Rosendale, NY – It’s 5:46 a.m. on Sunday, I’ve let three of the dogs out back and Laurel Okorofsky is bounding down the stairs with the intensity of a coffee fiend.
“Is Nomad out there?” she asks of the sleek Husky who knows no boundaries. We look toward the pretty silvered barn, a hand-made wedding gift from her husband, and toward the paddock, where her rearing colt and gelding are giving meaning to “horse play.”
While I work at waking, still jet-lagged from Denver, she’s trimmed the challah for the French toast, cleaned the kitchen, given me an update on her plans for a wheat crop. Trees will be felled today. The maple taps must come out.
Welcome to Laurel-Land.
There are no limits at Two Hearts Ranch, a homestead, really, which with Laurel’s exuberance and scientific curiosity has become a large personal laboratory for the land’s potential.
Just look around the living areas, which husband Stuart built by hand. Barry and I sleep on the fold-out couch because the mycelium experiments have recently taken over the guest room. There are bee hives under construction by the stove and five trays of tender vegetables sprouting in the office.
It’s a little after 7 a.m., and Laurel has her muck boots on and is out the door. It’s time to sweep the tack room, feed the horses, examine the buds on the vigorously pruned fruit trees.
“You want to be a part of it?” she coaxes, holding the screen door wide for Fin, my shy schipperke mix. ”C’mon.”
Stuart, who tackles the farm chores with similar gusto, has taken over in the kitchen. He is lean from cutting down trees and carrying 200 gallons of maple syrup sap out to the fire pit. In their free time they compete in triathlons and think nothing of sneaking in a 35-mile bike ride after a 12-mile run.
Sure, you’re thinking, anyone can do that. But there are killer hills on their route.
Our meal today is a breakfast of turkey sausages, orange juice, French toast with fresh eggs from their vet’s hens, and maple syrup, the production of which has consumed life here for the past month. It took all 200 gallons of clear sap to produce less than five gallons of caramel-colored syrup. They organically grow as much of their food as they can in a no-till garden.
“In the beginning there was snow on the ground. A lot of snow at the time, so I had to carry the sap,” says Stuart, who actually runs a successful business that has nothing to do with farming. ”Originally Baron was supposed to carry it, but that didn’t happen. So I was the pack horse.”
You may recall Laurel as a bit player in other narratives. We’ve slipped in several undocumented meals since this dinner experiment began, but I thought you should meet her now, as the northeast growing season kicks in. Laurel is my enabler. She is the reason I cut two tall red oak trees two years ago into four-foot logs, and convinced Barry to drill holes in them to cultivate shiitake mushrooms. She is the reason I keep bees. She is the reason I’m staring at a $200 hand-crafted Austrian scythe in the corner of my office.
I believe at some point this summer I will be learning to use it in her field to harvest the emmer, an ancient wheat she’s tracked down.
All of this could be construed as slightly insane, but they push at life for good reason: Stuart, who is nearing 60, lost his brother young to AIDS and Laurel, who is still in her 40s, was widowed young.
The French toast is perfectly browned and our friend Amber has set the cherry dining table, which, I should mention was handmade by Stuart along with the 12 Mission-style chairs.
“If you’re having French toast you have to do it while it’s hot,” Stuart calls out to Laurel, who has darted inside between tasks.
“I have one more thing to do out there,” she says.
“There’s one shaped like a heart,” he says. We let out a collective groan, which just makes her laugh. Many hearts have shown up here since Two Hearts was named.
“Maybe I’ll do that one,” she says, and then slips back outside.