Thursday, June 20, 2013

Throwback - Early Cabin Reflections

So I was cleaning up some things today and came across a bit of writing I did early on during our time at the cabin, probably mid fall 2011. I decided to share it here because so much of the blogging I do is very much "Look at these things I did, or am planning to do" and little of it actually gets into the sensation and experience of living the way I do. So, some of these impressions still apply, although I live in a very different environment, much less isolated now. Anyway, here goes...

"There's something about the enthralling rhythms of living at the cabin, surrounded by water, insects,  birds, sunlight, shade, wind, rain, and trees, that makes me want to write. My thoughts take on a poetic bent, and I imagine them collected, connected.

"It's not that I feel that I am more at home here among the trees than I am among other humans. (Although this is not necessarily untrue.) It's something more to do with always having felt a little distanced, slightly strange, not the same shade as the people around me. This is likely some mix between a superiority complex, years of being told I was different and special as a youth, and the condition of postmodernity acting on western culture's doctrine of individuality. Call it anything, but it has manifested in a life-long sense of being askew. Of identifying more with being the odd one out than with being part of a coherent unit. Of being comfortable only by being at least somewhat aloof. Not mysterious, just... other. Even in the close connections I have and have had with people, there is often an underriding shared sense of out commonality being a resistance to the norm.

"Living at the cabin makes it abundantly clear that I am other. The prevailing presences are the steady solidity of plants, the whimsy of rain and wind, the chatter of squirrels as they crash from branch to band to palm frond, the clear directionality and movement of the black river, and the swelling crescendos and climaxes of choruses of insects.

 I am drawn to all these expressions of life. I identify with them. But I am obviously different. I am a fleshy sac of water and tissue, I hate being bitten by mosquitoes and ants, I get pruny if I sit too long in the water, most of my food comes from miles away, and I think more than I act. As I've written this, the wind has picked up around me, reminding me of how glad I'll be of the roof over my head if wind is followed by rain. I am not of this environment, however much I intend to tune myself to it. The tuning will never be perfect, and I will always be distinct, in ways both comforting and challenging. I will always be other. I appreciate the peace that living here gives me in my otherness. I am not like most other people in my society - I choose to live apart, where culture and social life need not always prevail quite so strongly. I choose to live in the woods. But I am not like the woods either. I am set apart from all that surrounds me. I am neither wholly in one world, not in another. I am in between, in a liminal space, just where I like to be. this is where I am most comfortable, but paradoxically so, because straddling worlds and ways of being is challenging and taxing. It seems strange that a place of in-betweenness requiring continual and repeated acts of balance and flexibility would feel like home, but then, I am a strange creature, so perhaps it makes sense."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spring in Florida means CANNING season! Also, dancing and planting.

So Mike and I have been busy lately. I've been canning and planting some things in the garden, and making medicine with some of the lovely weeds in the yard. Mike's helped with some of the larger batches of canning, but his big project lately has been to cut down some invasive trees on the property: Australian pines and Australian silk oaks. Right now he's working on stripping the bark from the trunks, then they will age/dry, and become fence posts for cross-fencing the pasture. This will be to separate fruit trees, future veggie plots, and animals. Photos of this to come in a later post.

Canning Adventures: 

I made sauce with over a bushel's worth of tomatoes. I ended up with FOUR GALLONS of sauce. I did this on Saturday night after working at the farmer's market, and I started at 730 pm after a two hour nap, and didn't finish up until 5 am. This included chopping, cooking tomatoes down for a while, draining off the juice, cooking the veggies to add to the sauce, blending it all together, and canning the sauce and the juice. I was a little crazed by the end of it... but it was necessary to stay up and get it done that night. Why, you ask? Why stay up for 24 hours with only a 2 1/2 hour nap just to finish some canning?

This is a big pot. This is four gallons of pasta sauce!

Cooler of salsa

This may look like a weird crime scene, but it's a humongous cooler with the makings of salsa. We had to use the cooler because we didn't have any other food grade container big enough to combine all the ingredients. This was close to two bushels of tomatoes, plus a slew of onions, bell, poblano and jalapeno peppers, cilantro, lemon juice, some habanero hot sauce I made last year and is a little too spicy for me to enjoy the normal way (and I like spicy!), and whatever else Mike put in. This was 5+ hours of work, and Mike finished the salsa did all the processing of the jars after I left..

Finished jars of salsa. We ended up with 35 1/2 quarts! Woohoo!

So you see, I needed to stay up so late on Saturday to finish the sauce, because I had almost two bushels of tomatoes (that wouldn't fit in the fridge) that needed to processes ASAP. And Sunday was a no-canning day, because a friend and colleague of mine was using my home as a location for shooting a video dance. Think modern dance, but with lots of editing, overlaying, etc., making the editing itself a part of the choreography. I was one of the 5 dancers involved. We spent 6 hours working on this during the afternoon and evening. So much fun! It was great to see my home turned into a rehearsal and performance space.

Wendy's solo (shot through the rose arbor, observed by Megan and Erica, Choreographer Extraordinaire)

Annamaria, Megan, Wendy, Erica, and me, with a rose arbor and cypress/maple lined pond for a backdrop :)

Annamaria, perfectly highlighted by the sunlight.

I've been busy canning for the last month, and here are some more photos of the products:

Grapefruit juice, corn, carrots, peaches, potatoes

Green beans, peaches, salsa, tomato juice

Picked jalapenos

JAMS! Peach Strawberry, Spiced Peach Blueberry Strawberry, Corncob Jelly, and Strawberry Jam


I've also been working on getting some things planted, and slowly growing a bit garden in the space around the house that's already been landscaped, and is therefor easier to work with.

I'd seen on the internet that you can re-sprout green onions and leeks, so I tried it. I used the rest of the leeks, and put the cut root ends in water, and changed the water every day until they all sprouted. I just moved them into the soil a couple of days ago, so we'll see how they take.

Baby leek growing from the stub of an old one!
That's all for now. Check back for more soon!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

New home, new blog name?

So, well, it's been quite a while. First I got really busy working full time in an office, and being flooded in at home. I couldn't do a whole lot other than work and sit inside last summer... Then, well, I got into the habit of not posting, and then Mike and I moved into our new (to us) home, and that pretty much brings us to the present. We now live on 5 acres, most of which is open pasture, with a gorgeous house toward the back of the lot in a more wooded, but still pretty open area.
Front view of the house. The front half of the old pole barn structure is now wide open porch, where we now have our smoker that Mike and his welder buddy made from an old propane tank. 
The pasture. Not much to see yet... but gives you an idea of the potential.

There's also a barn, with roofed workshop space and enclosed, air conditioned office space. There's a small pond surrounded by maple and cypress trees, with a creek running along the back property line. It was dry when we moved in in January, but with a couple of solid days of rain this week, the pond is higher and the creek is now flowing.

Side view of the barn. Covered storage on the left, locked utility shed and workshop area under the left half of the main structure, drive through area where we can work on our cars (sure beats the hard packed sand and gravel at the cabin!), and on the right, the air conditioned offices (2 connected rooms).
     We originally were looking for more acreage, but land is expensive here, and we wanted to still be relatively close to town, since we both work in town a few days a week. But the house more than makes up for the lot not being larger. It's an old pole barn, the back half of which got enclosed, and then a couple of additions were added on, for bedrooms and the kitchen. It's all wood interiors, lots of windows, great cross breezes, and after living in a 1000 sq. ft., 2 room cabin with very limited electricity that we had to manage ourselves, no filtration of our well water, and all of that in a flood plain, this new home feels like a luxury country estate. And really, when you think about it, it is. We're incredibly blessed to have found, and been able to afford, this place.

The plan right now is this:
Step 1: Cut down the huge (and invasive) Australian Pines that line the road. Use these to make fence posts for cross-fencing the field, so that we can have orchard and animals separated.

Step 2: Get sheep or goats. Most people wouldn't think about sheep in Florida, but they do well, and there is even a variety that has hair rather than wool, so it's more tolerant of warmer climates. Obviously this means we wouldn't get the added benefit of wool, but there are so many projects on the to do list that learning to shear and process wool, and then how to work with it to make clothing and textiles isn't too high a priority. I also hear that sheep are easier to handle - more docile and less problematic personality wise than goats. Anyway, we're not sure yet, but we need something to help us keep the pasture mowed, and we do NOT want to buy a lawn mower!

Step 3: Buy and plant fruit trees. Obviously, first we need to do research on the cultivars that will do well in our climate, and then find where we can get them nearby.

Step 4: Work on a vegetable garden.

Step 4 is sort of an ongoing thing, since I just planted my first plants a couple of days ago, given to me by a friend whose yard is an edible plant paradise, and who loves to give garden tours and free plants, seeds and seedlings. I wasn't planning on planting anything right now, but how could I resist? Plus there are plenty of empty spots in the landscaping around the house where I can put plants now, before I get around to tilling and preparing a larger dedicated garden site.

Right now I work for a local farm at the farmer's market, and I get as much free produce as I want at the end of the day, out of what is left over. I've been spoiled by the quality of this food, over the last 6 years of working there, and now I can't bring myself to buy produce from stores. The lack of freshness, the price, and the knowledge that most of it came from so very far away make it so I'd rather go outside and gather some weeds to cook as potherbs rather than buy organic swiss chard from across the country for way too much money.

Since I live in south Florida, the growing season for farmers is backwards - we sell produce at the market between October and May, and during the summer it's impossible to find local produce unless you're growing it yourself (or foraging). This finally brought me to canning, as a way to preserve the wonderful quality produce I had abundant access to throughout most of the year. I love canning and will continue to do it, but really, I want to get to the point where I'm growing enough food that I don't need to rely on my farmer's market job for my produce. So I'm starting small, just a few plants, but I'll be expanding all the time, and hopefully this summer (when I have an extra day each week since the farm season is over), I'll be able to prepare a good sized garden for the fall.

Step 5: Sometime in the fall, build a coop and get chickens! I am so excited for this.

Step 6: Who knows? There is always another project, another thing to learn, a new world of things I haven't even heard of yet. But I guess right now, Step 6 is to keep on keepin' on, maintaining what's been started, but also to expand my interests, knowledge, and skills, enjoying life while I'm at it.

So about the title: I'm looking for a new one. Myakka Cabin Chronicle made sense when I lived in a cabin, but I don't anymore, and Myakka House Chronicle just doesn't have the same ring, you know? So, if you've got any ideas, shout them out! I'm looking for something that can encompass my many varied interests:
-Wild plants/foraging
-DIY products - hair/skin/body, soaps/household cleaners, and more
-Farm animals
-Canning/preserving food

Let me know if you've got any ideas!

Monday, June 11, 2012


Not on. Not beside. IN. Well, hopefully I'm not jinxing myself by saying that, because it hasn't gotten inside the cabin yet, and I sincerely hope it doesn't.

In a little over 24 hours, the river flooded to higher than it ever got in 10 days of flooding last September.

This photo was taken yesterday morning around 11. The actual river bed is on the far side of those picnic tables.

The rest of these were taken this morning at about 7:30 am:
Picnic tables all but underwater...

 This is where one of us usually parks, and now look at that current! Also, pots of herbs that I transplanted from the garden yesterday before it flooded. Below, I'm standing where I just showed where we usually park. The water is about 6 inches high. In September when we got flooded, this area never got more than 3 or 4 inches high. (In comparison, between the cabin and the shed, this morning I was walking through waist deep water at times. No, not hip deep. WAIST deep.

 One of our garden plots, completely under water. I harvested 15 seminole pumpkins from this plot yesterday, although a few weren't completely ripened, so that we wouldn't lose them.

 This shot is of the shed in the distance. Usually the shed is about 2 1/2 feet off the ground. Here, the water is about 2 inches below the bottom of it.

 Off our back deck - the round paving stone is where our shower is.

Aaaand, I've got to leave you all with a couple non-flood photos as well. I found this TINY little anole in the HUGE parsley (right, at least 5 feet tall, maybe 6) that I dug up yesterday so that I can dry the leaves.


So... all in all, the possibility of moving to the new property is looking better and better. Especially because Mike was working yesterday, so I had to do all the moving of stuff (and boats) from outside inside/into the shed/bracing all the spare wood and pcp piping so it wouldn't float away, transplanting the plants worth saving, etc. by myself.

 And then I kayaked most of a mile out to my car this morning, in my bathing suit, with my purse, lunch, and dance clothes in a drybag backpack, locked the kayak to the gate for Mike to use when he gets home, and then changed into my business casual outfit beside my car before heading in to work.

I'm tired. Also in awe. Also feeling lucky to be able to witness (and be forced to deal with) such a force of nature, but to not have my life threatened by it. Also tired.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Suwannee River Canoe Trip!

So last week Mike and I canoed 70 miles of the Suwannee River, from just sound of the Georgia border to the state park near Live Oak. Here is the canoe launch and ramp map we used for our trip. We started at the Turner Bridge Ramp and ended at Suwannee River State Park. We left the car at the Park, and Hannah Brown was kind enough to meet us and shuttle us to our starting point! She camped with us that night at the boat launch, and we feasted on bacon, eggs and strawberries the next morning before she headed off to work and we started down the river.

We wished that we had had with us the Florida Trail data book, since we had hiked 50 miles of this same stretch the year before, and there were a few places we wanted to try to find again, but we were working from memory and from a different perspective, so we didn't find them all. But for anyone thinking about canoeing or hiking this stretch, it would definitely be useful. (I'm lookin at you, Annie!)

The reflections on the Suwannee are just stunning. The trees, the limestone cliffs, the sky. Beauty:

There were SO MANY of these trees on the banks, especially in the first half of the trip. They were huge, bulbous, gnarly, and often split strait through in their bases, and then they would spread and thin out about 6 feet up. I need to find out what they are...

Baby Alligators! We saw several 3-5 footers as well, but these guys were only about a foot and a half long.

The first night we camped on a tiny sandbar island in the middle of the river, a few miles upstream of Big Shoals. It was nice, but everything got lots of condensation on it, not to mention sand. Should have taken a photo... Alas...

The next day we reached Big Shoals early in the day, and as we stopped at the launch a mile before the rapids to refill our water, we met a couple who were just doing a day paddle, but we quickly found many connections between us. They were in Florida because they hiked the entire Florida Trail this winter, and before they left the state on the way back home (Portland, Oregon), on the tail end of a year long travel, a friend suggested they do a day paddle around Big Shoals. They were dropping in as we stopped at the launch. They had met Rachel Renne on the Trail, who if you do not know her is a New College alum, and a truly wonderful human being. We talked a bit about Florida, the trail, and then about the Pacific Crest Trail, which these two (Goodness and Zim, together they are Team Color) had through hiked last summer, and Mike through-hiked the summer before. It was nice to meet and talk with them, and to obviously have a lot in common. Maybe we'll see you again someday....

Big Shoals is the only class 3 rapids in Florida. We, however, did not go over them. We had lots of gear and  instead we portaged around them. The guys in the picture below were camped right on  the banks of the shoals, and were raising their arms in triumph after passing over the last big bump, and then promptly overturned their canoe. Mike and I had a good time laughing and heckling from the shore with their friends, who were more experienced than they were, and watched as it took them about 8 minutes to get back into their canoe, and then finally paddle back to the near shore through the current.

The foam from the shoals lasted for a LONG time afterwards. This was at its thickest, just after launching after the shoals:

Cypress knees are crazy and wonderful: 

Which of these two is right side up?

Passing through White Springs around sunset:
 The namesake of White Springs was a mineral spring with a bathing house built around it. Now, the river just flows into the hole, and the flow is reversed, but the bath house structure is still there:

Look at the photo on the top right of this informational sign, with the line of people - Mike was amazed that 'the pimp pose' is older than hip hop :-P

The second night we camped a few miles past White Springs and Stephen Foster Folk Center. This time we set up camp on a high, shaded cliff above the north side of the river, just off the Florida Trail, in a dried up depression/water drainage bed. I wouldn't call it a creek, but if it were raining, it sure would be where all the water went before going into the river.

A little ways down the next day, where Swift Creek joins the river, we found this crazy scaly lizard that we have yet to identify:

So many tree swings everywhere! Also, beautiful green foliage.

This line of oaks looked to stately and regal to me:

We tried fishing repeatedly, but we only had one type of lure and didn't have much luck finding fresh bait, so we didn't catch anything. But just before sunset on that third day, we met a man who calls himself Teddy Bear and is a local celebrity chef in White Springs (here's an article in the local paper about him). He was standing on a steep bank 20 feet above the water, with his young granddaughter, fishing for cat fish. He hadn't had any luck that day, but had stories to tell of catfish so heavy that he couldn't haul them up the cliff. (It was obviously his favorite fishing hole.) We talked with him for a few minutes, and Mike and I were both struck at his kind, youthful nature, that smile shining constantly. He gave us some chicken livers to try our hand at catfishing, but we didn't end up having the opportunity. After we left and said goodbye, Mike almost instantly regretted not having stayed and talked with him longer. He was quite a character, and it would have been good to hear more of his stories. We have hopes of meeting him again.... and hey, it's possible, now that we know where his fishing spot is :)

This was a really cool place. We got there right around sunset, so this photo is dark, but it gives you the gist of the place. It's Suwannee Springs, another old natural spring turned natural bathhouse touted for its mineral waters' healing qualities. This photo was taken from the top of a tall, rough stone wall overlooking the sight. On the right, you can see a middle-height tier covered with grasses, and then the beach in the middle, complete with a small tree just by the far wall. There was something I found so alluring and magical about this place. Maybe it had to do with the twilight, or the man-made structure cradling this natural place, and being slowly reclaimed by the water and the plants. But this is somewhere I will come back to:

We ended up paddling into the dark that night, and camping on the beach of Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. We could hear Del McCoury playing for miles before we got there, and Mike was somewhere between delighted and heartbroken that we heard Vincent 1952 Black Lightning, one of his favorite songs. We had played with the idea of paying for a day ticket to Springfest, either for Friday night or for Saturday, but in the end, we weren't quite ready to leave the relative calm and solitude of the river for the crowds, lights, and deafening sound of a music festival, even though there were lots of bands we would have loved to see. That night we overheard many inebriated conversations, and sometime in the wee hours, we heard a huge splash, and people asking "Do you need help over there?" from a kayak on the water. Mike got up to investigate and talked to the folks in the kayak. Apparently two guys had (presumably accidentally) driven their car over the cliff and into the river, just downstream of the beach and boatlaunch. The kayakers said they saw two guys get out of the car after it hit the water and scramble up the bank, but they didn't respond to their offers for help. Mike and I told the outfitters at the boatlaunch the next morning what we had heard, saying we weren't sure of the details, but if there was a CAR in the RIVER, that someone should know about it. The woman we told was just shocked, and almost immediately ran down to the water to see if she could see anything. When we left our camp shortly after, we thought we determined where the car had gone down, from some broken limbs, but the river was deep enough that we didn't see any sign of it. If anyone hears anything about this, let me know! I'd like to know if they find it, get it out, whose car it was, if they ever took responsibility, etc.

On the last day of our trip, we heard, saw and smelled the rain coming, and knew that shelter would be coming up soon, because of hiking here on the FT the year before, and remembered this spot for its nicely situated house and screen room, by a creek flowing into a crook of the river, with large sandbars on both banks. We were glad to know it was here and to know it would likely be empty, allowing us to shelter under the roof of the porch. The next few photos are overlooking the river from the high bank by the house:

After the initial downpour, we decided to keep going, but it rained on and off all day, and instead of taking it easy that day, doing the few remaining miles the next morning, and then heading home, we just pushed through and did 19 miles that day, through the rain, getting to our car at about 6, and driving home that night. Camping in the pouring rain would not have been that fun, and at least the river was GORGEOUS, made lush by the rain, the colors popping against the grey sky:

Mike was nice enough to let me use his rain jacket. I obviously need one of my own...


So we drove home that night, and this photo is of part of the front coming in. It looked like there was a distortion in the sky, on the bottom left of this picture, where everything swooped all together and blurred, coming back into focus on either side:

There are so many other things I could say about the trip, but I think this has been a long enough post. If anyone wants to hear more, let me know (: