Sunday, February 28, 2010

over at the rainbow

One last day to do right by winter. One final time. (Other March week-ends I am either away or working.)

But the day starts off poorly. I take an hour to fiddle with the new blog format and that hour turns into a two hour tagging project, which then, in turn, puts me in a sickeningly nostalgic mood (have you ever tried to run through your life backwards, day by day for five years? With photos that appear to demonstrate how much better, richer, fuller your time was then? Before work wiped out all free time?)

I say to my occasional traveling companion this – Ed, my days were better, richer, fuller back in 2006 (the year I happen to be tagging for the blog). I traveled extensively, we hiked every week-end, I poured my soul into food preparation...

In other words, you lived beyond your means –  Ed responds. The man does not mince words.

Still, after a tumultuous back and forth about the virtues of frugality and the folly of buying condos as opposed to staying put or scaling down, or living in a sheepshed, or whatever! – we agree to set out and explore.

Ed tells me there's a "Yarn on the Farm" wool spinning and knitting and so on open house at the Rainbow Fleece Farm. I don’t spin. I don’t knit. I don’t do anything with wool. Indeed wool makes me itch. But the ad in the weekly paper makes it seem so colorful! And I’m thinking we need to get ourselves out of the gray mood of the morning.


Rainbow Fleece Farm is in rural New Glarus (some 30 miles south of Madison). Patty Reedy and Andy Wersal are a husband and wife team and they have thrown themselves body and soul into wool making (carding, spinning, dyeing, knitting – you name it, they do it).

Is there a big market for this? – Ed's curious.
It’s a niche thing. We fulfill it.

I look at a printed flyer for one of their items:  Warm and Wooly Sheepskins: a natural product from laughing lambs raised in the limestone hills of Rainbow Fleece Farm.

Andy invites us to look in the barns. Sheep and the lambs – sweet, cuddly little things. As usual, banded and bonded and distrustful of strangers.


...and then there are the peacocks (they’re fun – Andy tells us)...


...and the geese (owning geese convinces you that the natural world was not programmed for peace). In the five minutes that we were there, the geese fight four major battles and in between, hiss and squawk and chase each other the length of the barn and back again.


But harmony reigns in the hen house. I think. Or, is it that she perched precariously on the sill to get away from the mother hen? Please, come down! You're making a fool of yourself up there!


Oh, what is she doing up there?


In one of the back buildings, Andy and Patty show us the carding shed, as well as their “studio.” Sheepskins and bales of wool that would make your eyes water with envy if you were the talented type that could put it all to good use.



And you don’t have to drive out all the way to New Glarus to get some. They sell at various places in town, and especially at two weekly farmers markets (Willie Street and Fitchburg). And they also have free range eggs and... well, other lamb products. Brats, leg of lamb, chops. Right there for your freezer, next to the roast chicken. What can I say, it's important to know your food (and wool) source. And these farmers raise their animals well. You can tell.


We tell them we'll see them at the markets (for the eggs!) and make our way down the muddy hill back to Ed's Geo. The cats watch us leave.


I’m thinking how splendid it is for us that Madison is surrounded by farms such as this. Places that may as well bind themselves into picture books for children -- about wool here, or yogurt, or goat cheese, or spinach, or apple cider. To market, to market... along with pots of blooming plants and jars of the jam your grandma never taught you to make way back when.

We have a few hours left before dusk. We drive toward the nearby New Glarus Woods – a state park with a half dozen miles of hiking trails. A last winter walk. Surely that. Because the snow already feels mushy and wet.


We are the only ones at the park (the lot is empty, as are the trails). At one end of the trail, we hear the occasional car on the nearby road, but mostly, we immerse ourselves in the profound quiet. A woodpecker is working away at a trunk, but he may be many, many feet away. The noise carries far in a still forest and across snow covered fields.



There are more deer tracks here than I have ever seen in any one place, but we see none of the deer now. It’s as if they all left for a big wedding or convention, leaving no one behind. Only the woodpecker.


Driving back to Madison, I try to catch up on the reading I should have been doing all day long, but I can’t. Maybe I’m still stuck in a snow drift in the forest, pulling my feet out along the path. Maybe I just miss too much days when I didn't worry excessively about work.


Soon. I work hard at times, so that at other times I don’t have to work hard at all. A pattern that is the exact opposite of a farmer’s life. Or Ed’s life. Or perhaps the life of most anyone I know.