About thirty miles east of Quiet Creek is a small community where Rusty grew up. Home Camp was named for the homey area where lumbermen returned after a long day of rugged work in the woods.
Rusty’s granddad moved his family there from the big city of DuBois in the 1920’s. Home Camp is the place Rusty’s Dad has lived eighty years grooming the land into golden fields of wheat, rich strips of alfalfa, and stately rows of corn. These grains supplement the pastured dairy cattle which out-number the human residents.
Last Saturday night neighbors answered Russ’s call to celebrate his eightieth on earth and his fifty-five years married to Nancy. One hundred and seventy-six folks swarmed the large barn yard bringing casseroles and desserts. They came to laugh, visit, dance, and rejoice on the beautiful autumn night. The campfire warmed their surroundings and their hands.
Seven local musicians picked, fiddled, and plucked overlooking the dance floor on top of the hay mow; the caller directed, as neighbor swung neighbor, brother escorted sister, and the littlest ones ran throughout the dance squares. Many visitors sat on the hay bales and grain sacks watching with delight.
Five years ago a barn dance occurred celebrating fifty years of joyful marriage. Russ and Nancy’s friends and family were hungry for another shindig, never thinking that this one would top the last.
Home Camp holds a warm place in our hearts having been the spot of our wedding fourteen years ago, and the birth place of Rusty fifty years back. We stop and visit there as much as we can. We are blessed to have such a place that values true community. We can’t wait to doe-see-doe and promenade with down-to-earth folk.
Visitors to Quiet Creek are surprised by the absence of a television and often ask, “How can you function without it?” The answer – Better!
When it comes to entertainment, the options are limitless. Claire loves to read to the boys as much as they love to listen. Games of all styles and shapes are another favorite pastime. Board games, word games, table games, card games are welcome in the Orner home. Local thrift stores have yielded some winners: Blokus, Mastermind, as well as, jigsaw puzzles.
We have become a family of fun and games. Lately Ashton can’t stop playing chess and now he can whoop his dad two out of three times. Walker is particularly good at ping pong, thanks to the tutelage of friend, Jeremy. Claire is reading the Redwall series and Rusty is hooked on Othello.
Interns Kevin and Alice recently introduced us to a game called ‘Take One’ where unlimited number of players create and recreate their own personal crossword puzzle with seven scrabble letters. The first player to use his or her seven letters yells the game title and everyone picks up a new tile until all letters are used. It’s faster than scrabble and is great for all levels of spellers.
As winter evenings tick away we are actively engaged with one another challenging wit, mind, and skill. We’ll settle in the living room under the Christmas tree and listen to the radio, read books aloud and/or play a game with school work and chores completed. We all benefit in practicing good sportsmanship, complimenting great moves, thanking one another for quality time, and congratulating the winner (Rusty is working on the latter).
This holiday season try bypassing the passive television and computer screen; break out a game and enjoy everyone’s laughter and mental ability.
With negative temperatures last week, we were prompted to empty our upright freezer, temporarily. The ice monster had accumulated an over abundance of frost on its coils, limiting the storage capacity and efficiency. Claire emptied the frozen vegetable, bread, meat, and assorted containers of leftovers into laundry baskets and set them outside in God’s ice box. She then filled the freezer with bowls of hot water, closed the door, and periodically cleaned up the unwanted pools of frost that heaped on the freezer floor. After a day of thawing, Rusty accepted the job of sorting, composting, organizing, and eating the freezer goodies.
The most valuable content returned to the clean shelves was a baggie of pepper seeds from Italy awaiting a spring planting. The strangest item was a frozen weasel wanted by our taxidermist friend from Punxsutawney. A few compostables included unlabeled broth cubes and homemade coffee ice cream, whereas the majority of the inventory equaled weeks of soups, casseroles, and steaks. Even a hidden chunk of cheese made for a tasty pizza over the frigid weekend.
We appreciate the twenty-first century convenience of keeping food cold and/or frozen, but lately Rusty is investigating sustainable cold storage systems from his Father’s time. Grandpa Russ recalls the only “refrigerator” they had in the house was an oak cabinet with chunks of ice cut out of their pond insulated with sawdust. He also had an ice house where ice was stored year round. His spring house was used for cooling food, primarily milk.
Rusty dreams of using these techniques for the future, but presently he hopes to eat up the freezer food and travel over to the taxidermist.
Our youngest turned eight this week. We’re sure it was just yesterday that Rusty caught this bundle of joy as he made his world debut. Claire witnessed bewilderment on his proud papa’s face that special day, March 9, 2001. Our midwife Mary and Rusty were speechless, so his mother announced, “He’s a boy!”
Everyone had anticipated a girl, so when “Bailey Kate” arrived as “Ashton Grey” there was a lot of convincing taking place. Eight years later there is no doubt, he is all boy.
This kid hit the ground running and has never slowed down. He doesn’t even stop to put on his shoes. When winter teased us with near seventy degree weather last week, Ashton was leaving bare footprints in the mud and snow.
Often we catch glimpses of him on your computer screen saver, an accumulation of photographs taken over the past eight years. The majority of the photos depict our towhead climbing trees. If we totaled all of Ashton’s waking hours, more than half would prove to be spent in the air. We find him in our eighty foot hemlock, the kiwi trellis, the white pines, and/or on top of the roof.
While Rusty views trees as potential building material or firewood, Ashton sees them as something to explore. No matter what the occasion, where we are, or what he is wearing, if Ashton can touch it -- he climbs it. This bothered his parents at first, until Irene, a veteran of two energetic boys, shared “the ground hasn’t missed catching one yet.”
We know our Tom Sawyer who loves pocket knives, rocks, and toads is growing fast. We’re thankful for the guardian angel who has worked overtime since his birth.
In eight more years, this lad will be driving, in another eight he may be married, finishing college, and climbing Mount Rainer. We won’t rush any of these years, they come fast enough. For now, we’ll enjoy him as a precious gift and allow him to be the boy God created.
It appears that neither the calendar, nor the neighboring groundhog, is needed to know that spring has arrived. In fact, the world-renowned weather rodent has been sighted sunning himself in the field and playing chicken on the road.
Signs of spring are everywhere. Rusty heard the ‘pete’ of the woodcock; this is his mating whistle spiraling in the air. The robins are flitting here and there. The red-winged blackbirds and multiple Vs of the Canada goose are high and low. Even the bees are out collecting nectar.
You may ask, what is flowering in March? Dale, our bee keeping friend, dropped by to see how our hive survived winter and he mentioned that skunk cabbage is the first flower to provide food to the honeybee here in western Pennsylvania.
Sure enough, when we hiked Quiet Creek’s nature trail last week, Walker excitedly spotted the purple cone poking through the dried leaves on the forest floor with his favorite insect doing her work. Nearby, the dandelion look-a-like, Coltsfoot, is showing its bright yellow face. Tulips, daffodils, and crocus are following in its footsteps.
Each spring we anxiously await the sound of peepers, an early morning turkey gobble, and the peewees pee weeing. It is time for new beginnings, another chance at a garden of fruit, vegetables, and flowers. In addition, we can count on Rusty asking his annual question, “Why do we spend all winter chipping ice and cutting wood?”
The answer is quickly revealed; we step outside and take a deep breath of fresh, spring air. Spring has come to Quiet Creek!
What a crazy week! Sam, our golden retriever, followed his nose two miles to our neighbors’ house. They were not grilling steaks, but their Brook, a beautiful female rotweiler, was the winner of Sam’s heart and nose.
Heeding Bob’s request for no puppies, we confined Sam to his doghouse along with Brook’s blanket. He playfully cuddled up with it, but howled throughout the night after realzing ‘it’ wasn’t the real Brook.
Wanting an uninterrupted sleep, Rusty chained Sam to a table in the barn. The next morning we discovered Sam gone and the table was moved with its top on the floor split in two. Claire jumped in the truck to retrieve our retriever and to drop off a new blanket for Brook to aromatisize.
Walker was the one to calm his father’s frustration by showing him the hidden drawer located in the split table top. In the drawer was an envelope full of German coins from the 1800s and one uncancelled postage stamp. Being avid collectors, the two took the pale blue Benjamin Franklin picture and headed to consult the Internet. They determined the stamp to be extremely rare.
Meanwhile Ashton and Claire arrived home after learning how to spin wool into yarn with their friend Maryann. Ashton, a concientious young man, picked up a pencil and paper to show his appreciation to Maryann in a thank you note.
The plot sickens now that Rusty and Walker returned to the barn to dissect the table for more treasure leaving the postage stamp in the office. Claire helped stamp their note, but realized she needed a two one-cent stamps to add to a forty one. She sent Ashton to the office to located the stamps and he placed them on his envelop along with the address to their spinning acquaintance.
Rusty loves to tell the story of Quiet Creek’s first and only employees. It started thirteen seasons ago when we were inspired by five thirteen-year-olds who helped us establish Quiet Creek’s mission.
They were Ben, Heidi, Jason, Jeff, and Ryan – Claire’s eighth grade students from her first year of teaching at Brookville High. These fine young people “wanted to work at Mrs. Orner’s herb farm.” As a mismatch of shy, mischievous, studious, and outgoing personalities, this five-some arrived wearing baggy pants, shorts, overalls, t-shirts and a few with skateboards in hand.
That summer we paid them minimum wage and threw in an extra quarter for every bucket of weeds they filled. It was definitely hard work, planting and weeding five hundred strawberry plants while shoveling soil to create a spiral of Echinacea in raised beds. After ten days off for vacation, two of the young men, Jason and Ryan, returned saying “Wow, those German Johnson tomatoes really grew.”
We were so excited that summer. Not only had the willing workers noticed a change in the garden, but they remembered the name of the heirloom crop they had planted. In addition, we discovered how important kids (and adults) need and want to take ownership in a meaningful project.
Quiet Creek Herb Farm & School of Country Living was truly birthed that summer by five teenagers struggling to understand their adolescence while digging, weeding, planting, and watching the growth of baby plants on an organic herb farm.
Imagine our excitement this spring when one of the original five contacted us to complete his college internship here. Ryan has been a blessing to us all summer with his easy going attitude and encouragement to the other members of the Quiet Creek volunteer crew. Then to add to our pleasure, Jason stopped by this week while home from Louisiana. A few years back, Heidi invited us to her special wedding day.
To share memories and to plan new adventures with these three has brought tears to Claire’s eyes. They are fine people now grounded in sustainable living and they were the first to help us put our dream into action –to nurture ecological thinking.
Thank you Ryan, Jason and Heidi; let’s get together more often and invite Jeff and Ben next time.
As an educational facility, a good chunk of our time is spent teaching. Sometimes it is one on one as in the garden teaching an intern or with a large group of one hundred and fifty students.
Rusty, a born teacher, enjoys sharing his knowledge as does Cliff Claven. Many a question is answered by him stating “interestingly enough” or “it’s a little known fact.”
He gets charged up in front of a crowd by telling jokes. For certain classes his comedy routine is fueled by the laughter and participation of his students.
Every class comes with the name tag request which leads Rusty into the story about “the lady in the shop the other day.” Rusty says “hi, you look so familiar and what is your name?” The woman replies exasperated “Rusty, we’ve been married for fourteen years.” He goes on to say “I know that, but what is your name?”
The resulting laughter fuels the fire prompting more memory jokes. Rusty shares that Claire makes a memory salve using rosemary essential oil, olive oil and beeswax. Folks always ask him “where do you apply the memory salve?” He replies, “ask Claire, I can’t remember.”
Cheesy jokes are his favorite stand up act. There’s the “no whey” or “whey cool” responses that pop up during class, in addition with “all the whey” when making reference to the albuminous protein. One of the steps in making the cheese is to preserve it in paraffin, so he’ll hold up a red block of it asking its identity. If no one answers, he’ll jokingly say “none of your cheese wax.”
His mushroom class has “fun guy” humor whereas his soap classes always end with him touting on his “soap box.”
As always his students go home with knowledge, a homemade item, and lots of belly-filled laughter. These are all good therapies for the brain, the body and the soul to live longer, happier, and healthier.
Come on out and laugh with him; that “lady in the shop” sure recommends his humor.
Snow Much Fun - Darlene, our diligent rural mail carrier, delivered a box of seeds yesterday and commented on our extravagant ice sculpture. In her travels throughout the county, she rarely sees kids out playing during the winter months.
How refreshing to see Ashton with his new friend, Stowe, building a six-foot snow dude with a Mohawk and hear about Walker’s Boy Scout challenges from Polar Bear Camp. Winter activity is especially beneficial to combat the doldrums attributed to low sunlight levels. Racing down slopes on sleds, tubes, and snowboards here or Camp Mountain Run creates life time memories with rosy red checks.
Our boys lose track of time and temperature when they are careening down “the Rib cracker.” This appropriately named hill includes bumps and stumps. The ice-filled pavilion makes way for ice-skating ventures and the open fields are always available for snow angels.
This Sunday, January 24 from 2 to 6 p.m. we welcome you and your family to join us for Quiet Creek’s annual snow party. Bring your warm clothing and a healthy snack to share. If there is more mud than snow, we’ll play board games in the barn. The focus of the day is to enjoy community with good old-fashion fun.
Hope to see you soon; if not here, then in your own yard forming snow art and ramps.