Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fathers and Sons and an Appreciation of Thanksgiving

A few notes on the blog in tribute to my Dad, Dr. Rollin Walker Quimby, PHD. who was born on this day in 1921. Seems especially fitting to make a note of that fact on 10/10/10. Dad left us after a long struggle with alzheimers. Near the end, when asked what he did, he said he was a carpenter. I Bless him for that thought.

October 10 is also the day before Canadian Thanksgiving which we celebrated a day early on our farm this year, with the return of our son from University and a bounty of delicious food from our farm.

Now, I was raised with American Thanksgiving. In the States this is the big retail and advertising kickoff for the ever redundant and demanding, "Holiday Season". People line up at 5:00 AM to go shopping. On the other hand, in North America, Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving. You know, Starving pioneers thanking God for not being dead and a remembrance of the moment when we had an opportunity to make peace and share with Native people. It is a feast of Thanks which has been transformed into an opportunity to save NOW and consume store bought bounty. Thanks Cool Whip! Thanks Butterball!  Thanks Macy's!

Anyway, today was a lot like January in California.  Cool, cloudy, rainy and windy.  Like a Pacific cold front coming down from Alaska. It felt like Thanksgiving is supposed to. My New England genetics must be speaking to me.  

Susan worked on making a Thanksgiving feast from scratch with our farm produce in the kitchen which my So. Cal. son decided to overheat with the wood stove because he was cold. OK, it was 45 degrees, but it wasn't that bad! I wanted to say something...but I didn't.  I just repeatedly turned down the damper and opened a couple of upstairs windows so the heat could draft upstairs.  But I kept my "critical parent" mouth shut.

I went out to the barn where, for the past few days, I've been cutting 2x4's from the mill in Murray River and framing a horse shed.  And that's when my dad came to visit.

My Dad was a PHD who taught, analyzed and wrote about classical and modern rhetoric. He also loved to build things with wood.  He gave me a nail apron and taught me to hammer nails when I was 2. But having a serious rhetorical discussion on the theme, "What was I thinking when I left a mess in his workshop and mislaid his ball peen hammer" was dead scary by the time I was 8 years old.        

My dad built himself a workshop onto our suburban Santa Barbara home and it was stocked with tools.  We had a scrap pile of what I now realize was old growth California Redwood (you can't find it anymore). We had permission to make anything we wanted to in the shop.  I spent hours making toy boats, pistols, cars, rifles - anything I could imagine in his shop while I listened to Vin Scully call the LA Dodger games on a transistor radio. All materials were paid for no matter how many nails I used to make guns in the turrets of the dreadnoughts I built. But the mess I left and the tools I misplaced ruined those "mission accomplished" moments we could have shared.  His anger so often destroyed my joy.

Not anymore. 

I was in the barn today cutting 2x4's.  Taking pride in making them come out right.  Sketching plans and debating with myself - just as he used to do.  I'm doing the best I can, without a set of plans, just a set of imperfect mechanical drawings I've made. He often worked the same way.  And when he got stuck, he'd light his pipe full of Sir Walter Raleigh tobacco and "smoke at it" like a professor in the presence of a defiant student..

He would have loved this project - building a horse shed in our corral.  So I felt him with me today as I struggled to figure out the cuts, the build order, my frustration over not having any 2x6's on hand, my thrill at finding scrap lumber to solve a problem and my long moments pondering correct roof pitch, snow load and wind shear.  (What the hell do I know about snow load and wind shear?)

I relate all this so I can say, on his birthday, and on this, our first, Canadian Thanksgiving: Thanks for being there dad.  Thanks for giving me the tools to take on this life.  Thanks  for helping me today.  Part of what you taught me was to let my children make a mess. To admire their work and to keep frustration to myself when the 9/16th socket wrench goes missing. You taught me to give them the tools to make the life they want to build for themselves.

And finally:

My dad went to war in the Pacific in 1943 as a very young man.  If you were - or are - being raised by a veteran father, or a man who lost his work hug him when he gets angry with you.  He's angry because he's afraid for you. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Flood Damages Quail Springs Permaculture Farm. You Can Help.

This post came to me from Quail Springs in Cuyama, California today. Please read and help in whatever way you can. 

Hello Friends of Quail Springs,
We wanted to share with all of you that we've just come through two days of major flooding that have altered the face of Quail Springs.  First of all, we are SO GRATEFUL THAT NO ONE WAS HURT OR LOST.  This is a huge blessing for which we are all thankful.  
Beginning on Friday, October 1st, we had a storm that dropped a little over 2" of rain in about an hour that caused extreme channel flooding that ripped out our lower gabion, silted up our larger swales and caused damage to about 10% of the garden. We wish that this was the extent of the damage yet mother nature had another story to share with us.
On Saturday, October 2nd, at about 12:30pm, a second and much more ominous thunder storm descended on our valley down from Iwihinmu (Mt. Pinos) beginning with a huge hail storm followed by torrential rains and heavy winds.  The lighting and thunder stood right over us for what seemed like a lifetime yet was just a few minutes.  In just a half an hour, over 3 inches of rain fell directly on Quail Springs and much more in the canyons that feed the main canyon. Little rivers began to flow down the secondary and tertiary canyons, and then it happened.  
A wall of water we could have never imagined in our wildest dreams and ruminations made its own thunder as it careened down the canyon.  This wall of water tore at trees, ripped out our largest gabions and breached the walls of our incised stream and created a rushing river that spanned at some points over 1,000 feet across the canyon.  It was a sight to behold and an event that made your heart nearly stand still.
There was nothing could stand up to this deluge. Even large cottonwood trees were ripped out and hurled down canyon.  Everything in its wake was destroyed.  This included our entire garden, half of our new food forest, our pond is gone, all of our water harvesting structures that fed the sweet Quail Springs waters to our entire operation, our well was badly damaged, all of our irrigation systems have been buried, much of our fencing buried or washed away, chicken tractors gone, a trailer now lives down canyon several hundred yards, our settling tanks torn apart, and many tools and countless other parts of our infrastructure are missing or buried.  Amazingly, our buildings fared rather well other than some flooding in the main barn that was quickly cleaned up.  For this we are also grateful.  
All in all we estimate over $40,000 in damage was done and countless hours that were accumulated into years of work.  
As the water receded, we were stunned and humbled to see the damage and feel in our hearts the loss that had just occurred.  Nearly six years of our work building soil and laying infrastructure was washed away in minutes. Once we realized everyone was safe, we shared tears and a bit of laughter.  We are having to remember that we are working on a 200 year plan and that these events will help us redesign and rebuild in a way that is more appropriate for the vagaries of this ancient spring canyon and the place we call home.  
Over the next weeks, we will be working to rebuild the water systems and preparing for the upcoming Permaculture Design Course (which is nearly full).

We will undoubtedly ask for help once we settle on a game plan and will put a call out for volunteers.  
We will especially need assistance financially and would appreciate any donation you might be able to make to help us with the huge task of rebuilding and remaking the systems that are the very essence of our work out here.  

Tax-deductible donations may be made by check or online. 

Checks can made out to “Quail Springs” and mailed to: Quail Springs, 35070 Highway 33, Maricopa, CA 93252. 

Online donations can be made securely via Donate Now. 
Thank you for any assistance you’re able to give, and for your thoughts and wishes.

These are pictures I took at Quail Springs last Spring.  You can read about my visit to this permaculture farm.
The blog post includes a podcast.

Here is my letter to the Quail Springs Community:  

Susan and I came in from the fields of our fall harvesting and read the message that Quail Springs had sustained this major setback - or should I say - adjustment to it's 200 year plan.  

We were shocked and saddened to learn that so much work could be erased in such a short time.  And we were glad to read that no one was lost or hurt in the storms. Yes we are sad as I'm sure you are too. And we are reminded ourselves of the nature of working in nature. And perhaps more seriously, the changing nature of our world.

In my visit to your farm I was taken by your vision of sustainable living and your commitment to learning from traditional ways of being in harmony with the earth.  I have often thought of you as Susan and I worked our way into farming the land we share here in Prince Edward Island, Canada this summer.  Just this week,  I thought of you as we harvested our fall crops and joined our farming neighbors for a harvest meal. I thought that we and many people like us are new pioneers.  And like the pioneers of the past we are faced with many challenges and events in nature that our "settled" friends do not realize.

Climate events all over the world this year are telling us that this is not the earth our elders knew. Things are happening that are beyond our shared experience. I believe that our role as pioneers on this new earth will require us to learn how to cope with things that no living human has ever seen.  Even as we embrace the wisdom of our elders, we must blaze the trail ahead for those who follow us into a changing and unknown world.

My hope is that even as you experience loss and disappointment, that new understanding and insight will be yours in the days and months ahead. I hope that these events will write new knowledge into the journal of Quail Springs so that your losses become a harvest of new learning and development for all the pioneers who share your journey.    

Sincerely and with hope,

John Quimby
Susan Frazier
Dunn Creek Farm