« April 2016 | Main | June 2016 »

Wild and Unruly

DSC_1442

Feeling quiet these days. I knew it was coming, and here it is. The plan is to roll with it.

Several weeks ago we were in the back field planting potatoes when joined by our neighbors, my uncle, and all of our dogs. The three dogs ran free while the rest of us caught up on all things neighborly, such as how we’re managing the invasive Japanese barberry that is taking over our collective woods, the serious amount of ledge that seems to be rising up in my garden, and of course, the weather. You must talk about the weather. I felt contented that our crossing of paths was the result of my uncle making his way through the woods, a good distance from his place to ours, and our neighbors taking a long walk around the perimeter of their acreage, finally landing at our garden. It was a good, brief chat. They always are. Eventually, sensing that Adam and I were resting a little too comfortably into the weight of the broadfork, our neighbor said, as she always does when it’s time to part ways, “Okay, time to get back to work!” We all nodded and dispersed just as easily as we came together. The dogs joined up with their respective humans and we each got on with our day. As he was leaving, my uncle stopped to check out the old tractor that sits on the edge of the field, and Adam joined him. Did you know there is a lot to talk about when staring at old broken down tractors? Once they exhausted the exact points that were covered the last time they stood and stared at the old tractor, my uncle and his dog disappeared into the treeline and walked home through the woods. Adam returned to the garden and we planted the remaining potatoes.

This morning I walked through the garden and noticed row after row of potatoes have broken through, without a single watering from me. That’s my kind of spring. Now if only summer is as accommodating, we'll be in good shape. Summer plants and seeds are in the ground, I'll hill the potatoes later today and mulch the heck out of everything, too. It feels wild and unruly in the garden this year, which, not surprisingly, mirrors my own life at the moment. And it occurs to me, this is not a bad kinship to have.


Be of Use

DSC_1458

This weekend I stocked up on plants at the place to buy carefully grown vegetable starts in eastern Connecticut. We start most of our own seed here at home, but always reserve some cash to visit Alice’s annual plant sale, which runs for a couple of weekends in the month of May. I do this in part because her plants are ridiculously big compared to mine, thanks to her greenhouse (and no doubt her magical skills), so they fruit really early, and in part because there is little that gives me greater pleasure as a consumer than placing money directly into the hands of a local person doing something they love. Bonus if what they love happens to be the same thing that I love. Granted, Alice has a day job as well; she is the decades long manager of our local food co-op. That is her primary career. Of course I do not know the particulars, but I imagine the once a year plant sale is supplemental, which is actually something I am fascinated with. It reminds me of the many people I know who could use an extra chunk of cash each year for such things as property taxes, annual car repairs, fixing the roof, buying meat from a farmer, or building the sauna that’s been on the wish list for ten years and counting. For some reason, when I see diversified income in action, particularly in self-employed form, I’m comforted and inspired. So this week I’m getting more plants in the ground thanks to Alice’s plant sale. And with that, I’m pretty much failing at “not gardening” down here this year, which to me feels like a good thing to fail at.

One wouldn’t expect to wear three layers, a wool coat among them, while planting out kale on the sixteenth of May. Then again, one would also be advised to not carry expectations. I’ll tell you what though, the hawk that flew about ten feet over my head with a precious little snake dangling from its talons was feeling quite frisky and pleased as punch with this weather. I’m guessing the cold drew the snake into the open, searching for a warm sunbeam. Easy prey. I can’t help but think of the oblivious creature that would have otherwise been the snake’s dinner, and how it will now live to see another day. Hope that little creature is feeling frisky, too. Every day is a gift. I turned the soil, tossed the loosened chickweed and lambs quarters over the fence for the chickens, a few grubs too. Now that’s a frisky sight, chickens feasting on grubs.

I’m not sure how a person can take two weeks to notice new curtains in the living room, but is somehow the first to see every owl, animal track, spider web, and mushroom in the woods. This would be my husband. The guy can hear water running underground. Often I find myself envious of these qualities, but always I admire them. Indeed, they make him an excellent hunter, or maybe decades of hunting has made him an excellent observer. Either way, as soon as that hawk flew overhead I was immediately surprised by the timing of my decision to gaze upward, away from the dirt and the kale starts. Such sightings are usually reserved for him.  And then I remembered the one change he always notices in the house... it is the unconscionable disappearance of the tape measure from the kitchen junk drawer. Holy mother of pearl why would someone be so callous? And yet, it happens again and again... naming no names. (Who am I kidding, everyone knows it’s me.) To be clear, the removal of the kitchen junk drawer tape measure is not to be confused with the disappearance of his actual tape measure from his workbench. I can’t think of anyone that would commit such an unspeakable act. Even me.

A while back Adam was driving north on the highway and witnessed a car up ahead clip a hawk in flight. Poor girl had decided to swoop down at precisely the wrong moment and wasn’t so much hit in the typical roadkill sense as she was stunned into oblivion. Adam could tell, from a respectable distance mind you, that this was not an instant kill, even though the hawk did appear lifeless as it landed on the median. The offending car kept driving, either unaware of making contact with the bird, or not believing it could have survived and was needing help. Due to the 65mph, one-way nature of highway driving, there was no immediate way for Adam to slow down quickly enough and offer help. So, he did the obvious thing which was to get off the upcoming exit, hop back on the highway heading in the opposite direction, get off the next exit, then hop back on the highway in the original northbound direction he was traveling; essentially re-approaching the site of contact in the most law abiding way. This human-designed highway system sure isn’t conducive to hawk rescuing. Anyway. He made his way to the wounded hawk and pulled to the side of the road. Up close, hawks are much larger than you might think, majestic really. The bird lay motionless, but softly breathing, her eyes open and searching for understanding. Adam reached into the back of his truck and found a duffle bag which he removed clothing from. One can’t very well transport a wild animal safely, particularly a bird of prey, without some sort of confinement. With apologies and a promise to help, he wrapped her in a soft flannel shirt, tucked her into the duffle, and carefully zipped the closure. Taking to google on his phone, he located the closest rehabilitation center that was open, which naturally was a good thirty minutes in the opposite direction, and he drove her there. The hand off felt sensitive yet matter of fact, as this is an everyday occurrence for the skilled rehabilitators. But for Adam, the rescue and the thirty minute drive with a subdued hawk by his side, then handing her off to those more equipped to be of help, was riddled with hope and sanctity. How could it not be. It is rare to spend time so intimately connected with a wild animal, and when such a moment takes place, it changes you. No, that’s not right. It reminds you.

Two days later he heard from the rehab center that the hawk was indeed going to be okay. Her wings were functioning, and after a few more days of rest and hydration they’d release her back into the wild.

Before rescuing the hawk, Adam was on his way to Vermont, where I was waiting. Sensing a delay, I called and asked if everything was okay. Yeah, everything’s fine. There was this hawk and she was hurt... it’s Saturday so it’s been difficult to find a place that can help her... I hope she’ll be okay... man, she was beautiful, Heather... I wish you could have seen her...

Ah, I see. I totally get it. And I’m so glad you were there to be of use.

DSC_1454

Lately, as you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about next steps and new beginnings. Still unsure of what these things will look like, and being okay with it, I do keep coming back to one thing. One grand idea, if you will: Be of use. Both in my personal life, and in my work. Be of use. Of course, I have no clear idea on what determines usefulness, which seems rather subjective, so an exact definition probably doesn't matter. However, I am willing to bet that usefulness is best felt in small, attainable ways such as growing vegetable plants for your community, tossing greens and grubs to the chickens, becoming a meal for a hawk, or rescuing a wild animal. And maybe, because lately it always comes back to this, maybe being useful is also waiting in the wings for a grown child that will most definitely still need you, just as you still need her. So, I think from this point forward, when asked what I "do" in life, I will reply, "I'm useful." And I hope to be doing a really good job.


The Only Logical Thing

DSC_1450

A few days into a poorly timed creativity slump, I did the only logical thing I could think of. I went outside and laid down on the ground, supine. Heart to the sky, arms by my side with palms facing up, eyes closed, connected to breath. Vulnerable. Each exhale released bones and muscle deeper into the earth. Each inhale, more receptive to all that existed outside of me. Twenty minutes. Give it a try. Trust me, it’ll be the best part of your day.

I came inside and mixed a batch of tea which seemed like as good a place as any to start gathering supplies for heading north. I added the final handful of lavender from last year’s harvest and wondered if we’ll be able to grow it up there, probably not. This tender perennial barely hangs on down here. Maybe planted along a south-facing, sun-collecting stone wall, then mulched to kingdom come... then maybe it’ll survive winter? Seems like a reasonable effort to me, it is lavender after all.

With the tea mixed I started thinking of other supplies that need gathering, which is not many. The plan is to bring as little as possible and see what, if anything, is missing. My guess is it won’t be much. I’m not sure why I thought tea was so essential, with the patches of wild mint growing along the stream’s edge and the chamomile that I planted last year. Maybe it’s a gesture more than anything else. Plants that were grown and preserved down here, arriving on the land with the message that this human isn’t so bad, she sort of gets it and won’t mess things up too terribly. She might even make things better.

There are bear on the property, three sightings this week alone confirm that. And the moose that greeted me at 5:30 in the morning was a laid back, unassuming beauty. For them, home is among these trees, as it is for the wild mint and even the cultivated chamomile. As for me, I still feel like the new girl who wouldn't mind fitting in, but mostly is just looking for some quiet. The one who determined that for who knows what reason, a jar of tea is an appropriate offering. I have no idea. They’ll humor me, and we’ll give each other plenty of space. I’m sure there will be sideways glances and even a few longer than feels comfortable stares. And they will definitely ask themselves, “Why does that strange woman keep lying down in the dirt like that?”

And I will say, “Give it a try. Trust me, it’ll be the best part of your day.”


Here and Now

Violets

It’s beautiful out there. After weeks of rain everyone is glad to see the sun, it makes for high spirits on a day that should probably feel more ominous than it does. I’ve given a lot of unintentional thought over the last year as to how I might feel on our final day of homeschooling, but with its arrival, I find myself not feeling much of anything. That’s not entirely true, I guess what I’m feeling is contentment. Surely my maternal display could be grander than this. To be honest, it’s a little disappointing. I thought I'd go all in, reveling in the moment, feeling it more deeply than is expected or reasonable. Am I in denial? Possibly. Probably. Give me a minute and I’m sure at the most inopportune time the flood gates will open and I’ll be on my knees begging the cosmos to mend my life, to turn back time, to allow us to live and learn together forever and ever. Or maybe not. Maybe it will all be just fine, as it is in this moment, where the only thing I seem to be feeling is contented joy and genuine happiness for her. It helps that I’ve spent some time reflecting on the immense support and encouragement we’ve received through the years, the serendipitously crossed paths that have resulted in meaningful and lasting relationships. This easily puts me in a happy place. It also helps that she is not one for nostalgia or fanfare. All business, this girl of mine. Although she has expressed concern about where she will “come home to” while at college. Apparently she is under the impression that home might be a wall tent in the woods with a totally unfinished cabin beside it. What do you mean? This is a problem? (No worries, kiddo. A cozy home will be waiting for you... somewhere.)

Shrooms

So. We’re done. The day feels quiet and unceremonious which  is exactly how Emily prefers it. That leap of faith we took all those years ago has placed us here on the other side, holding the gift of having lived our lives together rather than apart. I could not have known how profound such an unconventional act was. A protest, really. And isn’t that something to think about. Today I’ll put a hundred or so onions in the ground and take care of this pile of rhubarb in front of me. The violets are drying and a bunch of morels have been dried with plenty left for fresh eating. Tomorrow one of my oldest friends will come over and we’ll drink coffee and debrief and maybe that will be the moment I fall to pieces. Or maybe not. In any event, life is in front of me, not behind. Well, truth be told, life only exists inside that which can be felt, held, and touched. Right here and now is everything. The world turns and kids grow and seasons change and mothers come home to themselves, again and again. I can do this.


Sixteen Miles

DSC_0335

Somehow I managed to find a corner in the parking lot that was neither brightly lit by fluorescent street lamps, nor was it filled with car upon car, or abandoned shopping carts bumping into said cars. I just wanted a quiet place to read my book for a couple of hours, and to not think too hard about my disappointment that he was north while I was down here playing taxi for the weekend. For what it’s worth, it’s possible to be disappointed in missing out on one thing, while still maintaining relative peace with the responsibility of another thing. Anyway. I was pleased with my solitary parking spot in this mostly over-lit and populated strip mall lot. I know, it’s probably not the safest idea for a woman to choose the fringe, away from the bright lights, on a Saturday night. But I just wanted some quiet. I thought of the not-so-profound teaching I’ve passed on to Emily no less than one hundred times: Be sure to die at Point A, do not get taken to Point B. Isn’t that a real uplifter? I thought of having a son and probably not passing on the same depressing wisdom to him. I’m sure there are other worldly teachings a parent imparts on their son, but I am unaware. So, I settled in with my book, wishing I had some tea. The blue and pink neon glow of a Greek diner in the distance reminded me that I could venture out for some, but that seemed like a lot of effort for tired herbs steeped in chlorinated water. Instead, I made a mental note to bring my own next time. Though I know the number of “next times” is limited. As inconvenienced as I felt (because who wants to sit in a strip mall parking lot while their kid visits a friend at college when you could be up north, away from all this...), I was equally excited to hear about her night, and grateful that her best friend chose a college only 30 minutes from our home. 



With a few chapters behind me, I stopped to look up for a minute. Daydreaming into the glow of those diner lights about nothing in particular, not able to stop or look away either. I thought about getting out of the car, moving a little. Surely people have done yoga in parking lots before, my body felt tight from sitting. I was getting bored and antsy. I noticed a man approaching my corner of the parking lot. He was holding his phone with one hand, opposite arm waving around with wild expression. His tired looking body leaned into the uphill slant of the parking lot as he walked at a surprisingly brisk and determined pace. It’s hard to explain really, but even from a distance, this man was telling a story and I was captivated. As he came closer, I could tell he was in his twenties, shoes untied, mumbled voice loud yet like his body, tired. I wondered about the person on the other end of the line. This man must have been asking for something, there was a need of some kind. I can only imagine what it might have been, but he was desperate and I know this because just as he walked by the front of my car he YELLED into his phone, “I’ve already walked sixteen miles today, this IS an emergency!!”

And here I am, contemplating the worthiness of a cup of tea.

How easy it is to wallow in our self-perceived hardships... oh, woe is me, I have to sit comfortably for two hours in a car, reading for pleasure, while my daughter enjoys seeing her friend perform in her first college dance event, and my husband enjoys some peace and quiet in the woods. Such deprivation. Clearly I needed a message to get over myself because this man, in all of his desperation, was placed directly in front of my lonely car, far away from any other car in the lot, as he cried into his phone a plea of actual hardship. I’ve had my share of experiences in life, even a fair amount of hardship, but for sure, I have never walked sixteen miles in a day. Not once. What series of events has to happen in order for this to transpire? Who needs to walk sixteen miles in a day?

I thought of a man I once knew. Joe was a guest at the shelter I worked at years ago. This was a “no freeze” emergency shelter which meant we had no money and operated only during the overnight hours, in space donated by a local street-front church. The main goal of the shelter was literally to prevent people from freezing to death. We always felt like it was a meager attempt at helping people, as if “not freezing to death” was the best we could offer. Mostly, it was. Our doors opened at 9pm each night and quickly settling everyone in was critical, not only because they needed the rest (they had to out the door by 7am), but a calm environment was helpful to a group of people leading pretty challenging lives. We kept the lights dim. It helped. We dispensed dry socks, peanut butter crackers, hot drinks, and a listening ear. One night I was helping Joe, who was in his late sixties, put on a new pair of socks. In doing so, I noticed the ongoing sores on his feet were looking particularly flared on this brutally cold January night. We talked about his diabetes and getting him an appointment at the clinic so he could find some relief. He agreed that would be helpful, but then he looked at me and said, “The problem with my feet, you see, is not the diabetes, it’s that I’ve gone and worn them right out.” Because as you can imagine, Joe and his life on the streets, combined with industrious bottle collection efforts, had likely seen plenty of sixteen mile days through the years. 



Then there's me, sitting in the car reading a book, lamenting about being here and not there, dodging the displeasure of fluorescent street lights while deciding whether or not old herbal tea in chlorinated water is good enough for me. You know, basically just reveling in my own self-absorption. Honestly. The powerful words I heard from the man on the phone happened directly in front of my car. With the entire parking lot at his disposal, and of all the things he could have said... the time and place of his words did not go unnoticed. Immediately sending my thoughts to Joe, who is no longer living. To my own ridiculously easy life. The next thing I did was drive over to that neon lit diner and buy my daughter a piece of who knows what was in it chocolate cake. Then I picked her up, drove her home, and she enjoyed that cake with a tall glass of cold, grass-fed, local, organic, fairy dusted raw milk while catching up on her favorite news channels, because that’s what she does. And I realized we were the luckiest people in the world.