lives here. But I figure it has been left for about three or four years waiting for us to get here that it will probably wait for us to get it all in balance during the next three to four years. We are going to do it by moving out in concentric circles from the house, pruning and caring for the trees closest and moving out through the property. It’s a plan anyway for what is a big job.

The computer’s battery needs charging and I need to go up and finish painting the trim in the guest room so we can put down the new carpet. Then we are off to see the company, Ballet Kelowna performing Lake Country just north of Kelowna. They are amazing! I am honored to work for such a committed and talented group of artists. More about that later.

Much love & don’t forget to come visit. The guest rooms are nearly ready.

Alison

 

Love Alison

Impressions of future life in the Okanagan Valley

I am exhausted. First, from the fact that I always have to get all of my work done in the office before I leave for a week.  The other because we have done something precipitous, buying land in Canada before we have the permission to live and work in that country.

But here I sit on the edge of the front lawn, looking past the jumbled flower bed of various planted and volunteer perennials, over the rows of peaches descending across the lawn to the mature Plum tree to be rewarded by a spectacular a view of Lake Okanagan. Over the Deep Creek ravine filled with tall standing pines some tipped with red, which protects the bark beetle that is invading both our countries over the past five years of drought.  The weather has been picture perfect, even a little too cool with its gentle breeze and cloud specked sky. This is just about the ideal, made-to-order, place for me.

 Why?

 It is at the very end of a dirt road atop Princeton Hill that is straddled by cherry orchards, which are simply breathtaking in spring with blossoms and gorgeous with the ripe red fruit in June and July. Although we can hear the faint drone of the farm equipment across the hillsides and an occasional seaplane leaving the water, it feels very remote. Because ravines on each side surround us, this little piece of farmland is a peninsula surrounded by forest and has become “my own private Idaho”.

 I was just about to shut down this computer when I couldn’t resist the temptation to add a few last words on my last morning. Yesterday was an amazing day of meeting cherry growing neighbors giving me warnings about trusting folks and a volunteer at the arts center in Summerland so encouraging but warning me about the pot growing operations (the biggest income source for the province). And then I go to a party and have a wonderful time learning about the key areas of Canadian history from a delightful professor.  And a BC citizen who immigrated from to Canada 30 years ago after working with draft resisters in Puerto Rico.

Travel in the Okanagan.  Making sense of the private Idaho’s in different lands. Wondering if this is the right thing. I guess I couldn’t have asked from more encouragement that I have gotten yesterday despite tales of hangings in adjacent properties and interesting shakes of head about the people of Peachland.  When everyone says that this is the destination of all people in Canada because it this country’s.  Shangri La and Palm Springs all rolled into one.

It is interesting when one travels alone you have the ability to engage folks in conversation that you don’t otherwise. Everyone should pretend they are moving every ten years just to clear out all their stuff, I also think that couples should head out individually and pretend they are new to a community and learn what people have to say. I guess people are all pretty encouraging about the community in which they live because they have chosen to make their lives there.  You wouldn’t disparage a place that you have determined to make your home.  That would make you a fool.  So I look forward o sending Mark up here next and tell him to go meet folks and make friends on his own and begin the network of friendship making.

I am experiencing an odd mix of emotions when I sit on top of the beautiful hill looking at they gorgeous lake and at the same time viewing the promise of what will be the work intensive fruit trees orchard. I also wonder about the huge amount of development going on all around the area without any design consideration with chock-a-block little houses.

 Ah, the little birds are chatting in the beach trees. I have seen more than my fair share of Gold finches and I just wish I could identify all these sweet little birds. Redtail, Osprey, Raven’s and Bald Eagles, I can identify on my own, but it’s these sweet little warblers and others that I don’t recognize. Someday.

Well it is time to get ready to go because I want to walk down and listen closely to the sound of the water rushing over the waterfalls through Deep Creek.

Alison