Saturday, February 26

Saturday Farm Photos: Geese! And a Maine Farm

Back in 1991, when I was an early 20's California girl dreaming and scheming about moving to rural New England (which was the plan before life intervened and I ended up adventuring sight unseen to Missouri instead), I asked a friend who was working at a bookstore to order me a copy of a book called Maine Farm: A Year of Country Life by Stanley Joseph and his photographer wife, Lynn Karlin. I knew nothing about it except that it had a nice title.

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The book, which is available from for under $5, turned out to be a large square hardcover that is part farm journal, part how-to manual, and part beautiful coffee table book. It covers a year on Stanley and Lynn's 22-acre Penobscot Bay farm, which was previously owned by back-to-the-land icons and authors Scott and Helen Nearing and is located down the road from Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch's Four Season Farm.

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The 192-page book includes dozens of Stanley's seasonal journal entries, along with instructions on how to do things like build a sod-roofed log sauna, create dried-flower wreaths, weave a willow basket, and make hard apple cider, plus 250 color photos and recipes for everything from blueberry wine and comfrey salve to dilly beans and rhubarb pie.

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Maine Farm is where I learned about starting seeds indoors in flats and began lusting after tall stone walls to surround the heirloom vegetable and herb garden I knew I would someday have. (I got the garden, but I'm still waiting for those walls.) It's both informative and inspiring, and I've spent so many hours poring over my copy that the spine has started to crack.

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I've taken away a lot from this special book, and after 16 years of living under the flight path, nearly every time I hear that glorious sound of the migrating geese overhead, I still think of this passage in the Spring section on page 21:

March 29
Yesterday, while I was in the barn starting seeds, I heard a distant but unmistakable honking sound and I yelled to Lynn. She came running and we were able to witness the timeless, wondrous sight of Canada geese in a huge formation heading northeast—there must have been over sixty of them in a loose V. Migratory birds follow the Maine coast and begin arriving in our area in mid-March, with many of them continuing on to Newfoundland, Labrador, and Greenland. In Spring, Penobscot Bay is a bird-watcher's paradise.

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I heard the first geese heading north (you always hear them before you see them) on February 15th this year, and today there have probably been a couple thousand of them flying by, flapping away and honking like they always do. These photos, which don't begin to do the experience justice, are of three different skeins I saw during a seven minute period while out in Donkeyland this morning. It never looks like there are very many, until you start to count them and realize that 20 geese can take up a really small section of the V.

I don't think I'll ever get tired of watching and listening to them. When it's cloudy, their honking often echoes down from above the clouds, and sometimes you can stare up into the darkness and hear them late at night. Whenever they arrive, the first ones of the season always elicit happy cries of "GEESE!" even if I'm the only one around.

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I always wonder what they're discussing, especially with so many of them talking at once. Are they gossiping? Making plans or reminiscing? Arguing about when they should stop and rest? Once in a while we'll see a group of just nine or ten heading in the wrong direction, and they are really loud. Sometimes you can see one goose flapping madly as it tries to move farther up in the V. To be near a friend perhaps?

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A few years ago I was shocked and saddened to learn that Stanley Joseph, who was born in 1942 and purchased the Nearings farm in 1980, had passed away, though I don't know when or what happened. A search for more information this afternoon yielded only a few other people asking about Stanley's passing on garden forums (with no answers) along with something that brought tears to my eyes, and that I kind of wish I hadn't found—photos of the untended property as it looks now. Even those wonderful stone walls are falling down.

There's a scene in my favorite movie, "Out of Africa," when Karen (Meryl Streep) is showing Denys (Robert Redford) around the coffee farm she is slowly carving out of the Kenyan wilderness. At one point she says, "Every time I turn my back, it wants to go wild again," to which Denis replies, "It will go wild."

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Thankfully both Stanley and that special piece of land on Penobscot Bay, along with all of their inspiration, live on in the glossy pages of Maine Farm. If you dream of moving to the country—even if you know you never will—I highly recommend finding yourself a copy.

Update: The blog post I linked to above that shows current photos of the Maine Farm property had mentioned that house is now rented out during the summer to vacationers; thanks to longtime reader Susan G. for sending me a link to the rental agency. I guess it's just the land, which was lovingly and backbreakingly tended for so many years, that has gone back to the wild.

Thanks, too, to those of you who e-mailed me with the sad news that Stanley, divorced from Lynn, committed suicide on his Maine Farm, I guess not too long after his book that touched so many of us was published.

The Daily Donkey 21: Newborn Evie

©, the fly by day and night foodie farm blog where this evening Joe told me, without knowing that I was planning to write about the geese tonight, that at one point this afternoon, after hearing some honking, he looked up, couldn't see anything, kept looking, and then watched as about "a gazillion geese" started flying out of the grey clouds. "They just kept coming and coming and coming."


  1. I love to watch geese, too. Here in my village in Pennsylvania my backyard looks over a large creek. One of my favorite things to see is the geese coming in for a landing on the creek. I've missed them so much this winter, but was very happy to see them return in the last two weeks. Forget the groundhog and the shadow, give me geese and I know spring is on the way soon.


  2. That is sad, indeed. I know this area fairly well after spending a lot of time on an island in Penobscot Bay in the same decade as this book. Other than tourism and its beauty, Maine has very little to recommend itself to most people as it is a very hard place to make a living. It is so incredibly beautiful in every season. I think you would have loved it there.

  3. The sounds of geese overhead is one of the most comforting sounds of our farm.

  4. I love the sight sound of the migrating geese signaling the change of seasons, but somehow I always think of the reverse migration in fall, time to get ready for winter!

    I also love that line from Out of Africa, so true. The sad and wistful pictures of the Maine farm that has fallen out of use remind me of my mother's description of visiting the airfield my grandfather was stationed at with the Navy in World War II - weeds growing out of the cracked runways, empty hangars, once a hive of bustling activity during the war, now empty and forgotten. A similar scene opens the movie "Twelve O'Clock High".

  5. I too, have always loved the sound of geese flying overhead and will most times drop whatever I am doing to run outside and see them. It is so amazing to know that for thousands of years the same scene has been repeated over and over. I wonder to myself if a Native American stood in my very spot and saw the same thing.
    Out of Africa is also my favorite movie. The line that always brings tears to my eyes is "Iknow a song of Africa. Does Africa know a song of me?" Such a magnificent movie!
    Thanks for sharing the photos and your experiences! I can almost hear the honking right now!

  6. Thank you for letting us enjoy your farm!! It is always so peace-ville. Every time I view the photos you take I want to be right there,also!!
    I live in mid-tenn and love taking photos of old barns and houses I wonder every time.. what was it like to live there? I tell my husband that would be fun to buy and fix-up,the houses that is. The barns I would let stand as is,they make great photo's! Thanks again for sharing your "Dream Come True" life.!!!

  7. I had always wanted to live on some acreage in Vermont. The closest I came was to live in Western Massachusetts. But now I'm back at home in Colorado. No acreage, but I do have a very large (for city living) veggie garden where I can dig in the dirt and get dirty. We don't see many geese migrating, but there a ton of them that live on the lake a mile from my house.

  8. I too love geese. Perhaps what they are saying is "are we there yet"? :-). I once saw an interview with Aldo Leopold on TV. He was on the land that he had reclaimed from the sand and neglect in Wisconsin, talking about his life, when a flock of geese flew overhead. He literally stopped in mid sentence, watched in wonder, and then said "isn't that just amazing"? Made me love him even more. It's good when nature can stop you in your tracks.

  9. Oh how I long for the geese to return! That book looks fabulous, thank you for sharing it! :)

  10. I'm a new blogger follower - never thought I would be. Your's is my favorite. I feel like I know you, your thoughts are often akin to mine. Your coyote/owl story made my heart ache, as does this one. I could never explain to anyone why geese flying overhead makes me squeal and also shout "Geese!" - even if there is no one around. Absolutely beautiful...breathtaking. Thank you for taking the time to share your life with us - I hope you know how much it's appreciated.


December 2015 update: Hi! For some reason I can't figure out, Blogger hasn't been letting me leave comments on my own blog (!) for the last several months, so I've been unable to respond to your comments and questions. My apologies for any inconvenience! You're always welcome to email me: farmgirlfare AT gmail DOT com.

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