Elijah Swan lives in the hand-hewn, cedar-shake cabin of my imagination. Each morning he wakes to watch the sunrise, leaning in the doorjamb and looking out at the world, a cup of warm water with a splash of homemade apple cider vinegar steaming in his hands. He takes stock of the tasks before him and settles the day in his mind, each job nestled into its proper place like a row of freshly-laid eggs in the hen house. He downs the last swig of his dawn tonic, places his hand on his heart, and bids the earth 'goodmorning' before getting to work.
The name Elijah comes from a real man, a good man, my neighbor Lige Christian. He and his wife Kay are the reason we are here. Back in the day when we were dreaming of land, we discovered that the Christians were selling the organic blueberry farm in the Chimacum Valley, where we had spent many blissful hours picking the blues. Owning a blueberry farm sounded like something out of Fantasy Island, an enchanted and far away possibility. But thanks to the Christians' generosity and their commitment to supporting aspiring organic family farmers, we were able to work out a plan to purchase the farm. After five years on the land we expanded our vision and decided to start Finnriver Cidery. And it was Lige's idea to make hard cider. He had been experimenting with his own orchard and fermenting apples. He used to bring over his homemade cider bottles to share with the farm crew and we thought it was tasty. One day, looking down at the green sweep of ground in front our house, Lige said, "You know, this would be a good spot for an apple orchard..." And so we planted one and started to learn the craft of hard cider making.
Lige and Kay still live behind the farm on a knoll overlooking the valley. They walk their poodles down the road and we stop to chat about last night's windstorm or tomorrow's plan for pruning. They may not realize what it means to us to have them close. I grew up without knowing my grandparents and feel the loss of them now that I am a parent and can see the value to my own children. But here Lige and Kay are our elders, in the best sense of the word. They support our dreams and inspire us to consider the quality and character of what we do. We know that they are watching us as we pursue the vision of Finnriver and this makes us want to do it better.
The "swan" in the legend of Elijah Swan comes from the flock of trumpeters that settles into the waterlogged ponds of the valleybottom each winter. They are magnificent. In the morning they soar and honk overhead and then settle down to a day's rummaging for grub in the wet fields. Their white silhouettes are just as you'd expect, graceful and ethereal, otherwordly in their beauty. And yet here they are! Swans in the Chimacum Valley. We live in a world where it's possible stand in a shimmering field of frosted blueberry bushes and watch a swan fly by, its pure white wings beating time with your heart.
Elijah K. Swan is a character inspired by our neighbors, and by a vision for living on the land well. We decided to make a line of botanically-infused hard ciders as a tribute to Lige and Kay, and we have asked them to share their own stories here, by way of of keeping a history.
Elijah Swan wears elegant suspenders and a fine straw hat as he spreads seeds of virtue from wisdom-wrinkled hands. He walks his talk in mud-caked boots; and each morning when he nods reverently to the day ahead, he reminds us to make a true story of our lives on the land.
"An interest in farming began early in life for Kay and me. Kay grew up in a large city, which makes her attraction to farming somewhat unusual. However, I grew up on a small farm and therefore fell into its grip. By the time I started school our farm was purely for subsistence. My father had lost his right leg at the hip and could not walk behind a mule to plow. My older brothers had done the plowing and disk harrowing, but when they left to fight in WWII we didn’t have anyone to plow larger fields anymore. I was only five years old at the time. My parents sold the mules and attendant farm equipment and from that point we did everything by hand. This meant that our row crops were limited to between one and two acres.
A man named Pete, who owned a large white horse named Babe, lived down the road from our farm. Pete worked for various people plowing land for gardens. Every spring and fall one could see Babe pulling and Pete directing a single trace plow down the road. Each time we started our garden, Pete and Babe came and turned the soil. I loved to watch them work the ground. Pete directed Babe with short commands and a few flicks of the reins. When they finished, Babe’s great sides would be lathered with sweat and Pete looked like he had been caught in a thunderstorm. Pete didn’t have a disk harrow; so we had to rake the soil smooth and form the rows by hand.
I remember helping plant, what seemed to me, huge gardens each year. My mother did a prodigious amount of canning on our wood stove. We were fortunate to have a rock free sandy loam soil. As I now know, rocks are more than a slight impediment to hand implements. We had no knowledge about making compost to build up the soil. All of our green refuse went to our two milk cows, slaughter pigs and chickens. They were compliant enough to provide us with organic fertilizer. When we planted we would put, indian style, a couple of cow patties in each hole that was to receive seeds or a transplant. While the plants were small, it was my job to patrol the rows, clear some soil away from the base of each plant and look for cutworms, which I fed to the chickens.
Harvest time was always the most exciting for me; not only to eat fresh vegetables, but to heap up my red flyer wagon twice a week with freshly harvested vegetables and collected eggs. I would pull my packed wagon along a dirt road to the residential neighborhood between our farm and Highway 443. If I didn’t sell everything in the neighborhood I would continue on to the trailer park out on the highway. I really enjoyed hawking our produce and my family really needed the five to six dollars I would bring home each time. I built up what would be a lot of fond memories as well as a confidence with meeting the public.
Kay’s early gardening experiences were very different from mine.
Kay writes, "At the age of 9 I became interested in growing flowers to sell in my neighborhood. I was living in a large city that was in the southern U.S. with lots of sunshine. So I grew zinnias and attempted to sell them to neighbors. I did discover that since they were very easy to grow they were not a big seller in my neighborhood. Even so, this first attempt at digging up a small piece of our tiny backyard in the big city and growing plants from seeds from a seed packet proved to be the foundation of my latent farming instincts. My grandparents had been farmers in the Midwest in the time when most of the population lived on small farms.
While I was in junior high school there was a city-wide floral contest open to all ages. In my contrarian way I put together what I thought of as an interesting and colorful display consisting of an eggplant and various other colorful products of our backyard kitchen garden. Unfortunately the judges did not agree that vegetables could compete with flowers and I did not win a ribbon of any sort. Another lesson learned."
After college Kay and I found ourselves living in a city, Sacramento. We had a third of an acre on a corner lot, which did not hold much promise as either a garden or farm site. None-the-less, to one obsessed a path always opens..."
To be continued...