Settled Work

By Larch On January 15th, 2015

Sometimes I will say to a young apprentice, “My longest long-term relationship is with a chimney and a woodstove……over 40 years in the same place.” That tends to scare a young person and brings up a reaction of “Oh, if it gets too difficult, I have options……” Living in one place is something like a long marriage. When the Occupy movement was in full swing, I wanted to say to one of those protesters, “Well, why don’t you just occupy a garden, for a lifetime, and see how that works out? Why not try doing something CONCRETE every day?” I once talked to a man who was in an arranged marriage. “What’s it like?” I asked. “Well,” he said, “at first I didn’t like her. Then in the second decade I not only grew to like her, I loved her. And now, in the fourth decade, I deeply love her, but I have to say that more and more, she is a total mystery to me. I truly don’t understand anything about her.” My first decade in this place was like a love/hate relationship. I would go down to the cove after new-fallen snow and watch the sunset: “She’s so beautiful!” and a minute later the thought would be, “…..and she’s so friggin’ COLD!” What’s REALLY scary for an apprentice is when they get a sense that their longest long-term relationship is with an eternal spark that could be characterized as “conscience” or “consciousness” or “intent, beyond personality”. I’m building a storage building for seaweeds at the moment, because I know the world will continue to need a clear source of dietary iodine to protect against the radioactive iodine being released by so many nuclear reactors, not just the mess at Fukushima, and the words I feel like inscribing on the walls of this particular building are “quietude and stillness, emptiness and clarity, presence and compassion, radiance and light”. That’s the predominant mood of the moment, and I like living with people who are waking up to the fact that they’ve been living life after life in endless moods of enlightenment, in sacred contracts, in endless dream. Happy New Year!


Tangerine Larch

Hay Season on the Water

By Larch On October 2nd, 2010

Seaweeds have their seasons of peak vitality just like plants in the garden. In mid-May, kelp plants (laminaria longicruris and laminaria saccharina) are in their prime. On the land, dry air blows in with high pressure from Canada, and in the afternoon, a southwest sea breeze helps dry the kelp that is hung up on lines at the high water line. Mornings are flat calm, sometimes there is fog, and we journey to the kelp beds by reading the signs on the water. For instance, sometimes there is a cross-hatch pattern on the water. I call this a “mixing pattern”. It is created when the incoming tide splits and flows around the islands at the mouth of my bay. When I hear an apprentice exclaim, “Oh! Look! The mixing pattern! I KNOW where we ARE!”—then I know that s/he is beginning to pay attention to reading the signs on the water.

Cross-hatch pattern on water

Cross-hatch pattern on water

In the springtime, early morning new moon tides are the lowest. Early morning full moon tides are also lower than average. We pull on our wetsuits around 4 a.m., and we’re on the water by 4:30 a.m. Apprentices get their breakfasts around 3:30 a.m. if they’re going to have one. (When I was a young man growing up in Minnesota, I worked summers on my aunt and uncle’s 1000 acres farm. During hay season, we fed a hundred head of cattle and 50 pigs right after breakfast at first light. A good day on the farm during hay season, working with a family crew of 5 or 6 people, was a thousand bales of hay into the barn by the end of the day, around 9 or 10 p.m. This is where I learned the work ethic, “If I do not work, these worlds will perish.”)

The journey to the kelp beds takes about an hour. There’s a two hour window of opportunity to pull kelp into the boats. The goal is to pull 2000 pounds into the boats within two hours.

Larch pulls kelp into punt boat

Larch pulls kelp into a punt boat

Coming home takes an hour. We all take a mid-morning break, getting out of our wetsuits, taking showers and warming up. Then we have a substantial breakfast. This is the meal that’s going to be with us as we hang up the kelp. The rest of the day is spent in the open air and sunshine, and if you just want a mantra to keep your hands busy while your soul ripens, you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to handle approximately 2000 pieces of kelp, pinning each individual piece of kelp to clotheslines set up on the high water mark in the cove.

Kacie hangs up kelp

Kacie Hangs Up Kelp

By the end of the day, we have all done an honest day’s work, and here’s the proof:

Kelp hanging on lines in the cove

Kelp hanging on lines in the cove

The Work Accomplished, We are Relaxed into Perfection.

By Larch On June 30th, 2010

In April when I launch the boats into the cove to start the seaweed harvest season, I always ask the universe directly for an omen. Then I listen and watch. (I’ve been doing this for forty years.) One year an eagle hovered over me. That felt like blessing and protection. One year I was standing in a newly launched boat, checking for leaks, and a fish swam up to me. It was a smelt, right on the surface. I picked it up, we gazed at each other for a moment, and then I put it back in the water, and we went on our separate journeys. One year seven herons flew in formation through the cove. Herons are usually solitary stalkers. That was a beautiful omen. One year I was very impatient, demanding an omen. I spotted something washed up in the rockweed on the high tide line of the cove. It was a rubber bath toy, like a squeaky rubber duck, only this one was a cross-eyed crab with “Made in China” printed on its bottom, as if to say, “I don’t know what’s going on. Do you? All I can say is that it’s been a whirly-swirly journey.” That year the season was like that. There was no great Plan. We just let the winds and the tides carry us through, and somehow the work got done.

Toy Rubber Crab

All the Way from China!

This year, digging in the garden, the apprentices found a salamander. I took that as a good omen, portending a lot of primordial energy in the garden, and the garden was, in fact, very lush and abundant. (The soil in my garden, by the way, is totally fertilized with seaweed, resulting in a dark rich loam.)


But there was no omen for the seaweed harvest. I decided to simply be patient and wait. I had four young men as apprentices. They would get distracted. One day Nina said to me, “There’s a Yiddish expression that describes your situation with these boys.” “Tell me,” I said. Nina smiled, “When you hire a boy, you got a boy. When you hire two boys, you got half a boy. When you hire three boys, you got no boy at all.” I laughed, “Nina, I’ve got four boys. I could be in deep trouble, except that the fourth boy is Jay (my son), and he counts for two.” We did, in fact, accomplish all the harvesting, drying, and packaging that I had set out to do, and on the final day of the alaria season (June 30th), we were finishing up a harvest on Bonny Chess Ledge, a place as beautiful as it sounds.

Seals on Bonny Chess Ledge

The tide was starting to come back in, and the boys had stripped off their wet suit jackets and were jumping into the surf to cool off. I lay down on a sloping ledge, six feet from the water’s edge. I thought, “Be grateful. You’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Now just relax. Let all your tensions go. In yoga, the Dead Man’s Pose is the hardest pose to do…..relaxing the body AND the mind.” As I relaxed, I turned my head to look toward the water, and there was a healthy baby seal, scootching toward me. I know the language of baby seals, so I spoke to it in its language. Every time I spoke, the seal scootched closer. Finally we were two feet apart, lying parallel to each other, rolled on our backs and looking up at the sky, utterly content. Then we turned and gazed into each other’s eyes. I said to the seal, this time in my own language, “You are so beautiful.” The seal responded with an affectionate puppy growl. I was a little surprised, and then I realized that this good-natured sound was the omen. One of the apprentices noticed what was happening and started to walk toward us. “Max,” I said, “get down low and roll over here. Don’t raise your arms.” Max rolled slowly, and finally we sandwiched the seal between us. We didn’t touch it. We talked and gazed. The seal remained totally relaxed. Finally I got up and resumed my work, loading bushel baskets of alaria into the punt in order to shuttle the alaria out to the container boat. Before I rowed away, I rowed up to the seal. The seal remained, a relaxed member of the group. Seal pups have very open playful hearts. Sometimes I will come upon a newborn seal that still has teeth marks on the umbilical cord stump where the mother chewed it off. There may be a fresh placenta nearby. In that case, I might talk to the seal just a little bit, and then leave quietly so that the mother will return. I’ve been around seals for 40 years, and they swim around me while I’m doing my work. This year, a baby seal brought the season’s omen-blessing, and I’m awash with gratitude as I remember that day.

Baby Seal on Granite Ledge

Baby Seal, Sun-Blissed