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

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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.”

Searching and finding. I’m grateful for the trees.

Last week, we headed up to the hills to search out some chantrelle mushrooms.  We found a small handful, nothing to write home about like in other years, but the colors of the woods and the beautiful weather that day, so nice!

Even though we are a group that gets out of doors plenty, we don’t really get out into the woods nearly as often as we would like.  That dreaded word–busy–seems to so often trump most days.  But not as many days at this time of the year, and learning that balance just won’t look the same in the thick of summer as it does in the fall and winter is a good lesson.  Seeing the whole cycle, I see that there is a balance to that busy, and that is good.

But, as great as getting outside is in general, the power of the forest is still its own magical thing.

Depending on their age, the kids “feel” different things when we first get into it.  Sometimes they enter with the general happy to be out in nature attitude of the very small, or with the wild to be in the wild feeling of the older and rambunctious young boy; but sometimes, for certain among them, they have this period where they enter with a feeling of intimidation, the smallest traces of fear.  It can take a lot of breathing for those small ones to really let go and get into the better parts of the forest then.  And it can take a lot of patience from the grown ups who came along, who just know there are no monsters lurking out there behind the trees but also know that it is unkind to be flippant about such real and powerful feelings.

Besides, maybe we remember a little of that feeling ourselves. The forest is mysterious, alive.  It can be an unsettling place.  Familiar but so unfamiliar.

But even when we have a child or two in that phase, we eventually all are able to connect with that wild place.  We do all get to the point where we don’t ever want to leave.

On this visit, the boys were begging us to leave them for the week!  Have you ever felt that way?  Oh, I do!  I spent as much time as I could manage making little homes out of the forests of this country as I travelled in the summers of my college days.  I remember so many times wishing I could just stay out there where everything seemed undeniably True.

Any searching you take with you, the woods  seem to quiet and calm.  You find things.  Small things–textures, colors, sounds–and big things–poetry, peace, reverence.  The pace is slow, you inevitably relax.

We didn’t find very many mushrooms this time.  But we always find something.

And since I mentioned that this is the month for paying attention to those things we are grateful for, I should say that I am so very grateful for the proximity of the woods to us, our quick and easy access to them, and all of our minutes there.

Growing up in rural Nebraska, roaming rolling pasture at will when I was just a sprite, walking barefoot just five minutes to the banks of a gentle river where I spent hours upon hours working out the pesky details of growing up, and then spending one year in a city where I learned pretty quickly I did not belong, I have never had to go very long without recharging in nature.  I have never experienced the newly coined nature-deficit disorder.  In so many ways, it is hard for me to imagine the lives where this is possible.

But I am also acutely aware that my experience is limited.  And even though my presumption each time I visited a city was that each one was essentially the same and essentially not for me, I have spent some time in them.  The farmer himself is from southern California.  I see how cement can cover most things and how city parks can only go so far to undo that.

And so, since it is for me to need the forest, I am very thankful to have it.  I am actually  quite thankful to have not only the forest, but the mountains, and the ocean, and some wonderful rivers close by too.  Surrounding our lovely farm valley, welcoming my need to still my soul in their presence.

And just close enough, we have a pretty wonderful city to visit so that I can always gain some perspective once in a while.

How often do we get to remember that we may just have everything we need, right outside the door.

Oh, these celebrations!

Last week was…

  • writing some words for this sight
  • Halloween-ing with a cute little kitten who wondered slowly through the night, finding the highly decorated houses the most interesting thing of all (aside from the special piece of fair-trade-organic dark chocolate that turned him into a cute and tired zombie).
  • Also Halloween-ing with the spunkiest, sweetest, camera happy witch ever, and her great protector, Captain America.  All the while being slightly freaked out by the first “creepy” costume for our family, the inspiration for which was “creepy doll”, but which  morphed into a banshee-type, blood splattered bat wielding creature of some kind.  Yikes!
  • Loving the farmer dressed up in fairy wings and a dragon’s tail, the cutest dragonfly ever; and loving that all night he was a little freaked out by my hardcore 80’s punk rock get up.  FUN!
  • And amidst that fun, lots of rationalizing Halloween as best as I could by focusing on the many positive aspects of shared human celebrations.  Still, I spent Halloween night secretly happy that it seemed like less people overall were handing out candy.
  • Relishing the tradition we now have of celebrating, right after the more dark and trivial fun of Halloween,  the festive and light el Dia de los Muertos.  This year, we added to the alter of my folks, the farmer’s grandma.  I love sharing this day with the kids, who did not know any of these very important people well, but get to hear stories about them and spend a day or two with pictures of them front and center.  It brings them, and our connections to this life through them, fully to our attentions for that time in such a meaningful way, all while lightening the weight of death for us all.
  • Wrapping up all that celebrating with a somewhat clean house and a trip to the woods.  Good!

As flowers die and leaves fall, we can see a semi-state of morbidity around us.  But just as easily, we can turn our eye to the beauty inherent in this design.  Celebrating.  That is what we do as the earth dies before our eyes, as we confront our own and our loved ones mortality.

The raucous week of Samhain has moved us into the gracious month of giving thanks.  Gratitude is best applied as a way of life, but we can all find a little more room for it in our hearts this month. In the Gaelic tradition, we have moved into winter.  It is still quite a bit like autumn here, and that is wonderful.  But the winter is a time of sharing this human experience–and the fears and wonders that it encompasses–with each other through the most love filled celebrations of the year.

Happy November!

Gathering, together.

The farm crew got together this week to harvest our last variety of apples for the year, save one stray Gala tree at the top of the main field we decided not to collect so we can still have something to tell the big children to go and nibble on when they are hankering for a snack.  That simple pleasure is slowly coming to an end.  They can’t go grab a cucumber and eat it straight from the vine anymore.  There are no fresh green beans to nibble, the peas and strawberries a very distant memory.  We had the most luscious fall raspberries this year, but the ones now left on the brambles are decidedly not tasty, and my own garden’s fall carrots a bust while the farmer’s carrots are a prized possession not for the children’s free plucking.  That leaves one last apple tree and what remains of the grapes left for them to run outside and snack on, straight from the land.

Oh, the ease of summer eating.

I, too, already miss the quick meal of piled tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce–almost ready to eat as is, so little time needed to prepare.  I guess the fact that we are moving into stew and roast and soup season, where time is an essential part of the equation, is apropos for the simple fact that there now is more time.  We are not filling a day with garden work and harvesting while preserving well into the wee hours of the night anymore.  The sun sets at dinner time.  There is no push to keep working in spite of grumbling bellies, a feeling those long summer days have built into them.

Bringing in the last of the apples the other day, with this whole crew of silly people, was so symbolic:  collecting the near end of the sun’s energies for a season, culminating in those sweet red fruits.  All of us, filled too, with vitality from a season in the sun.

I always feel like summer is a bursting open, an expansion that almost goes too far, pushes us wide to our very tips.  Then autumn comes and the earth slowly wraps itself around us, everything contracts, and we come and turn inward.   There is time to think, again.

Thankfully.

But this kind of day on the farm–all of us gathered together, gathering together the fruits of the combined labor of this very earth and our own twelve hands, the sweetness of working the land together, the sweetness of fresh fruit on our tongues, the ease of being free in the sun and playing till dusk with wild abandon–this kind of day on the farm is one of the last.  Even though they don’t stop producing for us, the fields don’t really need us in the winter.

Our bodies have stored the summer just under the skin to warm us from the inside out through the cold season,  and we have stored these apples to fuel our bellies with the taste of that sunshine too.

We bring it all inside and work together in other ways now.   Gathered together by the fire, ideas and stories and the worlds of the mind are our work, thoughts and creations to grow and tend and harvest, together.