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.”

filled up, full moon

full moon, october, farm, sunset, life learning, gratitude, mindfulness, loveYou wouldn’t believe, the sky here, is so blue this October.

A new color scape for my eyes–a perfect, clear blue sky mingling with those browns and yellows and greens–I feel like I’ve never seen it before, like it is brand new.   And even though I can’t paint, I wish I could.

All my paintings right now would be of the bright green grass and the dark, green evergreens that from afar, look like someone’s quick sketch against the sky, aglow with golden light and foiled so perfectly in this autumn story against the turning leaves of those trees shedding their skin, shaking off the summer in brown and yellow.  Wondering, what parts of us are deciduous, which, ever staying?

I want to find these exact four colors and paint them like swaths next to each other and hang it on my wall so I never forget how beautiful they were, together, this fall.  The perfect combination.

By the middle of the day, if I am harvesting, I can strip down to bare my arms to this warm enough, October sun.  It is all kinds of glorious.  But in the morning,now, I must layer.  Wool, warmth, to protect me from the quick intake, the cold breath.  It takes time for me to expect, and to want, that kind of greeting from the morning air.  But it signals the season, a must.

I watch a rotund, Autumn moon rise, and know that the fields are not so full any more, but that I am, filled.

There is still a brink, but I am no longer tottering.  The kids and I are nearly in our fall groove.  It is nice.

Moving through life, things change, always.  Nothing is static.  Every three months, the world here turns itself inside out, a brand new season.  And for us, on this farm, that means a brand new rhythm.  It is good practice for living, so much change, over and over again, throughout the year.  Always moving forward, always changing, but blessed be, always in a circle.

Each time around, we know some things, and some things, we don’t.

But all this movement, all this circling, it teaches us.  We learn the big truth, that we can never just stay put.  That life is flux.

We know that all we can do at any moment in time is fill ourselves up on whatever is around us, whatever that is.  And that we can’t hold onto any of it, that we have to let things keep moving, no matter if we are ready to or want to, or even if we feel like we can”t live with all the letting go.  And we learn that even if we want to move on, that adjusting takes a lot of time and energy and is no simple thing.  We learn, really, necessity.

We know, deep in our bones now, that the deal we make with life is this, forward, forward, around, around, until eventually, we fly off the wheel.  No one moment in time contains us.  Keeping on is all we can do.

We know that holding on and digging deep, that these things only serve us if we accept them as fleeting.

That all we have is this.

Folding into a warm embrace when we can.

Laying down, and deeply tending, roots, that will and can, never hold us.

love flows

 

beach, love, mindfulnessthrough you, through me,

love flows and sets us free.

love, beach, mindfulnessToday, my only goal is to exhale, deeply.

Exhale back into space and time, my home, my kids.

Our last summer farmer’s market was Thursday, and although we will continue harvests for our CSA and our weekend market for another seven weeks, these last many weeks, from September until now, are the crazy-making time on the farm.  The nearly too much time of the year, the so very much food in the fields, the explosion, the reverse of the calm before the storm.  The storm, before the sweet calm.

And doubling up on markets to boot.

A friend asked me earlier this year if our work out here on the farm and in the shop felt sustainable, and I responded then, not quite in the thick of the busiest time yet, that I had come to accept that our summers were not a picture of balance.  In fact, for so long I kept trying to find balance until I finally got a clue and changed my perspective on the whole thing.  Balance, at certain times in your life story, isn’t the right word to be searching for.

But things do need to be sustainable, and I knew then, when I answered her, that it was sustainable because it wasn’t this busy all the time.  We have a little dark side of the cycle out here in the winter, a time of rest, and it regroups us, even if it is nearly impossible to remember this during the wild ride of September.

Nevertheless, we are here now, slowing down.  The summer crops are spent, the fall and winter crops are growing still, but slowly, soon to stop for the year and simply await harvest or flowering, come spring.  The leaves are changing color too, which out here means yellow.  Golden, against the ever present green and the turning to brown all around.  These colors, this time, it stirs you, in the deep parts.

I want to let go of all that intensity, and fall back into my heart, the only place that matters.  The trappings of life, even a good and happy life with days of living free, on a farm, and working hard, can oddly still detach us from the heart of the matter.  The point of this whole mysterious thing that falls between our first and our last breath.

Love.

And why this takes so much intention to hold onto, is really the mystery to me, but I know it, deep down, and I return to it as often as I can remember to.

So, today, at least, I have enough space around me, in what is to come this week, to really see these sweet faces around me, to know that I won’t have to worry about my-busy versus their-needs.  It is a relief, for me.  I am the worst multi-tasker.

You see, the truth is, I don’t want to be anything at all, really, when I grow up.  Why should we be something?  I just want to be love and be present, in this love.

That is really why I came here in the first place.

keeping our heads above water in the deluge

after the storm

farm, farming, wetland, flooded veggiesflooded veggies, farm, farmingwet carrots, flooded veggies, farm, farmingbattered beetsfield of greenssurvived!This weekend, our little neck of the woods was visited by three storm systems that brought with them some “unseasonable” amounts of rain, pretty high, unfriendly winds, and a quick and somewhat depressing end to my just begun love affair with the new season of autumn. I felt cheated.

Because even though the Pacific Northwest is known for being a wet place and all, our late Septembers and Octobers really are usually quite beautiful, with a fair share of beautiful, sunny, crisp, fall-like days.  Sure, there are rainy days in the mix, too, but we don’t usually feel inundated until much later in this precious season.  And so earlier last week, when I had finished the wild and overloaded part of this year’s tomato harvest, and the shorter day length started to make for shorter work days, I found myself breathing deeply into this sweet time of the year, ready to relax. So much less hectic, but still so abundant.

I was already revelling in these changes of schedule, of harvests. I love the beginning of each new season so equally, I have to call them all my favorite.  My taste buds were singing, happy and excited for the new foods on our plates.  Our meals were a perfect combination of the end of summer and the beginning of autumn.  Arugula, lemon cucumber, and colorful mixed cherry tomato salads with balsamic vinaigrette.  Roasted zucchini and sweet red pepper tossed with turnip green pesto.  Kale, glorious, delicious kale, back from a summer’s hiatus and cooked into stews with beets and the last of the tomatoes, the sweet, paste varieties. I had even gotten to a little fall house cleaning and the kids were all working their way into our homeschooling groove.  It felt perfect.

And all in all, this whole year has been pretty perfect.  Especially on the farm. Busy, yes, and a bit of a scramble on the labor front as I realized about halfway through the year that “the farmer” wasn’t joking when he said I needed to take over the farm business for him while he expanded his woodworking one.  But the weather!  The weather this year was perfect.  If you have followed along with us for long or been part of our farm community in real life, you know that the weather has not been so perfect these last couple of years.  And so, this–this was wonderful.  So wonderful  I even mentioned earlier this year that I thought it was a little gift to us from the universe, a nice, soothing balm for our farming wounds from the year before.

And it really has been.  But as I took notes and made plans for next season, I tried to remind myself that I can’t really expect anything, at all, from the weather or a growing season.  Especially not perfect.

As farmers, we tend to take the most immediate data and apply it first to the coming year.  It is assumed, and generally true, that the issues that have come up in prior years have already been addressed, and so each year we tweak things a little with the added layer of knowledge the previous growing season has given us.  We can’t always plan for things we can’t conceive of, but those we have seen and dealt with, we generally will always plan for, even if they never happen again.  The question that kept coming up for me was how to adjust plans after a great year when you know you can’t plan on another such year again? And I wondered, is that a good way to live, to not count on the perfect year?  Where was my faith, my trust?

The truth is that each year, perhaps besides our very first, has always been as good and bad as it could be, perfect in its own imperfect way. And maybe I cursed us without knowing it, as I thought about all of this, but I don’t think so.  I do tend to go forward, believing.  And I really was sure that this season would end as perfectly as it began, until this weekend’s weather changed that, pretty dramatically.  All that “unseasonable” rain led to part of our growing space that was still in production going under water.  “Surprise, surprise”, the world seemed to say, because even if we know that our lower field, a seasonal wetland, is destined to go under water every fall with crops still in it, and even though we know that no matter when this happens, it never feels good, we also felt like we knew the general time frame to expect this to happen, which was nowhere close to this early!

But it did, and it is kind of terrible, but it is kind of okay too.  Those things we have learned already, from other seasons, had led us to plant our rows in this field in a manner that let the water move away from the vegetables as much as possible, and this meant that at first, especially, the water didn’t pool where crops were planted–a good thing!  And this year, we had a separate field for our fall greens that we had observed would stay dry longer than other spaces, and this field, my field of greens, stayed dry and harvest-able–so, so good!  The crops in the field that did, eventually, get too wet in the end, were summer crops we could say good-bye too, like zucchini and pickling cucumbers, or crops we could store, like carrots and beets and our winter squash planting.  It took more work than I imagined it would to harvest them all at once, but I did, and now they are out of the water and ready to store for the next few months as we finish out our CSA and market harvests for the year.  All good!

Not a perfect, happily ever after ending, but a perfectly okay ending, this storm proved to be.

And that is kind of my favorite secret of being grown up, anyway.  The knowledge that happily ever after isn’t perfect like we may have imagined it would be in our limited, juvenile experiences.  That it isn’t always smooth sailing or just right conditions that will make us happy.  But, rather that it is vastly more perfect for being messy and hard.  That growing, sometimes on our own, sometimes together, but always, growing, is the important part, not any particular outcome or expectation we may have once put our faith in.  And that, truly, in all times, good and bad, it is, life, important and wonderful, for what it is, our life.

This weekend’s deluge was just another interesting part of our story, something to experience with both dread and then gratitude, something to laugh about for its absurdity, to learn from in small and big ways.  My children love having water to splash in and their adventurous, happy take on things reminded me to lighten up.  And as for growth, yesterday, in rain gear and water past my ankles, bringing in those storage crops, I experienced perhaps the hardest day of work I’ve had out there in those fields this year.  And it left me feeling sore and tired, but it also left me feeling wildly alive.

And in that moment yesterday, I felt such a deep connection to that land, deeper than I have even felt from living here on it for seven years and helping Andre run the farm business on it for six years, and even more than I have from seeing it deeply with my writer’s eyes and loving it greatly with my big, old heart.  This year of really working hard with it, this soil and land, has tied me to it even more.  It is powerful stuff.  I felt schooled, in the best possible way.

And so today, even though some of us in this household, including myself, are under the weather after so much weather this weekend, I still feel great.  The sun is shining, I do believe we will still have plenty of lovely autumn days to come. And I do think I may just be able to relax, proper like, beside the first fire of the season, soon. And tonight for dinner, maybe we will dip into our first acorn squash too.  Both have not quite been necessary yet, but both will serve to kind of rekindle the love affair I do still want to have with this time of year after our somewhat stormy start.

And I’ll let this weekend’s deluge drain away down my back, smooth and easy, so that I can move forward without too much weight to carry, while I simultaneously keep it flooded in my veins, as all good parts of our story are, perfectly imperfect as that may be.

sunrise on sunflowers on the last day of august

sunrise, sunflowers, farm, august, end of summer“August rain:  the best of the summer gone, the new fall not yet born.

The odd uneven time.” 

Silvia Plath

September dawns tomorrow.  Many mornings this week dawned moist, cooler, with the smallest hint of changing seasons.  It is close.  The beginning of the end.  Although my own sunflowers bloomed early this year, in a year where everything was early, this morning when I woke before the rest of the house and stepped outside to catch the rising sun on the inhale, the sight of them with the kiss of sunrise on their petals really hit this truth home for me.  Autumn is coming, but not quite here.

And what makes this in between time so uneven and odd, I think, for everyone, is that we are beginning to long for the sweet, slow contraction that comes with fall.  After the way summer explodes us, opens us wide to the world, its full days and full living, we grow tired of all that expansiveness.  In spirit for sure, but as farmers, in body too, now that hours upon hours have been spent picking summer crops in the same repetitive position.  Our backs and legs begin to complain.  We begin to long for a little bit of structure and containment.  The wild abandon feels too much.  We want the growth to slow.  We want to turn inwards, face away from the sun some.

And this inkling tickles us while we wait for the world to fall in upon itself.  We know what we are letting go of~summer~is worthy of our love and we know that one of these days will mark our last swim in the river, our last chance to camp in the tent, our last outdoor summer potluck or gathering.  We know we can’t wish it away too soon because we know will miss it.  That by the end of winter we will feel all of this in reverse.  This uneven tinkering between the end and the beginning is always filled with this mild angst.

And so I fret a little myself, torn between a really strong desire to not weed another single row of vegetables for the season and to give my neglected home a thorough cleaning and an equally strong sensation of wanting this time to last forever, of wanting to harvest and preserve as much as possible, to really keep at it for as long as the sun will allow.

sunflowers, sunrise, end of summer, autumn, seasonsSunflowers are always the one for me right now, my guide, so to speak, at this time of year.  The way they follow the sun while it lasts is as good a reminder as any that this is what our trade calls us to do while we still can.  All the hay isn’t in, so to speak, we can’t quit now.  And even some cool morning weather and some fallen rain and some gentle winds that speak of change can surprisingly balance with the days that are still hot and are still long enough.  The way I told it to my market customers earlier this week was this, as the weather literally changed back and forth over and over again throughout the day, “how crazy is this day!”

Perhaps we are all going a little stir crazy, not in the exact way we are when we long for spring and call it cabin fever, but in much the same way.  We desire some time in our “cabin”, won’t that be nice.  And much like we feel when spring turns us out of doors again, amazed and refreshed, this we will feel when we do finally get to tuck in for winter.  Having to get through the crazy-making in between times only means the respite that follows will be that much sweeter.

sunflower, seasons, autumn, end of summer, august, farm