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.”

letting go

my favoriteIn spring, and really all year and every day, the to do list for the farm is hefty and long.  And the reality is, of course, that life’s to do lists don’t ever come to an end, so part of coming to peace with things both here on the farm and in life is realizing that it is the work that is the thing more than an outcome or ending is.

Still, in spring, time sensitive matters arise in farming and it is easy to feel, more than at other times, that dreadful feeling of not having enough time to get them all done when they need to be done.  Fortunately, this spring we have been blessed with unseasonably dry and warm weather, giving us plenty of time for tasks we often find ourselves waiting and waiting to do just in time, or often late, because of the endless spring rain.  Most mornings this year when we sit down to decide what needs to be tended to for the day, we find we are usually able to take a deep relaxing breath, a sigh of relief, knowing that for this day on the calender we are right where we should be.  But there is always something to do, and as the days continue to propel us forward, we have to expand our frame of reference to not just soil prep and planting but to weeding and watering too.  Staying on top of things is always the goal.

And that is why it can be frustrating to go out to the field with two small helpers at my side and a grand plan to weed the gooseberries, and then in the end only manage to get one bush down the row before there are tears and cries for mama and I feel the inevitable split between duties, one of course calling me more.  If there is no redirection to be found, I must stop what I am doing and come.

And even though a part of my mind wonders and worries at that moment how I will ever manage my share of the farm work when things like this happen, I always aim to just let it go.  Sometimes, the need is for nothing, really, except that I am not giving my attention to something else.

What do they want to do?  Pick flowers, be held.

apple blossoms

And so we do this.  We look and listen at the apple blossoms, full of flowers and bees.  The smell is so heady and the sun is on my face, a warm boy’s skin next to mine, soft only like it is when they are small and nursing.  And all the while–singing, laughing, talking, skipping and dancing around–my only daughter makes us bouquets.  It is like heaven.

leftovers

Any seasoned parent will tell you this, and it is really quite trite but like other ideas of its kind, it is equally true~slow down, pay attention.  They are only little once, they grow up so fast.  This same advice applies to life too.  Wake up, smell the apple blossoms. Because you see, they are already, less than a week later, spent and on their way to fruit.

It is hard to balance the pull towards productivity with the peace of mindfully doing nothing.  In that moment, in the field, I really wanted to finish a task on my to do list.  The perennial fruits are the worst for weeds and it is one of those things so much the worse if we don’t get to it before it is bad (and it is already bad, I didn’t want it to get worse).

But of course, the trade off was equally important to experience, just as it was more important for me to do.  Pausing, giving my children what they needed, lovingly letting go of that feeling of rushing worry–even letting go of the rewarding feeling of finishing an important task–wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Later that night, quickly and peacefully after dinner and before bed, in the perfect light of a fading spring day, the baby and I managed to transplant two rows for the farmer.  A small task, so easy.  But manageable.  I never wanted more than to be a mother for so long, I was so fully immersed in the work of it, joyfully, and I didn’t ever worry, for so long, about getting much else done.  Those first three children came in a span of five years.  It was busy and full of them.  I suppose that helped.

But now I am learning the art of working with my children, and letting go is probably the most important tool I have for that.  I like to really finish the work at hand, whether it is weeding through an entire row, cleaning an entire room or finishing all the dishes, or writing until I get it all down or a natural break comes up.  That is not how it goes, though, with children around, and learning to stop mid task and just be there for my children is something I have to do over and over again.  It is good practice for living life mindfully. It is good to do always.  I am glad they are here to teach me this simple but hard truth.

And in the end, having these beautiful reminders of this lesson scattered all through my house, isn’t too bad, either.

also pretty

A heart full, thanks giving.

This year for Thanksgiving we mapped our hearts, calling forth the things, big and small, we are filled with gratitude for.  As you can see, the six year old girl in our house had plenty of things she wanted to list, all good things too, I think.  Who isn’t thankful for fairies, rainbows, and butterflies?  Fun, family, and friends?  My own heart was divided in much the same way as it is every year.  The pillars, the foundation, the same.  Those things I have vested most of my energy in are the very things that support me so well.

In fact, besides the annual love letter to our CSA members which will follow, in looking back at my other Thanksgiving posts (2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 three times) I could see that the trend holds true.  The things I am thankful for only grow more deeply important to me each year,  more deeply sustaining.  The small parts might change some, but not even they do always.  Delicata squash and arugula are still the two veggies that made the list, so seasonally delicious at this time of year, I can’t help myself.

The things that have subtly changed this year are those growing children I live with, a year more into being who they are, a new age and stage for each of them.  This year, it is the strong love of an eleven year old boy that I am especially blessed with, the goofiness now gracing our house more often than not from the eight year old boy , who also happens to give the best snuggles.  The fierce opinions of a six year old girl challenging me to continue to make room for all the peoples of this home, thankfully accompanied by some fierce love and a big, big heart, not to mention stellar storytelling skills and a beautiful imagination.  And there is the wonder of seeing the world through the two year old’s eyes, the joy of slowing way, way down and just being present with him.  Love.

Of course, the farmer is my never ending source of inspiration.  I am eternally inspired by his gentle, caring nature, and thankful, always, for his never ending ability to make me laugh.  And to make others laugh too.  I am thankful for how genuine and lighthearted he can be.

Sweet and good friends, the wood stove, all the children I know, new babies, gardens and canning jars, books, writing, music, sunshine and rain,  all of it, everything.  I am in love with life beyond measure.  I can’t help but be thankful for it all.

But it is important, like always, for me to say that I am truly, honestly, more than can really be conveyed, beyond words thankful for the support of our community for our farm and most significantly, the support of our farm members and the thanks they keep giving us.  This was the first year where I feel like our faith was really tested.  To be frank, there were times in the year we were imagining all kinds of different scenarios for next year, the first time we ever felt like we might eventually lose faith in farming itself if we didn’t change something.  Maybe no farmer’s markets, maybe no CSA. We just weren’t sure it was working.  We have calmed down a lot, and although we do know that we have to structure the farm according to its own unique characteristics, the one thing we were sure of in the end was that the CSA was the best part of our operation.

And that was because of all of your thanksgiving to us.  The love, joy, happiness, and yumminess you let us know our farm and food gave you.  We realized, like always, that we are eternally grateful to have all of you in our lives.  This mutually beneficial set up is really working.  We are so, so thankful for the CSA model, our CSA members, and the immeasurable rewards we all reap from this one little (or big) part of our lives.

Some things never change.  The cornerstone for a thankful life is knowing those things that really matter, that really make the difference.  Knowing them, being grateful for them, nourishing them so they keep on nourishing you.  With that equation, a heart should be full and strong and ready enough to forge ahead through another year, able to take the good and bad that may come along in that course, without too much cracking as a result.  The territories mapped out just enough to be sure of, with just enough open for the new things, big and small, that might need a spot too.  That is where my heart stands.

Happy Thanksgiving 2012! 

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!