When summer staffer Charlotte Hastings left for Cape Town, South Africa to work for Grass Roots Soccer, we had no idea our Africa connection was only just beginning. But within days Sithemiso Muhlauri from Harare, Zimbabawe had joined us here at the farm.

Thembi’s husband Charles was the soccer coach for the Zimbabawe national team when he found himself on Mugabe’s list and in serious need of political asylum in the US. After Charles left, it took Thembi three years to get herself and their four young boys out of the country to join Charles. By then, Charles had found a home in our town where he runs the regional lightening soccer program and works at the same school where Ben Sheehan also works.

Thembi and Charles’ eldest son Charlton at 15 1/2 is now in school with William and lifting spirits with humor, charm and a beautiful singing voice. Kudakwashe at 13 is in Jim’s school and Jim tells me he has yet to see Kuda without a smile on his face. Thembi’s Tinashe is 6 and in kindergarten while the youngest Andile at 4 is in pre-school. I don’t know when I have met more adorable and well behaved kids. They arrived in America on the 4th of July. Each has been learning our country ways ever since, and for the youngest kids, learning English too.

And us? We are learning all about life in Harare. Thembi was born in Bheregwani hopsital in Johannesberg, South Africa. Her family’s tribe was the Ndebele tribe which is the zebra tribe. They moved to Harare because of her mom’s work and this is where Themib met Charles who is from a different tribe. Until her early death, Thembi’s mom ran a bus service from Harare to South Africa where her mom’s uncle ran the whole transport business. That this bus service came to be used by most people, Thembi included, to go get food in South Africa when there was little or no food to be found in Harare, makes the whole story a different one.

Thembi has an infectious sense of humor no matter the challenges she is describing. Her boys are settling in happily, and she entertains us each week with descriptions of her adventures as she gets used to living in the country. That seems to be the real culture shock- country life versus city life.

“What is with this need to scrape the icy windows of the car for fifteen minutes each morning?”

In late summer, Thembi would arrive for work dressed to the 9’s. The click of such high high heels had never been heard on our office floors. But soon, it was less than 70 degrees and Thembi started to arrive for work dressed as for arctic exploration. Perhaps the most often heard refrain in the office this fall has been, “Thembi, it’s NOT that cold yet. Save that gear for later .”

When we had snow flurries last week, we all thought of Thembi and her boys. None of them had seen snow before. She was with Andile picking up Tinashe from kindergarten when the first flakes fell, and apparently it was quite a moment for all of them. We can’t wait to see the boy’s delight and Thembi’s surprise when the snow gets serious. In the meantime, Thembi has taken over all restocking jobs from Sophie and is now in charge of keeping all the shipping stations ready to roll.

Right now there is a lot of teasing as Thembi often doesn’t remove her coat even inside because of “the cold.” But even in this, Thembi is teaching us country mice a bit about fashion. Well, at least on the days when it is not seriously cold. Here she is trying to restock with several dogs thinking it is actually their photo moment.

Thembi is wearing a drop dead gorgeous coat and her four foot long dreads are wrapped effortlessly in a stylish chignon. As she is chatting away with me while I try to get a photo, she is no doubt explaining to me the intricacies of iphones, text messages, instant messaging….something foreign to me but not to her.


The Fisterra Arrow


When I was posting the new Irish Flower Essence definitions, I mentioned that Ben had gone to Ireland this summer because of an arrow that appeared in the surf at the end of his pilgrimage across Spain.

Ben sent me his photo of the arrow and described the moment for us, “Here is the arrow in the surf at Fisterra…the surf held that vivid directional arrow for a full minute, enough time for me to take a picture and remark on it… since I knew the arrow had pointed due north, (back home) I used google earth to trace a line of longitude. What was due north of Fisterra within longitudinal seconds? You can assume that what you are guessing is correct.”

Mustard Flowers

A random errand takes me
past a
alight in Mustard Flowers.

This boon of Flowers
is rare October fuel,
a wonderland of pollen.
I hope
the bees have found this flood of yellow

Into the blossoms I go
listening across the wind
for the telltale hum.
I hear them.
My tribe.

A less certain beeline,
has brought me this gift;
to find
my sisters in the bliss of an equal joy.

Returning home,
I sit by the hives,
observe the traffic,
and watch each bee depart,
setting a course
through notched hills.
Their trajectories tells me they head for the Mustard.
My heart sings as each bee lifts off
in confident departure.

My teachers.

They live
not for self or even queen but for
this sure flight,
this buzzing oneness.


The Brown Stuff

When I began the gardens here, I trucked in dozens of loads of composted manure to build the flower beds. Each season since, the gardens have needed new servings of this wonderful stuff as well as some of that compost I showed you in an earlier blog. Last week I found myself focused on replenishing my supply of manure, and I naturally looked to our go to guy, Scott MacLeay.

Almost thirty years ago, Jim was picked for jury duty in a long and ugly murder trial. He carpooled to duty with Scott, sharing many hours when they could talk freely to each other about the trial. It proved a bonding experience, and they began fast friends.

Scott has gone on to be one of our most helpful of friends as well. He dug the foundation for our house, built our septic system, contoured the land around the house where the gardens now live, put in our driveway and the upper lot for staff goddesses, moved rocks for steps and brought us many loads of gravel from his gravel pit across town. And you’re right if you think you’ve heard tell of Scott before, because I have shared photos of him tearing and hauling away the sorry building on the farm land we bought down the road. When Scott was done there, he left us with a beautiful field of clover.


The longer we live here, the more impressed we are by Scott’s impeccable work. We have found a driveway put in by Scott doesn’t wash out like our neighbors’ driveways and a septic system by Scott gives no trouble unlike one neighbor’s fragrant mosh pit. His elegant work around our house has left us a dry basement with all precipitation draining away from the house. To watch him on his dozer or back hoe has always been an experience of watching a master at work, but thirty years later, I observe him with greater respect, ever glad Jim met Scott.
Scott has been a wise and generous steward in our small town as well, sharing his talent and time with the town. One of his recent projects was to put in a new parking lot for the town school, charging only for materials but not his time. What an incredible gift. Because he has been so many people’s go to guy for so many years, Scott probably knows more about the underpinnings of this town than anyone else, but he is restrained, discreet and if your oil tank leaked into the ground and he had to come in and clean it up per EPA standards, he did the job and that’s was the last time he spoke of it. He could probably embarrass just about everyone in town, but he never does.

Last week he came over to discuss one of our next projects, and I mentioned my search for composted manure. He offered to load up our pick up truck with manure composting down at his gravel pit. This was an eye opening experience for me because I had never seen Scott’s pit. We met him there early last Sunday morning, an enormous landscape of sand and gravel on the flood plain of the Connecticut River.


As we looked over an area fifty acres wide, Scott explained how as he finishes harvesting rock, sand and gravel from any area of his pit, he uses the horse manure he hauls off from farms in town to rebuild the topsoil and re-contour the land. He always looks to the closing of this pit, working each day to leave his pit a usable field for future generations. Scott mentioned his concern with our town pit where this proactive work is not being done. So many things press in on small towns right now, and properly sorting out the town pit is not a very sexy expenditure and one that our town has decided to hold off on until the entire pit is harvested. Scott worries that when the time comes to close the pit, the town will face a half million dollar cost to do the work Scott does each day. Looking at how Scott had spread manure onto smoothed out sections of his own pit, I noticed the vibrancy of the returning Flowers. I only wished Scott was in charge of the town pit as well.


But there was not much time for wishful thinking. Scott had his back hoe poised and loaded with some lovely brown stuff for the farm. It was time for Jim and I to go back to the one place where we could serve the seventh generation and do our best to return to the earth everything we had taken from her.