Beautiful photos by NikiAnne Feinburg! Click on each photo to see it full size.
Beautiful photos by NikiAnne Feinburg! Click on each photo to see it full size.
It’s a dance of sorts. It starts in a circle, holding hands. There’s a break, for talking. Then there are the reels through the woods, discovering the way the forest grows. It’s also a future legend that starts like this.
Once upon a time Earthaven hired a forester, Shawn Swartz (who used to be a Full Member and live here with his family), to guide us towards a forest plan. The plan is designed to inform, instruct and guide us in making choices about how to (or not to) relate to the various forest species we live with.
The first step is to agree on priorities. What’s most important—protection, product, aesthetics, wild life or education? If we manage for protection, will we also get enough firewood? If we manage for product, can we also prioritize restoration? Or the health of one product over others?
“Keep in mind,” Shawn advised, “no management—meaning the elimination of human intervention—is also a management strategy. Leaving a healthy stand alone might be the best choice, but letting the forest take care of itself can also mean letting nut-bearing hardwoods die off, while rhododendron and red maple take over.” We decided protection and product are equally “most important”; if we manage for product, we intend to do so in ways that maximize forest health.
To do a forest inventory, you have to literally take one. The idea is to get a “snapshot” of the forest, a picture of which species are doing well. How tall are the trees? How much timber is there? Are the stands of mixed age and species? What’s in the understory?
To get a fair inventory of the species in our forest, we worked with samples: one “point” for every six acres. With 240 acres designated to remain forested, we had 40 points to march to. March? More like crawl and beat a way through the thickets! And a whole lot of up and down as well, from ridge to ridge, across slopes and gullies. We’d note the parameters of all trees within range of a point: diameter, height, species, regeneration on forest floor, snags, and presence or absence of invasive species. At one point there were sizable trees, the biggest a northern red oak, diameter 17.9 inches. The understory included pipcissiwa, magnolia, silverbell and cat briar.
And so it went—eleven species in all (chestnut oak, scarlet oak, northern red oak, maple, tulip poplar, sourwood, birch, pine, hemlock, locust and black gum in various groupings) plus thickets of rhododendron and/or mountain laurel. Diameters ranged from 1.2 to 38 inches. Except for a point where there were quite a few two-and three-trunk chestnut oaks (trees that grew together and became one tree at about breast height), Shawn said no doubt this place was logged about 80 years ago.
At the last point, Shawn did a site index, an index of productivity based on age and height. He had record sheets and knowledge of what to record and why. If a tree might have logs, he would ask someone to “get the logs of that tree Marie (or Darren or Gaspar) is on.” Someone would pace off the 66 feet and measure with a special tool called a Biltmore Stick. Sometimes an experienced eye was used to estimate logs, especially where it was impossible to sight the base or if the tree had kinks, bends and flaws. Thanks to a leading teacher, or a teaching leader, we learned by doing.
I went over to the Council Hall with my eight-month-old, Oakley, inside my rain jacket. I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to participate with him there but wanted to hang out anyway. I always loved pumpkin carving as a kid and was excited to introduce the tradition to him on his very first Halloween.
Before I even got in the building I noticed a small group of musicians standing in the middle of the room. It hadn’t been pre-planned, but what a treat to have live bluegrass music at this event.
A happy group of kids and their parents, along with a few witches, were already elbow deep in pumpkin guts when I got there. Some people were also hollowing out huge turnips and I learned that turnips where the original jack-o-lanterns. Legend has it that there was once a man named Jack who was so bad that when he died even the devil wouldn’t take him into the underworld and he was left to eternally wander the earth with his lantern. When European people came to America they brought their vegetable lantern carving tradition with them. I can only imagine how excited they were to learn about pumpkins, which I can tell you from direct observation, are a lot easier to carve than turnips. The challenge, however, did not stop Earthaveners from giving it a try and several beautiful turnip jack-o-lanterns sat next to the pumpkin ones decorating our Council Hall for the Samhian Ancestor Feast a few days later.
I saw a pumpkin getting carved with a pretty intricate face, one with a moon and stars, and one being cut into many curved ring layers. There were still pumpkins available so I thought I would give it a try and see how far I could get on a carving project of my own. I put Oakley on the floor and to my surprise he was perfectly happy playing with and tasting the pumpkin guts while I cut out super basic, classic triangle features.
It never snows in North Carolina. “Or so I was told,” said Tanya Carwyn, who moved to Earthaven from Colorado two years ago. “So I sold my skis before I left.”
The other common thing you’ll hear people say about this area is that we have the “mildest temperatures on the East Coast.” While that’s probably true on a scale of averages, at least historically, the last two winters have been colder and snowier than many places much farther north.
Last year, the winter of 09/10, we had three major snowstorms of well over a foot of snow each time. This year we’re on our third snowstorm already and it’s just the middle of January.
For those of us working or tending animals in the snow, our jobs are harder. And for some, like Art Myers “being snowed in at Earthaven is tough–sledding all day and sauna all night.”
On snowy days, villagers of all ages have been gathering together to sled down the upper pasture at Village Terraces Cohousing Neighborhood.
“It’s an excuse to hoot and holler,” says Liz Diaz, a resident at Earthaven. We 12 to 15 people get together that don’t normally see each other, it’s an opportunity to connect and share in some fun.
This week, after the sledding, there was hot chocolate at Art and Karen’s and on another occasion Chai tea at the Hut Hamlet Kitchen.
Families from afar sometimes worry about us stuck here in our holler. Karen’s mom called, worried about their family. But because we are seasoned homesteaders we often survive these storms better than city people. We have stacked firewood, generate our own power, and grow and store enough of our own
food that most of us could be snowed in for weeks without worry. “I told my mother-in-law that I could even find fresh green vegetables by digging out some collards from under the snow.”
Being and on-and-off-again insomniac, it is not unusual for me to wander down into our common kitchen at 3:00 am for a snack.
My insomnia is worse around the full moon or if there’s too much on my mind. And it’s almost always accompanied by hunger, which won’t let me sleep again until satisfied. So off I go, often full-on naked (trusting that the kitchen will be deserted) to search out a snack.
Before last week (and I have lived here 9 years) I can only remember one other time where someone else was awake and in the kitchen when I ventured down (and that was recently when, at 4:00 am or so, I ran into my pregnant housemate who has taken to being in the kitchen at night due to her own pregnancy-related insomnia) and I can tell you she got quite a chuckle out of my naked self foraging in the fridge.
Last week, Winter Solstice (December 21st) provided a scene that I can safely say from many middle-of-the-night wanderings was an exceptionally rare occurrence.
First though, let me say that Winter Solstice is a big deal around Earthaven. On it we celebrate the darkest night of the year, usually with a meal, ceremony, and a sunrise walk to celebrate the “return of the sun.” From Winter Solstice forward, the days will begin to lengthen. As our ancestors before us, we welcome back the sun for its warmth and heat. Unlike our ancestors, we welcome back the sun to fill our batteries via our solar panels, much needed after such short days.
This particular Winter Solstice was highly unusual in that it was a full moon as well as a lunar eclipse. This has only happened one other time in the last 2000 years (in 1638). Talk about rare!
When we realized this historical astronomical event was to take place we all agreed to meet up at 2:30 am on the deck of the 3rd floor to view the beginning of the eclipse which was set to peak at about 3:17. We’ll knock on each others doors, we offered, as a wake-up and reminder to meet and view this magnificent event.
At about 3:20 or so I heard some scurrying about and realized that no one had woken me. It also sounded quiet out there. I dragged myself up and went out to a fully cloud-covered sky and no house mates to be seen. With some guilty relief I ran back into bed. But alas, it was too late. Fully awake was I. After about a half hour of lying still and trying to sleep I wandered down to the kitchen (thankfully not naked this time) only to find five other people, not only awake, but eating, talking, rolling candles, and just having general merriment.
There they were at 4:00 am having an impromptu, middle-of-the-night eclipse get together. Every few minutes someone popped outside to see if the cloud cover had cleared yet (it never did.)
Shortly after discovering this spectacle, which was as surprising as the unseen moon, I returned to bed, only to hear some neighbors wander over with guitars and soft voices, singing in the next room. For some time, doors would open, people would wander around the deck or up and down the stairs, and sing or talk some more.
While I didn’t actually get back to sleep until 5:30, it was such a special time that I didn’t mind. I imagine it as a sort of sober, reverent, and spiritual college dorm sort of experience that can only happen in community.
Millions of birds are killed each year when they strike windows of homes and offices. I used to worry about cats killing birds, but window strikes are a significantly bigger problem. Here at Earthaven, our passive solar homes have large, south-facing windows that can be lethal for wild birds.
I was distraught last spring when a bluebird father and the fledgling he was feeding both hit our building at high speed. I tried out a simple, inexpensive technique that was described on David Sibley’s website, and it has virtually eliminated the problem of birds striking our windows.
Just get a flourescent yellow highlighter and draw a grid on the inside of the windows. It will be virtually invisible to humans, but for birds it breaks up the reflection that otherwise induces them to fly into the windows at top speed.
Please try this solution and let me know if it works for you. (It is best to apply the highlighter when the window isn’t too dusty–otherwise the grid is more visible.) Please comment if you have had any luck with other methods of reducing bird strikes.