Letting Go of Honey Hill Farm

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Our daughter was born here. It’s a 300-year-old beautifully renovated farm that is a testament to the impermeability of time, weather, and wear on a well-loved home. Our babies lived the first years of their lives swinging in their car seats from the 1705 beams, crawling on the wide pine floor boards, and sledding down through the apple orchard out behind the barn. The hill was where we kept bees and in our first year there 100 pounds of clover honey was harvested from three hives perched beyond the white pine. We sold the golden elixir on our porch to neighbors we met over time. It was an idyllic place to live, but alas it’s now time to let it go.


The truth is, we haven’t lived there for the past 10 years.

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Due to a need to move to the Pacific Northwest for work, we left our beloved New England farm and family 10 years ago, just before the market crashed. When housing prices plummeted, we knew we had to hold on to the home, and rent it out, to wait until the situation stabilized. In 3 months’ time, if all goes as planned, our farm will change hands, and become an experiential preschool for families who want to bring their children in close contact with the Earth.

Essex from street 2

Although we moved our primary “stuff” from the farm years ago, we’ve had to slowly get rid of the last bits and pieces that comprise a final vacating of a property.

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These are the kinds of items most people simply throw away, too hurried to mindfully find new stewards for their still-useful items.

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We travelled back to New England last summer to take 3 days to gift our stuff to members of our former community. I connected with the admin of the local Buy Nothing group and she let me temporarily join the group to post our remaining possessions to neighbors.

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Everything disappeared in a matter of hours. Paint, farm tools, antiques, old hardware, large work benches and potting tables were hauled off the property by people happy to come in their cars and trucks to reuse what we couldn’t fathom carting across the country to our home in the Northwest.

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We’re essentially masterminding a zero waste move.

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Here are our best simple tips for a low impact move for anyone trying to reduce their waste when moving out of one property and into another:

  1. Create recycle/reuse waste streams in boxes for easy-to-recycle/reuse items: i) Regular commingled recycling (plastic bottles, glass and paper); ii) Plastic bags (to recycle at grocery stores); iii) Metal (to recycle in a metal recycling facility); iv) Office supplies (pencils, pens, paper clips, etc to give to a teacher or an office somewhere); v) Batteries (take them to your nearest battery recycling facility.)
  2. Don’t buy new boxes. Ask for them on your Buy Nothing group or get them from your nearest liquor store.
  3. Create collections to give away: It’s easier to commingle all of your hardware, or garden supplies, paint supplies, pet supplies, music, etc together to give to neighbors as collections of like-items rather than randomly giving away each item individually.
  4. Don’t buy paper for wrapping fragile items: Use newspaper (ask for it in your Buy Nothing group) or plastic bags, bubble wrap, and styrofoam that you’re planning on recycling,  or napkins, t-shirts, clothing to wrap around your glasses and fragile items for shipping. It saves money and waste.
  5. Even old paint can be reused: Before taking your remaining household hazardous waste to your hazardous waste facility, do check with neighbors to see if they’ll use it. We had people come to pick up our interior and exterior paint for their own projects.

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What additional broad-strokes tips can you add to this list?

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We’ll dearly miss our Essex home on the marshes. © Liesl Clark

Metal or Plastic Rakes? A Review.

We’re still raking leaves. And as I rake, I think about the fact that every purchase we make can actually make a difference on our planet. By choosing a rake made with the right materials, you can have a positive impact on the environment. If you’re a regular reader of my posts, you might already know the answer I’ll have for this question of metal vs plastic rakes — metal wins! So what is my judging criteria? It’s not just sustainability and end-of-life scenarios that I’m taking into consideration.

Two plastic rakes, not very old, both just about useless. Photo © Liesl Clark

When you buy a rake, you’ll likely want your money’s-worth, i.e. you’d like your rake to be effective and last a good long time. As we know from our studies of plastics in the ocean, plastics photodegrade, they break down into smaller pieces over time, and most will never ever go away. Plastic rake tines are no exception. With repeated sun exposure and certainly in the cold, plastic rakes become more brittle and crack and break over time. My backyard trials have proven they’ll do this rather quickly. The 2 rakes photographed above were bought at the same time, about 1.5 years ago. The green one lost 2 center tines early in its life and then cracked at the point where the wooden handle meets the plastic rake. The orange rake lost 2 side tines and is now cracking down the middle of the rake. I figure we’ll get another couple of months out of it. We do a lot of leaf raking around here.

Leaf Dreams. Do you see the face in there? Photo © Liesl Clark

So what kind of rake do we prefer? A working and sustainable one that can ultimately be recycled in the metal bin, the wooden handle burned in our fire pit? Or one that will work for a shorter amount of time and will stay on the planet forever, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces and entering our waterways over time? I know that sounds extreme, but this is what plastics do. They’re buoyant and are doomed to become microplastics one day.

Introducing my favorite rake. Metal, and about 10 years old. It gets all jobs done. Photo © Liesl Clark

A metal rake may be a little more expensive, but it will last longer as a useful rake than your plastic one and when it has reached the end of it’s useful life, you can either recycle the metal part or use it in your garden art. We reuse our wooden handles for replacing the wooden handle of another garden tool, like another rake or a shovel. Metal rake tines can rust but the rust won’t deter you from raking. If they bend, they can be bent back!

Backside of another very old metal rake (likely 8 years old). The one bent tine can easily be bent back into place. Photo © Liesl Clark

Some landscapers prefer plastic rakes for heavy wet leaf raking and metal ones for dry lighter-weight jobs. I’ve used both for both jobs and don’t notice much of a difference. Even bamboo rakes can tackle both jobs well. My favorite bamboo rake is nearing the end of its life (probably because I left it out in the rain too often) but every part of it can be reused: We’ll compost the bamboo, the metal will go in our local scrap metal bin for recycling, and we’ll save the handle for replacing that metal rake we’ve been meaning to mend.

Our zero waste bamboo rake is nearing the end of it's life. Photo © Liesl Clark

Here's the metal rake I need to mend. The handle broke off but the head keeps on working! It's been a nice child-sized rake, but I'm selfish, I want it back! Photo © Liesl Clark

So when you look at the end-of -life options for your leaf rake, metal and bamboo rakes definitely win out.


Think Locally, Act Globally

There are a few places left on Earth where cultures and individuals have not lost touch with their past, their knowledge of how to live in harmony with the natural world, rather than overcoming it and destroying it. As far as carbon footprints are concerned, these are the people who have perhaps a heel-p

rint on the environment, as compared to the ski-boot-size print we know we have upon the Earth every day we live our average American lives. This is the story of one family’s journey to seek answers to the myriad questions about what we can do to reach back toward our past and re-learn the ways of the people who still respect the gifts of the Earth, conserve them, re-use them, and ultimately have the power and education to refuse the modern products that are toxic to our environment. This blog is a snapshot of where things have gone awry and an offering of simple solutions to stop the flood of plastics and non-reusable garbage into our wild places.

We don’t have a blueprint for living the perfect zero impact life, but we can provide a road-map for an ever-changing journey toward a more mindful way of living, whether we live in the most remote villages in the Himalayas or on a both rural and suburban island 35 minutes by ferry to metro Seattle.

Filming large prayer wheel in Upper Mustang

I’m a documentary filmmaker, with 20 years’ luck making films for NOVA, the BBC, and National Geographic in the world’s wildest least inhabited places on Earth. My husband is an explorer/climber who became known at the turn of this century for his 7 successful summits of Mount Everest. You might say our combined experiences have aided our re-thinking of the everyday worlds we live in. We’ve lived the sparse mountaineer’s life, a modern-wilderness-caveman-style existence in all sorts of extremes and have analyzed it closely, paring down our essentials and power requirements to the absolute minimum. And we now know there can be great joy and satisfaction living a life more simple, far from the cough of motors, hours if not days from the nearest shopping center.

We continue to make films and do research in the remote places we love, but what has stunned us and inspired us to change our lifestyle at home and live more closely to the rhythms of the Earth is the amount of waste we’re seeing in the world’s highest watersheds and the trickle-down of those misguided waste disposal practices, those plastics and toxic chemicals, ultimately, into our pristine waterways and oceans.

Spring Snow in the Himalayas

3 Year Old Post-holing Over a 13,000 foot pass

We’re taking simple steps, as you’ll learn in this blog, to initiate pilot projects, both at home and abroad, to help both our local island townsfolk and the indigenous cultures we work with see waste in new ways: separating the resources from the toxics and opening up a dialogue about how to reduce the waste that is ultimately detrimental to us all. We’re re-learning what our great great grandparents practiced.

Mostly, it’s our children (ages 5 & 7) who inspire our work. They find solutions long before we do and adapt to every environment they face. But they can no longer enjoy the beauty of the highest Himalayan villages, for example, because their eyes are caught by the tree limbs wrapped in blowing plastic bags, the ancient mani walls carved with Buddha’s teachings and stuffed with ramen noodle packages, and the wild grasses glittering with sweets wrappers and water bottles thrown from the hands of their Sherpa friends.

Stopping For a Hug, 13,000 feet, Khumbu, Nepal

“Let’s try to do something about it,” are the words Finn & Cleo spoke last February when we spent a month in the Mount Everest region of Nepal working on a Magic Yeti Children’s Library we had established a year before. This short film is a brief look at the adventures we had in coming up with simple solutions for a beautiful village at 12,600 feet at risk of becoming another trash heap sending its waste down into the greatest watershed in the world. The people of Phortse are taking positive steps to prevent this.