Glowing embers crackled softly in the fireplace as the last fire of 2023 burned to ashes. The young woman lay camped out on a woolly sheepskin rug before the hearth in the otherwise darkened farmhouse. It was the longest night of the year─the Winter Solstice. For farmers such as she, this was the end and start of the agrarian calendar. A night of contemplation and ritual.

She watched the diminishing fire, thoughtfully considering the struggles, mistakes and heartaches of the past year. It had begun with car trouble and a financial loss carried over from the ill-fated pig project of 2022. Then, in March, her world had come crashing down with the ending of her 3+ year relationship. The next few months she spent picking up the pieces of her broken heart. After that, the rest of the year was a process of putting her life back together without a man in it.

Those broken pieces hadn’t gone back together quite the same way. She was different now. Forever changed by the pain of betrayal and the devastation of her broken heart. Yet, she was grateful for the experience. For, despite the losses, she’d gained so much more…

yule log embers
Photo credit: Wikipedia (CC)

Prompted by Nature

Initially I balked at the idea of doing an end-of-year review for 2 reasons. 1: Because I find them a little cliche and boring to write. And 2: because 2023 kicked my ASS and I’m still healing from those wounds. Looking back is still very triggering and the holiday season has been surprisingly difficult─emotionally speaking.

All that changed, however, when I was inspired by a prompt shared by Helen who writes @PromptedbyNature on Substack. Helen wrote about the druidic tradition of the Yule log. She described how it was brought in from outside and placed on the dying embers of last year’s fire to reignite the flames. This symbolized the moment of rebirth. “To be born again of the earth…”

Helen’s prompt instructed you to imagine a dwindling fire with its glowing embers and all it’s crackling and popping. What might these represent to you when you consider all that has come to pass this year? she asked.

Both an ending and a beginning, this image of glowing embers stuck with me. Eventually, I capitulated and wrote the “Embers” scene. I decided a year-end review would be a final releasing of those things from 2023 that I want to let go of. After this, I will only be looking forward to 2024. I hope you will join me.


Hay Mission 2023 with truck & trailer on loan from North Anson Auto!

* Car repairs: After spending the 22-23 winter without transportation, I used my tax return to buy a replacement engine to get the Subaru back on the road. Deron’s son, Spencer, was kind enough to install the engine free of charge.
* Hay conveyor: We were gifted a gently-used hay conveyor, making short work of storing the winters’ hay in the barn-loft. Before that, we were hauling one bale at a time on a pulley. Doing 400 bales that way gets old fast, so we are super grateful to have such a tool available on the farm.
* Hay Mission 2023: Thanks to North Anson Auto for the use of their truck and flatbed trailer, this was one of the smoothest Hay Missions yet!
* Farmer-to-Farmer Conference: Thanks to a scholarship provided by the Greater Franklin Food Council, I was able to attend MOFGA’s annual Farmer-to-Farmer Conference at Sugarloaf. To get the full story check out this post I wrote about the experience: “The Farmer-to-Farmer Conference“.

* Farmstand closed: An exceptionally rainy growing season severely impacted production here at Runamuk. We didn’t have enough produce to stock both the farmstand and supply the CSA. As a result, I was forced to abandon the farmstand to prioritize CSA members who had committed to the farm earlier in the year.
* Ending the CSA: 2023 was our CSA’s final year. The reasons for ending Runamuk’s longstanding CSA program are largely related to financial feasibility, time & energy, and a shift of personal priorities. See this post: “A Bittersweet Ending” for more details.


2023 year-end review garden runamuk acres
Early spring garden at Runamuk Acres.

* Carrots & onions: Root crops love our sandy soil here at Runamuk! Despite the rains, we were able to produce respectable harvests of carrots and onions in a myriad of varieties and colors. Read more about our 2023 planting season with this post: “Planting: the Ongoing Saga“.
* Brassicas: Crops like broccoli and cabbage love plenty of water, so they didn’t mind the rainy season at all. We took a decent harvest from them also.
* 10 new trees: I planted 6 maple whips out in the field and 4 new fruit tress─including a peach tree.

* Crop failures: Due to the rainy conditions, we had poor results with summer squashes, winter squashes, and corn.
* No tomatoes: Pests thrived in the wet conditions, decimating potato and tomato crops.


embers 2023 year-end review farm
Beebe loves her new doghouse!

* Replaced old layers: Runamuk invested in 60+ new, fluffy-butt chicks from McMurray’s Hatchery this past spring. I constructed a new chick brooder and raised up this new group of laying hens. Then, I “phased out” our 3 and 4yo chickens, hoping for an improvement in egg production come 2024.
* Beebe’s doghouse: The lumber for the structure to house my livestock guardian was another big investment this year, both in time and money. Worth every penny, I’m super proud of the way that doghouse turned out. More importantly, Beebe loves having her own space.
* Repairs to sheep-tractors: These are the moveable livestock sheds we use to rotate sheep on the field. One is a salt-box shed on skids. The other is a truck-cap that’s been modified to suit the sheep. Hauling these structures around the field all summer is rough on them. Both required some TLC in order to be put into action this year.
* New winter ram-shed: This was an unexpected project that popped up during winter preparations. Repurposing materials already on the farm, I was replaced the old truck-cap “shed “house” with a pallet-structure bearing a metal roof. The boys are content and cozy in their new digs.
* Sheep-business: To help cover the cost of their winter hay, I sell and process a handful of sheep each season. This year, we sold 2 lambs to a local homestead. Then, in November, Runamuk harvested 6 to share among CSA members. For more on this, check out: “Sheep Day“.
* Kyo: An unplanned addition to the farm, my orange kitty, Kyo, has been good medicine for my aching heart. Thanks to a community program offered by the Animal Medical Clinic of Skowhegan, I was able to get his first shots and neutering done for just $10.

New winter ram-shed, built of repurposed materials!

* Lost lambs: It saddens me to say that we experienced a high mortality rate last lambing season. This is a hard one to acknowledge because it feels like the ultimate failing on my part. I had a larger number of expectant ewes coming into 2023─several of whom were first-time moms. Finns typically throw multiples in lambing, and we ended up with more than one litter of 3 and 4. Those large litters are both a blessing and a curse because, while they rapidly increase flock-size, the lambs are often very tiny and require vigilant care from the farmer. These lessons in animal husbandry are a painful, but unavoidable part of the lifestyle I have chosen.
* Beebe STILL needs to be spayed: I had promised myself “no new animals until Beebe is spayed!“. Then the breakup happened and I brought Kyo home, lol. To have a female dog spayed is a good $500. Add any shots or testing to that, and it will run higher. This one is financially out of reach at the moment, but weighs heavily on me.


Thank you, Mission at the Eastward!

* Roof repairs: Thanks to another community program, this one offered by Mission at the Eastward, we were able to secure assistance with some much-needed repairs to the roof on the farmhouse.
* Cleaning & Organizing: Having spent the last 3+ years divided between 2 homes, certain aspects of the farm and my life had been neglected. Cleaning, organizing, and re-centering myself following the breakup has been both therapeutic and inspiring.
* BraeTek’s room: After 5 long years, we’ve finally completed the remodel on BraeTek’s bedroom. Wooooooooo! Turning 17 in February, I’m hoping he lingers long enough to enjoy it before fledging the nest. You can read more about this awesome Mom-victory in my recent post: “Christmas on the Farm“.
* New Range: When the stovetop on our electric range died recently, I put out an SOS to my community. I hoped to score a good deal on a used model. Instead, we were surprised with the gift of a new range just in time for the upcoming ski-season─a busy time for our farmstayB&B. What a blessing! Get the full story at “Random Acts of Kindness“.

*None? There were no real fails in this department─only projects that continue to await my attention. That’s not really a fail, though, is it? That’s just life.

Conservation Efforts

* Lumber: Part of my conservation effort involves improving this habitat for local wildlife. One of the ways I intend to do that is by building and installing various birdhouses throughout the property. When I purchased materials for Beebe’s doghouse, I also bought materials for our first birdhouses─in particular, a house for a barred owl. My favorite owl.
* Research: I’ve taken to studying conservation and conservationists like Aldo Leopold, seeking to learn from the greats.
* Renewed commitment: Another result of re-centering my life, conservation is now my #1 priority in work and in life. I don’t know how I’ll do it, but I know that’s my purpose here at Runamuk.

*None: Again, no significant fails, only projects awaiting completion.


* CSA emails converted: With the culmination of Runamuk’s CSA program, the weekly email updates I’d been sending to members has been converted into a weekly blog-post. It feels right to share my farm-stories with a wider audience, progressing my writing career in the direction I want to go. So far, they seem to be well-received by blog followers and I thank you for that.
* Substack launch: Still in its infancy, Sparkling Audacity is yet another effort to further cultivate my own authenticity, along with my burgeoning my  writing career.
* Top priority: Part of that re-centering process I’ve undergone this year, writing is hugely important to me and I’ve renewed my commitment to this side of myself.

*None: Nothing to report, so that’s another win, right?


Our farm-to-table breakfasts are HOT!

* Improved menu: Mercifully, our Farmstay bed&breakfast, listed with AirBnB, has remained relatively consistent throughout the year. Running with this, I’ve redesigned our farm-to-table menu, creating a 2-page spread printed on heavyweight brown kraft paper. Now with more options, including a kids’ menu and seasonal specials like: pumpkin-spice pancakes and cran-apple-ginger oatmeal, guests rave about our breakfasts. Click to learn more about Runamuk’s FarmstayBnB.
* Charging for breakfast: When I first began hosting visitors to our farmstayB&B, breakfasts came free with the stay. With the rising cost of ingredients, however, I made the decision to charge for breakfasts and this has been a boon to the farm.
* Border rep: I am still elated to learn from recent visitors that Runamuk’s reputation has spread so far as the US/Canadian border! Say whaaaaaaaaaat!?

*None: Nothing to speak of.


* Anuual maintenance: BraeTek and I trimmed back the trees on either side of the access road leading to the remote campsite. We even put another coat of paint on the picnic table there.
* Updates to listing: In an effort to attract more campers, I took some new pictures and updated our listing on Hipcamp.

* Visitor disrespect: Runamuk’s campsite is located amid a young grove of northern larch along the southern end of our conservation acreage. It’s been identified by state biologists as prime habitat for threatened species of wildlife such as the Canadian Lynx, Nighthawks and the elusive wood turtle. Access to the campsite is little more than a snowmobile trail cut through the woods and to protect both road and habitat, I’ve limited vehicle-traffic there to 2 vehicles per group. Though I spoke with these visitors in person, even providing a printed copy of rules for site-use, we had an incident of visitor disrespect. A large group ignored my request to leave any vehicles beyond 2 at the edge of the field, rather than walking in or car-pooling, this group drove 6 different vehicles through protected habitat. I’m hoping this is a rare occurrence.

On a Personal Note

samantha burns 2023
Quality time with Murphy.

* Re-centering of Self: Following my Break-Up early in the year, I spent a lot of time in self-reflection. I analyzed where my time and energy was going to discern if I was truly happy in those efforts. After much deliberation, I adjusted course and proceeded accordingly.
* Personal growth: There were some tough realizations on deeply personal levels that led me to acknowledge my own shortcomings. People-pleasing and self-sacrifice are bad habits I’ve picked up as a survival tactic over the course of my life. I want to learn to be more authentic, steadfast in my sense of self, so that I can maintain better boundaries for me.
* Me-Time: I was just 19 when I married my high school sweetheart and remained that way faithfully for 15 years. Since the divorce 9 years ago, I’ve been in 2 relationships. In order to achieve the goal of sincere authenticity, I need to spend time being alone. At 43, I need to be single for a while to immerse myself in my own life. To get comfortable with myself so that no one will ever be able to walk on me again. I need to give myself the love that I’ve so desperately tried to give everyone else.
* Flagstaff hike: Though I didn’t leave the farm much this year, I did take a day for a hike along Flagstaff Lake with my best-buddy, Murphy. We had a picnic lunch at the Maine Huts & Trails’ Flagstaff Hut and generally enjoyed a beautiful summer day in the Maine wilderness.
* Kingfield POPs: Having been gifted a pair of tickets, I coerced my sister into accompanying me to the Kingfield POPs for a night of live music and good natured shenanigans. Having never experienced the event, I was thoroughly enamored and look forward to making it an annual tradition.

* The Breakup: Loathe to discuss it for the pain it still causes, I will say only that this event set the tone for the rest of the year and altered the course of my life forever.
* Bigelow attempt: I’ve always dreamed of spending the night on top of my favorite mountain─the mountain that stirs my soul and drives my conservation efforts: Bigelow. For my birthday this year, I attempted a solo-hike of the Bigelow traverse. Unfortunately, my inexperience as a backpacker and a corresponding heat-wave worked against me. I didn’t make it further than Cranberry Peak and had to be rescued by group of fellow hikers.
* The Turkey incident: Obviously I wasn’t watching after myself very well when I allowed an 8lb frozen turkey to fall on my foot 2 days before Thanksgiving. This one sent me to the emergency room for X-rays. Thankfully, nothing was broken, but the healing process has been slow and that foot is still tender.
* Finances: What started with a poor return on the 2022 Pig-Project, has only been compounded by the impact of 2023’s rainy growing season. Finances continue to be a constant source of stress and anxiety here. I’ve put a freeze on farm-spending and have a plan for increasing income as we move into 2024.

Changes for 2024

* Energy to conservation: Earlier this year, I announced my “Stewardship Initiative“. Then, during my soul-searching following the Breakup, I realized my heart truly lies with conservation. What I want most is to progress Runamuk as an ecological reserve. In order to make this happen, I have to make conservation a priority in my life and in my business planning.

* Farmstand ONLY: In an effort to stabilize farm-finances, I am letting go of the CSA to prioritize our farmstand. For more details, please see: “A Bittersweet Ending“.

* I WILL WRITE: This is no longer a negotiable part of my life. Too long my writing has taken a back seat to family and farm. Now I am giving serious time and energy to progress my writing career.

* BraeTek in the garden: While he helps quite a lot with the livestock, I haven’t employed BraeTek in the garden very much. When your income is dependent upon producing a successful harvest, the mistakes of the inexperienced gardener are costly. Now in his last 2 years of schooling, I want to ensure he has these skills to take with him on his own life’s journey.

* No new investments: Aside from the purchase of essentials, we will not be making any new financial investments this season. No new critters, pets, toys, and NO new trees from Fedco (this is the one that hurts the most, lol).

* More consistency: No longer divided between 2 homes, I can focus my attention and energy on the things that matter most to me. The changes I have made in my operation are meant to allow more consistency in my life. I want to be more consistent with the farmstand, with my writing, and with myself.


Drawing her shawl about her shoulders, the woman got to her feet and went to the door. She stepped out onto the porch, hauling in a deep breath of the crisp night air. Filling her lungs, she gazed up at the moon and stars overhead. She was lucky, she knew, to live in a place where one could see the night sky in such splendor, and a wave of gratitude washed over her. Her heart swelled and she gave thanks to the Universe for the life she lived on the farm.

sheep in the moonlight
Photo credit: Jon Katz of Bedlam Farm.

Having heard the farmhouse door open, a few of the more inquisitive sheep had emerged from their shed to see what was going on and one of them baaaaa’d at her from across the barnyard. This woke the slumbering livestock guardian, who began barking into the night, not really sure what was going on. Smiling to herself, the lady-farmer retrieved the armful of birch logs she’d collected earlier in the day and retreated once more to the sanctity of the farmhouse.

She was done thinking about last year. Done with people who hurt her. Done with blurry boundaries and making herself small to please others. Hers was a life of purpose. She had a calling to answer to, and that calling was hers and hers alone.

Kneeling at the hearth, the woman carefully arranged the birch twigs and sticks atop the smoldering embers. She dribbled the red wine on the coals to ward off bad spirits─just the way her forefathers had always done─before placing the birch log. Then, blowing gently to stir the embers, she thought only of the successes of the past year, and of the opportunities that awaited her in the year ahead.

Somehow, she’d gotten the car back on the road. Finances were still a struggle, but she’d managed to secure the winter’s hay store. Thanks to community programs, essential repairs had been made to the farmhouse. Mostly, though, this had been a year of healing, self-discovery and personal growth. It had been a year for re-centering and reaffirming her own dedication to the life she felt called to.

Blowing gently onto the embers of last year’s fire, the lady-farmer watched the flames jump up, licking at the twigs and sticks. Like the phoenix, born again from the ashes of it’s old life, the first fire was reignited and the New Year begun.

Excited for the year ahead with it’s fresh start and new opportunities, the woman resumed her position on the sheepskin rug. Sitting there cross-legged, she watched as the little fire grew, eating the twigs and sticks and lapping at the Yule log.

This year, she vowed, things would be different.

Thank you for following along with the story of this lady-farmer! It is truly a privilege to live this life serving my family and community, and protecting wildlife through agricultural conservation. Check back soon for more updates from the farm, and be sure to follow @RunamukAcres on Instagram and Facebook!

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Runamuk Acres Conservation Farm