Oak Knoll Farm

Impromptu

They say a watched pot never boils, and I’m here to testify that neither does it simmer, at least not when it’s a giant stock pot nearly brimful of clothing and fabric yardage in a soda ash stew that I’m trying to scour for indigo dyeing. The Modern Natural Dyer says to slowly bring it up to 180 degrees over half an hour… I tried for 45 minutes to nudge it even up to 130 degrees before dinner. It wouldn’t be rushed, so I’m having another go now that the kids are abed. And to pass the time I’m flipping through the results of a little photoshoot with the kiddos from this afternoon. I’m holding back the real goods for a few more days, but after I’d clicked away for awhile, my girl requested to have a try on the other side of the camera.

“I want Mama in the middle of the bed, and Jolly jumping all around her,” she dictated. And this is what she got.

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We’ll work on focal length next time. But she did capture the flavor of our summer days, up to nothing and everything of consequence. Just a four-year-old and a six-year-old putting down roots in a new home, happy to spend all morning climbing trees in the orchard or prattling away over a herd of plastic horses in their shared bedroom or practicing for the Olympics (in gymnastics and three-day-eventing) on the living room rug. Not that they don’t have big plans; Jolly is earnestly hauling in plums and apples by the shirtload “to can for the wintah.” Today we got a kitchen scale and a lot of jars and a library card and checked out three books on preserving fruit. I’ve never done much canning and I’m feeling just a wee bit skittish about it, but if a girl can teach herself to knit she can probably teach herself to make jam, right?

Ada is keen to work on a gardener doll we started making out of a worn out sock stuffed with raw wool from the spring clip. It’s rather a fragrant doll and she still has no arms or face. I’m helping too much and should just let my six-year-old have at her with a needle and thread and see what happens.

Temperature check: nearly 170! Getting somewhere. If I don’t break an ankle clambering up the patio furniture to hang the scoured goods on the clothesline I haphazardly strung between the wisteria and the dogwood back when it was light out, it will be a miracle. But the days are warm and sunny and with any luck I’ll be firing up an indigo vat on Friday. Plum jam and blue smocks for all! Don’t ever end, summer.

A place just right

The first day of the year dawned clear and sparking and brim full of possibility, and that’s the day we decided to buy a farm. A farm on the island where I grew up. We have been thinking all along that someday we’d build a little island cabin, perhaps on the lower half of my parents’ land, to have for summers. When we were up for Thanksgiving, my father pointed out that I talk about dreams like having horses again, and maybe even sheep, and a cabin in the woods wouldn’t really be a step in that direction. He mentioned, ever so casually—and with my deep file of a dad we may never know how artfully premeditated this off-hand remark was—that a particularly beautiful little farm had come on the market. It’s been in the same family since the 1960s and is a generally beloved spot. People from away wonder why you’d want island property that isn’t on the waterfront; real islanders hold this place up among the island’s finest. It has a quaint name and a carved gate post and a perfectly magical oak grove. It has barns and sheep and horses. It’s much, much more than a snug cabin under the firs. I dismissed the notion as totally impractical, but my husband called the realtor and arranged to go have a look.

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It has a weaving studio.The front entry is a Dutch door painted peacock blue. The upstairs bedrooms have barn-style panels that slide back to open onto the high-ceilinged living room and let in the light. The bathroom has a window cut through so you can lob your laundry right down to the washing machine. There are children’s lofts up under the roof, accessible only by ladder. There are window seats along two sides of the sunny living room. Generations of dog toenails have scarred the wood floors. I was arse-over-teakettle in love from the moment we turned up the winding drive.

Inside the tack room in the barn, on a high shelf festooned with cobwebs, was a surprise that could only be A Sign.

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That dilapidated brush box? I made it…more than twenty years ago. It was a birthday present for a little friend—I think she was turning six, and just starting to follow in her older sisters’ barnward footsteps. With my father’s tools I cut and measured and nailed the wood; with my mother’s acrylic paints I carefully added the girl’s name.

All through December I lay awake and dreamed of this farm. I argued all the reasons not to disturb our full and busy lives in Portland. I gazed out the windows dreamed some more. We weighed up what it would mean for our family to tend this place and let it nurture us in return. We made an offer. Today the deal is done and Oak Knoll Farm is ours.

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The next chapter begins today. We can’t wait to find out what happens. Come visit.