Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Decisions, Decisions

The latest Garden shot
After two solid weeks of fundraising and comedy performances in Denver followed by my mom's visit, I am re-settling back into my routine. Going 800 mph, I am slowing down to a cruise - still catching up on sleep, bills and this blog. There never seem to be enough time for everything and sunset comes sooner each day…

Friday night gang, including me. Photo by Lenn Stout.
The Smile Train Comedy Improv Festival was a wonderful success having raised $7,610! That's enough to fund cleft repair surgeries for 30+ kids so I am very pleased. Though Steve Loukas is the Festival Director and me, the Figurehead, I still had some duties - show hosting, box office, concession stand, social media, marketing, correspondence and spokesperson. Plus, some performance time and, best of all, lots of audience time. There were so many hilarious moments - very healing to be around all that laughter. I'm thrilled our 6th year went so well and - with seven shows at two theaters and 33 performers - happier still that it is over.  Phew!

Mama Iva with seeds
On the tail end of that insanity was Mama Iva's visit to SCRANCH. I met her in Denver at the gate to my flight home - she'd flown from LA earlier that morning. Having her on the farm was lovely, of course. It was a bit tight in her namesake trailer, the Mae Flower, but we managed just fine. After all, I spent most of my childhood in a motorhome, The Voyager, thanks to my parents.

Of course, Mama Iva came bearing my favorite vegan cookies from Trader Joe's, some fancy cheeses and avocados to make her world-famous guacamole, not to mention boxes of See's Candies as gifts. This woman is where I learned that Food = Love.

Brent and Mom, catching up

We saw cousins galore and I put her to work, but only after she insisted. I had her de-leafing and de-seeding pulled up cilantro plants ("I never knew it was coriander! Huh!"), pulling weeds around the garlic and acting as my accountant-secretary at the Farmer's Market. I am missing her this week  but since her ankles were eaten up by evil horseflies (the photos are ghastly), I'm happy she's back home, safe and sound.  

Brent harvest his wheat field on our land
With wheat harvest up and running all around me, I must now deal with my own garden, which is starting to wear Autumn on its shaggy, green face. Peas and beans are dead so I've got to rip them up and save the seeds. Huge spinach plants must be ripped out and I'm still harvesting seeds and leaves from the cilantro plants.

Damn varmints!
Seems I've lost most of my beloved popcorn to fungi and wildlife but my watermelons, Ground Cherries and tomatoes are coming in so that's a delight. The bugs have leveled out a bit and it's getting cooler so my garden time is less arduous, more peaceful. Oh, and that Yellow Crookneck squash I planted? Yeah, if I don't catch 'em when their young and pale, they turn into big, bumpy orange gourds - inedible fall decor. Not what I was planning to grow but then again, I didn't plan Corn Smut either.

Every time I look at a Ground Cherry (a Physalis, really), I think, "Miracle." This delightful wee fruit is also called a Chinese Lantern and, in fact, are delicate, edible papery works of art. Harvesting the ones on the ground, you look for the deepest beige. Peeling back the feathery natural packaging, you find an orangey-yellow fruit, like a sweet, lemony-tomato - incredibly different from any other taste. A fellow organic farmer/vendor named Miles introduced me to them last summer and I flipped out over them and had to make them part of my life and market table. I made every single person at the Market try them this week and I sold a bunch with that strategy.

Ground Cherry
Already, we had a nip of frost this week and a few of my plants got singed, some Lemon cucumbers, squash vines and watermelons bear black marks. I've purchased a new frost blanket and Dave McCurdy ("Everybody Loves Dave") gave me a gajillion old burlap potato sacks yesterday - perfect for individual plant coverage - so I guess I'm ready. I only have to pay him with a watermelon from my patch - a typical deal around here.

Ground Cherries, in their papery packaging
Honestly, all this chatter is my way of avoiding what is really going on with me here at SCRANCH. Y'see, it's getting that time when I have to decide if I will return to NoDak next summer and indulge in another year of SCRANCH gardening adventures or stay in one place the entire year (!) to put down Real Life roots once and for all.

Sage bundles
Plain and simple: Do I come back for a third year - my original time commitment to no one but me - or finally have a go at settling down in the Santa Barbara area? In SoCal, I will be closer to Mama Iva, my small army of wonderful friends, amazing creative/career opportunities, farmers/ranchers, like-minded freaky types, gobs of culture and, of course, honest to god Mexican food, plus other culinary delights. I could have a real life instead of being the Wandering Farmer who uses your guest room, tells entertaining stories, but has no ties or commitments.

The Office
But am I done? I have learned so much and gained a deeper understanding of industrial farming and the reality of being an organic producer. Coming face to face with everything from chemicals to consumers on a daily basis - on family land! - has been one of the richest experiences of my life. Is it over now? Did I build all this up just to walk away? Mind you, I decided long ago that SCRANCH is a place, an idea, that goes where I go but I get emotional about this place and am now addicted to freedom and SPACE, so much space. And the big open skies here, oh man, I will miss those most of all.

I wrote a list of pros and cons for returning but I change my mind every day. Today, as I think about ordering garlic for next year (which I  must do soon before they run out) and how much I paid for The Mae Flower and how much I upended my life to be here, I'm thinking "Yes" to Year 3.

A nearby field
But while living a geographically divided life has its perks, it also means not having pets, the least favorite part of my life. (Am thinking about acquiring a hedgehog - thoughts?) Having animals in my daily life is one of my long-term goals and has been for some time. Animals feed my soul and make me feel close to God in a way that nothing else does. Kids too, though they are harder to adopt, unfortunately for me.

'Farmland from the sky'
This transient existence also puts a damper on my love life - it's hard to form a lasting bond when I am always leaving to go Somewhere Else. In fact, I began a wonderful relationship this summer with NoDak fella and am dreading leaving him now too. Alas, he is firmly settled here, a 6-7 month winter is really no place for an LA girl like me and the Mae Flower isn't built for 30 below zero anyhow.

I was hoping that last Saturday's annual Chicken Slaughter Party at Powerful Pierre's would have some clarifying effects, what with all the blood and guts, but my brain continued to argue with itself: "What am I doing here???? YOU BELONG HERE! What am I doing here??? YOU BELONG HERE!" As I cut off their feet and plucked out their pin feathers moments after their deaths, the chickens could only tell me in one last garbled cluck, "Life is short. Take all the risks you can, lady."At least that's what I heard.

End of my driveway at sunset
And then yesterday, when I swung by Pierre and Evelyn's to pick up my five fresh chickens (plus a bonus bag of chicken backs for soup), I couldn't imagine having to buy such things in a store ever again. And I realized that no matter where I go, this beautiful, self-sufficient culture that I have experienced here in North Dakota will always be my gold standard for a contented life.

Second Chance Ranch, as seen from Hwy 55
 But still, the Decision remains open.


Felicia the Geeky Blogger said...


It is going to be a tough decision either way but in the end I think you will make the right one for you. The animals thing would kill me too!

Good luck and I am off to see if I can find some of those thingies that looked scrumptious. I am guessing no in the heat bowl of Tejas!

Deanna Newell said...

Stay: Permanently!! That is from one Newell and I know the other Newell's concur!!

Heather Clisby said...

Thanks for the cyber support, girlie. I would ship those magical cherries to you but don't know if they would survive. I plan to play the Johnny Appleseed role and plant them wherever I go. Same goes for Lemon basil - both magical.

Heather Clisby said...

Deanna: Awwww! That's so awesome to get feedback from a local. Whether I stay or go, I will always be coming back here for one reason or another. NoDak will not get rid of me that easily. It's a slice of heaven way up here, this much I know.

Kath said...

Life is short and I know you make every minute count. A year spent closer to Mama Iva wouldn't be a bad decision at all.

And you never know who you might run into :-)

Love you Heather!


Heather Clisby said...

Kath, thanks so much for stopping by and offering these words of support and friendship. And yes, the potential of what (or who!) is to come is always there....

quirkychick said...

Should you stay or should you go?


It's hard to say because what you are doing up there is a rather singular experience, but as you say there is a cost.

Let's use a farming metaphor - where do you need to be in order to thrive? What is the best soil and food and environment for you to grow and flourish?

Whatever you do and where ever you go I know you will always have interesting stories and you will always be welcome in my guest room.

Maria said...

So from a reader perspective, I say one more year. The story is just getting good. How are you going to handle next season? Are you going to plant more of a few things so you can sell regularly in that Organic store? If you go that path, what are the trial and tribulations of being a regular organic supplier? Have you noticed differences in soil and crops from 3 continuous yrs of planting? And so much more!

Either way I'm sure you'll make the right call :)

Heather Clisby said...

Susie - your guest room is such a place of peace for me in the middle of Los Angeles. That goes for Adi's place now too.

The thing is, I now know how to flourish wherever I go with whatever environment I am in. Ultimately, I will end up the SB region, it's just a matter of delaying for one year or not.

As my sister Julie said to me on Facebook, "You'll know the answer when the garlic comes up." I think she's right.

Heather Clisby said...

Maria, your "reader perspective" is an insightful one. I am leaning toward another year - two years seems unfinished, not a big enough body of work to call solid.

As for next year's goals? I'd like to get into a bigger non-organic grocery store that is local and maybe sell at another Farmer's Market a bit farther away. I tripled my profits this year so I'm feeling cocky - ha!

Thanks for weighing in here.