thick in the mystery of it all

loveImagine, here, the longest, sweetest, exhale of all. Every bit of tension in the shoulders, the low back, the stomach, released. Summer has gone.

Not that fall doesn’t come with its own troubles, especially when big changes take place that land you, once again, (always, I worry), under the weight of financial stress. But the fog, the cool night air, it wraps its arms around me, this house, slowly finding order from the chaos of the busy farm season, the children, all of us, it seems, and there is a comfort there. We keep moving forward, truly we do, but always in our own slow, steady way, always coming back to our center, which revolves around each other, our relationships, our duty and care for one another. It is hard, at times, when I want things to be easy, but then I remember, it probably isn’t easy for anyone, life, not if you are actively engaged in the living of it, anyway.

But it is in those tough spots we rub up against throughout our lives that we usually find the most meaning, our own meaning, if we are looking for it. I’ve answered a million questions that stalked me this summer just by facing the fire of it all. And for someone like me, that’s what I am here to do, so I can be fully present and wide open to the flow of life through and around me, so I can be of use to this world in the ways that I find laid out before me.

What am I really rambling about, anyway?

So much, and so little, I suppose.

This year, this year of the horse, has been nothing short of the wild ride I could feel it mounting to be back in January. And as challenging as it was for me, for the people in my life I love most of all, and as challenging as it continues to be, I find the ride and all of the ups and downs that come with it all worth it all.

Because I can’t imagine it another way. Static doesn’t hold much appeal over here and besides, we know and hold onto the fact that there is no arrival, it is all about the movement and what we choose to do with the moment that matters in this game. So, worry and joy live side by side, trial and bliss. We keep moving because life is moving. We live fully in the fog in the fall, we face the sun in the summer. We stand in the fire come winter, so we can rebirth ourselves each spring. We grow, wild, here on this farm. Together, apart, thick in the mystery of it all.

insight, follow your dream, mindful living, intentional living, conscious living, inner work, small farming, writing, life learning

all tucked in

winter, farmDecember is the sweetest.

We are all tucked in.  Cozy, warm.  Together.

Harvests are on hiatus.  We have a minimum of morning chores to tend to.  Feed and water the hens and the growing pigs.  Feed and water–and play–with the small chicks in the greenhouse.

Mostly, we sit by the fire and play games and read stories.  In this down time, we reweave the strings that hold us together that we inevitably stretch thin in the hay days of summer, all of us throwing ourselves outward, even as we are always all here, on this farm and in these days, with each other.  Because summer is its own wild beast of living.

And so winter.

We take this time and use it to tend to each other in our winter ways, and the whole, wonderful cycle works, for us.

This winter we have been simultaneously blessed and cursed with clear skies and cold temps.  Without our covering of grey skies and Pacific Northwest rain, we are getting full on that metallic tasting winter air that so many others hold on their tongues always through this season.  I love it.  I hate it.  I can step outside and feel like I am, for a moment, tucked away in the mountains of Colorado or out in the wide open countryside or quiet plains town of Nebraska.  This kind of winter feels like home to me, as much as I am ultimately a part of this lush, temperate valley now.

It was single digit cold here last night.  That is more cold than we are used to.  We all are weathering this fine, although we have used more wood than ever for this time of year and the water to our house is frozen.

No matter the temperature, though, these cold, slow days are so full of time, there is the feeling one could get so much done.    I could get a lot of things done.  Things that would make me happy, things I have been waiting all summer to get to.  On top of that, there is all the extra things one could do, to celebrate.  But instead, in December, I sit.  I wait.

I have learned so much about letting go, it is ridiculous.  Every day, we must wake up in the morning and remember what matters, and so much of it, doesn’t.

I have learned that the sweetness of this month isn’t in the doing, that it is in the waiting.  In the quiet and the stillness.

In our home, there are all the inevitable squabbles of four children inside so much, the eruption of bodies needing to move more that turns our small home into a wrestling ring or race track every evening before bedtime.   The frequent sighs of boredom, the excited as well as impatient expectancy of Christmastime.

But there is a softer side to all of this too.  There is more skin time, more snuggles on the couch.  There are news ways of playing, discovered.  There are knitting needles in my lap, slowly working again towards the only gift worth giving my dear husband, my heart poured into some thing to keep him warm while he works.

I do get itchy, who doesn’t?  I want the new year to start, all fresh and full of promise.  As always, as everyone, I have big plans.

But this last beautiful month on the calender is for the waiting.  Expectantly, hopefully.  Equal parts joy at the dusting of snow and ice to play on as well as trembling and fear, the desperate desire for the return of the sun.

All the work of December is done on the inside.  There is only the barest perception that it’s there, but it is some of the most important work we do of the year.

Fueling our lights for the new. 

All tucked in.  Warm, cozy.

Together.

the dead like orange

calendula, el dia de los muertos, the veil is thin, november, fall, winter, remembering

This time of year is strange, the beginning of a long exhale.  Much needed, but still so different from the short pants of summer’s sprint/marathon.  When you’ve been busy, slowing down feels clumsy, and at the top of such breaths, the one you were at first grasping to take and now fumbling into, you don’t always remember how it goes.  You don’t fully let go into it until all the leaves have fallen and some of the litter on the ground begins to turn back into the very stuff it first came from.  It is as slow a process as the season that beckons it.

But in the midst of this awkward stumble, the start of the celebrating of the dark cycle of the year starts up and helps things along.  Right away, with the perfectly wild, silly, and fun night that is Halloween, there is some loosening.  For me, the line up of celebrations from now through epiphany– celebrations rooted in ancient cultures, deepened and strengthened liturgically through time–even though they are now nearly devoid of meaning, these celebrations, for me, are placed in our calender for a reason, and I always try to really let the joy, warmth, and light they were meant to bring our homes and our hearts flood the waters just as the waters outdoors do the same.   On All Hallows’ Eve, I find that sweetness is a genuine impulse, that our community takes kindly to opening its doors to strangers, that we smile and laugh and share with each other freely under the guise of this, in my book, hallowed evening.  I take it, gobble it up, that shared frivolity, the calling of the night to revel, together.  The candy, and candy companies, kind of make me want to chuck the baby out with the bathwater, but I don’t.  I find a way to celebrate despite our modern day conundrum.

And I like to keep the momentum going over the next few days for el dia de los muertos.  Calling together my mother and father, whose deaths were a hard four days apart and left me breathless in grief only to really teach me how to hold on to this life more properly, we share memories of them and my husband’s family, people my children have never really known, but whom he and I have, and whom we love dearly.  It is a wonderful tradition.

And although I don’t know whether the veils really are thin between the worlds of the departed and this fully beating one at this time of year, I do know that the world around us is dying unto itself like it does every autumn and winter, and that it as natural a time as any to really give this beautiful part of the life cycle some of our loving attention.  If we look around us to a world gone quieter knowing that it is just one part of a circular pattern, we can celebrate how proper and right the design is.  We long for winter when it comes.  It was first celebrating this holiday the November after my folks passed away that brought a blanket of peace to my heavy heart.   It is a celebration that removes the fear we have of death, such a good thing to learn early on.  I don’t want to be afraid to die, and I really don’t want my children to be afraid of it either, of losing their loved ones or themselves.  It seems such a pity.  My mother was so afraid to go, it broke my heart.  And so, we talk about it lightly and matter of factly and sweetly, because it is just as true and good as the birth of a new soul.  And it is sweet, the remembering, even if it is bitter-sweet.

So even though we don’t really expect our dead to join us in the evening, and we don’t really put out treats to literally feed their wandering souls, we do keep at this to feed our own.

But this year was different.  I had my moments.  Washing vegetables outside, after dark, alone in the wash station, I couldn’t quit the impulse to look behind me.  I kept thinking about my father, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was standing there, in the shadows.  Peeking back, over my shoulder, shuddering, repeat.  And then, I would laugh at myself, because I have just started re-watching Lost with my oldest son and I kept thinking that all of that first season suspense was really going to my head.

But still.

On the night my father passed away, as I laid down in the dark to sleep, I prayed so hard that I would not be visited by him in any way, shape, or form.  I don’t know why I felt the need, I just did.  And I had the same feeling those few nights when I had that sensation to look over my shoulder.  No, no, no.  I don’t want a visit.

Some ghosts are better left buried.

And yet, I can’t bury him.  I decided sometime last winter that I was going to write a book, part childhood memoir, part philosophy of living.  I love writing, will always write, want to write more, write for a living, write, and write, and write some more–it is an important part of my journey here in this life.  But, I have always sworn that I would never write a book.  The commitment– sheesh!  I always felt too lazy to write anything that length.  The poignant creative non-fiction essay was my sweet spot.  But laying in bed one night, it came to me, clear as day, the whole thing.  And even though the work on it has been slow, it is there, and it will happen, and morph and change and one day see the light, even if that light is just the shine of my own two eyes.  I believe that.

But to write about your childhood means to write about your parents, and as I work on this, as I start to bring life to these stories, my father, much as he did for so much of my life, takes up all the space.  And I find myself wondering, why?  Why would I only consider that my father would be standing there, behind me, when the two worlds we share might be mingling?  Why isn’t my mother’s the name on my lips?  Why not her, so sweet, so angelic?  Why am I not begging for a visit from her?

I keep hearing myself tell stories about my life centered around my dad, and I keep finding myself wanting to find a way to tell the story of my mother, too.  I hate that I have to go back and find that story, that it isn’t the one that stuck.  I may have been better off if it had.  But that story is its own mess of misfortune, so it is just as complicated to get a hold of as it is hard loosening the grip of my father’s story from my fingers.  I’m not sure if I can.

They say the dead like orange.

So, after putting away our costumes this year, we picked some calendula blossoms and put them on the table in honor of our dearly departed.  But this year, I didn’t get out the many pictures of my father.   This year, I didn’t reminisce with my children about their wild and wonderful Grandpa Roger.  I didn’t do much, at all, raising of the dead.  Instead, I let the kids–well, mostly my daughter–ask questions and draw portraits and tell the stories they knew and kept it at that.   My daughter, she feels her ties to all her family, here and there, so deeply, and her boundless love felt more pure and even for this year’s celebration.  I was too in the thick of my mind to do things properly.

I had just one thing I needed to do, alone, to ease those thoughts running through the roads of my mind, one thing to quiet down the noise, to move forward this year into the dark.

I went out into the cold, November night and knelt by the fig tree where we spread my mother’s ashes, the tree that just won’t produce any fruit, and I secretly whispered into the chill, thin air, “I’m so sorry, Mom.  I hope you like the flowers.”

finding balance: wild cultivations

backberries, hemlock, weeds, farmthistle blooms, weeds, farm, thistlesamaranth, weeds, farmbindweed, morning glory, weeds, farmdock, weeds, farmlamb's quarter, weeds, edible weeds, farmThis week, in the back of my mushy brain, hot from long hours in warm weather weeding, weeding, weeding, this was my recurring thought, “why not go into the edible/medicinal weed business????”

I mean, seriously, these plants GROW! They clearly are the top in their class and need no help from us to flourish.

And not only are they really the best at growing vigorously, they are the best at harnessing nutrients and making them available to us. That whole thing about the narrowing of our food system to those forty or so vegetables you will find at our market booth or at the supermarket brings with it a two-fold problem, the first being this limited variety of foods we now eat.  But the other, more serious problem is that in the process of really cultivating these certain crops from spindly, wild, weeds into the nice, big, tasty vegetables we eat today, we lost, in comparison, the amount of nutrition we get from doing the right thing and eating all of our veggies.

I, for one, don’t get too hung up on this.  The fact is, we are where we are in history, and we can’t go back, we can only go forward.  That is what we try to do here on the farm.  And I also know from our own experience that not all of the wild edibles we have played around with eating can qualify as much more than survival food.  They just aren’t that exciting.  Still, I appreciate the wisdom of “weeds”, and have come to love and use many of them for both their taste and their nutritive/healing properties.  That strong, earthy taste you get from nettles and lamb’s quarters (bottom photo) is the taste, literally, of earth.  Those plants are just made of minerals.

And much like the vegetables we grow, which I see as both the best tasting foods for our plates and as important elements of our heath and well-being (hello my delicious daily vitamins!), some weeds are like this times one hundred.

Take the weeds I put in a jar of vinegar many weeks ago, to have on hand as a potent calcium supplement.  Most of these things I was weeding out of my landscape beds already, like yellow dock, plantain, red clover, dandelion, and burdock.  Others were from my herb garden, all of them planted last fall, so just itching to be put to use–Japanese mugwort, comfrey, wormwood.  I threw in some raspberry leaf.  I was given the idea by a friend, and it seemed like such a good use for these plentiful plants.

What ended up as a surprise, though, was that this vinegar, which I made to use medicinally ended up tasting amazing.  It is absolutely delicious.   We use it to make all of our salad dressings now.  Who knew, right?!

So as I weeded the seemingly monstrous invasion of some kind of amaranth in a section of one our fields this week, my joke was that the weed business was, truly, the business to be in.  And joke, though it was, we are almost ready to harvest one of the only other wild edibles besides nettles that we bring to market next week, its relative, lamb’s quarters.  It is, right now, a love/hate relationship.

Still, this subject has always fascinated me.  One of our goals on this farm is to nourish our land so that it can produce the most nourishing food possible.  But that the wild edible plants–the weeds–will always have be more nourishing fascinates me.  It also, thankfully, gives me a chance to pause and appreciate that in this somewhat constant glitch in of our system, the weeds, I can see the amazing beauty and design that is the natural world.  It reminds me that we, as land stewards and sustainable farmers, can utilize and mimic it, even if it is something we can’t fully recreate.

Because, in the end, we weeded like crazy this week.  We have our own agenda, and as pretty as those bindweed flowers are, that we have let them bloom is not great.  That they are climbing up our sweet, modern apple trees is not great.  They are not welcome here, on this farm.  At least in our fields.

And the agricultural mind has to feel this way, has to do this, even if we, on this farm, aim more for balance than anything.   The shifting and shaping of things towards our will is a part of farming.  We are amplifying what we what from any given piece of land, in terms of yield, by a lot.  We are doing the dictating.

So, some weeds, yes, we will take and use.  This is an area that I really do want to learn as much as I can about.  But, good lord, some of these weeds, though I appreciate them for their tenacity, their demise is the first thing I think about when I wake up.  There is much weeding to be done, always, at this time of year.  We have to work more than it seems like we have time to right now to get where we need to be.

But soon, the tiny plants we’ve put in the ground will be the vigorously growing ones, blooming.  And then, producing, wildly!  That they need a little help from us now is just part of the bargain we’ve struck with them.  The agreement of cultivation.  Of growing food.  And this has its own sense of beauty and design, even if its one best kept to by some really hard work on our part.  We keep our end of the bargain sewed to the seams of our dirty pants, our well worn, tired, and exhausted bodies, and our scratched and soar hands.  It evens out in the end, and I think this approach is a good balance for our times.  It’s our kind of growing wild.

wash station wednesday: time travelling, bob dylan, and us, tangled, together

This week marked the start of our summer farmer’s market season.  Wednesdays are now full harvest days for the farmer, who handles most of the actual harvesting.  He is fast and efficient, and can get right out in the field with the rising sun.   For me, instead, harvest day really means wash station day.  After breakfasting, and face washing, and getting every one dressed and settled on some activities or ready to go outside, I spend harvest day cleaning, bundling, and counting vegetables.

And each season, towards the end of the year, I find myself wrapping the whole thing up in my head as a soundtrack.  The wash station comes alive with music throughout the year–loud, getting work done music–the likes of which we don’t really employ in the house too often.  Unless we are all working together cleaning up, or for our often enough after dinner dance party-do the dishes get downs, inside our home, loud music does not go over that well with four children’s voices to be heard and all of the other noises of their living and playing.   The wash station is the last refuge for me, for such.  I relish it.

Yesterday, starting the season and starting the day, I reached way back in time for some classic Bob Dylan~Blood on the Tracks.  It was just right.  And even though there were many other songs in the air throughout the rest of the day as we bagged lettuce and bunched radishes, it was those songs from this brilliant, heart moving album that stayed in my mind.  With the first bit of “early in the morning, the sun was shining” I, too, was back in time.

Hair blowing in the wind, hot summer sun shining on bare arms, a moving car, an unknown road.  Young.

Music is, for some people, as necessary as water, and I am one of those, no doubt.  I see all of my life through the sounds that touched me in the times I was moving through them.  From waking in my early teens on Sunday mornings to the sounds of my father’s loud music heralding in the day–Cowboy Junkies or U2 on the best days, and I would just lay in bed and listen, gazing out my window, so completely sure that anything in the world was possible, or some days, Dwight Yoakam or Johnny Cash or some other semblance of country music that was probably on the better end of that spectrum than not, but which I could not at that time find any way to appreciate, and I would cover my head with the pillow till it ended–from then to today.  Soundtracks.

Thanks to my father, who was questionably qualified to raise children but had pretty great tastes in, and a deep appreciation for, music, I gladly inherited this love.  And I am sure he is the one to first introduce me to Dylan too, but I didn’t came to love these old songs when he did.  It wasn’t until I had left the home, and was free in almost every way, till they meant anything at all to me.

After moving out of the home, during my college years, I spent as much time as I could travelling around the country, trying to see it all and have as many adventures as I could.   And so much the better is music on the move, in the travelling vehicle.  More often than not, that travelling involved, or revolved around, live music as well.  Dancing, laughing, the sounds brought the whole world together, it seemed.

But even then, and definitely now, I knew that this was not the only reason for hopping in a car with dear friends and taking off.  The lure of the open road, of spending months at a time on it, living off of it, was that it allowed for the thickening screen, even then at that age, of societal constraints to fall completely away.  It magnified every true thing.  Karma was instant, your attitude determined everything, an open mind was wholly necessary.  You encountered, every day, things new and out of your control.  From the many and beautiful but different and new landscapes of the land, to the many and beautiful but different and new faces in every new town.   Everything was unique, surprising.  There was always something to learn.

And sometimes the most wonderful parts of it all bubbled to the surface through the cracks in the adventure, the car troubles or the getting lost.  The peeling away of it all and seeing that you could either be ugly under pressure or your most magnificent.

The times in between travels, in the day to day of classes, studies, restaurant jobs, and relationships, my goal was always to remember those things that seemed so clear on the road.  The lessons learned.

The farmer had some wanderlust in him as well, which eventually led him to me, standing, waiting, in the middle of everywhere and nowhere at all, the middle of the country itself (or quite close to it anyway).  And our own love story unfolds in a journey we shared across secret rivers found on the roadside in Kentucky, all night drives in hopes of watching the sun rise on the Atlantic Ocean, mosquito filled tents in Minnesota, and ultimately, many, many concerts along the way.  Him, my own travelling minstrel, my favorite musician of all.  The mingling of all these passions unfolding through a summer, the sounds still the sweetest soundtrack of all.

And now we are farmers.

A farm is, in so many ways, the complete opposite of life on the road.  We weren’t even sure, so many years ago, could we really settle this love of the new, this love of adventuring?

Of course we did, in every possible way.  We were crazy to settle down back then, even in our uncertainty.  We tied ourselves not only to each other, but to four children, a home, a community, and ultimately, a piece of land.  Stewards of each other’s hearts, four small pairs of hands, and fourteen acres (in desperate need of some care), we were bound beyond bound, called to duties of the highest order.  The weekend camping trip has even became nearly impossible.

But, we have never looked back.

As the signature sound of a one time poet-musician filled the air yesterday and I travelled to this other time, I had the smallest, faintest whispering of desire for that feeling.  That feeling.  On the road.  Is there anything like it?

But throughout the day, reflecting and remembering, it came to me that this completely settled life we chose instead, the seeming opposite of wandering, offers us, daily, that same instant reminder of what is important and true.  Being tied to the land and its cycles is perhaps the only other thing for us, folks in need of constantly removing the screens that blur or block the underlying meanings, that can satisfy.  Life on the farm gets us back to where we started from, and everyday we observe the magnificent mystery of living a life on this earth.  Every day, lessons in optimism and perseverance, in what it takes to make it through every twist and turn of this, life, the ultimate adventure.

The constant reminder, the sure knowledge, that good work returns more blessings than not.

It was a very rainy wash station day, this first Wednesday.  And the first market of the season~buckets of rain.  But it was also a very good day, back together with other farmers and market friends, seeing some new faces, all of us together for a wet day of community.

“You do what you must do, and ya do it well.”

To be tied to all of this sounds better than all the songs combined and is a song unto itself.  Down the road of a new season, we travel.

Together.