31 May 2011


I've come about the reaping.

I wanted to get a scythe last year to cut down select areas of tall grass and plants around Small Pond, but never got around to it, leaving the hard work to the gas mower and nearly crippling it.

We already had an aluminum staff which was left in our garage by either the previous owners, or the ones before them (who knows?), and it was in pretty good shape, except for the broken, rusty blade and the nearly rust-sealed mount. 


Above is the aluminum staff with its two wooden handles (on the far left and middle); the ring mount where the dangly bit of the blade goes (it attaches to the far right end of the staff); the old, broken blade; the new 28" Garant blade made in Austria (still in its wrapping, including the red plastic safety guard); the new washer and nut; and the big wrench needed to put it all together.

Last year --for some stupid reason-- I wanted a wooden staff which wasn't so curvy because I felt that would be "more traditional," but soon realized that one made of aluminum would last longer, be stronger and lighter, and this extra-curvy shape was probably more ergonomic.

This is a test.

Of course, as soon as I put it together I had to test it. In the photo above, the curved line delineates the test area, cutting through grass that was two feet tall. The straight line is on the border between the tall grass and grass cut by the gas mower a few days before. On the bottom left, you can see the cut grass (which has to be raked, it's so long).

Using a scythe will reduce the wear and tear on our gas and reel mowers --but neither of them would be as effective on the tall stuff, anyway.
It's also a pretty good workout.

Grass-cutting montage.

Swinging the scythe came fairly naturally to me (perhaps a genetically inherited trait from my farming ancestors), and it's not like a golf swing (not that I golf). There is the possibility of injury, so standing like I am in the last frame enables the blade to swing freely from right to left (it's a right-handed staff, by the way), and you need to make sure the blade swings away from you, following the line of your stance (again, see the last frame). If you don't swing in a diagonal to your hips, you could possibly swing into your left foot (and you'll need that foot for other things).

And now I'm off to cut some paths and clear space for parking...

Photographs of me by Catherine Mellinger.

UPDATE, 01 June 2011: After using the scythe to great effect today for a couple of hours, I've decided to officially name it Figaro, after the barber of Seville.

14 May 2011

Second Spring

This month we are celebrating the first anniversary of Small Pond Arts, and our second spring on the farm. When I look back on the past year, it is with surreal amazement that I take stock of all that we’ve accomplished. There is a confidence that comes with embarking on year two; there is a little less guesswork, a little less re-inventing the wheel.

I’m not going to lie, our first winter here was LONG, even though we went away for five weeks! Our 150-year old farmhouse is (not surprisingly) poorly insulated and drafty, and I wore a toque 24/7 from November through April. I missed the constant flow of friends and visitors, and had to mentally adjust to the solitude that comes with living in a seasonal community in the off-season. Of course this solitude has its benefits. Milé and I have both been incredibly productive, and have had the time to focus on our artistic pursuits. We seem to live a life of extremes; with the dawning of May we bid adieu to free time and embrace the madness of the busy season. There’s already been a steady stream of visitors, and the constantly-needing-to-be-cut grass reminds me that there won’t be much rest now until the fall when the cooler temperatures return.

Spring at Small Pond is nothing short of glorious. The flowers are coming up, the frogs are singing, the birds are building their nests, the rhubarb is daily doubling in size. It’s easy to be optimistic.

Although we’ve been hard at work over the past weeks, this spring the pace is a little less frenzied. Between the frequent rain showers, I’ve been spending a lot of time outside. I’ve continued hauling junk out of the woods, and have been arranging rocks and fallen logs to help give shape the Clearing and the Artists’ Trail.

I uncovered this cool stone wall, which turned out to be under several feet of dirt at the base of the old barn floor:

A few weeks ago some gale-force winds tore through the County, toppling our rather large and substantial outhouse.

The first step in raising an outhouse is acknowledging that it is tipped over.
This occasion called for an impromptu “outhouse raising party” – and we had plenty of friends show up to help us get the outhouse back in place.

Here we celebrate our achievement.  Can you spot the puppet?
Over the winter months I’ve been reading a lot about food, and our pitifully dysfunctional modern food system. On July 24 we’re giving artists and community members the opportunity to express their own thoughts and feelings about food with Cornography, an afternoon of art featuring more than 40 participants.

Milé is also on the cusp of launching a food-related art show, Field to Canvas, a series of portraits of local farmers. I’ve been watching him paint these portraits for more than four months now, and they really are a homage to the people who grow our food. With fresh, organic, REAL food on our minds, this spring we doubled the size of our garden. We just finished building the fence around it, and the first veggies went in yesterday, with LOTS more to come.

Milé rototills the garden
In June we’ll be building an outdoor cob bake oven, inspired by my time with Bread & Puppet Theater and four years of working in Dufferin Grove Park with Clay & Paper Theatre. Not only are bake ovens a great symbol of community, this project is also helping us move toward sustainability by allowing us to bake without using electricity.

In August, the shadow puppets will return to Small Pond, with three performances of Doubt Seed and our new show, The History of Shadows. I can’t wait to have my amazing crew of collaborators back here at the farm so we can do it all over again!

We’ve got lots of residents booking their summer stays with us. I love meeting new people, and can’t wait to welcome this year’s resident artists (the first of the season arrive today!). There are still plenty of spots left, but if you are thinking of a residency this summer, you should think about contacting us sooner than later.

We have come so far, yet in many ways we are still at the beginning. We have so many things we want to accomplish and improve upon, and there are so many surprises around the corner. Who will we meet? What crazy projects will we dream up? If I had a crystal ball, I would throw it into the woods. I prefer to be surprised.

Finally, a huge thank-you to everyone who has helped us make Small Pond the dream come true! Friends and family, you have been capital-a Amazing, and we couldn’t have done it without you. Come visit us soon so we can show our appreciation in person!

PS - 'Like' our new page on Facebook by June 1, 2011, and you'll get a chance to win a one week artist residency with us!  Just click HERE