Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hoeing My Row at the Poetry Farm

Fall is probably my favorite time to write and has turned out to be my annual favorite time to get away from Chicago to do so. I was fortunate enough to spend two productive and rewarding, if not unusual, weeks at a writers' retreat that is beyond comparison with any other. It is the Poetry Farm in Ordfordville, Wis.

Poets Lisa Fishman and Rick Meier, and full-time farmer Henry Morren are your hosts on the 12-acre organic fruit and vegetable farm, set on a rolling hill. I had decided on the Poetry Farm for a number of reasons. I found out about it through a link on the Poetry Foundation website, it is only a 100-mile drive from Chicago, and I wanted to learn more about organic farming and the plants themselves for a manuscript of poems about food which I'm currently working on.

During my stay, I worked four hours each morning alongside Henry and another two-week resident like myself, Ariana Kelly, from Seattle. If we weren't hoeing strawberry rows in preparation for next spring, we were clearing weeds from underneath each apple tree and de-grubbing the lower trunks. And if we weren't hoeing vineyards, I was helping Henry place a new, higher wire along a two-block stretch of one, and training and tying vines onto it. The four-hour Monday through Saturday stints are in exchange for cabin accommodations and includes all meals, if not wine and occasional homemade ice cream.

My "pod" was the cabin in the photo, a type of modular space featured in magazines such as Dwell and one that homeowners might put in their backyards or decks as a studio or office space. Henry and Rick wisely placed four open and close screened windows and a screen door on the "pod," correcting a design flaw on typical models that feature one picture window sheet of glass or plexi in front, which offers a seamless view, but one that could likely roast the occupant on a warm, sunny day. The cabin is furnished with a duvet-covered futon (with extra blankets, comforter and pillows), a large finished wood desk and chair and a small cabinet where I stored candles and snacks.

On a typical day after morning farm duty, I grabbed lunch and a shower in the farm house and made my way back up the hill to an afternoon of writing in the pod. There is neither electricity nor running water in the pod, nor in the "coop" on the other side of the farm or the "loft" in a small barn-like structure behind the farm house. With complete southern exposure, the pod offers tremendous natural light to read and write. With my laptop charged the night before in the farmhouse, I was able to also use that when I was ready to capture or tweak previously handwritten poems.

Nights were more tricky. While one small "nightlight" type lantern is provided, the combination of three candles and a wind-up lantern I brought along with me was sufficient for evening reads. The September air often took on a chill after 9 p.m., so I layered my clothes until it was time to retire. On the more mild nights, I would climb under sheets and a lightweight sleeping bag I opened up as a comforter. On the colder nights, and frost hit on September 15, I zipped up an alternate sleeping bag, my trusty old arctic goosedown mummy, which kept me utterly warm and comfortable. ◦

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