"If You Don't Have Time To Pick Nettles…"

"…what exactly is the point of this life?" Said a friend the other day. She's a busy farmer lady at that. By "this life",  I believe she meant the privilege if living close to the land, the opportunity to grow food and keep animals, and perhaps, generally, living in the country.

Back in January, I wrote about all the misconceptions people sometimes have about country life, and how dreamy, or magical the day-to-day of farming, or homesteading might be. Well, today I guess, I'm going to write a little about how dreamy and magical it actually can be.  

Maybe some of this wistfulness comes from the fact that March is my favorite month here on the Island. It's the month I first came here, fifteen years ago, the month when the woods smell sweet, the days grow longer and longer, and everything green starts trying to reach the sun all at once.

It's mating season, the season of new grass and new lambs. And of course, it's nettle season, spruce tip season, pitch season...

It's the season to plant potatoes, to draw garden plans and select seeds. To marvel at the long light evenings, and the bright spring moons. The nights are alive with choirs of horny frogs.

Deer and turkeys wander trough the yard, newts peek out from the undergrowth. The eagles are mating, doing the complicated dances of big, heavy birds pursuing each other. There's muddy raccoon prints on the windshield of our car. The chickens lay eggs with bright orange yolks.

If you stay very still, it's almost warm enough on the warmest days to lay in the sun on a quilt. I've taken to sitting on the back porch with my uke. 

This is also the time of year when most people with any kind of garden, field, or pasture pursuits become increasingly busy. In general, it is easy to be busy here. There is an almost endless number of groups, boards, art shows, concerts, presentations, birthdays, parties, and other events in Finnish referred collectively to as, "cat christenings", that one could and does attend.

As we gear up towards the growing season, the busy season, it's easy to be swayed by the idea of doing more and more. There's not end to the chores, no end to the ideas, no end to the dinners...

The busyness I've found for myself, is a kind of a trap. Saying yes to everything that sounds good, I end up not being present, or having energy for the things that I really care about, the ones I would like to do every day, if only I wasn't working on a million projects, and endless social engagements. 

Not feeling well a lot of the time, has been a kind of blessing in disguise in that way. Having only the energy for a certain number of activities a day, I tend to pick them carefully, ask myself each day, what I would like to do the most. Suddenly, feeling like I have the energy for a bird walk, or planting peas, or fixing things in my mend pile, feels like a gift, not a given. 

Trying to remember back to this time last year, I can barely recall anything beyond one day when the trees were full of blooms (much later than this year!) and a little goat was born. Aside from a trip to Portland, I spent most of that spring rushing around, trying to figure out how to do all the things we were trying to do. I don't remember picking nettles, though I know I did, I don't remember any mushroom jaunts, walks, or picnics.

This early spring though, I've done all the things that mean this season to me: I've collected pound after pound of nettles, basketfuls and basketful. I've cooked elaborate meals from local ingredients, from garden-kale and last year's garlic and potatoes, from early rhubarb, and late beets. Together, we've taken walks and sat in the yard, laughing at animal shenanigans. We've worked in the garden slowly and steadily. Each monday, I've walked over to the neighbor's to milk the goat. And if I couldn't quite hold my head up, no big deal, I'd just rest it against her. At my most tired, I've still sat on the porch with a book, or a ukulele, listening to the birds and smelled the spring air. 

Though this whole blog is often an ode, or at least a post-it-note, to what I think about the country life, it bears repeating: the point of this life, to me, to be here, to try to know this place, to have enough time and freedom to do so. Otherwise, what's the point? 

There is so much to know, a whole lifetime's worth, on a single speck of earth, nine miles wide and less-than-twenty long.

From winter wrens, to vultures, wild turkeys, new moons in Aries, to early springs, to collecting warm eggs, and dirty eggs, from the coop, to trying to identify small native bees, to silently laying on the wet moss in the woods, looking at the sky, not really talking.

Often, it's not the humans things. I should remember that. It's not the cat christenings, as fun as they may be, not the important meetings, not the intricate social affairs. It's the land, being part of the land, is always, always a greater happiness to me than even being part of a community. 

First come the wild foods, the birds, the subtle changes, the seals bobbing out of the water. In order to see things, to really notice them, we have to go a little slower, talk a little less. 

The best nettle spots I've found, I've found on my bike. The biggest feathers, the weirdest bones, the newts that need help crossing the roads, the most helpful plants, I've always found walking, or running. Driving, you lose a lot of the actual landscape, the endless feathered, mossy, grassy details that make it. The weather is not the same from inside a building as it is in the woods. The night is not the same outside a window, as it is when you're standing in the yard with it wrapped all around you. These truths are so self-evident when you write them down, but we forget about them all the time. 

I hope you are finding your own freedom this spring, and some nettles too. If so, here's a recipe for nettle pancakes/ crepes from Finland. You can also always substitute spinach for the nettles.

Ingredients:

Makes about 10-15 pancakes. Finnish "letut" are traditionally thicker than crepes and can be made in a medium size frying pan.

1 cup of rye flour (you can use pretty much any flour actually: wheat, buckwheat, spelt…) / 1/2 cup of cornmeal, salt to taste/ 3 cups of milk/ two eggs/ 1-3 cups of nettles chopped fine/ lots of coconut oil, or butter.

Mix the dry ingredients, then add the eggs, last the milk and the nettles. Mix well. Get your frying pan really hot before you start making the pancakes. Spread a thin film of batter all over the pan. Add oil at least for every other pancake.

We had ours both sweet and savory, with potato-, kale-, and pepper-filling and a lime-parsley- and carrot-slaw, as well as fresh rhubarb compote. Speaking of which:

fresh rhubarb jam or whatever

chop rhubarb into cubes about the size of the tip of you thumb/ if it's fresh and small you don't have to peel it/ cook it down in a pan with a couple of table spoons of water/ if it starts sticking, add more water/ when the compote is a soft consistency, take it off the stove and add some maple syrup (if you want to use sugar or honey instead, add sugar early and add more liquid for honey)/ keeps a few days refrigerated/ ps. make sure you eat some dairy with rhubarb, it's hella bad for your teeth otherwise. 

Happy Spring, sweet dreams...