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

there is beauty all around you

mundane beauty, internal happiness, finding joy all around youBack in my early twenties, a close friend and I had this running debate going.  We were students together, worked together, and although we were in many ways polar opposites, we were such good friends.  We met within the first week of classes my first year, and our friendship held from then until my marriage and first birth, when I got enveloped in a certain wonder child’s wiggly ten toes and fingers and could hardly see anything else, wrapped in the blanket of motherhood so deeply that when I emerged, I found we had not really kept up with things and both of us had moved on.

But in our way of not agreeing on things back then, we had an ongoing discussion about the place of “place” in a person’s happy making.  He was ever ready to be finished with his studies, hungry to move away, to get out of the Midwest.  He had no fondness for this seemingly nondescript town in the middle of Nebraska.  I, on the other hand, was not so hard on it.  I could see the places where it shined and loved the people particularly shiny who lived there.  To be completely fair, it was probably easier for me to call on its graces because the University that we attended was in a town just miles from where I grew up.  I had a special kind of love for it that I could call on when needed, that childhood familiarity.

But I did understand, some.   I had spent my teen years plotting my own escape from that landscape through colleges way out here on the west coast not far from where I’ve landed myself now.  All of those options were more than appealing, the end goal of all those straight A’s I’d busied myself with in high school.  But in the end, a full scholarship seemed more reasonable than high costs, and I started to look forward to sharing these years with friends I was already close to.  In the end, I knew, I didn’t want to be out here alone.  So this mix of finances and fraternity, and a little bit of fear, won out over the adventure of moving away that I had always envisioned I’d take as close to high school graduation day as possible.

But our debate ran deeper than simply attachments to home or a dislike for locale.  I did get that, I felt both.  It was more about the way he seemed to be waiting to be fully happy.  In my ever philosophical way, my argument against this waiting was that happiness, deep and true, could not be about place at all.  My position wasn’t distinctly original by any means, it went a bit like this–if you can’t be happy here, you won’t be happy there.  A gold standard.

And what I kept beating him over the head with was this–you can be happy here, and then, you’ll be even happier there.

Not that a change of scenery isn’t wonderful.  Not that it isn’t sometimes just the thing.  I am sometimes so indescribably happy here in my new home, so very happy in this place in time.  But still, I remember.  I know that with or without it, I have held my happiness close to me, tucked next to my beating heart, for such a long time, in all the places I’ve been.  The truth is you own your happiness, your surroundings do not.

In the drear that can be January here, and then February, March, April, and sometimes May, the grey can really get to people.  In the days of more inside than out, though we still always do get out, the children in the middle of my brood are at just the right ages, and have just the right personalities that tend towards feeling the blah of an uneventful, winter’s day at home, working away at nothing more than our studies, our chores, the reading by the fire, the endless board games, tea, and what they see as more than one too many soups and stews on the table.  There is certainly a different flavor to this season, especially once the holidays end, that can start to taste “boring”.

But all of this, to me, is happiness.  I am a homebody, an introvert.  Give me quiet, sweet days with these little imps where we do not rush, we do not have to, and I am in love.  But I get it, I remember.  My daughter wants to see her friends all the time.  She is not content with a day where “nothing” happens.  And my middle son, whose skills and ambitions lie in things that are either too big of a project for such a day or out of his range or simply out of season for now like building go carts or tree forts or learning to hunt and going on survival hikes, he kind of just sits in here languishing while his older brother draws and draws and draws and I read and knit and write.  He is not one for sitting, and even the woodshop which can keep him busy takes some initiative to go work in when it is cold outside.

But this feeling, this boredom, I still try to bring to my children the only true fact I know about it, as often as I can, with my own actions and words, that the only way out is through.  For any human being, this is a handy skill to have in your pocket.  To learn to love the mundane, the day to day of any season, the grey sky, the blah days, they will happen, it is unavoidable, and feeling good and being happy isn’t just a matter of riding the high waves, the summertime fun.  I know that this was hard for me in my youth.  So hard.  But why wait to learn some of these lessons.  I wish they could know the beauty of now, now.  I know I hope my old friend has found this little gem somewhere on the roadside of his travels.  The sooner the better, right?

And yet, as with anything there for the learning, I can’t pour it into them.  They have to fill their own vessels of knowledge, as much as I do, and don’t, want to do it for them.

So, I pause.

I savor.

Dead plants are as pretty as alive ones.  There is beauty everywhere.  I can only show them one example, and never a perfect one, and hope they can see it, too.

 

a bowl full of sunshine~lessons from the wild.

sunshine in a bowlplaying with flowersGrumbly to the bone the other day, I prodded myself and my small people out the door in hopes of letting the fresh air breath light into my bad mood and make everything okay again.  Or most everything.  My own lack of gratitude for a perfectly wonderful day and my hope to recapture it out in the sun pails in comparison to the weight and worry of those experiencing very real challenges and trials, as it does face to face with tragedy on the scale of marathons and countries and the whole hurting human race.

But those things I could manage to control, I knew, might be helped by some time outside.  And because I am easily influenced by the natural world towards happiness, and because a quick glance around my day to day life always serves to remind me just how small my own sometimes frustrations are, we quickly felt up for trying something new and something fun~dandelion jelly.

I have been keen this spring, more than ever, to pay attention to some of the weeds out here on the farm that can be useful.  This drive is mostly prompted by my slowly gathering desire to make more of our own medicines, but the truth is, spring weeds are often also great to eat.  The stinging nettle has been a part of our spring diet since a neighbor went out into the woods with Andre the very first spring of our marriage and collected some with him, returning back to our little mountain cabin to prepare them for dinner, much to my pregnant mind’s skepticism. Now, so many years down the road, they are a regular part of our business harvests too, and one of our top sellers.  We even start crave them come early spring, and we make batches and batches of pesto with them, both to eat and to freeze, while we also try to dry enough of them to make a wonderfully nourishing tea to drink throughout the year.  We love them.

But besides nettles, this spring I am noticing that cleavers grow like crazy out here too, and can be a healthful addition to smoothies or juiced and used to soothe the skin in case of injury, and made into a tincture for the lymphatic system.  Wild violets spring up and while they last, they add their cheer to our now lettuce based spring salads.  Plus they are one of the first sweet treats we can just go outside and nibble on, slowly inching us closer to the even sweeter and more snacky snap pea and  strawberry season.

But of course, the most ubiquitous of all these weeds to be so long revered and used is the dandelion.  Eat the leaves early, before flowering, and they can stimulate a body grown slow and weary from winter.  Use the flowers for jelly and wine to capture something sweet and pleasurable.  And if you go the mile, you can harvest the roots and they will do a fine job of helping heal you from the inside.  Always a delight for children, with seed heads that are wish makers extraordinaire–these are a friendly plant.

As we gathered a basket full of these flower heads and then sat in the grass and painstakingly but leisurely pulled off just the petals for making the jelly, the smallest among us dig in nearby dirt, unearthing salamanders and earthworms and giggles, while the older boys sat chatting with their mama about the simplest but sweetest of things.  In that moment, I could already taste this jelly in my mouth, this jelly that tastes like almost nothing at all.  It is simple and sweet, like spring.  Like our days.

I am so lucky.

These often maligned flowers really did brighten my spirits in both the playing with them like I would were I a child again, and in the slow, peaceful work they brought me, side by side my own children on a sunny spring day.  But mostly, they did this through the reminder that even weeds can have a purpose too.

Right now, in spring, this theme is still a pleasant one to take meaning from, and I see it touching some of my closest friends who are also like making metaphors.  One friend posted a picture of a thistle sprouting up on her farm and hearkened it to a symbol of perseverance.  Another friend’s daughter brought her a bouquet of these same wonderful yellow flowers alongside a bouquet of tulips and gave her pause to consider the beauty in all people.  And the herbalists amongst my crowd, of course, fully appreciate the deeper wisdom of weed culture.  Like I find comfort in a bowl full of sunshine, I find comfort in finding meaning, and I find even more comfort in seeing that this meaning is out there, rising from the earth, finding us all.

Come summer, we will be knee deep in weeds that will temper the growth of the plants we are purposefully cultivating in our fields if we don’t take the time to get rid of them.  They will inevitably take on a different, less pleasing meaning then.  But right now, in all their wild glory, they remind me that I have the blessing to be at ease.  That really, I have the duty to enjoy it all.  That this is the only proper response to a moment offered to you from this universe that is not wrought with hardship, not burdened or traumatized by forces outside your control.  That by being in joy if I can, I am being most sympathetic to those who can not.

Take your joy and do not be ashamed of it, because it is your moment.  Find your care and concern for the world at large and those you know who need it–and yourself when it is your turn–from the deepest part of your joy.  Then, abandon to the dandelions your more trivial concerns.  This way, the weight of your worries can find their most realistic proportions weighed against the more strangling weeds that come into this world.   We all have things to grumble about, and we are all legitimately and honestly free to experience them, but the perspective of weeds is this–most things are not as bad as they may appear.

If we are not ourselves in the darkness of a deadly nightshade patch, then we should try to find our own surroundings as pretty as we can.  We should take comfort in knowing that most everything around us in this world is useful and good and full of light, and then move forward from that point, that understanding.  There is solace to be found such.  There is, as this Wendell Berry poem so often comforts me with, peace to be found in these lessons of the wild.  And there is, if you can look closely, sunshine amongst the weeds.

be in joy