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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From seed to seed

spring, farm, farm life, pride, ego, letting goThe world around me is fully greening up now. It is a beautiful sight, all plant growth expanding, even though, as always, the wild plants and perennials take off infinitely faster than the wee little cultivated seedlings and transplants we have tucked into the fields ourselves. They are growing, certainly, but it is like watching the pot, so to speak. It is slow compared to our desire, and slow compared to the explosion of grass and weed that is so full of force and life in the spring by comparison.

Still, we have a good harvest coming in, the last push of the overwintered plants in the field are making florets now, giving us a whole other crop to eat, and the greenhouse bridges the gap by growing food fast enough while we wait for that same speed to issue forth out of doors. All green food, in spring, all great food. Spinach, lettuce, kale, turnip greens, and arugula. And wild harvests galore, because so much of the early spring weed growth is meant to be eaten, it’s true. Nettles, dandelion, wild mustard. I am making herbal vinegars with all these plants I need to pull up anyway, a nice way to hold onto all the goodness these wildings want to give away right now, even if they are growing in all the wrong places. Like we do, the earth and I, we are dancing together the dance of the season. Even the onions, right now, are green. And the garlic, too.

But it isn’t as easy to find that same green-ness in ourselves, not always, as we age, as life adds layer upon layer to our skin. I found myself in tears yesterday, in the wash station with this week’s spinach, because my oldest child is almost thirteen years old. That is only five years, by the books, five years, and there you have it, a childhood. And I know, I know, that it isn’t really left much, already, not truly even five years more. This slayed me, for some reason, out of the blue, while I worked, because his childhood is one of the most important things to me in the world.

It is so hard, this parenting gig, and I have done so many great things as a mother and so many things I wish I could take back. I started out thinking I would do everything right. I didn’t accept at all, on the outset, that life and love would be perfectly human, and that I too, must be.

But I know better than to let the sadness, the worry, wash me away, so I came inside and gave this young boy, on his way to young man, a hug. I let go. Letting go is all that we can do. Over and over and over again, the only way to keep moving forward. I have faith, too. That is just as important.

I never expect the earth to hold on to last season. I know, each spring, that we are on a new ride. Sure, I have lessons learned, I have new ideas, but that doesn’t mean it will be perfect this time round. And yet, I know, too, that I can just as surely count on things to grow, for food to be produced. The earth provides, every year, again and again, without any trace of growing older, without any hint of defeat. Without worry or weight, things just follow through, as best they can, from seed to seed.

So, must we.

 

 

whether the weather

farming, patience, almost springThe snow here has given way to rain, rain that has been strikingly absent for us during this dry and crisp winter. And this morning, as those drops fall heavy on the house in a strong, beating rhythm that awakened us to our day, as I sit here with my coffee and listen to the the sound of water tapping metal, steady and sure, I notice the comfort it brings, the relief. Coming to this valley, lush, green, and moist, I didn’t know whether I would be one to hate the rainy season or not. Would I fall prey to despair, saddened by so much grey? Or was it really that bad?  How wet was it? Were these just exaggerations, weather tales lengthened by the human imagination, tricks of the mind, the way we seem to never recall weather accurately?

I’m not sure what the truth about the weather here is, nor if there really is ever any truth to the weather, but I do know that a lot of people come out here and feel like they are home, and that I am one of them. The grey, monotonous sky offered itself to me in a warm embrace. The fog laying on the hills, the Douglas fir rising predictably from the hilltops, it all said yes to me.

And although I know place isn’t the beginning or end of our happiness, it feels good to feel at home in your landscape.

All the early plantings we sneaked in the ground in January did not weather this last bit of weather so well. As my husband says, though, seed is cheap. We will replant.

I keep thinking about the home I left behind me in Nebraska. I am surprised at the very visceral feeling of discomfort the thought of frozen ground gives me. Maybe I am not all that strong after all, abating melancholy in such a dreary place, if I feel stricken down, now, at the thought of not always being able to touch the earth, feel the dirt,  I realize that I have become dependent on the land. To feed me, even now, in what is for us a harsh winter. I am under-evolved, slave to the soil, the life that doesn’t stop living itself out here.

Part plant myself, perhaps. I can’t remember how I survived anywhere else.

But we do, and we can, anywhere.  What people don’t always realize about all this rainy weather out here, unless they work outside or with the natural elements, is just how often the sun still does come out. But it catches me, often at sundown on many a wet, winter’s day. As if to say, it will never be all this way or all that way; it will, however, always be okay.

Or, rather, that it will always be.  And that, itself, is good enough for us all.

farming, pacific NW, Oregon, sun, rain, weather, mindfulness

this sunrise is the only sunrise

sunrise, nature, life, gratitude, loveHappy New Year!

January is here in all its quiet and subdued glory.  After all the hoopla of the holidays, I always think it feels just right to get back to the routines, to embrace fully the structure of this first, uneventful month of the year. In our home, on this farm, this month is, like it is for so many people, completely under control.  We have lots of goals and lots of plans, and for now, we have the time, space, and energy to keep to them, the path clearly laid out.  This is a beautiful thing.

The tricky part is–and we all know this well–not all of this is likely to hold a whole year through.  Life will have its way, too.  There will be detours unforeseen.  For us, no matter the plan, there is that moment every farming season when the only control possible is to let go of control, to simply let the water pull us under, knowing that the only way to make it out alive is not to hold our breath or struggle against things, but to instead just become the fish. To let ourselves be fully immersed.  We will be there again, I know, busier than busy, lifting so much life in our arms from this ever abundant earth.  That is part of our goal, after all, even if that itself becomes its own force to be reckoned with, a force that our neat and tidy days of January can scarcely hope to keep shackled to the shape we’ve drawn for it here in this stillness.

Right now, we make lists, order seeds, plan and schedule, and it soothes our human instinct to have order, to be in control, just as much as the times of feeling out of control beautifully humble us each year when we find ourselves at the mercy–in ways both wonderful and challenging–of the natural world.

mt hood, farmscape, sunrise, beauty, life, love, gratitude, natureRight now, waking in the dark, writing every day, having the time already for a break at sunrise to watch the red sky awaken the world around me–believe me, there is a part of me that wants to stay right here.  This feels perfect.

But this isn’t how life works, and why should it?

Life is a force to be reckoned with.  All we have is this moment.  The real resolutions, each year, the ones that matter to us most, the ones we hope to keep true at their core and really want to bring to light can’t be heavy with their own stomachfuls of stone.  Sometimes, what may masquerader as strength in January can end up being a mere veneer, hiding underneath it a brittle underbelly that just can’t weather the storm.

After thirty-seven years and so much paying attention, this is one of the good lessons I know I’ve learned, but the kind that I need to always remind myself of, especially now, in sweet January.

Don’t forget to tie up those hopes and dreams and innumerable plans with the highest quality rubber bands you can buy. 

The kind of strength this ship needs is the kind found in elasticity, not rigidity.

Wrap me around this life, a million times over in any sort of direction, and I swear I won’t break.  And when I’m unwound, I’m still the same still thing I was, not bent at all.  The shape remains.

I swear this to myself, right now, in this peaceful, perfect moment, this one sunrise.  And, I’ll try, at least, to say it with each other predictable morning sunrise I get to see.

rilke, sunrise, nature, beauty, gratitude, flexibility“If to enjoy even an enjoyable present we must have the assurance of a happy future, we are “crying for the moon.” We have no such assurance. The best predictions are still matters of probability rather than certainty, and to the best of our knowledge every one of us is going to suffer and die. If, then, we cannot live happily without an assured future, we are certainly not adapted to living in a finite world where, despite the best plans, accidents will happen, and where death comes at the end.”

Alan Watts.

august setting: seasons on the farm

sunset, queen anne's lace, farm, farming, seasons, august “These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.” Annie Dillard.

A reader left this quote in the comments the last time I managed to squeeze a little time out of the day to write over here.  Annie Dillard is one of my all time favorites, and this, this was just right.  For all of our breathing moments, for sure.  But as a reminder to breathe, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot this summer about seasons.  About how much they dictate life on the farm, and about how disconnected they sometimes are from the reality of modern life.

Lazy summer days.

Not quite.  Definitely not on the farm.

Summer is the busiest of all the times.  We take breaks, here and there, as we can, but the longer than long days are filled to the brim with work.  Sun up to sun down.  Five to nine, as another farmer splendidly put it.  We squeeze in as much as our minds and bodies can manage, and as the children allow without reminding us that working in the dirt is not exactly play for them…even though it is for us.  Thankfully.

They remind us that time with friends and dips in the river are necessary parts of summer too.  As well as whole days away from the beating rhythm of the farm, at the beach or in the mountains next to a sweet, quiet lake.  We really do want it all, so we try for as much as we can.  But the truth is, we can’t fully live in two worlds, so we mostly live and breathe farming in the summer, and I often feel this crashing together of two different ways of life throughout this season that for most people signals play, but for us signals work as play.

But even more than this disjointed idea of a “summer off” that we are, by trade, removed from, the end of summer-back to school time of year feels even more disconnected from what is happening in our lives on the farm than ever.  It arrives at the time when the farm is coming to full fruition for the year, and our work, though growing shorter with the shorter days, keeps up at its summer pace, if not becomes more busy.  We don’t really quiet down out here until we are through September.

Oh, September!  The most abundant month of the year.

Even though preparing ground and sowing seeds and planting transplants is busy in the spring, and a constant job up until just now, even with it done for the year, our work load is still heavy.  Weeding won’t end until the rain comes in earnest.  And harvesting is huge right now as summer crops ripen daily.   We need more time for keeping up with that, as well as more time for selling this massive abundance of our wonderful produce, not to mention more time for preserving as much as we can for our family while this abundance is here.  We are still so busy.

But the schedule around us begins to change.  School starts, different bedtimes are in order, different daytimes too.  People seem to temporarily forget that our mid-week farmer’s market is still going on even though it is not, by their books, summer any more, and we always kind of languish a bit in our shoes, standing at our booth with the most produce of the entire year and moderately slow market traffic.

Disjointed.

The life that we lead has to be flexible and malleable in response to the natural world.  It expands, then contracts.  It is tempered to the reins of the physical seasons .  It keeps a steady beat, it keeps a yearly rhythm, but it changes vastly throughout the year, and is in no way arbitrary nor under our control.  This isn’t really how the modern, non-agricultural world keeps time.  Most of the year, for most of the folks, schedules can be kept at almost the same day to day rhythm for the entire year, with only the wild and crazy mix up of Christmas and a short “summer” to temporarily detour them from that order.

It is much different for us, and I admit, I sometimes find it hard to bend our lives to fit into the schedule of the rest of our world.  A friend and CSA member, who catalogues Medieval manuscripts, wrote to me, “The prayer books begin with a calendar, and the illuminations include a “labor of the month” for each month of the year. Summer through autumn shows farmers working in the field, cutting hay, tending crops, harvesting and crushing grapes. In December, the labor is killing the boar for the Christmas feast. In January (and sometimes Feb as well) the “labor” consists of sitting by a fire! Your schedule is far more in tune with human history and the seasons than the summer vacation that resulted from industrialization.”

And there is peace to be found, for me, in her comment.  I know we have chosen a way of life that is more like lives lived in the past and that feels good deep in our ancestral bones.  But more than that, I really do believe that what we do out here on the farm is paving the way for the future.  It feels as visionary as it is a hearkening back.  It is the straddling, in the present, that is the challenge.

The next eight weeks or so will only be more hectic and crazy than the rest of our already wildly busy, summer farming season because I have to divide my attention between our own summer farm schedule and the coming sooner than the farm’s “fall” schedule of our lives.  The thought of it makes me feel a little weak in the knees.

But, I am alive.  I can still breathe.  It will be, and always is, okay.  I love this time of year when the harvest is so amazingly full, it only makes sense that the schedule mirror that abundance and become fuller, as impossible as that seems.  The sheer putting forth of fruit from the earth at this time of year seems impossible too, but to be able to give so much in such a compressed amount of time is as simple as breathing for the earth.  I am sure I can do as much too.

Because after all of that fullness and hard-working and time squeezing, we do fall, naturally, into a very quiet time out here on the farm.  We do come to a point in the year where we have plenty of time.  We relish sitting, sitting made better because it is by the fire.  And for about two months, January and February, tending the fire day and night really is almost all of the work of the day.  Not entirely, of course.  We do have work to do year round, but for a stretch of time, in the deep of winter, we are, nearly, still.

Our schedule, although it isn’t always in step with the rest of the world, has become, for us, familiar.  I don’t fight it any more with trying to mix other people’s realities into ours.  It is comforting in its own steady and predictable way, even if I don’t have help at bedtime with my four children, whose bedtimes are near sundown in the summer, nor do we have a whole day off as a family aside from the couple of camping trips we do make time for in a summer.  We do have a lot of down time together in the winter, a lot of time to catch up on sleep and rest.

We do have lazy, winter days.

This circular rhythm, we have come to know it and love it.

It is marked by the plants growing outside and the hours of the sunrise and sunset.  The temperature.  August begins with blackberry feasts in the morning and after dinner, and ends with Queen Anne’s Lace all around, catching the last rays of the setting summer.  We won’t be tucking ourselves into autumn until the equinox.  Or even a few weeks after that since our “summer” market season continues into mid-October.  Into pumpkins and winter squash.  Then, we will rest, as a farm, and the school mom shoes will not feel too tight slipped over my field shoes and my fingers, happy for the dirt under them, will likely find more time to get inky–metaphorically speaking.

For now, I hold on to an imaginary handle bar.  The end of the roller coaster ride of the busy farm season is the wildest, and so we will aim to make it the most fun and sweet and lively too.  I’ll somehow aim to embrace the two worlds we live in by choosing this way of life, the past and the present.  And truthfully, it is three worlds to embrace, to breathe in simultaneously with each breath, everyday, because through this all I am holding the small hands of the future in mine, as well.