Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Absent again

I know I have been gone from this for a long time.  The funny thing is the longer I procrastinated, the more I wanted to write, and the harder it has become to sit down and release the fog from my brain.

There is so much narcissistic writing out there, even if it is beautiful, and I just didn't want to add to the clutter.  Plus, the more I read of other people's words, teh cloudier my own thoughts have become, and often in any given day, there isn't enough prolonged silence for me to gather my thoughts from that fog, shake them out, arrange them, string them together, generally make sense of them all.

This warm spring weather has been intense after such a deep, cold winter.  The world seems to have shaken itself fiercely from the frozen tentacles of ice and misery; mud bogged us down as we tried to move forward, then Spring loosed itself with a passionate scream of thunder and an early bloom of lilacs.

From our front porch, where we play, and I sip my coffee (iced or hot), the river glistens and changes and fills and drops and rushes over the waterfall.  During the stupendous thunderstorms that have raked our little rolling mountains, the river (brook? creek?  river-let?) bubbles and rises and engulfs vegetation at its sides, seeming to threaten to run away somewhere entirely unexpected.  All throughout central Vermont rivers have done just this.  But here, the little un-named waterway has yet to be as deep as it was during the mud season floods.  Further down our valley, where it is the Pekin Brook, its course has been re-arranged, and it seems it won't be long before that road may need to wend its way on some other path.

As I say this, the sky has clouded up again, and this afternoon's round will be pushing through soon.  This is supposed to be the end of the humbling storms that began with the tail end of the front that caused all that sorrow and horror in Joplin, MO.  Much diminished upon its arrival in New England, it nonetheless ripped its way into our ground, forever changing the face of the modestly urban Washington County.

Nadia has come home, creemee in hand (soft ice cream for those of you out of the know), smiling from ear to ear that Daddy finally got to pick her up from Preschool.  Bedecked in a dress that used to belong to my friend's daughter she looks a bit ethereal, and floaty, and like she is the butterfly or fairy or dragon she is peppering me with questions about.  The boy babies (well, toddlers, really) are sleeping, and have been for quite a time, which seems about right for the weather.

Until yesterday the yard seemed lost under the exuberance of Spring, with puffballs and dandelions, yellow dock and plantain, nettle, violets, and johnny jump ups running across the yard as if they ruled the place.  It seemed truly wild.  I found a pile of free things, including another toddler swing, a PreK basketball hoop, and a plastic sand box that was not a turtle or a boat.  Although small, this little plastic sandbox is shaped like an old stump and I placed it the shade of the giant maple tree and near the sweet little shade garden some old lady had once planted here.  Now, with rocks surrounding it, and a few flat landscaping stones as steps, its plasticness has faded into the background, while ferns and lilies of the valley invite the sprites in.  Really, it does seem as if the fairies play there.  Milo has found symbiosis with his play there, forgetting me for once, while I fade into the background, one eye turned toward the boys, another focused on the soft, compost-enriched, garden ground as I settle herbs and flowers into the ground in that front garden.  I have waited and waited on tomatoes and peppers, fearing a return of cold spring, and now fear late blight... and will have to treat my soil as best I can to prevent that this year.

And that cold spring will pop its head back in for a moment or two tomorrow, with the high temperature of the day being 30 degrees F less than today.  So while I have come to enjoy the balmy, beach-like feeling of this house this May, with windows open to the wind and lilacs scenting the rooms, we'll get a taste of what Vermont in May is often like, with 53 degrees as the high.  It is a reminder that while we settle into the wonder of the warmth of this year, it comes because of the wildness of climate change... an unpredictable dance of strength across the earth, influenced ever more by things we have yet to comprehend.

The big kids will arrive home in the rain today, I think, and it will be deeply gratifying to bask in the sunshine of them. Despite obstacles and tough choices this year, they have settled in, grown, and truly shine with who they are.  One struggled with a music teacher, and yet still faithfully practices every day.  Another has struggled with friendships, and yet comes home with stories of friends and plans for a birthday nearly everyday.  They play with one another, and their younger siblings, and dance and create imaginary worlds, draw and sing and build and plan.  Sometimes the darkness of adulthood intrudes on their world, and their play reflects it, sometimes in anger or tears, sometimes in decidedly adult themes and obsessions.

And it is here that my brain intrudes on my observations.  My own mind has been dark and hard to figure out this year, and although I find so much to look forward to, I find myself pining and longing... but not exactly sure for what.

Mostly, for silence, I think.

I spend a few days getting through a sort-of biography of the nature writer John Hay.  And that tingled my fingers just a bit, reminding me of this blog, and of my need to shake out the fog.  Not because I needed to turn inward, but because I needed to break free of myself and my thoughts, and see the beautiful world around me.  Wonder in its magnificence.  Exclaim at its strength.  Examine and observe its many facets, whether tame like my pigs ("tame" having shades of definition after a weekend of trying to keep them inside their fence), or wild like the butterflies that N and I watched gathering on a spilt spot of compost juice. As we sat within the pig fence, waiting for the new fencer to arrive from the hardware store with Colin and Milo, at times swatting a nose that dared to inch toward the fence, we watching in awe as the yellow and black butterflies came by the masses, swirling around us, dipping their built-in drinking straw probiscises into the black gooey soil and fruit leftovers, then flying away from us as if drunk.

And I needed more.  More silence.  More watching.

And so I take it.  When it rains, I often just sit.  There on my rustic little porch, with the rain whipping at the trees and the river slowly rising, glinting, and calling to me to remember to watch.

And to write what I see.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Universe of Pieces

Ducks running in the rain, dipping and sipping in the puddles
Chickens huddled all together
Feathers fluffed and poufed and full
Dog curled up on hay
Piggies running in the rain
Hay thrown from pig to pig
And when tired
A piggie pile under the little pigpen roof

Play yard raked and ready
Temporary fence evoking a beach
Rock piles and wood chunk blocks
Leftovers from construction projects
Pieces of small constructions yet to be
Trikes and horseys, trucks and cars,
Slides and swings

New tv set up
New dvd player working finally
Not for mindless hours
But good today for some Anne
That Green Gables Girl
And a little Otis with our Milo
Just in spits and spurts
Bits and Pieces
While we play and sing and read
A Rainy rainy rainy day.

Runny noses
Stuffed heads
Sore throats even
Lots of apples and tea
Salad and greens
Soup for dinner
Achy muscles
Sore body
Sickness or day-after-work?

Sun will come
And out we'll go
To play yet another day
More fencing to finish
More fairy houses to build
More rocks to carry
And finally, finally dirt
Where all the snow had hid
This year's potential

Smiles and worries
Happiness and Sadness
Planning madness?
Planning glory?
One and same?
Spring brings trust in self
Trust in the world
Everything works out in the end
Each day is fresh
With no mistakes in it yet

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oh how that light changes

I know... I know... I am always saying "the light has changed."  But it has!  And it is always the first thing I notice as the world takes its subtle shift toward the next season.

A week ago, it was freezing cold outside, but the world suddenly looked different.  The light lasts longer and twilight has made a comeback.  The snow, despite being new and frigid on top, seems to be full of.... well, life.  Movement.  And it is!  The scientist in me knows that there in horefrost in the bottom layer of the snowpack.  The naturalist in me has begun to recognize the cues...and I am waiting, watching as the snow slowly peels back from the tree trunks despite new snow... signaling the upward travels of the tree sap.

From the darkness of late January and early February, those crazy cabin fever days, comes the sudden rush of relief that Spring is working its way here, even if it will take its damn time.  Valentine's Day is always a fun holiday for me to go all out because it signals the real beginning of a New Year... with the dance of flowers and candies and love for one another... a fertility rite for the earth, really...

There are things I miss about winter every year, actually.  The depth of quiet on a silent winter day when all the kids are sleeping and the snow soundlessly floats to the ground outside our plate glass doors, the softness and grey of the world seeping in and making me feel safe, soft, loved.  The ritual and calming quality of trips down the stairs to pile logs on the fire, watching their splinters and papery bark catch and heat us through their sacrifice.  Sledding down the hillside, screaming and laughing the whole way.  And a quiet snow shoe trek to the back woods.

But with February comes the planning... and dreaming... of what the summer might and should hold.  Really, February is month of possibility, the month of dream. A shaman's exercise in floating toward the future.  In March, we begin to get our feet dirty with reality once again, but in February, we are allowed to totally let go.

So, with the last pig barely cold in the freezer, and bacon yet to smoke, I find myself turning toward the next year, catalogs and dreams firmly in hand.  Chicks to order, seedlings to start, syrup to boil, pigs to buy, hay to store.

With food costs skyrocketing, it becomes ever more imperative to produce as much of our food as we can.  This year, we are almost veterans at this farming thing.  Our space is almost "right" for what we need.  And we have made difficult decisions.  Cows this year?  Not if I am starting grad school in the fall.  We are pretty constant over-achievers, super-parents at their most stereotypical.  And so, this year, we accept the limits of our humanity.  And we put off the cows. Trade some pork for beef.  We will do our own turkeys, two sets of meat birds, a larger group of pigs (but only one set, keeping them longer), and our layers and ducks, of course.  We got the cats to battle the mice, which they appear to be doing successfully so far. And the dog... well, we admit he is not a farm dog, and we need a farm dog.  Not one who chases cats and chickens and ducks.  He's great with the babies, fabulous at chasing pigs.  But we need a dog who is bred for this life, and right now, I do not have the time or the energy to get him where we need him to be.  Since he got fixed, he has changed, and is not the dog for us.  This really really broke my heart.  He is no Lucky.  But neither was she when she first came.  So next time (when school is done for me), we'll either get an elderly dog who needs a country home, or a much younger pup who can be trained from the beginning to understand the expectations of life on a farm.

We slowly have become good at what we do; good at growing meat, good at knowing what we need to make life work for animals in the winter, good at the dirty parts like slaughter and cutting meat.  And it feels right. So right, that Colin has decided that his after-after-career will be butchering.  He loves it.  (but don't worry Mother-In-Law-ish, he still plans on Law School....).

The world is changing rapidly.  The ideas we were raised with about how to budget our time, our finances, our spiritual lives, have proven not to hold true for our generation, and likely even less so for the next one.  It is not easy to parent in this climate, simultaneously preparing children for a successful future, and worrying about climate change and things that may make any concept we have of the future completely obsolete.  I find that absolutely terrifying.  My kids will have to know how to provide for themselves.  How to help others.  How to think outside the box.  Somehow, our political climate is fighting against these changes more than anyone else seems to be, denying the changes that are coming.  And rather than choosing to be what saves us, they choose to be what denies us the chance to save ourselves.  Schools are not teaching how to think outside the box, and those that do must suffer their way through failure.  But it is also not teaching gumption.  And we are all going to need a lot of gumption.

What I am today builds on what my parents sowed within me.  Independence from the system comes from my mom's garden, the corn in the front yard (remember when mom's garden was on the garden tours of Rochester?? SO cool!!  Corn surrounded by impatiens.  An entire wooden planter of lavender.  Tomatoes, peppers, peas, beans, asparagus, and dill in a planter running the length of the driveway.  Perfection of true gardening surrounded by fake flower gardens and people with chem-lawned yards.   Remember the little yellow signs that said "This yard is safe for children and pets" to battle the ones with ChemLawn signs???)  Yeah... this is where I learned to buck the trends.  Although, it might be a bit in my blood, too... that red headed firecracker of a birth mother must've had some serious influence, as well.  And my commitment to society as a whole, to the world beyond myself and my children, my teacher-ness even, comes from my father's example in his life.  More than just a local minister, his church is not a platform for spewing venomous exclusion, but instead a place for anyone and everyone to be, to connect, to find refuge and sanctuary.  And I hope that I am able to live up to his example.

Being a parent is hard.  Really really hard.  As a child, I did not make it easy.  As a parent, I am sometimes left bewildered by my own children not making it easy.  And totally overwhelmed by my love for all of them, constantly enamoured by them, shocked by their ability to surprise me.

But Spring comes.  And it provides renewal for everyone... the sinner and the saint.  The imperfect reality of all we are.  It is absolutely freezing cold today.  It is sunny and windy.  But the ice in the heart of those around us (as Angaangaq would say) is melting.  Opening.  The Middle East is calling for democracy and the beauty of the human spirit to be recognized.  As we here debate cutting programs and budgets, without the mention of the US sacred cow -the military and the wars we wage- I meditate on the idea that hearts open through the cries of hearts around the world.  Maybe we will hear the cry for democracy... real democracy... and join our brethren in its call.

But for now, I must change bums, walk the dog, and got get the CSA share of veggies.  Because basic life goes on, and I am but a player on its stage...

Monday, January 17, 2011

The winter is finally settling in upon us, although storms are still heading south of here.  The promised big storm of Wednesday is now forecast for Northern Mass, leaving us stuck in an arctic blast of cold air.  And although the snow falls south of here, the winter progresses on, cold and a bit barren, and more like the Arctic after all...

The windows for the porch just arrived, and we'll be readying ourselves for the spring haul-over of the front porch, building a play room/comfortable space to watch the world go by.  As the Allen Lumber guys unloaded window after window after window, I realized how nice it is going to be to sit in that room, when it is a real room, with that cup of coffee or tea, staring out the windows at this little valley.  The most picturesque views of the world from here are to the North, and consequently, not ones we can see from most of the house.  Aidan has the best view, and when we someday replace Milo's window, so will he.  I often think of writing from Aidan's room, sitting where I finally put  his desk, hoping the view would inspire him to draw, or work on his school work, or do anything that isn't related to staring at his Ipod or the computer.

We're settling back into our routines after the start of the new year, and I especially am finding some satisfaction in working out in Greensboro.  I am glad I don't have to go every day, and that I don't have to get sucked into the drama of a small work place, although I still hear a lot of it from there, from Sterling, from the Center for Northern Studies.  But from my safe, quiet, little perch at home, I get to go out into the world once a week and enjoy the company of others.  And do what I do, and what I do well.  It is such a stretch for me to provide childcare at home because I want the comfort of a classroom, and supplies, and "areas of interest" and coworkers.  And it is sometimes frustrating for me there to see people have all those things, and not make the most of them.  But mostly, it is an enjoyable, sweet time.  When I don't think about having to get up at 5:30 to be there by 7, and when I also don't think about the fact that when I leave, I have to get the big  kids to Waterbury to meet their dad, so I won't actually be home eating dinner until about 8pm... then I have fun.

But it is when I don't overthink having to go out to do chores that I have fun doing them, too.

This weekend, Col was battling a nasty cold (mine has stayed in my sinuses where it is pesky, but not awful), and so I headed out to do chores Saturday morning with a sled loaded with two 5 gallon buckets of water, one of compost, and a 50 pound bag of organic piggy grain.  Usually I slide it in the deeper snow, but that day, for some reason, I just chose not to for some reason, instead letting it glide behind me in the track we've dug to walk to the critters.  The snow was nice and bright, glinting blue-white in the sun, and a bit slick.  I was wearing ordinary mud boots, rather than my insulated ones with deep treads.

I'm sure you see where this is headed.

Usually I stop at the top of the short, but steep, little hill to the pig pen and just carry the buckets down.  Sometimes.  I stop the sled against my heels on the way down the hill, sliding down in little 4 inch increments.

Now I know you can see where I am headed.  And you're right... it is straight on my ass.

The sled seemed to pick up speed just at the moment I realized I should stop it or there would be water and compost everywhere.  I stepped in front just as a big truck began driving by, and in swirl of snow and water, I was there, keister on the ground, arm in the water bucket, wrist sprained, and feet in the air.

Go ahead.  Laugh.  Really... laugh hard.  I understand.  It was freakin' hilarious.

But I still had to gather eggs, lift the five gallon buckets of water nearly neck height to dump the water into the pig's water bin, and empty the grain bag into the feed bin... and scoop grain out to screaming ducks, squawking hens, and rooting, snorting pigs.

With my sprained wrist.  On my right hand.


Did I mention the thermometer said "-0.9"?

And that I wasn't wearing any gloves?

Yep.... It was COLD.

Colin's fevered hands came in "handy" when I got in, and he wrapped his palms around my aching wrist, while I tried not to laugh and cry at the same time.

Sometimes I think it is funny that someone who thought she'd be an academic in some New England/Atlantic city is upside down on her arse on a rural Vermont mini farm.  The hip-hop loving Syracuse tough mouth is surrounded by the whitest people ever in the snow with pigs snorting in her ears.  (I swear they were laughing at me!)  The writer, artist, foreign-language lover, is wiping baby butts and chasing chickens.  Who has time for art and language?

I'm not sorry.  (Ok, usually).  And I am going out to stand on the porch, and look north to our beautiful view of the valley, and dream of time to write.