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.

 

all tucked in

winter, farmDecember is the sweetest.

We are all tucked in.  Cozy, warm.  Together.

Harvests are on hiatus.  We have a minimum of morning chores to tend to.  Feed and water the hens and the growing pigs.  Feed and water–and play–with the small chicks in the greenhouse.

Mostly, we sit by the fire and play games and read stories.  In this down time, we reweave the strings that hold us together that we inevitably stretch thin in the hay days of summer, all of us throwing ourselves outward, even as we are always all here, on this farm and in these days, with each other.  Because summer is its own wild beast of living.

And so winter.

We take this time and use it to tend to each other in our winter ways, and the whole, wonderful cycle works, for us.

This winter we have been simultaneously blessed and cursed with clear skies and cold temps.  Without our covering of grey skies and Pacific Northwest rain, we are getting full on that metallic tasting winter air that so many others hold on their tongues always through this season.  I love it.  I hate it.  I can step outside and feel like I am, for a moment, tucked away in the mountains of Colorado or out in the wide open countryside or quiet plains town of Nebraska.  This kind of winter feels like home to me, as much as I am ultimately a part of this lush, temperate valley now.

It was single digit cold here last night.  That is more cold than we are used to.  We all are weathering this fine, although we have used more wood than ever for this time of year and the water to our house is frozen.

No matter the temperature, though, these cold, slow days are so full of time, there is the feeling one could get so much done.    I could get a lot of things done.  Things that would make me happy, things I have been waiting all summer to get to.  On top of that, there is all the extra things one could do, to celebrate.  But instead, in December, I sit.  I wait.

I have learned so much about letting go, it is ridiculous.  Every day, we must wake up in the morning and remember what matters, and so much of it, doesn’t.

I have learned that the sweetness of this month isn’t in the doing, that it is in the waiting.  In the quiet and the stillness.

In our home, there are all the inevitable squabbles of four children inside so much, the eruption of bodies needing to move more that turns our small home into a wrestling ring or race track every evening before bedtime.   The frequent sighs of boredom, the excited as well as impatient expectancy of Christmastime.

But there is a softer side to all of this too.  There is more skin time, more snuggles on the couch.  There are news ways of playing, discovered.  There are knitting needles in my lap, slowly working again towards the only gift worth giving my dear husband, my heart poured into some thing to keep him warm while he works.

I do get itchy, who doesn’t?  I want the new year to start, all fresh and full of promise.  As always, as everyone, I have big plans.

But this last beautiful month on the calender is for the waiting.  Expectantly, hopefully.  Equal parts joy at the dusting of snow and ice to play on as well as trembling and fear, the desperate desire for the return of the sun.

All the work of December is done on the inside.  There is only the barest perception that it’s there, but it is some of the most important work we do of the year.

Fueling our lights for the new. 

All tucked in.  Warm, cozy.

Together.

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.

a monday getaway

monday getawayfreedompeacemuch needed.

Because, sometimes, all the work in the world should, and can, wait.

Especially if you, like me, are like this swell guy–

“I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”  -E B White

Thankfully, all of my chosen professions–mother, farmer, writer–combine the two.  But, all of them are also HARD work.  I get tired.  We all get tired.

So, when the farmer says lets pack a lunch and go to the lake, I say okay.

Even if the tomatoes, split from the rain, don’t get processed and are fed to the pigs instead.

Even though I want to paint the walls of my home and chop all the overgrown blackberries in the landscape before we have our open farm potluck in a few weeks.

These days, who knows how many there are?

We center our lives around doing good work, and honestly, it sometimes feels too exhausting.  But hey, even though we chose to farm not as a hobby but as a profession, and even though we chose four kids instead of one or two, and even though we chose to homeschool all of them (hundreds they feel like, sometimes) to boot–even though all of that, we really are free and independent and go to sleep with tired, happy hearts.  We really are living the good life, as good as life can be, for us.

And so, that is why we do it.

For Monday getaways.

And, all the other stuff, good and bad, in between.

Like the lichen

teachers

forest floor

gummy fungus

lichen

Yesterday, as is my favorite way to do, we spent the morning out in the woods with a sweet group of kids we share some cooperative homeschooling time with.  The children did a small bit of collecting and identifying, but we also just let them be free in the woods without a lot of heavy handed instruction, because that is pretty important too.  They ran and explored and enjoyed themselves so much.  That kind of joy doesn’t always translate to a fascination with the what and why of lichens or the function of fungus in the forest, but that is okay.  I always try not to push that part of it anyways, I really believe (and constantly experience) that children learn an awful lot by osmosis.

But that doesn’t mean that I personally wasn’t enthralled with just that as we walked yesterday.  Depending on the time of year and the mood of the person, there is always something to learn out there in the wild.  Everywhere I looked yesterday there were so many different kinds of mushroom–from the standard fare to the most teeny tiny things to blobs of orange goo–and so many beautiful and intriguing lichens.  I was caught up with thoughts of all those mushroom so quietly regenerating that space we roamed.  And all that lichen, mysterious works of art each with a story to tell about how fresh the air was that I was breathing or about the medicine I could make from them if instead I was having trouble breathing.  Amazing.

And the whole thing got me thinking about something I was already thinking a lot about–the process of breaking down the old and dead parts of ourselves, the process of personal regeneration.  My forest looks a lot like those winter woods right now.  A lot of what is growing is helping me decompose my own broken branches, providing fodder for new growth.  It feels silly, in many ways, to talk about; but god, it feels good.

Who knew (even though we should know) that we keep going through this process our whole lives?

It only makes sense, looking closely.  In all things, aren’t we mirrors of it all?  Mirrors of nature, mirrors of each other.  Mimesis, that great Greek word, has been argued by some to make for a lesser version of things, a lesser authenticity, but I see it as the parallel expression, over and over again, of all that is in this world, inside of us.

In our art, in our lives as they unfold, in the small ecosystem transpiring on the forest floor, in the large world of our heart.

There is something breath-y about the way lichen hang from trees.  Did you know that each lichen is both fungus and algae?  I didn’t until yesterday, my own exploration of the field guide answered that question.   Two organisms living as one.

We are much the same.  When our lives are balanced just so, we grow.  We re-present, like the lichen in nature, that all is well in this world.