Our farm, Larch Grove (Canada), is a quarter section (160 acres), with 135 acres in untouched old-growth boreal forest and 25 acres in hay, which our neighbour leases for his dairy farm. We decided against clearing the entire quarter because we wanted to see what we could do in terms of small-scale organic farming practices that would work with the land and the unique ecosystem of the boreal forest. We cleared 1.5 acres by hand over the space of several years, and we run a large market garden and a small, unheated greenhouse, in addition to a naturally managed apiary. Our growing area and apiary are surrounded by an eight-foot fence made of larch (tamarack) trees from our land, as we have a healthy population of moose, deer, bears, and even the occasional cougar that we need to keep out of the veg. Early on in the planning for our farm, we took a cue from the fact that the nearest hook-up to the county’s electric grid is half a mile distant and decided to go fully off grid. Our cabin is powered by solar panels, heated through our -30C winters with a catalytic converter wood stove, and lit by beeswax candles. We grow the majority of the food we eat and preserve it for the cold months.

At the farm, we’re fascinated by the borders between the human and the “wild” land: where these borders are, what constitutes “wild,” and whether we can successfully work with the land to get what we need, instead of simply ruining it for our own gain.

We’re continually striving to be low impact and to close loops in our production to make ourselves more self-sufficient by adapting and saving seeds that work well in our harsh climate and digging a 15-foot farm pond to overwinter trout and diversify our food sources. Our future plans include building a straw bale artist residence and teaching studio, opening an off-grid B&B, and running workshops on preserving and beekeeping…

The farm has a definite impact on my poetry, specifically in my concentration on place. I’m used to working outside in all weather, from +38C summers to our worst -50C winter days with windchill that will literally freeze flesh. Working with my hands through such changeable seasons makes me slow down and notice the sky, the light, the animals passing through our farm. The tasks ground me in my body and breath. It’s become the same when I travel to present research or to write in different environments: I become hyper-aware of what surrounds me, and I look for ways in which to slow down the frenetic pace of travelling to more deeply sink into those locales.

Sometimes poems take shape as I’m working, and other times, I find myself “filling up,” as it were, storing images and sensory experiences for months at a time before sitting down to write. At times like those, I’ll often complete a manuscript in one go after weeks or months of not writing, simply working and observing…

Poetry has always struck me as the quickest way into the human system. When the words are just so, it’s as though you’ve been given them intravenously, bang, straight into the bloodstream and on their way to the heart. There’s very little room for words that don’t carry their own weight…Poetry is always compressing itself like rock under pressure. Poetry always seems to be reducing itself to gem form, morphing into these hard, bright, glittering nuggets.

Jenna Butler
Stories from the Wilderness