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Feed the Birds, Feed Your Soul

The latest installment from Three Dog Farm. Inspiration for Joyful Living.

  Nestled in the South Shore suburbs of New England, our 1850’s Victorian Farmhouse is surrounded by eight acres of gardens and woods. We cultivate a simple life of harmony with the natural world, connection to our community, and of course romping with the dogs.

 

From the kitchen window of my farmhouse I can see my pair of bird feeders bustling with the activity of songbirds. After a few weeks of moldy seed the birds had given up on me, I’m sure in disgust and irritation. Having only cleaned and refilled the feeders an hour ago I find myself wondering how the birds got the news so quickly.

A dozen or so tufted titmice shoot arcs with their slender grey bodies back and forth to the magnolia tree. Perched delicately on its arms they peck open the black oil sunflower seeds then dash back to the feeder.  Last week a frigid dip in New England temperature dropped us to 19 degrees, causing the magnolia to drop most of her leaves the following morning in one glorious shudder. The chickadees are undaunted by the November weather; in between snatching seeds they take raucous turns at the birdbath.

Ornithologists say that birds hang out in areas where they’ve been fed and with their powerful eyesight and ability to discern movement they probably noticed the feeders were full again. Then all it takes is one brave bird checking out the fresh seed to inspire more movement and quickly the news spreads so now I’ve got tufted titmice in slender grey plumage, black capped chickadees, a female cardinal and a slim black and white downy woodpecker lunching at Three Dog Farm. I like to think that they were up in the trees watching me fill the feeders, probably cocking their heads at the antics of my terrier puppy, Rosie, as she snarfed up the spilled seed. 

Even more so I’d like to think that my actions tugged on nature’s cosmic consciousness. Maybe after I hung the feeder, did a tiny prayer bow and then shouted up to the trees “lunch is served” my positive message went out on a higher level, reverberating at a place beyond hearing. A place where the reverberations of good intentions are recognized and the interconnectedness of all things resonates. 

However the birds got the news, I think I’ll sit here awhile longer with Rosie at my feet. We’ll watch the birds flit and flutter and delight that our message was well received.

Snakes in the Farmhouse!

zoësitting

Lots of rain this morning here at Three Dog Farm, which meant the doggies spent some quality time napping and lounging after their morning run. Zoë is usually in constant motion, the rain seems to be the only thing that helps her relax. I love the way she crosses her paws, such elegance!

 

 


The Man of the Place and I had our first unusual encounter at home today. As I walked into the kitchen I saw him in an awkward stance holding a soggy dishtowel. Now, I know this guy pretty well and something about his posture made me stop at the doorframe and raise my eyebrows at him. In a whisper he said, “We have a snake in the house!” Also knowing this guy pretty well helped me surmise that the only reason he whispered was in deference to the nice gentleman we hired to mount our tv over the brick fireplace. Otherwise he’d have been a bit more boisterous.

He immediately clarified his remark by explaining the it was a garter snake and harmless. When the snake, let's call him Buddy, saw the Man of the Place he reacted by slithering the full length of the kitchen and disappearing into a minuscule crack underneath the dishwasher. I can say with full certainty that we’ve checked every baseboard and cupboard with no sign of the elusive Buddy. The Man of the Place seems to think that there’s a good chance we’ll never see him again. We are both hoping, of course, that he found a way out of the house and back into the garden. Either way, we’ll chalk it up to another quiet, yet delightful, event here at Three Dog Farm.

Here we go 'round the mulberry bush!

fourthofjuly

Well we had a fine Fourth of July here at Three Dog Farm. We’ve ticked off all the summer rituals: pool party complete with lots of kids and cupcakes, fired up the grill, hung festive star-spangled bunting, and had ice cream from Sunshine Sundaes for dinner. 

 

 

mulberries

But we’ve also discovered a brand new summertime ritual: Mulberry Season!

I headed up to the barn the other day and noticed berries all over the driveway. They looked a bit like blackberries, and I noticed that the robins were having a feast high up in the branches of the sixty foot tree. Of course I consulted my sister, a true master gardener. Through the miracle of an iPhone video and quick text, she said, “That’s easy-it’s a mulberry!  Have you tried one yet? The dark colored ones are the best.” Now that I knew they weren’t poisonous I tried one and was delighted. They are sweet, kind of like a cross between a blackberry and blueberry. They don’t store or ship well because they bruise easily-they are best eaten right away so this is true locavore eating! 

At our pool party a guest was delighted to see the tree. His eyes twinkled and he called me over to share his stories. He grew up with a Mulberry tree that was small enough that they could shake it to harvest the fruit. He said, “We’d always eat it around the Fourth of July. We ate those good berries on everything, even our Cheerios!”

My sister and I agree that it is a very messy tree-the driveway probably isn’t the most optimal location. The berries are quite staining and get squished and tracked all over the place. I’m thinking, and Cornell University agrees in this article so I’m in good company, that next year I’ll lay a tarp down to make harvesting easier and prevent some of the mess. 

But for this sunny July I’ll gather what I can, leave the rest to the birds, and be grateful for another delightful surprise from Three Dog Farm.

Blue Jays

I always consider it an auspicious sign when I find a feather. Yesterday I decided to avoid unpacking by planting onions and a few varieties of peppers, when I found a vibrant Blue Jay feather underneath the mulberry tree. Oh, and I also discovered we have a mulberry tree. (Props to my sister for the long-distance identification!) The Jays love the berries, and so does my dog, Ranger. I tried one, they taste like a tart blackberry. Although they are making a total mess of the driveway by the barn, it sure is a pretty tree and the birds are happy so I’m happy, too. 

My totem-Blue Jay feather with peppers and onions peeking up at us!

My totem-Blue Jay feather with peppers and onions peeking up at us!

The sight of a Blue Jay feather always makes me smile, even though I used to hate them. My hatred started when as a knobby-kneed seven year old I saw a Jay pluck a baby robin from our birdhouse in the backyard. I screamed and yelled at it as it pecked the head of the tiny bird and ate its brains. I found the robin’s tiny body behind the garage, discarded like so much trash. I cried and told my dad. He told me simply that the Jay needed to eat too, and although it seemed cruel, without the robin the Jay would die and that would be a death to grieve, as well. It makes sense to me now, but for decades I continued to hate Blue Jays.

    Then I fell in love with raptors: glorious Red Tail hawks soaring over the prairies, my first sighting of a Golden Eagle near the Grand Tetons out west, and watching the Bald Eagles of Traverse City, Michigan, raise their young on the river’s edge. I came to appreciate the ways the Blue Jays would scream in the trees, warning the local wildlife (and me!) that a raptor was soaring above. Sometimes Jays mimic the cry of the Red Tailed Hawk-possibly to alert other birds to a hawk’s presence, or maybe they are just having a bit of fun! And they are renowned for their love of acorns, burying so many that they are credited with helping create the forests that I ramble in every day.  

So when I found this Blue Jay feather I considered how I have come to understand something I once disliked and feared. I placed the feather next to my bed, a totem that reminds me to understand all sides of a story, to speak my mind, and to always stop to taste the sweet berries of summer at Three Dog Farm.

Twilight Magic

As this long June day draws to a close, I’m tempted to stop my rushing around and notice the pace of evening here at Three Dog Farm. Both dogs are curled in their beds as the wind whispers her secrets to the oaks and maples. The can smell the old pine floors under my feet and a touch of rain from the drizzle outside. After the cold New England winter my feet are finally bare and I can feel the silty dirt from the backyard between my toes. Outside the window and past the columned porch the spruce tree seems to turn blue in the twilight; a spray of ferns dances at her feet and I wonder if there are fairies playing amongst their leaves.  If I was still a child, perhaps I could see them. I may be too old to see the fairies, but I’m not too old to stop for a moment to engage my senses and notice the magic that is twilight at Three Dog Farm.

Onion Breath

Happy Summer Solstice!

Today had all the feel of a lazy summer day; warm and sunny with those big puffs of clouds that seem to sail the sky without obscuring the sun. Plus, it was my last day teaching clarinet for this semester, so I had a bit of the kid on the last day of school feeling!

onion.png

Of course, I just had to take a trip to my local nursery. You know, just to walk around, right? I have a bit of a nursery addiction, especially when it comes to locally owned places like Morrison’s in Plymouth. After getting some of the really amazing Coast of Maine Lobster Compost, birdseed, and (another) hummingbird feeder I somehow found myself wandering through the vegetables. Well, surely a few onions to harvest this fall would be nice. When The Man of the Place saw my backseat full of compost and plants he just shook his head and helped me schlep them to the very empty and very sad raised beds. As he dropped a bag of compost and brushed off his t-shirt he said, “You just couldn’t help yourself, could you, Little Miss Gita?”

 

He’s right, I couldn’t help myself. Can’t wait for the sun to rise tomorrow so I can stick a spade in the dirt and get planting, one onion at a time.

A Tree Told Me

zoefrontdoor

It’s been a busy week moving into Three Dog Farm. Zoë, our half-pint Doberman girl, has stationed herself at all entry points to supervise the comings and goings. This mainly involves getting underfoot at all times-with the attendant admonishments, “Zoë, will you please get out of the way!”

The Man of the Place and I agree that it still feels surreal to own our beautiful plot of land and barn.  We keep looking at each other and saying, “Do we really live here?!” 

In between moving boxes and prepping our former house for sale, I’v been grabbing little bits of time to walk the property and familiarize myself with the trees and gardens. I’ve verbally introduced myself to most of the perennials and a fair bit of the trees on the property. The exchange goes something like this, “Hi butterfly bush, nice to meet ya! Hey maple tree!” Clearly, I have no problem being that “Crazy Gardener Lady” who talks to the plants and trees. I’m all for anything that strengthens my connection to the natural world, and like to choose actions that reinforce my place in the larger Order of Things.

My favorite moment from today’s walk occurred when a grand wind blew through the four-story pines in the woods behind the barn. Unlike deciduous trees that clatter and flap and rattle in the wind, when faced with an ocean wind pine needles produce a glorious whoosh.

 What would happen if there were no pine needles for the wind to blow through? Would the wind still make a sound? How do we know there’s wind if it doesn’t have something to blow against?  Maybe the wind tells us where we are, and we tell the wind where it is. 

Or maybe I’m just the crazy lady at Three Dog Farm who likes to talk to the trees. 

In defense of black coffee

At 5:30 this morning The Man of the Place surprised me by bringing me a mug of coffee in bed. I had just woken up and for the first time since we moved to Three Dog Farm a few days ago I felt relaxed and refreshed. Maybe I felt so good because I did yoga before bed, or maybe it’s because we got internet established in the house yesterday (I’ve got a bit of a connectivity addiction). With Zoe the Half-Pint Dobe prancing at his feet he handed me my favorite black and red mug. I brought the steaming cup to my lips and inhaled the scent of roasted chocolate. I take my coffee straight-up black: earthy and bitter. 

As I sat on my bed and watched the rising sun begin to warm the leaves and flowers of our dogwood I couldn’t help but notice how my taste in coffee has changed over the last two years. I used to drink lattes but after I realized the milk was making me feel all bubbly-tummy I began to get espresso with a liberal dose of cream. Over a period of months I tapered back the cream until one day I noticed I was craving the bitter sweetness of black coffee.

Drinking black coffee isn’t some great feat, but it helped me notice that making small changes can add up to big changes over time.

Some of the most useful changes occur in our lives when we allow ourselves to take our time. 

I’ve found this same principle to be true with my yoga and meditation practice. A regular and continual dedication to spiritual discipline and inquiry helps me be more patient and more kind.

So with changes we want to make it goes like my coffee; small steps and gentle curiosity. By enjoying each moment of the process, we find ourselves exactly where we need to be.

Hot Dog!

Last week it was 45 degrees and raining and blustery. I wore fleece in layers and Zoë napped in front of her “nanny”, aka the space heater.

This week it is 90 degrees and humid and sun-sun-sunny. Springtime in New England!

Thank goodness 3 Dog Farm has a pool!

The only chain that does not bind

peonies

It was the last thing I expected to see, but their beauty stopped me in my tracks. A simple vase of pink and white peonies, cut that morning from the garden, sat on the kitchen table in a pool of afternoon sunshine. I had seen their vase several months before, full of flowers that I had brought to this same house. On a cold and damp Sunday,  hubby and I had visited the owners to learn about the history of the 1850 Gothic Victorian we were purchasing. I had brought some flowers as a token of gratitude, and joked with the owners that they weren’t obligated to pack the vase and haul it to their next place. We had all chuckled, then settled down into the dining room where we poured over historical maps, photos and learned the detailed renovation story of this gem of a home. Now, several months later I’ve been welcomed into my new home by a beautiful gift of showy peonies on the kitchen table. The business of moving is no easy feat; sorting, packing, finances, logistics. The simple gesture of taking time to fill the vase speaks volumes about the kindness and care of the loving former owners of what we now call Three Dog Farm.

As I write this I can pause to brush my nose into the petals and feel their softness on my cheeks. 

Small acts of kindness can surprise someone into gratefulness. This gratefulness can spread to the next person, and on and on in a chain of gratitude. Chains of gratitude do not bind us; they strengthen the energy we need to navigate the difficulties of our world.