ENERGY CRISIS by Lorraine
Last winter we found to be a welcome “slow time’ after the hurry of autumn preparation and the chaotic time of transition when we were trying to learn so many things at once. So many people had warned us that we would feel bored and isolated, but we found the time rich and satisfying in spite of the cold and dark of the barn. Looking forward to a similar time this winter, we were surprised by how early the winter settled in and how deep the snow and the cold became as it wore on. The world spun toward war and the folks who look to us for help found the winter cold and harsh as we did and we became discouraged and weary. Instead of settling into a slow time we found ourselves experiencing an energy shortage.
For us it wasn’t so much the spiking costs for fuel nor a lack of firewood. The woodshed was fuller this year when we started and there is enough there to last until the end of April where last year we ran out in early March. But our own energy often has seemed in short supply as day after day we faced the deepening cold, leaking roofs, frozen pipes, restless children too long cooped up inside because it was too cold to be out beyond necessity. I thought of it vaguely as I remembered our solar house back in Maine and longed for the snug warmth and light and manageable size of it. My thoughts took shape the day I read a book about the sun to the children at the after-school program. That night after supper and cleaning up we talked about energy—where ours came from and how we spend it and where it is wasted.
And of course we found that just as in the natural world energy comes from the sun and may be expressed as fossil fuel or firewood or wind or water power, so our energy comes from God. We may receive it directly as our passive solar house did back in Maine—and then it matters very much that we face the source and remove obstructions. Then for each of us energy also comes to us less directly, through the beauty of earth and sky, through the other members of this community and through many others to whom we are connected. So we found that each of us was both receiving energy and reflecting or conducting it to the others here and out into the network of folks we serve. And we found that some things required much energy but we saw it as well spent. Some of our work drew on our energy and then as we continued to do it, that same work replenished our energy. And we found drains where our energy leaked or seeped or poured out in ways that made no sense—fear and fretfulness and confusion.
Our “energy audit” didn’t suddenly cure our weariness but it helped us to see what needs attention. We already knew that morning and evening prayers were a foundation without which we couldn’t carry on the work of the farm. Joanna and Zach and I decided to make the effort to get to Quaker Meeting in Syracuse more often. We are more aware of each other—of how we drain energy from or give energy to each other. When the sun shines and the wind-chill isn’t too low, we all get outside to get some fresh air and exercise and to notice the winter’s beauty. On mornings when just getting up seems all that I can do, I read Isaiah 40 again. I long to rise up on wings like the eagles, but while I am waiting the grace is given to walk and not faint.
BOSTON COLLEGE STUDENTS’ ALMOST-SPRING BREAK Eleven Boston College students spent a rather wintry alternative spring break with us the first week of March. In spite of the weather and the various things that went wrong they helped with a variety of work and, according to their evaluations, enjoyed their week at the farm. Several students have expressed an interest in returning during the warmer months to help out for a day or a week or longer, and we look forward to seeing them again and to the energy and new perspectives they bring.
The group went by bus to Scranton along with fellow students in the Appalachia program bound for other sites. From there they headed north in two vans. They were following directions they had gotten from the Internet to Wart Road in Lacona, NY. They ended up pushing their vans along unplowed roads, unable for a while to get their cell phones to work. They finally were able to call and tell us they were thoroughly lost. When we realized they were on back roads in Boylston, we told them to stay and wait and we’d come find them. Joanna and Zach went to the rescue and they pulled into the farm parking area a couple hours late. We abandoned the plans for the evening, passed around hot cider and cookies, learned names and unloaded the vans and left the rest for morning. Overnight the temperatures plummeted well below zero and the wind rose to a gale. By morning the hot water pipes had frozen in the barn—no hot water on any floor. The furnace had quit in the house and those of us who had moved over there to make room for the group fled back to the barn. But amid the cold and the difficulties, we laughed and began to work and to get to know each other.
Over the week the BC students painted two large rooms at the Sandy Creek food pantry, did cleaning and painting and repairs in two private homes, worked one-on-one with the children at the after-school program, helped deliver Meals-on -Wheels and pass out food at St. Patrick Mission in Williamstown, helped with computers and other jobs at Rural and Migrant Ministry, and started seeds and taped drywall at the farm. The after-school children were delighted with their college buddies, someone to read with them, someone to teach their favorite games and draw pictures or do origami with them. The elders who were helped spoke with gratitude not only of the work done but of the kindness of the students who worked in their homes. We who have spent the winter here enjoyed the energy and the insights of these guests.
In addition to the work, there was time for discussions, planned and spontaneous, time for prayer and reflection and opportunities to meet the other people with whom we work. Sr. Sharon and Sr. Louise and Deacon David Sweenie came for supper Thursday and talked with the students about their work at RMM and the Spanish Apostolate. On Ash Wednesday the students went to Unity Acres to eat supper with the men, play games and visit and then attend the evening service. Students spoke of these times and of the morning silent prayers and the mealtime conversations as high points of their week.
Saturday morning they needed to be on the road at eight so breakfast was earlier and the time in the chapel briefer than usual. Zachary had shoveled snow away from the front of the St. Francis Farm rock so they could take pictures of their group there. By then we were all very tired but grateful for the work done and questions raised and stories shared and blessings given.
CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS
Our work here would be impossible without the help of friends and neighbors who give us their time, energy and expertise when we are flagging or confused. People have come to help us get firewood in, build a handicapped ramp, tend the gardens and figure out how to take care of aging or oddly constructed buildings. Sometimes people have offered to help when we were going too fast to figure out how and where they would be most helpful.
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There is always room for helpers in the garden. As soon as the ground thaws there will be beds to turn and compost to spread. At the end of May and the beginning of June there is a rush to get frost-sensitive plants out into the garden, and extra hands would be especially welcomed. That’s also a beautiful time just for walking and exploring outside at the farm. Then it’s mostly weeding, watering, weeding, mulching, weeding and tending the compost piles until the next rush in July and August, when harvesting and canning are at their peak and fall planting is going on. It’s a good time for picnics and we’ll have plenty of vegetables to share. We would also welcome individuals or families adopting a bed in the vegetable or flower gardens or taking responsibility for a particular task such as turning the compost piles. We’d be grateful to anyone with experience in seed-saving or solar greenhouse design who could take time to share that with us. We’re new to haying, and would greatly appreciate advice and assistance. This year we’re going to experiment with cutting some of the hay for our goats by hand. We have a couple of scythes in decent condition, but more scythes would be helpful, as would a demonstration of how to use them effectively and advice about the storage of loose hay. The rest of the fields will be hayed by machine, partly for our goats and partly for the beef cattle at Unity Acres. The haying equipment is old and somewhat prone to breaking down. We could use a more reliable mower, and help repairing our current equipment. We also need to start fertilizing the fields (with manure, not petrochemicals); equipment or advice would be more than welcome.
Maintenance and construction projects are somewhat harder to predict, as we respond to the needs that are brought to our attention as promptly as we can; we’d be grateful to anyone who would be willing to be ‘on call’ to give advice or help with roofing, wiring, plumbing &c. And there are almost always broken machines and appliances that we aren’t sure what to do with on the farm, in the trailers on our property or in the homes of our neighbors. Anyone who’d like to help tape and paint the chapel and dorms in the barn here would be welcome. See Zach’s article on Maintenance.
ILLNESS AND HEALING by Dan Wilckens
As I’ve said before, I wasn’t sure when I came to stay at the farm in September of 2001 why I was coming.
I came broken. I knew that where I was, where I had been going, was a dead end. I had finished college, and proven to my satisfaction that I was “number one” at math in my class. I had achieved what I had sought to do; but I wasn’t satisfied. The last two years had been ones of increasing isolation and confusion. I had trouble obsessing over troubles I didn’t need to worry about. I was in great distress; but I came to the farm, in the hope that I might find what peace could be found. I needed something where I would be interacting with people in a meaningful way. Saint Francis Farm seemed the only place I could go where I would feel safe enough to work on that.
A measure of peace I did find; the farm brought the safety of caring co-workers and plenty of work to keep me busy. I opened up to others as I hadn’t ever before. The Hoyts were patient with my limitations and distress. Things brightened; gradually, light filled the darkness. But the difficulties that I faced and which I presented to the rest of the community seemed to grow. The thoughts racing through my mind made my focusing on tasks difficult, and I found myself depressed with low energy for working. But I received help from not only the Hoyts, but also Sister Louise Macchia and other guides, and I was inspired by the groups that came.
It was a long haul and a trial of patience for the other community members. But over the time I have learned much—about caring, openness, giving of oneself, and God. Although the others came because they were seeking to serve, it is only after realizing that I can only be fully human by serving that I have sought to serve. I have grown stronger during this time, and my illness is much more manageable, and there is a new sense of purpose to life growing within me. The love—manifested, among other ways, in patience—of the Hoyts has taught me that there is indeed hope for healing, and that I can be loved even if I’m not number one.
CHILDREN, FEAR AND LOVE by Joanna
As we approach war there seems to be a widespread attitude of fear and discouragement . I feel frightened, discouraged and helpless when I consider the impending war and the systems of money,
power, greed and fear that drive it. But again and again I am called out of my fears and speculations to the particular, small-scale work at hand. I am especially aware of the need to put other concerns aside and be fully present when I am working with children. In that work also there is cause for grief and concern, but there is also joy and hope.
The children are also fearful. Amy flinches when airplanes fly overhead and says she worries about terrorist snipers coming to Pulaski. Michelle asks me what would happen if someone knocked down the water tower, which is the tallest thing she can see. Would it make a flood, and how far away would she have to be to be safe? Liza remembers being locked in her room without food for long periods of time for being a ‘bad girl’. She is in a safe place now, with people who love and care for her, but she still hides food in her room, weeps and seems to collapse at small reprimands and acts desperate whenever she isn’t given what she wants. Kiera hides and whimpers when strangers come near her, especially men.
I want to be able to make things all right for them. I want to take them away from the television with its constant stimulation and its promotion of fear. I want to say or do something to take away the awful memories and assure them that they are and always will be safe. I want to know that they are and always will be safe. I am left with my own fear and the knowledge of my limitations. And all I can do is be with them. I listen to their fears and memories and acknowledge my own. Sometimes we are quiet together for a while, thinking of these things. I try to remember the light that shines in the darkness, and to hold us in that light.
And then we come back to the things we love. Amy and Michelle and I go exploring in the winter woods, climbing trees and sliding down hills and looking at the patterns of bare branches on the sky, or watch the bright close winter stars. Amy never knew what constellations were before, and she is delighted. Liza lets go of her knees, lifts her head and starts to draw or work with pattern blocks, pleased with the beauty that she can make. Kiera crawls out from under the bookshelf and starts to dance again. Now when I think of hope and fear, I picture Kiera last week, sitting on the kitchen floor with a tall young man from Boston College, building with her blocks,laughing and beaming up at him.
Perfect love drives out all fear. I do not have such love, nor do the children I work with; but if we keep looking clearly at the world and loving as we can, I believe that we shall learn a way of living that is not based on and hemmed in by fear; a way more open to the Spirit; a way that does not lead to war.
MAINTENANCE by Zachary
This winter has been a fairly slow time for projects. The workshop is now completely moved into its new room, and we are adding a sink to the former shop room so that it can be used for seed starting and gardening applications. The students from Boston College also spent some time in that room taping the drywall in preparation for painting. Also while they were here we found a spot where a large amount of air was leaking through the roof and into the downstairs of the barn. We were able to make a temporary repair, but in the spring we will need to do some work all around the barn, sealing it up. Also in the spring we will be building a new greenhouse using six large patio windows which we received in a donation.
There has been a fairly large amount of work going on in the trailers this winter. One of them has had to have the electric motor of its furnace gun repaired, and also has needed a new water heater. Another one has had chronic recurring roof leaking problems. A third one’s underground water supply line has frozen, and we have had to run a line for it across the snow from the next trailer. We are going to have to have part of that water line dug up and replaced when the ground thaws. We also have had to replace the pump in the well that supplies water to the farm buildings and four of the trailers. In the spring the pump house that supplies water to the farm buildings and four of the trailers will need some attention and rebuilding, because a lot of it is rotting.
While the Boston College students were here, another project that they worked on was clearing a one-room addition and hanging drywall at the house of an elderly neighbor of the farm. This project is not quite completed, but it has gotten off to a much better start than would otherwise have been possible.
I have been learning over the winter about how to repair farm machinery. At this point one of the tractors is in working order for the upcoming season, and the other one is almost there. We have a fairly large amount of work to do on our haying equipment before it can be used this summer, and we would appreciate the help of anyone who knows about that sort of thing. There are 2 balers parked out by the edge of the woods, which have not been used in a while. We are planning to get the newer and bigger one of them and bring it in and try to make it functional. Also we will need to replace some boards in the deck of our hay wagon and repair the sicklebar mowers. We are, in conjunction with Unity Acres, going to be doing some fencing repair and construction in the pasture, and clearing away some rocks, which we would appreciate help with. We are planning to move at least part of the old chicken coop over to the garden to act as a toolshed, as soon as the ground is dry enough.
AGRICULTURE by Joanna
In these dark cold months when I can’t go out and work in the garden to relax or center myself I have found time to do some of the thinking and planning for it that I put off during the busy season. I’ve learned about some of the mistakes I made last summer; for example, when my book said not to cover the leaves of potato plants when hilling them I thought it meant not to cover any leaves, but apparently it meant to leave a few sticking out at the top of the mound of soil. No wonder the potatoes we dug were small!
This year we’re trying to extend the time in which we can eat from our garden. We’re planting more early-spring and late-fall crops and concentrating on varieties that store well. We received a donation of large patio windows, and we’re planning to use them in a solar greenhouse in which we hope to grow brassicas and salad greens through the winter. This has been done successfully in Maine, so we think it should work here if we keep the snow shoveled off the windows. Advice and ideas are welcome. We’re also going to try saving seed from our tomatoes, beans, squash and cukes.
As soon as the snow goes down and the temperatures rise just a little bit it will be time to prune the orchard again. We’ve been enjoying the apples that we froze with Diego last fall.
Our chickens are not working out so well; they’re fairly old and have nearly stopped laying over the winter. We are investigating sources of ready-to-lay pullets, preferably of older breeds that can forage well and may brood their eggs and hatch out our next generation of layers. (Our current hens are more apt to eat their eggs if we don’t get to them quickly.) If you have pullets, contacts or suggestions please let us know.
In the spring we’ll bring a couple of piglets to the farm and raise them until fall. They’ll enjoy our excess goat milk in the spring, the tomatoes that get past us in the summer and the apples we don’t have time to put up in the fall, and supply us with quick and rich fertilizer as well as our own meat. We’d much prefer to eat animals that we know, and that have been well-treated.
The goats have dealt very well with the cold, and seem to be enjoying the longer days. We’ve stopped milking Norma, whose kid is due in mid-April. Nancy will give birth in late May, so the BC students were still able to milk her. The children who spend time here are looking forward to meeting the goat kids. We’re still figuring out how to handle pasture and fencing; last year it seemed workable to lead the goats out to eat for an hour or so morning and evening, but sometimes the time was hard to spare, and we bought our goats late enough so that we didn’t have to deal with kids. We’ve been told that large dog-kennels make excellent moveable goat-grazing units—does anyone have kennels or chain-link panels to donate? We’re going to experiment with cutting hay for the goats by hand. Scythes and people experienced in their use would be more than welcome—see the Volunteers article. We also need to start fertilizing the fields—does anyone have a spare manure spreader?
Mower (hay or lawn) Manure spreader Large dog kennel or chain-link fence segments (for grazing goats)
Washing machine Single mattresses
Stepladder electric drill Tools for workshop Building materials—lumber, drywall, hinges, etc.
Binoculars, telescope Cross country skis, boots Drawing paper
Wooden blocks, simple puzzles, other basic toys for younger children
Your gifts of money or time, your stories and your prayers are always welcome as they are what allow us to maintain our presence in this community.
Thanks to all the people who have sent excellent books and art materials for children. These donations have been used and appreciated on the farm and at the after-school program. Some donations have arrived mysteriously in our front room or come through the hands of several people from Syracuse and points south, and we haven’t been able to identify the givers and thank them as we usually would.
Maybe it is exactly the experience of loneliness that allows us to describe the first tentative lines of solitude. Maybe it is precisely the shocking confrontation with our hostile self that gives us words to speak about hospitality as a real option, and maybe we will never find the courage to speak about prayer as a human vocation without the disturbing discovery of our own illusions….The paradox is indeed that new life is born out of the pains of the old—Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
ST. FRANCIS FARM
136 Wart Road
Lacona, NY 13083