Sustainability Talk

“Welcome to your classroom at Neadatagi House,” said Charley, favorite red teacup in hand as the newly arrived Portland State University Locus students settled on comfy frayed couches and floor cushions. “I’m Director of Cedar ReSources, the local sustainability organizing hub. Just so you know, ‘Neadatagi’ means ‘cedar,’ a tree that was a mainstay of the native peoples of the area. Caliente here is a living, breathing sustainability and permaculture pro…. And my daughter.” Cali took a bow. She sported her usual beret, a red one today that clashed delightfully with her reddish hair. She had left the baby with Carlos.

“What you’re looking at here in our two villages and outlying areas is a broad picture of how a community can learn to take care of itself, no matter what the outside economy is doing. Some of us actually settled here with this vision in mind. My wife and I, for instance, were inspired in part by Portland’s Rain Magazine and the posters they did in the ‘70’s of integrated neighborhoods and communities, both urban and rural.”

“Like the one we have on our wall,” pointed out Michael, his portly form contrasting with Charley’s lithe skinny one. He was practically jumping up and down with his enjoyment of this next stage of his own dream coming alive.

“Yes, that’s one of them,” Charlie grinned. “I love the feeling of slowly but surely making those pictures come true. The dream took a leap when the Logan family transformed their land into a sustainable forestry trust in the early 1980’s. Gordon and Owen and their father who has since died. Their children, Robin and her cousin Obie are now involved. I understand you are going to visit them soon so I won’t go into any detail.”

“So thirty-some years ago,” said Satish, a small, dark skinned young man from India.

“Then in the mid 90’s there were two serious floods – 100 year floods, so-called because they supposedly only happen every hundred years. We’ve had a third one since. At the time of the first our area was completely cut off for several days by landslides and flooded or caved in roads on each of the five ways out of here. Other times big windstorms knocked out power, phone and cell phones for almost a week.”

“I was a kid during those storms,” Michael remembered. “My family was glad we had a wood stove so we could still cook.”

“In many ways it wasn’t that dire that first flood. We all managed. Even the babies who were due waited another week.” Caliente and her dad exchanged glances recalling the family drama of her and her twin’s birth. “But it was a wake up call – and a big goose for putting more of our ideals into practice. What if it had been a major earthquake and its tsunami that affected the whole region? Not only would we be cut off, we would be a very low priority on anyone’s list for digging out if presumably the devastation included Portland and Seattle. What did we have in place if the situation lasted months? It’s one thing to think of the immediate emergency. It’s another to respond after the lives have been saved. And yet another to imagine being self-sufficient if lines of communication and supply (particularly of gas and food) are cut off indefinitely.”

“How did you proceed?” asked Michael.

“We did a number of things over the next few years. Molly Burns and my wife Ursula set up ReBound. We knew it was time to develop the deeper ethic of reuse. We only sort of got it at the time what a community-building mechanism ReBound would be and how it would create such an ethic of the exchange of material goods. I assume you’ll be visiting there soon.”

“Molly and Gabe are giving us an official tour tomorrow. Satish and Zydeco here start work there in the next few days.”

“We also began to get serious about growing our own food and herbal medicines. Community gardens. Farmers markets.” Charley took a sip from his tea. “After we started the Conservancy Trust on an old dairy farm, its barnyard and orchards became the Locavore Center to teach about gardening and research what can grow in the area and what we need to trade for and stock up on. Wheat, beans, coffee.”

“Corn.”

“Chocolate.”

“Almonds.”

“At Benden Farm we’re experimenting with various beans,” interjected Cali, “and olives because cooking and lamp oil is an issue. I wonder half seriously about setting up trade agreements with places in Eastern Oregon if things really broke down. Our crab for Mosier’s grain, for instance.”

“Could be an important link,” said her father. “We also began preserving agricultural lands. Some area growers, including Cali here, now lease land is owned by the Conservancy Trust.”

“The trust totally made it possible for Carlos and I to survive economically,” said Cali gratefully.

“New systems and institutions are important, but community relationships are even more so. It is the connections among us that will keep us safe and secure when things are tough. Thus some activist growers joined the local Grange to cross boundaries with the older farming generation. Plus their building is a good community resource to keep available.”

“We started a Grower’s Guild,” added Caliente as her dad took a sip from his teacup, “so those of us doing permaculture can network and learn from each other. We’re all feeling our way. How does one grow in ways that enhance the earth and its creatures? So much knowledge and skills were lost in just a few generations. We’re learning about seaweed and local plants both for food and other uses. Nettles, for instance, can be used for cordage – rope. So could hemp if we were allowed to grow it legally.”

Everyone laughed.

“We’re proud of our young people taking up this challenge of dancing with adaptability. You folks included,” said Charley. “Maybe this was covered in your class work, but besides sustaining ourselves in the pressure of emergencies, we must also consider the long-term health of the community so we can surf economic cycles. Believe it or not, a high is as hard on us as a low – land prices skyrocket to make housing an even bigger issue for the working people. Luxury stores start to dominate. With our reuse and simple living ethic, we knew we didn’t want to be dependent on chi-chi boutiques. We enjoy the restaurant options of a resort community, but we want those to support local growers.

“Food marketing must have paid off,” said Zydeco, his dark dreads bobbing in his enthusiasm. “I’ve noticed restaurants advertise local produce and meat.”

“We’re proud of that. Have you noticed what else we did?”

“A lot of spas and massage therapists here?” offered Mariposa.

“Right. We figured we’d be better off selling services than importing geegaws. To be known as a re-creation, re-generation, re-storative place. Enter the Healing Arts Guild.”

“Also a shitload of reuse stores and places highlighting recycle art. Did ReBound have an effect on that?” Zydeco was looking forward to his stint at the community’s reuse hub.

“You betcha and our craft stores tend to buy locally or are at least fair trade from elsewhere. The Green Fund helps start-ups and our Local Investment Guild matches up people taking savings out of the stock market to put into local ventures.”

“We’ve all learned how shaky the ‘normal’ financial world can be in the last couple of years,” interjected Michael.

“Absolutely,” responded Charlie. “Why invest your money in faraway corporations with questionable values or even in so-called progressive mutual funds, if you can help forward movement in your own community?”

“Talk about relationship building.”

“Can you give us examples?”

“Buying the River Valley Phone Company when owner Nathan Green died and his family wanted to cash out. We put together three partners, two local and one weekend resident.”

“Quite a coup!”

“Co-op, actually,” Charley grinned. “And its profits go into the Green Fund. Other investment ventures include small elder care houses and affordable rental housing. A retiring carpenter got a loan to go into lawnmower repair at ReBound. Another loan got the Nekelew Hostel going where I hear a few of you are living this fall. Even some of the Conservancy Trust lands have been purchased through investment loans. If you are interested, we could do a whole session on how that all works. The head of the Credit Union would come, I’m sure, and the attorneys and CPA’s who do major share of the Investment Guild’s transactions and paperwork. Michael’s former classmate, Molly’s son, Ethan Burns, is part of that crew even though he lives in Portland.”

“I was thinking to wait for the business students joining us after the winter holidays,” responded Michael. “And let’s take a break right now.

 

Cali sat on the toilet breathing deeply as she thought back on the early days of what her dad was describing. She remembered the visioning murals that her mom and Pia had organized. People at community events one summer had been invited to paint their ideas for the future on aerial views rendered on large plywood panels by some of her artist friends. Little Otter Logan had done a sweetly crude drawing of a fairy house she wanted to build in the forest. Arlo had painted a jitney on the road. Her own depiction of a dream farm had actually come true though not in the place she imagined. How much had they influenced the manifestation of all this? How much had magic been a part of it? Oops, she’d better not dally. Someone else probably needed to pee.

 

“You make it all sound easy, which I’m sure on a day to day basis it hasn’t been. What opposition has there been?” asked an earnest looking young woman when they were all settled again. “Surely not everyone has been okay with what you guys have been up to.”

“We have longstanding adversaries for sure,” said Charley. “They disagree fundamentally with our vision for this place. They think fancy housing helps the community more than conservancy land, not realizing how much the latter raises adjacent property values. But the depth and passion of their opposition goes deeper than that and can get ugly. We represent a threat to the status quo of money valued for itself as a measure of success. In its most crass form it’s about greed and competition. They can’t stand our values of cooperation and sharing. Is it guilt that makes them go after us so fiercely? In denial that anyone could be so foolish as to take seriously values like consensus building and lack of hierarchy. Or, worse, that it could work. That we’re happy.”

“Can you give us examples?”

“I try not to think about them too much cuz I don’t want to give them energy…. The developer who slips in and buys land we have our eye on. Our battle over the Elk Ridge neighborhood. Some city officials were hostile and, at times, downright adversarial. They had trouble groking the need for affordable housing, preferring this to be a place for the rich to vacation and retire in. They stirred up a lot of NIMBY reactions.”

“Nimby?”

“Not In My Back Yard. Visions of meth addicts danced in their heads. They forget that working folks who make the wheels go round can’t afford to be here when land values are high – police, teachers, nurses, carpenters, not to mention waiters and cleaning people. Sometimes out-of-town hirees turn down good jobs at the clinic, schools or the city because they can’t find housing they can afford anywhere up and down the coast.”

“Finding places for students to stay is a challenge,” said Michael.

“Not surprised,” said Charley.

“Some go after us almost on principle,” said Cali. “If we’re for it, they’d better be against it.”

“Of course, in a way they’re right,” said Michael. “You do things differently. Goats and chickens in the middle of town. I’ll bet you drum outside sometimes.” Everybody laughed ruefully.

“’Times are a changin.’ They better get used to it,” said a young man in blonde dreads and raggedy overalls.

“Easy to say but this is a small town and we’ve worked hard to stay connected with all our neighbors. Even the most skeptical and cantankerous are pleased to share a jam recipe or appreciate help with a tree down across the driveway,” said Charley.

“Have people run for public office? Seems like a way to assert power locally.”

“A few, though not enough yet to attain critical mass. Much can be accomplished that way. Personally, I’m better at working outside the system without official support or the constraints that go along with that. But I admire folks who can deal with the bureaucratic sides of things – planning commissions, city councils, county budget committees.”

“The Watershed Council is an awesome cross section,” offered Cali. “Funded by the state, they’re mandated to include the timber industry, local governments and environmentalists. Of course, they’re often hampered by disagreements so there are certain issues they just don’t touch. Still, over the long haul they’ve created useful partnerships that serve all sides. They’ve become real people to each other.”

“We’ve talked about the value of humanizing one’s demons,” said Michael.

“Good,” responded Charley. “You see, we have to work with local governments, et al. because we’re looking to be more than a wholesome tribe underneath the dominant culture. We could’ve gone up into the hills and established a commune. Instead, we’re working for structural change from within. We want to become the power structure from the bottom up. One committee, one group, one idea, one project and event at a time. We bring others of our ilk into the organizations and slowly they come under new values. In a small town there are always vacancies and a need for people to serve. I’m particularly trying to encourage more young people to get involved. It’s great when retirees from the city pitch in but they have a tendency move back when their health becomes compromised or they miss their grandkids or whatever. It’s especially heartening to us when people sign on who have a real stake in the long term here.”

“It’s time for lunch. Thanks, Charley and Cali. This has been inspirational.” Michael made the first move towards winding up the discussion.

“We are so glad you guys are here,” said Cali. “Many hands make light work, as my mom always says. Obviously we’re secretly hoping you fall in love with the place and stay!”

“Even if you move on,” said Charley, “we’re happy to have you spreading the word and starting things up elsewhere. You can reverse our adage and begin to ‘think locally and act globally.’ Ripples on a pond. Don’t forget to check out Lindsey’s and Crystal’s energy efficient buildings and their retrofit of the old school that is the community center in Nekelew. They’ve even hooked up the fitness machines to generators and help heat the pool that way.”

“Bravo!” Everyone clapped.

Harvest Fest 2

“Off she goes,” chuckled Cali, jiggling Menolly who had started to fuss a little.

“Ursula hasn’t changed a bit,” said Michael.

“Actually, she claims she’s slowed down some. At least she isn’t organizing as much as she used too. Playing more. Taking more time for herself in the woods. I don’t know what all woo woo she’s up to there. She says she is ballast on committees now. Like a bee, she flits about networking and fertilizing ideas. Plus she has her store where she does informal counseling through her tarot readings. ”

“I could use one of those,” said Uri. “Does she charge much?”

“She’s flexible and is open to trades.”

“So tell me more about the organic dairies.” Michael was more interested in sustainability details than he was in weird stuff like tarot, though given Uri’s penchant for such things he was more tolerant than he used to be. “Are they able to sell their milk now?”

“That’s an on-going battle. Legally, they can’t market in stores, so most dairies sell to a large regional producer.”

“Not very sustainable from a transportation point of view,” observed Michael.

“Tell me about it. Some sell shares of a cow – kind of like a CSA. But that’s pretty cumbersome. My husband Carlos is involved with Tilth, the regional organic growers network, which is lobbying to get laws changed. It affects egg selling too…. Sometimes I think we need to start a formal religion and declare organic locally grown as a basic tenet. Wouldn’t the government have to accept our right to get our food in accordance with our beliefs? There are special dispensations for kosher and Muslim religious restrictions, aren’t there?”

“I suppose so. T’would be an interesting bit of sustainability research. How’d you come by this marvelous piece of land I hear you’re on?”

“Benden Farm. It belonged to a friend of my parents. When she moved away she wanted it to go into an agricultural trust and was willing to sell it at a bargain rate so she didn’t have to pay capital gains taxes. Win. Win.” Michael stuck out his hand palm at a right angle for a congratulatory slap and Caliente matched it with a grin. “My parents contributed part of the down payment, having just inherited money from my granddad. Carlos’ parents in Bellingham helped too.”

“So this Trust owns the land?”

“They already owned the community garden and orchard here at the Locavore Center. So it made sense for them to have another sustainable farming piece. Though the Housing Trust was also willing to take it on.”

“Do you pay anything?”

“We make payments on the house which we actually own. The rent from Rhea and Gabe helps us keep up.”

“Do you make enough with the gardens and animal products to cover the rest?”

“Well…. my web work contributes and sometimes Carlos does odd jobs. Like almost everyone else here we have to piece it together. Oh listen, Carlos and Gabe are starting to drum. Let’s get some of Arlo and my brother Jay’s beer and go over there for a few minutes before I take you around.”

 

“Good. Uriel is finding his place,” observed Spider to the swallow perched in a nest in the barn’s overhang above the hubbub of the market. “Hopefully, he’ll like this music and will hook up with these young people. Then have a tarot session with Bear Woman that opens him so he uses his gifts to a new degree.”

“I’m having trouble remembering what gifts Uriel chose before incarnating,” said the bird who was also having trouble holding that shape. He kept morphing back and forth between moth and cocoon and bird nest.

“Think elves and fairies and the good works they do.”

“Oh,” said the moth, who actually still didn’t know what she was talking about but wasn’t about to admit it.

“Do you hear that, you cranky Old Ones?” Spider hollered across to the Native Spirits hovering in the trees beyond the barnyard. “I’m certain Uriel hears you and sees you. Things are going to start to change around here another degree. He’s bringing new lightness into play. You watch. You’ve been asking for relief and I think the time is actually coming if you can just be patient a little longer.”

“Hmmph,” muttered the collective cloud of beings she was addressing. “We’ve heard that before. Plenty of good intentions. We give them credit for that in recent years. But actually tuning in? Truly living sacred lives in ceremony? Every day? Not just on the special obvious days? That’s what we need to see before we can release stewardship of this Mountain and Valley, River and Shore. We are not holding our breaths.”

“I’m not either,” responded Spider. “But I am seeing encouraging signs and the Star Elders – planets and constellations – are aligning for big change. Hang in there. Keep nudging them.”

“Don’t worry. Coyote and Raven are on the loose,” said a wavery female voice, sounding positively cheerful. “It even sounds as if some of the REALLY OLD ONES are stirring. What would you say to Durga showing up? Or Wild Woman?”

“Oh Ho! You are pulling out all the stops, Great Grandmother. You know I’m all for that sort of help. Onward and upward, as they say. Just don’t get too crazy.”

 

Towards the end of the afternoon Owen wandered with a jar of cider into the greenhouse where he was accosted with that marvelous humidity that smelled of humus and rich growth. He closed his eyes and blissfully took a deep breath – you could almost call it a swig – of the plant chi that stirred his blood so. Who knows how long he stood there, practically growing roots to join the plants. It was a moment out of time, but when he opened his eyes his human heart warmed to see his daughter Robin in her usual red checked Pendleton shirt and her seven year old daughter Otter in a blue fairy outfit at the far end peering at baby cedar and Sitka spruce trees in pots on the long tables. He walked down that direction tuning into them as they explained to Mariposa, the newly arrived Locus intern for the Trust, about the tree seedlings growing there.

His granddaughter turned and ran towards him clambering up his leg for a hug.

“Hey Papa,” called Robin. “You were part of that first round weren’t you? I was still away at forestry school.”

“Yup. If I remember rightly, forty volunteers came out in the pouring rain and planted all long both sides of the creek. They’re tall and stable now but that summer was unusually dry and we had to haul water in buckets to tend them. Hard hot work. These new babies will go for infill and some other patches here and there.” He gestured out to the south.

“We’re just about to walk down along the trees,” Robin offered. “Wanna come?”

“Totally abandon my post at the cider press?” Owen mused guiltily. “Oh well. It would be good to check on the fences around the past year’s trees, though I’m sure the volunteer tree crew already have.”

They walked together out past the cars parked for this special occasion on the field on the south side of the barn. Otter danced around them, as playful as her namesake. “Will we see real otters today, Grandpa?”

“Probably not – way too much activity for those shy ones. Let’s come back later this week and maybe they’ll put on a show for you. I bet they know how special you are for them.”

“I sure wish the salmon would come back to the creek,” Robin said wistfully as they crossed the lovely old bridge erected that first year. It was showing its age and would need replacing soon, but Owen smiled to remember coming down early one morning to find the bridge mysteriously there.

“Like, what would that take?” asked Mariposa, bringing Owen back to the present.

“To bring back the salmon? We don’t really know. We planted the trees for shade to keep the temperatures of the water down. But we’re a little worried about the neighbor upstream who still uses chemical fertilizer.”

“Run off.” Mariposa nodded with a grimace.

“Will the fish like the woody debris some theories say to bring in?” Owen continued.

“There’s got to be some magical moment when circumstances are right and they feel safe to return,” said Robin. “I have to trust that the trees will call them back. Or the elk.”

“The otters will know when it’s safe for the fishies,” said the wise little one before dashing off ahead again.

“But what if there aren’t any left of the originals?” Mariposa worried. “The ones wanting to return to the creek where they were born?”

“Again we don’t really know. We’re doin’ what we can think of and leaving the rest to the land and water and creatures themselves.”

“Remember when we camped out here and heard the elk whistling?” Owen was still enjoying the visions of the early days and for once was not too worried about the future.

“It’s an eerie, unearthly sound,” Robin explained to the intern. “Almost like whales. They surrounded us.”

“No way. Scary?”

“A little. But mostly powerful.”

 

While her elders talked Otter was poking among the cedars from the first planting, looking for late blackberries. She stopped short to see a stooped elderly Indian dressed in soft skins with a roughly woven gathering basket on her back.

“Hullo,” said the child. “Are you picking too?”

The old woman smiled and gestured towards her basket. “Enough to dry for the winter. I have fish too. They are rich in the streams this time of year.”

“We don’t have them anymore – not right here at least.” Somehow Otter knew this woman was from another time.

“Yes, I am from long ago,” said the elder reading her thoughts, “but you are my granddaughter too. In this time. In both times.”

“How do you know?”

“Isn’t your name Otter?”

“Yessss.” The little girl jumped up and down, her blue wings and sequined tutu twinkling.

“Well then,” the old woman said as if that settled it. “You will remember how to call them back.”

“Who?” asked the little one.

“The Salmon.” The reply was almost fierce.

Otter’s mouth went round with shock. Then nodding solemnly she turned and ran back to the adults.

 

Uri was thoughtful after the Harvest Fest as he drove Michael back to the house they were renting in Mahonia until something permanent was found. Carlos and Gabe’s music had, indeed, been right up his alley and he was excited about the creative prospects for the future on that score. A few people had danced this afternoon but it wasn’t really the venue for that. It would be fun to see what developed when they were in private territory. Did they know about declaring sacred space? He had a feeling they might…. or would be open to it if he set it after a few sessions together.

But there was something more going on here that had him thinking and it wasn’t something he could discuss with Michael who was allergic to things woo woo. Uri had seen lavender light coming from Ursula’s hands when one of the little kids fell out of the apple tree. He had also taken note that she had given the kid homeopathic Arnica – had sent someone to fetch the familiar little blue plastic Boiron dispenser from her backpack. Uri knew it was the perfect remedy for the shock of the fall but also would help with any swelling from the injury. She obviously had some basic healing knowledge. He so hadn’t known what to expect coming to this community. The move was perfect for Michael and he’d had to trust that there was something for his own growth as well.

Actually, he’d seen healing evidence twice because light flared, blue the second time, when the tall henna-haired woman in gypsy garb had reached out to hold the elbow of an older gentleman who was recovering from a previous accident of some sort. Uri had watched the man’s energy ease, especially after adding a little of his own juice from afar.

He had also sensed presences lurking in the shadows and up in the trees, which made him suspect that the Old Ones of the place were still hanging out. A few of the spirits were disapproving and suspicious, but others were vibing a grudging acceptance of the good intentions of folks coming together in the community. A couple of the spirits even seemed to be enjoying themselves.

What’s more a silent conversation with baby Menolly had confirmed their common dragon heritage. This was way more than he usually picked up in a crowd. He must be feeling safer and more open. It was mostly good stuff – aside from the woman in one booth with a thunderous black cloud hovering over her head. He hoped he didn’t meet her again any time soon. Or the homophobic gent who’d glared at him. Had to be expected. Uri had learned not to let it bother him – most of the time. Too much bad energy to take on.

Did Michael’s friends realize what was going on in their midst? Probably they did, but he needed to ask a few questions. Connecting one-on-one with Ursula was a good place to start. She was definitely an elder to consult. He chuckled, wondering if she considered herself an Elder yet. If not, it was about time she did.

Harvest Fest 1

“Yay! It’s Harvest Fest Day,” crowed Cali as she greeted Owen with a big hug. “Down! Lummox. You can’t go with us today. No dogs at that Conservancy Trust farm.”

“I hate to exclude them,” said Owen, “But the elk need to have priority there.”

“Oh, we know,” said Rhea, coming up with the baby carrier. “Our dogs have plenty of space to roam here on our Trust farm where the elk are more problematic. Not that we don’t love them,” she hastened to add.

Owen had the RCar Suburu wagon that was stationed in their little valley at the bottom of the Mountain. He’d first driven it back by his house and picked up his potluck apple pie and the signs he’d made, as well as gallon jars for the cider they would be making today at the Fest. He’d already taken over most the apples from his own trees the day before along with some he’d picked from neighbors’ yards who were glad the fruit wasn’t going to waste.

Here at Benden Farm he was collecting Caliente and Carlos, plus Rhea. By the looks of it Carlos was bringing his guitar and djembe. Owen hoped that the costume trunks didn’t have to be squeezed in. People didn’t generally dress up for Harvest Fest but you never knew what these kids might have cooked up.

Cali did have a carton of the most recent issue of the sporadically published activist newspaper she helped produce on her laptop. Squawk! had proved a useful forum for change in the community and had sponsored some fiery debates. With her generous sprinkling of freckles and curly reddish hair – what women called “strawberry blonde” – peeking out from under her trademark beret (red today), he thought she lived up to her name. He chucked remembering that her parents had known she was a double fire sign when they named her.

“Who’s bringing the plates and cutlery?” he asked, wondering if he’d need to swing by ReBound and pick up the rental ones. No way they’d fit in with this load.

“Don’t worry, Owen, Janna’s already got them over there.”

Of course, they each had pies too in their baskets. Carlos had baked a savory one by the smell of it. “Is that your sausage I smell?”

“Yup and I hope there’s room for this cooler. I’ve got more sausage to sell today. It did well all summer at Friday Market and this is the last of it. Next week we start making it for Angel’s Restaurant. I’m pretty excited about that. She’s very committed to selling local food.”

“Good thing our neighborhood has the station wagon. It’s gonna get filled up pretty fast. Let’s not forget the baby!”

It took some careful packing, including filling the box on top, but eventually they were all shoehorned into the blue Subaru for the three mile drive to the Conservancy Trust’s Locavore Farm.

“I guess I needn’t have worried,” thought Owen, listening to the chatter around him. He was still learning to relax into faith that all the pieces would come together even if he didn’t oversee every detail. Years of Board service and occasional part-time employment for the Conservancy Trust had him accustomed to tracking and he did like to know that things were in hand. This was a large event with people from out of town and he wanted the Trust to show up well. These young people were enthusiastic help but he found them a little casual for his comfort level and it had taken longer than he wanted to gather things up. Had they gotten off soon enough to get his signs there in a timely manner? He should have come half an hour sooner. Hopefully, Alex remembered to pick up the tables and chairs from the Nekelew Community Center. This event used more than the Trust had in the barn. Had Molly arranged for the recycle bins to be delivered? Owen’s thoughts were spiraling again. Luckily it was a short ride and he didn’t have time to build up too much of a frenzy. “Breathe!” he told himself.

When they arrived, there was a familiar joyous bustle of making ready. Carlos headed to the performance area in the corner of the barn with the musical instruments. “I’ll come back in a minute to help with Menolly and the coolers,” he said over his shoulder to Cali.

The tables were indeed set up and Rhea hopped to spreading out the colorful cloths that had seen service at many an event. The extra recycle bins were lined up and Owen noted there was even a bin to collect for the Food Bank. “What a good idea. That’s new this year.”

Ursula was overseeing the placement of the pies. A colorful Nepalese hat was perched on her gray hair and her jacket and dress were blue today, matched by dangling lapis earrings. “Savory on this side and sweet over there,” she was telling people. “And if you could fill out a card with the ingredients.” The multicolored, mismatched plates were piled on one table along with lots of forks. At least now they had facilities to wash the plates unlike in the early years when they’d had to take them all home to be washed before going back to ReBound.

Owen handed her the small signs he’d made for vegan, veggie, and carnivore sections.

“Oh, Owen, they’re lovely! That was an unfortunate mix-up last year. People are pretty tolerant of everyone else’s philosophical preferences and dietary restrictions, but some don’t like surprises – like cheese, or worse, meat, when they thought it was tofu. And it’s nice when it’s clear a crust is gluten free for those with allergies.”

Owen was just starting to wonder whether his two would be the only sweet pies, when two more arrived, made from the farm’s own pumpkins.

“Now, Owen don’t worry about the pies,” Ursula told him firmly knowing his tendency to fret. “Go help with the apple cider press. Johan is busy with a project deadline at the metal foundry so another hand is needed.“

“I’ll help as soon as I unload the signs I made for the Trust booth. Have the parking volunteers gotten here yet?”

“No, Janna told them to come at 11 o’clock. I’m sure that’s plenty of time for them to get here. The jitney is coming then to bring people over from the church parking lot when the inner field gets full.”

“You don’t think that’s cutting it a little close? What if they’re late?”

“Relax! Breathe. It’s mostly the same folks who’ve done it for years. Go see about the apple press.”

Owen grinned at her sheepishly and after piling the signs near the non-profit booths (already set up, of course, by Janna), he moved the car to his special spot behind the caretakers’ house. That way he could get to his extra jacket if he needed it and could grab for emergency supplies if they ran out of anything. He knew he’d be here ‘til the very end for the cleanup but he still liked to have the car handy.

Maybe he needed to commune a little more with Cascara sagrada one of these days. There certainly was enough of it growing on the Mountain. Medicinally the deciduous tree’s bark helped loosen the bowels, so its essence was about moving gracefully with the current. “Go with the flow, right, August and Anise?” he said as he passed two little ones playing in a mud puddle. “Worry is praying for what you don’t want,” he reminded himself.

 

Ursula smiled as Owen walked away. He was such a trusty soul. She smiled again at the pun. A large, sweet teddy bear of a man, but really, he could afford to relax a little more these days. There were so many new people and returnees to help. Competent ones too. Always a plus. In fact, here came one from each category, one of whom was Owen’s daughter.

“Robin and Mariposa, could you take over here? Somebody will come relieve you in a little while.”

“I’m all over it, Ursula. I like doing this sort of job. I get to talk to everyone and it’ll be a good way to introduce Mariposa to people.”

“We can work for a whole hour if you want us to,“ chimed in Mariposa. “You’ve done all this set up work. Go enjoy the beginning of the Fest.”

“Great. I think somebody is scheduled for next full hour.”

Ursula smiled as Owen walked away. He was such a trusty soul. She smiled again at the pun. A large, sweet teddy bear of a man, but really, he could afford to relax a little more these days. There were so many new people and returnees to help. Competent ones too. Always a plus. In fact, here came one from each category, one of whom was Owen’s daughter.

“Robin and Mariposa, could you take over here? Somebody will come relieve you in a little while.”

“I’m all over it, Ursula. I like doing this sort of job. I get to talk to everyone and it’ll be a good way to introduce Mariposa to people.”

“We can work for a whole hour if you want us to,“ chimed in Mariposa. “You’ve done all this set up work. Go enjoy the beginning of the Fest.”

“Great. I think somebody is scheduled for next full hour.”

Ursula walked past the greenhouse and looked out over the meadow of the Preserve where the elk were grazing. She hoped they would stick around for the Fest, though it was likely that enthusiastic folks would get too close and the herd would take off into the spruce swamp at the southern border of the field. It was so important that they had this whole safe place that was within easy reach of their calving grounds out on the islands in the bay. She said a prayer for these “charismatic mega-fauna” (she loved that term) and also for all the little ground creatures that thrived in the protected meadows and piles of woody debris left for them.

The Trust had filled in ditches and smoothed out dikes to install the pond in the middle distance. It had taken money from the Feds – Fish and Wildlife, mostly – who’d agreed with the argument in the proposal that the migrating birds needed a safe place too. Hunters still had their way farther out in the estuary but today she could feel thankfulness coming from the Canadian Geese stopping by. They must be taking an R & R day. “We all need that from time to time,” she whispered to them thinking of her own such times.

She jumped a little as Charley came up behind her breaking into her reverie, then settled into the curve of his arm. “I still get pleasure shivers at the memory of helping to buy this place. Do you?”

She and Charley plus two other couples and Owen had pooled retirement savings and bought the former dairy farm at a reasonable price. Then they had worked to create the Conservancy Trust, raising the funds to buy it back from themselves. She still carried an aerial photo of the preserved green swath in her notebook to inspire her. Of course, it wasn’t all meadow any more. One of the tasks had been to replant trees along the creek to help the salmon come back. The trees were growing quickly though the salmon had yet to make their reappearance. She sighed and then thought of all there was to be grateful for in the moment. It was not a day to dwell on what hadn’t yet been accomplished.

She and Charley were no longer on the Board, though Owen and some of the other originals were still intimately involved. She liked to help out at the festival when she could. It was a joyous event and needed “all hands on deck.” She’d missed it the last couple of years since opening her store, but she had enough business now to hire help so today Cindy was holding down the fort at Bear Essentials.

“Michael Di’Angeli is over there by the cider press,” said Charley. “Come meet his sweetie.”

They turned back towards the barnyard where the vendors were putting finishing touches on their booths. Inside the barn the first of the day’s musicians were getting fiddles and guitars tuned up.

“Michael! How good to see you,” Ursula said, giving him a hug. He looked just like she remembered him as a high school classmate of her older kids – medium height, a little portly. Michael had always loved good food and his parents owned a pizza parlor in Nekelew. Wire frame glasses over rather serious eyes. She liked his new air of confidence. “I’m sooo glad you’ve ended up back in town. I was hoping for someone in the Locus job who knew the area and didn’t have to start from scratch. What a double bonus to hear that it was to be you. I’ll bet your parents are happy.”

She turned to the fey, elfin young man next to Michael. “And this must be Uriel. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Me you too,” said Uriel, his brown eyes twinkling.

“Ursa, can you take them around and introduce them? I know there are new connections for Michael to make today. I’ve got to check out the new ReSource Center brochures that Lindsey picked up at the printers,” said Charley heading off to his booth.

“You’re right about it being an advantage to have grown up here,” said Michael. “I’m overwhelmed just getting to know the new people. Do you realize it has been 15 years since I graduated and left home? Hey, is that Ivor over there? He was in my high school class,” Michael explained to Uri.

“He and his brother are making cheese with milk from one of the organic dairies. You might check with them to see if they need any of your interns. I’ve heard their operation is getting pretty fancy. Visiting it would make a good field trip if you plan on doing that sort of thing.”

“Mostly the interns are focused on their own on assignment but we have weekly meetings to network and troubleshoot. Doing some site visits is a great idea. We could even include students from the main campus program. I wonder if you might be willing to come to a conversation Charley is setting up about the history of what is going on here at one of those sessions soon.”

“I’d be happy to. I hope you’re also asking Pia and Raven to give a tour of Elk Ridge.”

“I will be but not at the same session. I want to get Molly too and some of my age group like Robin and Caliente who are active.”

They were silent for a moment watching the scene unfold around them as people arrived in earnest. The shuttle bus was obviously doing its duty.

“As you can see, there are more and more secondary products now,” observed Ursula. “Cindy Woodburn bottles herbal vinegars, among other things, and Esperanza Diez is canning salsa. Have you seen the new community commercial kitchen?”

“Yes, that should open things up. We’ll be placing an intern to help with marketing products further afield. Do you know people who might want that sort of assistance?”

“Let me introduce you to the Franklin family with their honey and beeswax candles. They want to expand and have just arranged to deal with several other families’ hives. Help me remember to buy some of their seconds for upcoming rituals. It looks like they also have some fresh goats milk cheese. Sometimes they have wild crafted sea salt and seaweeds.”

“I can’t believe how many organic meat producers there are now.”

“Isn’t it cool?” Ursula counted them off on her fingers. “Chicken, lamb, beef, rabbit, and turkey…. Oh and pork. There are plenty of vegetable growers as well.”

“And plant starts and seeds. Are the seeds locally gathered?”

“Most of them. We can talk to those folks over there who do that.”

“I remember when the Harvest Fest first started,” Michael explained to Uriel. “This was the only outlet all year for fifty miles up and down the coast. The only way to connect with growers was via the local grocery stores or a CSA.”

“What’s a CSA?” asked Uri.

“People pay up front in the spring and get a weekly box of produce through the growing season,” explained Ursula. “A potluck of whatever is ripe at the moment. It gives the growers spring seed capital up-front which is a great way to support local growers. Now there are farmers’ markets on different days all summer spread out among many communities. The one in Mahonia is Friday evenings to catch the visitors just getting into town. They have music and dinner food booths so it’s turned out to be a happenin’ place to hang out. Now, around this corner…TA DA! Here’s Cali and her little one.”

There were hugs all round, of course, and proper attention paid to the grinning baby in her front pack.

Flicker Franklin and Otter came bustling up. “Ursula, the guys at the cider press said we could pick apples. Can you come help us?”

“Sure, kids. The long armed picking basket is in the barn and so are the collecting tarps.” She turned to her daughter and Michael. “I’ll leave you guys to catch up. Cali, maybe you could introduce them to the various folks of the Grower’s Guild. Oh, and Michael, be sure to check in with Molly at ReBound sooner rather than later. I know she’s got some stuff up her sleeve to talk to you about. Food isn’t all there is to sustainability, you know. And don’t forget to check out our local architects’ beautiful ‘green’ buildings….”