Winter Weddings and My Great Horned Owl Returns

This morning I watched the first snowflake of the season float past me. No more Indian summer weather. The season has changed for good.

And good it is.

Thursday mornings start early for our microgreen harvest. We harvest, wash and pack our microgreens so that when delivered to Whole Foods, they are less than four hours old—talk about fresh!

An early start means coffee at 5AM. This morning I was greeted by a beautiful moon in the west.

Its light cast shadows all over the farm. The air felt crisp and a deep breath awakend me thoroughly. And then I heard him. My owl. It may be a female, but call me old-fashioned, I like to think of him as a him, watching over me and the farm.

For eight years now I’ve heard him—a Great Horned Owl—hoot from up in the trees around the farm house. In January he will begin to call to a mate and the pair will hoot back and forth to each other for a couple of weeks until they nest. Although mated for life, they live a solitary existence most of the year coming together only to raise their chicks.

And they are such magnificent creatures. I’ve even had the honor of seeing one up close.

A couple of years ago I was driving in a snowstorm between Marengo and Rockford on Interstate 90. It was really early in the morning. Heading west, in front of me, a big rig hit something that flew up in the air and landed on the shoulder. The snowfall made it hard to see, but I thought it was a big bird—either a hawk or an owl. I wrestled with my conscience for a few seconds and then pulled over. I had to walk back about a quarter of a mile along the shoulder. There in the snow was a Great Horned Owl. Its penetrating, lifeless eyes stared past me. Such a magestic creature, so tragic. I found myself getting choked up as the owl’s delicate, beautiful feathers blurred in front of me.

I held it in my arms hoping it would come back to life. About a foot and half long, it must have weighed four pounds. Oblivious to the solemn scene, cars and trucks passed us at 70 miles an hour. It’s a felony to drag a bird-of-prey carcass off a roadway, but I couldn’t just leave. It’s so rare to see an owl up close. Children should see this bird to appreciate its beauty—a computer screen image or a picture in a book can’t do it justice. Then I remembered an ecologist friend of mine had a scavenger’s license. The license would enable him to take the owl to a taxidermist and preserve it. I made the call and decided that if I couldn’t get through to him, I would risk it and bury the beautiful owl myself in the woods—to rest in peace. My saga ended well, this regal bird was preserved for all to appreciate in a children’s museum in Chicago.

So this morning I felt blessed to be greeted by my owl.

And the blessing keep coming today. Chef Nathan from Vie (a marvelous restaurant in Western Springs) came out to the farm to pick up spinach. I tasted some of the harvest, and oh my, the freezing weather has brought out the sweetness. I love winter spinach!

Nate and the farm team harvested thousands of pounds of root vegetables from the field before it froze, filling up our walk-in cooler to the brim. Have you ever tasted a watermelon radish? It’s a gorgeous pink on the inside and tastes delicious!

All during the fall, the events team has been busy meeting with prospective brides and grooms. It’s like there is a big happy bubble around Daryn. All of his meetings are filled with MMMMs over menus that Chef Jeremy’s come up with and laughter or giggles over all the plans.

There’s nothing more fun than planning a wedding. And on the farm, couples are free to tailor it to their vision. Some are formal, others more casual, and some are just plain fun.

But the big excitement today was over plans for the farm’s first winter wedding—sleigh bells and wedding bells! Winter events are new this season. We’re all getting excited about decorations and, of course, the wonderful food we’ll feature. Our greenhouse by the barn is hosting our Winter Farmer’s Market on Saturdays. It’s so warm and sunny—even on a grey, cold day. And the bigger greenhouse (site of last year’s Valentines Day Farm Dinner) is getting decked out and decorated for its big launch for the November Farm Dinner on Saturday, the 19th. Bring on the holiday cheer!

A day that begins so happily should end with something tasty, don’t you think? I think I’ll make chicken stew and corn bread soaked in honey. The chicken will be in honor of my owl—as I know for a fact he likes my chickens too!

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