One of my favorite parts of leading courses with Dragons is our faith in a flexible itinerary. The belief that opportunities for greater depth and learning sometimes arise spontaneously and should not be sacrificed in the name of a more rigid plan or schedule. Working in the COVID era, that flexibility is sometimes more limited, but the past couple weeks I was so glad to see our flexible itinerary brought fully to life in our time at Earth Mountain Education Farm.
We originally planned to be at Earth Mountain for four days for our midcourse period of reflection and intention-setting for the second half of the course. However, almost as soon as we arrived, we knew that Joni, who owns and operates the farm in the mountains near Trinidad, CO, had so much more to teach us. After a few days of more group-focused midcourse activities, we launched ourselves into life at the farm and students learned basic principles of permaculture, worked in the garden and greenhouses, and built a frog-shaped pizza oven out of cob. Last Saturday, Joni and her son butchered four chickens to share with our group and we learned how to clean and prepare them for a hearty soup.
For many of us, it has been a lifetime of mass-produced meat in styrofoam and plastic that takes us away from the life of the animal that feeds us. We watched the recognizable sight of chickens pecking around in the dirt turn into something unfamiliar as we began to de-feather and clean them, then back to something familiar again as the breast meat and drumsticks began to take shape. The next night, after leaving the chickens to boil for a full day, we ate a hearty soup of meat, broth, and freshly-picked vegetables while sharing music with Joni and her family in the yurt. Snow began to fall outside. By the morning, an unexpected two feet of fresh snow glistened on the ground under blue skies. Ever flexible, we stayed for two more days.
Students chopped firewood and took turns waking up in the night to keep the yurt fire burning. They shared “lifemaps”–the story of their lives–by gas lamp, and a few ventured out to go sledding. We read by the wood stove. We melted snow to make coffee, and mixed snow with maple syrup for a seasonal treat. We went for walks and cuddled the farm cats, Whiskey and Ra. Joni generously offered wood and vegetables from her personal supply to keep us comfortable through the intense weather without the conveniences of electricity, plumbing, and central heat that make it so easy to forget how powerful the forces of nature can be.
Yesterday, two weeks after arriving, we packed up the cars, said goodbye to Earth Mountain, and headed south to New Mexico. We’re planning to spend the next couple weeks experiencing life on Freshie’s fruit farm right on the Rio Grande near Taos before heading further south to west Texas.
We’re washing up for a couple days in a cabin, and as excited as everyone is for a shower and laundry after several weeks, the energy of the group also suggests that most of us are ready to get back outside, into our tents, and into the quite of the mountains as soon as the snow melts. Few are able to life off the grid as Joni does, and in the snow we learned to appreciate but not to romanticize the “simple life” and alternative living that Earth Mountain represents. Nonetheless, as discomfort transforms into familiarity, there is much from this time of connection to land, food, and the outdoors I expect the students will hold on to. More to come.