Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dispatch From The (Next) Island (Letter 1)

Date: Fri, Jul 23, 2010 at 4:47 PM

Greetings Mainland Dwellers!

After a 9-day, 6,000-mile detour to the Big Island of Hawaii, I have made it back to the mainland, flown to Seattle with Ginger, ridden the length of Whidbey Island, only to cross yet another body of water, finally landing on the island of San Juan, which is where I write you from now. Whew! Despite the fact that my perfect Hawaii bikini tan is slowly fading, all is well here in Friday Harbor. I'm now working on my farmer's tan. And my cycling tan.

My first week here was mostly spent hanging out with Jean and her new baby, Wren. Wren is pretty much the cutest darn thing I've ever seen and as far as babies go, she hardly ever fusses. She doesn't, however, sleep through the night, so I've strategically pitched my tent out of earshot of the house. Jean and Eric are doing very well as young parents, although they both seem exhausted. Eric works in landscaping during the week and Jean is at home with the baby. It's pretty much just the two of them starting a little farm of their own, building a new house, raising a baby, and paying the bills. After a one-week glimpse of their life, it's no wonder they're pooped. But they are doing awesome. And the best part is they love what they are doing and they whole-heartedly believe in it.

Jean and Wren zipped off to the Midwest on Sunday to visit her family and Eric and I are here holding down the fort. He will be joining her this Friday and then I'll be on my own until they return the following Friday. They live on a small farm with a substantial garden and it's up to me to keep it all going while they're gone. Yikes! (While it's unfortunate that they're gone while I'm here, the only reason they can visit her family at all is because I'm here.) I'm a little rusty at all this but I'm sure it will all come back to me. I used to care for animals of all kinds as a child (cats, dogs, pigs, horses, cows, etc.) but somehow as an adult who has been living in the city for some time, I have a different sense of how these guys are actually depending on me to keep them alive. (And how Jean, Eric, and Wren are depending on these guys to keep them alive.) It feels like quite a responsibility! 'These guys' consist of 9 chickens, 3 pigs, 2 turkeys, 4 sheep, 1 lama, 2 dogs, and a whole lot of vegetables.

Although I'm a bit rusty I'm beginning to fall into the rhythm of farm life again. Opening the greenhouse in the morning, feeding, watering, letting the chickens and turkeys out in the morning, locking them in at night, etc. One thing that has been so impressive is the amount of bald eagles in the area. Most days I won't go more than about 1/2 hour before I hear their distinct call. Kit, Eric's dog usually goes nuts barking at them. As a person who doesn't normally see bald eagles in her everyday life, I am thrilled at the sight of each and every one, but as a farmer they are quite a nuisance. Just before I arrived a juvenile eagle came down and ate one of Jean and Eric's turkeys in its entirety. In a matter of minutes there was nothing left. The adult eagles aren't so much of a threat because they find all the fences, dwelling roofs, and dogs a bit of a hassle to negotiate. The juveniles, however, will go for anything, including small children and dogs. So I've learned to be on alert for the eagles...Luckily though, there is a beautiful family of ravens that also lives on the property and they tend to keep the eagles at bay.

A couple of nights ago, Eric went down the road to feed the sheep and lock them in for the night and returned with a buck on his open tailgate, limp and lifeless. "I've got to clean this thing and truss it up tonight," he said. Naturally, my question was, "Can I watch?" "You want to help?" he asked. "I don't know if I can," I said. "Grab that flashlight over there and come on out." And so began the several-hour long endeavor of cleaning and hanging a deer. I was nervous about the proposition, to say the least. "Is it going to stink?" I asked him. He said that it wouldn't and he was pretty much right. It does have a distinct smell, a freshly killed deer, but it doesn't smell bad, exactly. So flashlight in one hand, beer in the other, I watched him go to work, right there on the tailgate of his truck. He maneuvered unbelievably well as he first skinned, then gutted the deer. Not one mistake was made and not one bit of the yucky stuff spilled. "How many of these have you done?" I asked. "Maybe about 30." He was certainly at home cleaning the animal. I wasn't nearly as grossed out as I thought I might be. Mostly I was just curious. I had been saying that I wanted to slaughter a chicken, just to learn how it's done and to be present to experience the whole process. I am, after all, a dedicated meat eater. So while I didn't get to slaughter a chicken, and probably won't this summer, the deer experience was the next best thing. I was fascinated. And I learned a ton.

Before I knew it Eric handed me a knife and asked if I wanted to help. And I did. After about an hour and a half we had finished the skinning and cleaning and it was time to hang it. Jean had put Wren to sleep and came out to help us. As Eric climbed up the broken, questionable limbs of the Douglas fir to position the rope and pulley, Patsy Cline sang 'Walkin' After Midnight' from the tape player in his pickup truck. It was pitch black and dropping down into the 40s and we were all bundled up. Steam slowly rose from the carcass of the deer. It was no small feet hoisting a 200-pound deer 35 feet in the air but between the 3 of us, we were able to get it.

Sometime around 1am we finished and collapsed into our beds. I was awakened around 6am the next morning to Eric lowering the deer. It was time to start cutting it up. Groggy, I stumbled out of my tent with my camera, hoping to get a shot of it in the tree while it was still hanging but I was too late. Jean cooked up a turkey egg scramble for us all and after sufficient coffee and knife-sharpening, we went out to continue our work.

We were blessed with a cool foggy morning, ideal for such work. Mostly I just watched Eric. He was efficient and clean, rarely making mistakes. Jean went to town to get paper and tape for wrapping the meat. By the time she got back I had gathered the nerve to start cutting as well, though I was incredibly slow and sloppy compared to Eric. We worked like that for nearly 3 hours, Eric doing the main work, me some of the detail work, and Jean rinsing, wrapping and labeling. Just as the fog was beginning to burn off, there was nothing left of the deer but a rib cage and the leg bones. There was hardly a scrap of meat left.

Needless to say we ate venison kabobs that night and man were they delicious! Eric and I split the heart last night and had it with brown rice, beets, and beet greens from the garden. Wow. I can't remember a time when I have eaten better than I'm eating here on this tiny little farm on San Juan Island.

Which is to say that all is well. I've been finding time to bike too, every day, and I've already ridden nearly all the roads on the island. My next endeavor will be to ride the circumference of the island in one day, fully loaded. I think it's only about a half a day ride. It's a very small, but very beautiful island, made up mostly of small farms and rolling hills with tall grass. Sunset lingers on here until well after 9 and darkness doesn't truly set in until well after 10. The evenings and mornings have been cool, with warm sunny days in between. Life is good!

It looks like I'll be here until about August 1st or 2nd when I'll be driving out to Montana to start the big ride! I hope my legs and lungs are ready! .

I hope everyone is well!

love love love

Our friend Darcy. More to come.

Letter 2

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