Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pretty Pictures

I'm in the city for a few days and thought I'd post some pretty pictures from the country for myself as well as y'all.
Check out the crazy oncidium orchid...

Like everything else out here, I think it likes it. I've never had such a big spike with so many branches on it before. Could have a lot to do with the increased sunlight, though. I had it on the porch all summer. Its nickname is "Dancing Doll." Do you see her?And here is a leaf that looks like a butterfly.And here is a butterfly! This little guy came by earlier this summer and perched on my finger for a long time. I've ordered some insect i.d. books from Amazon. They are coming soon and then I'll be able to post the names of all these creatures I come across.John's birthday bouquet--fresh from the meadow.Dinner anyone?
Enjoy the long weekend!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Well, it happened. We ran out of water. The night before last, right before bed, John called down from upstairs, "Uh oh." He walked down to the new house and turned on the pump which pulls water from the spring to the holding tank. It ran for about fifteen minutes. That's about 15 gallons. Right before leaving for Columbus at 5:00 a.m. the next morning, he ran it again and we got about 5 more gallons. Then he gave me a hug, grabbed his coffee and said, "Bye."

Our neighbors, Gary and Sharon, haul their own water in a 300 gallon tank in the back of their pick up. They make the fifteen minute drive to Quaker City and buy the water from the fire department. I'm not sure how many times a week they go. They are a family of six, so I think they go a lot. Our holding tank has a 2,500 gallon capacity--which would last John and me a long time. It hasn't rained here in weeks, though. The ground is dry and cracked more than an inch wide where the bare clay is exposed. The grass is brown and brittle. I knew that the neighbors would haul a load of water for me if I needed them to, but I really wanted to fill that tank to the brim. It doesn't look like rain anytime soon.

I spent the morning reading, writing, doing some work for work, and calling the Quaker City Fire Department, the Quaker City Municipal offices, the Quaker City Water Works, and the Old Washington Fire Department. Not one time did anyone answer their phone. Hmm.

So I finally called the neighbors just to ask if they knew whether the fire department would indeed deliver water if someone needed it. I got Wade on the line, who didn't know, but would be happy to drive down there with me to find out after his dad Gary got home from work at 2:00. We could take their truck just in case the answer was no. When Gary got home, he happened to have a local newspaper in it with an ad for water hauling service. "If this guy is too expensive, let me know and we'll find you the number of the lady we used to use."

Jeff Martin answered his phone right away. He could come by that evening after picking his son up from football practice. His truck held 2,700 gallons of water, so I could get a full fill-up. Hallelujah! I gave him directions, which didn't leave me feeling as confident, but I held the faith. He showed up in his big shiny truck around 7:00 p.m. We hit it off famously. Turns out he sells all natural beef from his farm in nearby Cumberland. "Why, I was just reading a book that made me think I needed to find a local source of meat," I said. (see previous post re: The Omnivore's Dilemma.) And he just built a hunting lodge for private lease hunting (lots of turkey there, guys!). He told me I needed some chickens and I replied that, "Yes! I want chickens and goats." He does some consulting on small farming operations and his son 4Hs on goats. (He used 4H as a verb). And of course he would be happy to haul water for me again. I got all this--precious water and valuable information--for $125.

My neighbor Sharon called me later that evening. "I just got home and heard you're one of us now," she said. "Yep," I answered proudly, "I ran out of water!" I'd been baptized, so to speak. But into what? The pains in the butt particular to country life? No. The playfulness in Sharon's voice and my small feeling of triumph indicated something opposite. My water problem had been an opportunity to settle into the ways of this place a little more deeply.

Problem solving out here leads you down weird paths. It is hard to get people on the phone, and not many businesses are listed in the phone book or on the Internet. You have to ask somebody in person and then the chain of events will begin to roll. The people you meet along the way are all wells of knowledge and information and, often, good humor. They are resourceful and entrepreneurial and generous and they really love it out here. Many of the families have lived here for generations and they know the history of the land and buildings and other people who live nearby. I'm not used to that. I'm used to more impersonal dealings with people who know about as much as I do about whatever.

I was happy last night. Happy to have water again, happy to know about a source of local, natural beef, happy to have met someone nice, happy to have kind neighbors across the road. It wasn't a full dunking, maybe, but my toes are definitely wet in the waters. When the next problem (opportunity) comes along, I'll be ready to dive in, head first.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Garden Fever

It’s that wonderful time of year when everyone shares the overflow from their gardens with neighbors, friends, and heck even enemies when it comes to zucchini. This yearly act of generosity always makes me think, dang it—next year I’m having a garden!

I never did get one at our Columbus house. The backyard had a gigantic oak tree in the middle of it, and a mature maple in the corner. It made for shady sitting on hot summer days, but really terrible vegetable gardening. The front yard was blazing sun and would have made a great site for a potage garden where vegetables and herbs grow alongside ornamentals in lovely arranged beds. I knew myself too well, however, to let the fantasy of a well maintained potage garden, the likes of which you see only in glossy garden magazines, turn my front yard into a thing that would have the neighbors complaining anonymously to the city officials.

But next year…my garden is going to “kick ass” as the Anne Taintor button says. The site is all picked out—you’ll be able to look down on it from the star-gazing deck. You’ll meander through it when traveling up to the cabin from the new house, and back again. It is going to have a rustic arbor in the middle of it with wisteria (or grapevine, haven’t decided) growing over it and a table in the middle of it for al-fresco dining. It will have some raised beds for tender things and I’m going to start amending the in-ground beds this fall with leaves and cover crops. I’m going to have potatoes, melons, peppers, carrots—you name it.

And it will have a fence. A good fence that goes underground to thwart the groundhogs and that has little sacks of human hair hanging from it like shrunken heads to ward off the deer. Because, actually, I did have a little “garden” this year…our builder, Tom Shingary, brought me some tomato plants in the middle of July. They were leftover from what he planted of the leftovers from another person’s garden. I was not optimistic about getting tomatoes from plants put in our hard clay ground in the middle of July, but what the heck. They surprised me by growing quickly and steadily. They had several flowers and some green fruit and all was going well until one morning when we walked down to water them (they are in front of the new house) and our jaws dropped open. Regard the carnage wreaked by the “Fearsome Five,” our little band of deer that visit the meadow every morning and evening: They even ate the pokeweed nearby. It was dessert I guess. Since we have an apple orchard and a few pear trees already, I’m reading books about growing fruit and I admit to a modicum of despair. It seems technical and picky and so very hit-or-miss. But, without doing one thing to our trees, look at the bounty they are bestowing on us newbies: Along with the tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, plums, and yes zucchini that my friends and neighbors are sharing with me, I have also been inspired by the book I’m currently reading: It is eye-opening, and often jaw-dropping. Read it if you dare to understand where our food comes from. And look out, it might just make you want to start a garden of your own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Into the Woods

Deep summer and the forest is dark and dense. It covers the hillside to the east of the cabin and rolls along southward till it meets another line of woods that heads west. In winter, you can see the top line of the hills and all the ground below. In summer you see only the trunks of the nearest trees and behind them, a curtain of deep, dark, mysterious hush. In summer, it is the forest of fairy tales, the archetypal forest that characters must enter for one reason or another. All sorts of magical things happen under the cloak of the aestival forest.

I’m sitting in it as I write this. In this chair: John is working from home and the infernal “conference calls on speaker phones” have begun (in quotes because I think it could be the name of a band—an awful punk band who plays dissonant, screeching chords over screaming vocals:) I moved to the bench under the apple trees with my trusty laptop, but the boys are playing the radio and making a racket at the new house. So, I escaped to the woods. It is another world, right next to the one I was just in a second ago.

The threshold to our woods has been celebrated with one of John’s arbors. As well it should be, because there is a distinct difference in tone as you cross over from open meadow or lawn to woods. Immediately there is a shift in perception. Some liminal awareness in the brain is roused. The meadows are all noise and light and color and movement that hold pockets of silence here and there. The woods are the opposite. They are quiet and dark, mostly green and brown, with small darts of movement and shivers of sound that startle and catch the eye. In the meadows I am looking at everything. In the woods, everything is looking at me. We’ve got a lot of multiflora rose in our woods. And bittersweet vine and grapevine and Virginia creeper and another type of vine whose name I do not know. All of that is unfortunate, but not unusual for this part of the country. The old growth forest is long gone (except for the logs of our cabin!) and those nasty invasives have taken hold. We make the best of the bittersweet and grapevine, though. John makes his wonderful furniture and I cut swaths of the red berries haloed with orange petals from the bittersweet in fall. And I have to admit that the shapes of random grapevine make me want to craft on the spot.
People are talking about summer winding down and I begrudgingly admit that it is. The warm weather will stay around for awhile, I know, but the days are getting shorter. You can sense the plants beginning to draw back into themselves. The beauty we have to look forward to, though, is the glory of fall. The woods will change moods along with its clothes. I’ve seen it before, but this year, I’ll be here for all the subtleties and I’m excited about that. Another simple pleasure (that is somehow complex) of living here year-round. I’ll report back on the changes.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Cassandra Marie July 1992 - August 16, 2008

I have a heavy heart. Our sweet dog, our coonhound mix Cassie, is gone. We had to put her down this past weekend. We have been agonizing over whether and when to do it for a long time. In true coonhound fashion, though, she kept hanging tough, fooling us into thinking she could keep going for another day, another week, another month—who knew how long? It became apparent on Saturday morning that her time had run out. After the second seizure, John walked down to the new house where the boys were working and asked Tom for the name of a good vet. “Hopefully they can do something,” Tom said, even though John had made it clear that it didn’t look good. Those guys really liked her. Everyone really liked her.

We found Cassie at the pound sixteen years ago in Columbus. We had just moved from the country and had to give away a little terrier we had there. John and I were thinking we wouldn’t get another dog. Everyday life was easier without one. I’ll never forget what our passionate middle daughter, Sarah, who was ten years old at the time said about that decision: “We are NOT the kind of people who don’t have a dog!” It was such an adamant declaration of our family’s identity—or Sarah’s perception of it at least—that it settled the matter. Soon after that, John called me from the pound one afternoon and said, “You have got to come see this puppy.”

Cassie with the velvet ears and sad brown eyes.
Cassie with blue-ticking poured over tree-walker brown and black.
Cassie with the paws of a larger dog on her short body, the sway back of a basset hound and face that people mistook for beagle, unless they were from the country.
Everyone from the country nodded their head at her and said, “Nice coonhound.”

Cassie the food-stealer, baby licker, bird hunter.
Cassie the dog that people who don’t like dogs found themselves liking.
Cassie the pack-hound who couldn’t stand it when the kids would hike the trail ahead of the parents, and would run back and forth between us, barking her disapproval.

Every time we picked her up from vet after boarding her for our no-dog vacations, she made the receptionist laugh so hard because she stood there in the waiting room and chewed us out. Bark, bark, bark! Where the hell have you been? Don’t you ever! And then she would stop, lecture over, and pull us to the door with her leash looking all the world like a mother who had just put her foot down with her unruly children for the last time!

It was that love of being with the pack that helped John and I make our decision. We did not want her to die alone, in her kennel where we had to put her when we left the house to help her feel secure and to keep her from soiling the floors. Instead, we were with her, whispering what a good, good dog she was. And even though she couldn’t hear us with her ears anymore, she was listening with another part of her. She was calm and quiet and ready for rest. A well-earned rest in whatever heaven that dogs can imagine.

Friday, August 15, 2008

House Update

Construction on the new house is speeding right along, as fast as three guys, one with bad knees, can make it go. I can hardly wait to get in there and start decorating. I have a little while to wait yet, but when you consider that it has taken three years to get here, a few more months is nothing. It is so close I can taste it, and my saliva glands are working overtime.

The story of our new house goes something like this:
John found a dismantled barn for sale in the newspaper about five years ago. He called on it and arranged to meet the guy who owned it at a barn in Pickerington where it was stored. The guy had dreams of putting it back up again someday, but he ran out of time. The people who owned the barn where it was stored wanted to move and they needed it out of there. The guy had marked each beam and photographed each step of the process. It was just what you wanted to find in a dismantled barn. In addition to the 24x36’ structure, he had a 16x16’ building available, too. John took them both plus some oak flooring and other “vintage” lumber. We thought we would use the bigger one for the horse barn and the smaller one for John’s workshop. We’d buy another dismantled barn later and turn it into a house. (la di da!)

Now all we (John) had to do was move it. Getting a dismantled barn loaded into the back of your truck is one of those “easier said than done” things. All I remember about it is that one snowy Easter weekend, John and Jack used a canoe dolly to move several thousand pounds of barn lumber in a rented U-Haul. There was a huge snowstorm going on while they drove along back roads in the dark. Once they arrived at our farm, they had the pleasure of lifting all the beams one more time to load them into our old barn for storage. Good times, good times.

John had the idea for a while that he would put the barn back up himself, perhaps with the help of some Amish people for the main beams. Hoo boy, to think of that now makes me laugh. Or shudder. As it turned out, he asked around at the local lumber company for someone who could put up an old barn. Yes, there was an Amish man he could try, but there was another name that kept coming up: Tom Shingary.

We met Tom at the farm one weekend to discuss the project. He drove up in his maroon and cream conversion van and got out to meet us. He had a ball cap on covering his thick white hair, large blue eyes lined with black lashes, and a round nose. He had a friendly gruff voice, like a grandpa you are a little bit afraid of, but who you know will soften and give you whatever you want if you ask for it politely. After we looked at the beams stacked in our barn and talked at length about what we were planning, Tom asked if we wanted to take a drive and look at some of the other barns he had reassembled—some to work as barns again, and some to work as houses. After that tour, we were convinced that Tom was our man. A year later, he started work with the help of his brothers who own an excavation company, his son who owns a gravel company, a few workers who have changed over the years, and his teenaged grandson from time to time.

The original plan of making it the horse barn changed when we saw what a bulldozer does to the land. John and I were stunned when we came out to the farm one weekend and saw our little hilltop that the barn was supposed to sit on gone. They ran into some limestone rocks while trying to level the site and so it went deeper and deeper until the site was downhill rather than uphill. We cried when we saw it and felt so guilty. We learned a good lesson: go slowly and think it through, because you can’t put it back once you bulldoze it.

To quote John’s famous saying, though, “it couldn’t have worked out any better.” Because we realized that we should make it into our house. The site was perfect—it was the right distance from the cabin, it had a fantastic view, the major upheaval of the land was already done, and who wanted to find another dismantled barn and move it again for our house? We could build something smaller for the horses later. And so our new house was conceived. It has been gestating for a few years, and now it is almost arrived.

“The boys,” as we affectionately call them, arrive every morning, Monday through Saturday, around 7:30 a.m. and work until 3:00 p.m. I hear them laughing and guffawing in-between saw cuts. I hear the radio playing oldies rock some days. They love Cassie, our old coonhound, who ambles down there several times a day to beg food. “We know it’s lunchtime when she comes down here!” They like the house they are building for us, and take pride in doing a good job. I clean up their cigarette butts and pop cans after they leave. I took fresh baked cookies down one day (after Cassie stole one of their lunches). I suppose I’ll miss the boys a little bit when they don’t show up every day in Tom’s white work truck. But, I think I’ll live.

Here are some pictures of what it looks like now…

The view that you get when walking to the house from the cabin (That's going to be the screened in porch below and the star-gazing deck above)

And the other side of the house, facing the road. That is the cedar siding going up on the bottom half. We're going to just let it turn gray over time. Mmm, patina.And the front of the house with the awesome dormers

And there is Tom in the white shirt. The other two have sinced moved on--the fella in the cap became ill with cancer, and the other guy, I'm not sure. They did not want their picture taken. Can you tell? This was taken several years ago, as evidenced by the post and beam still visible on the left. Tom has trimmed down since, after a scare with heart surgery. He's looking good, though he is the one with the bad knees I mentioned. He gets the young guys to climb the ladders.

And here is John's tidy little workshop completed in the same cedar siding as the house. Add the almond windows and a red door and some landscaping to it and you'll know what the finished house will look like.

As a final note on this fifteenth of August, Happy Birthday to John! We'll be celebrating tomorrow with Mary and Jon and the kids and Jackson, too. Pictures forthcoming!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Strange Changes

We don’t have a TV here in the country. Our old set is at the apartment in Columbus and it still works for channels 4, 6 and 10, but it is a dinosaur in the land of electronics and I’m not going to move it here. I think we will get a new TV when the new house is ready, but I’m not sure of that. I don’t want to miss anything because I’m watching TV.

I don’t want to miss the deer that come to the orchard in the morning mist.
I don’t want to miss the milk snake crossing the driveway.

I don’t want to miss the colors of the sunset reflecting on the clouds across the meadow.
I don’t want to miss seeing the crazy collection of moths dressed in their Erte cloaks resting against the back of the new house.

My life here is definitely different. My habits are different. When I go to the apartment in the city, the TV sits on a table in the smallish living room and I automatically desire to turn it on. Like an alcoholic seeing a bottle of gin, I guess. I want to zone out, numb over, forget. Out here, since I don’t have a TV, I end up sitting quietly on the porch, looking at the meadow and noticing the thoughts flickering across my mind and the general feeling in my heart and my body. It amazes me how much time I have spent avoiding this kind of introspection. Even though I crave it, if given the opportunity to avoid it, I will—through a variety of means that the city offers in truckloads: shopping, eating, drinking, watching TV, working out. None of those things is bad in and of itself, but I have used them all to avoid quietly sitting.

One of the reasons I wanted to move to the country was to cultivate this art of quietly sitting, and it is one of the things that is changing me the most. When John is in town at the office and I’m here all alone, the quietude really spreads its fingers wide. A deep well appears and so far, I’ve just peeked over the edge at the dark waters below. It is both restful and energizing in a way that I don’t have much experience feeling. And because of that lack of experience, it can be a little scary. It is intriguing enough, though, to keep me tuning in.

Before anyone gets too aggravated with my rhapsody, I want you to know that I understand what a bit of grace it is to be able to do this. I don’t have kids to haul around and cook for, and no full-time job sapping my last bit of creative energy. And for that I am grateful to the marrow (the job part especially--I love my kids :) I just wanted you to know that I’m not wasting my dose of grace on TV. Maybe when winter comes and the dark settles early and the new season of House begins, I will change my tune. For now, I’m allowing the exterior change in my life to affect the interior, too. And I am here to report that the process is surprising and amazing. I have the feeling that it would take me as far as I wanted to go. That somehow, it wants me. It wants all of us and is waiting patiently for us to pay attention so that it can reveal wonder after wonder.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

BFP aka Miss Clarabelle

I’ve had a request for a feature on my kitty, Clarabelle. My friend Colette calls her “big fat puss,” and if you’ve ever met my cat, you will understand the nickname. She wasn’t always a bfp, and she slims down to what I call her “summer weight” some years, but mostly she is a wonderful puddle of tortoise shell kitty who is a delight to cuddle with on winter days.

John and Jack found Clarabelle for me at the SPCA in the spring of 2000. After my college cat, Mia, died in 1999, I needed to wait awhile before getting another. Mia was special and I’d had her for close to twenty years. I was also working as a long-term sub in a large high school and had no time or energy to tame a new kitty. But, I had my request in to the cat network—that unseen force of the Universe that links up the right people with the right strays. I wanted an older cat, a tortoise shell, and preferably a female.

Clare was a beautifully marked torty, close to a year old, spayed, and de-clawed on the front. Because of all that, I have always thought that she got lost one day and never made it back home—that she wasn’t abandoned. I wouldn’t de-claw a cat, but I have to admit that my wicker chairs still look good, and for that I am grateful. She has lost almost all her teeth over the past eight years. They just rotted and fell out. Despite her lack of weaponry, though, she can keep dogs at bay with her growl and her glare, and she recently caught what I might call a school-age bunny rabbit. Lucky for the rabbit, she couldn’t kill it, but she brought it half-way to the porch in her gums before dropping it on the ground.

Clare visited the farm a few times before we moved here. When we came out for a week in summer, or for four-day weekends, I would bring her along. She would have to sit on a towel on my lap for the car ride. The last twenty minutes on the way here from the city is up and down and all around, and poor Clare would puke every time. When she is on my lap, it isn’t as bad as when she is in her carrier, so I would brave the coating of cat hair and the discomfort of keeping my legs in one place for over an hour for her benefit.

In fact, I have always bent over backwards for Clare, and have let her get away with just about anything. Jack notices this and calls me on it. “If the dog curled up on the clean laundry for a nap, you’d go crazy!” Yes, I would kill the dog if she did that. But, how can you be mad when you come upon Clare all curled up in a ball with her paw shading her eyes in a basket of laundry that she had the curiosity to find on her own? And when you say, “Clare, what are you doing in there!?” she lets out a little purr and moves her paw so that she can see who it is, then scoots around on her back and offers up her belly with the soft yellow spot. Who could resist?

And the accommodations for the car sickness were worth it, because Clare loves it out here. She is in heaven. On one of the first nights here after the move, she and I were both sitting on the front porch watching fireflies light up the dusk. I was in the big red chair and she was sitting just at the edge of the porch. It was one of those moments where we looked at each other at the exact same time. She turned her head and I glanced down. I swear she had a smile on her face. She blinked once in the slow, communicative way that cats do. In the way that says, “I am satisfied.” And then she turned her head back and resumed contemplation of her good fortune.

Colette says that Clare is “the perfect cat.” I’m not sure exactly what that means for Col. For me, it means that she has a pink nose and green eyes. She has a yellow patch on her chest with a darker yellow stripe in it. She has round black paws that remind me of the stockings on French can-can dancers. And she talks. You can ask her a question and she’ll respond with a scratchy little “mah” that sounds just like “yeah.” And come winter time, she is the best lap warmer around and will put up with much shifting of weight and rearrangement of books, coffee mugs, etc.

Clare’s farm life consists of lolling about on the porch of the cabin, stalking insects in the tall grass, exploring the old barn and other outbuildings, cackling at the wrens when they are nesting near the porch, and making forays underneath the cabin where she picks up cobwebs that hang comically from her whiskers until I pull them off. Oh, and eating at regular intervals. She is what we call in the horse world an “easy keeper.” A small handful of dry food and one third of a can of wet keep her nice and round. And, I wouldn’t have her any other way.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I Need Monet

The cat has acquired a new habit since moving here. When I open the door to let her out, she swivels her head back and forth, from side to side several times, continuously as she steps slowly, carefully across the threshold and out the door.

I know how she feels. There is so much to look at. When I walk in the meadows, which are glorious right now, I do the same thing. My pace slows, sometimes to a standstill, while my eyes try to take in everything, every detail, every nuance in the landscape—the long views, the macro views, this leaf, that flower, this grass, that tree in the distance.
It is a matter of texture: there are thousands of them in every square foot—hairy thistles, smooth grass blades, fuzzy seed heads.
It is a matter of shape: circular discs of clover leaves, candelabras of ironweed blossoms, fountain sprays of goldenrod getting ready to burst into full feather dusters.
It is a matter of color: purple coneflowers dying back to brown, green apples with the first blush of red forming in the trees, bright yellow surprise of Jerusalem artichoke waving on stems as high as the ironweed, all against a background of chlorophyll in every shade imaginable.
It is a matter of pattern: how many thousand—five, ten?—round heads of Queen Anne’s lace bobbing in the breeze on a plane just above the tallest grasses.
I can’t see it all! My eyes are like hungry puppies that can’t gobble their food fast enough. I could look and look and look all day. If I had my books with me, I’d rustle up a quote from E.O. Wilson’s, Biophilia, about how we humans evolved in the midst of all this creative variety and artistic juxtaposition that exists in nature, and therefore in us. No wonder our brains are so complex. And no wonder that we need nature in such a fundamental way, that it inspires us still.

Or, forget E.O. Wilson, and think of Captain Kirk visiting that planet that was so like Earth. After all those barren outposts with rocky terrain and red skies, they came upon a planet soft with vegetation and ringing with birdsong. The crew went native and was in danger of forgetting the Enterprise altogether, of chucking interstellar travels in exchange for fresh air and moist dirt. Even Spock’s half human side was awakened by the lush forests, warm sunshine, and cool streams. It was home at the deepest cellular level. (Of course a pretty lady was involved, from whom Kirk had to pry himself away to save the Enterprise, but that’s another piece of nature I’m not talking about right now.)

Before we moved here, I wondered what it would be like to be able to watch the meadows unfold all year long. I wondered what I was missing when we couldn’t make it out here for weeks at a time. I guess this post makes it clear that I have not been disappointed. The only thing missing is my painting skills. About every ten feet, while taking my walks, I stop, hold my hands up to make a frame and say, “Now that would make a beautiful painting.”

I feel that one of the raisons d’etre for humans is to notice and sing the praises of this most remarkable planet. I almost feel an obligation to learn to paint for that very reason. Because photographs can’t capture the subtleties, I should move to paints. If only my grandmother were here. She’d set up an easel and get busy. For now, I'll have to be satisfied with my Fuji Finepix camera and mere words.

Monday, August 4, 2008

What I Did Today ~ A List Poem

Today I…

Did not get in a car.
Painted the rocking chair black.
Unearthed the brick patio
on the side of the cabin.
(It looks like a blanket
lying over the uneven ground,
worn with the heaving
of earth over time.)

Listened to John’s conference calls
on speaker phone for too long.
Made roasted vegetables with zucchini,
carrots, onions, potatoes and red peppers.
Baked an upside down cake glistening
with peaches and strawberries. swimming
in brown sugar and almond paste.

Drank a good amount of water.
Felt culpable for all sorts of crimes
against myself and the world.
Tried to figure out what bird
makes the “bob white” sound
but isn’t a bobwhite.
Flushed two grouse from the wet
and shady spot between the two pastures.
Thought of myself as someone else
so that I could more easily forgive
my crimes.

Found Indian Pipe on the trail where the beech trees live.
Worried about the health of my elderly dog.
Had the feeling that John and I are secret friends.
Thought that I should do yoga.
Felt as if my time here is limited,
which relieved me of the burden of making
this be it forever and ever.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

At Play

Last year this time, Franklin Park Conservatory (where I used to work full-time) was gearing up for an exhibit called The Enchanted Express. It consisted of model trains going around miniature landscapes made from natural materials. One of the artists who created the landscapes is Diana Heyne. She is a delightful person and a wonderful artist. She is a multidisciplinary artist, but she also creates collages and other pieces out of found objects and materials that she gathers from nature. Last fall, in conjunction with the exhibit, she led a class called “Gnome Homes and Fairy Furniture.” My friend Jen and I were so intrigued with Diana’s art and person, that we just had to take it.

It was the most fun I think I’ve ever had at a craft class. Everyone in the room, about ten women from their 20s-50s, three girls around age 12, and one (remarkable) dad, exhibited a willing suspension of disbelief as we all got serious about creating spaces for the gnomes, sprites, and spirits of our imagination. Diana walked around the room saying things like, “Well, they don’t like right angles, you know, so it’s okay to be off a little.” And participants said things like, “I want them to have vertical space, too, so I need to find a way to put in a second storey.”

People made chairs out of turtle shells and down feathers, tables out of bark, windows out of mica, walkways out of snakeskin, and beer mugs out of seed pods with tiny grapevine handles. Garden snippers, glue guns, and sheet moss for covering up the seams were the only tools needed. I ended up making what I called a Faerie Altar—a place where the forest faeries offered up some of their garden bounty to the gods.

Some of you will understand that gnome home making is addictive. (And some of you will not…) Yesterday, I made another gnome home with things I found on the farm. This one is a little scary—a Bone Finder’s cottage. (You have to go with whatever suggests itself to you when making gnome homes.) The Bone Finder is one of those entities from the shadow side—a little frightening, but necessary to have around. Or at least, impossible to deny.

I have the feeling that a whole village of gnome homes might pop up out here on the farm. Next time you visit, keep your eyes open. You never know who’s watching from under that leaf!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Country Girl in the Making

One of our fondest hopes about this farm is that our grandchildren will like coming here. I know that that hope is loaded with psychological projection—we like the farm, so you’ll like it too! We had fun at our relative’s farms, so you’ll have fun at yours too!—but I like to think that our hope has to do with something bigger than ourselves and the satisfaction of our grandparental egos.

By now, lots of people are familiar with Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods, in which he coins the term “nature deficit disorder.” The book hit a nerve because he gave voice to something that everyone knows already, but couldn’t quite remember in the midst of our modern lives. We need to be near nature on a regular basis. Kids need to be in nature as part of their normal development. Preferably, they need to have unstructured play time in nature, time to make up games, sit in trees, build forts in the woods, explore rotten logs, discover weird bugs…all the things that used to happen more often, even in the suburbs, just twenty years ago.

Our grandkids get outside a lot, thanks to their intrepid mom, Mary, who likes to be on the move always. She plunks Maria and her little brother, Mario, into the stroller, into backpacks, into snugglies, and heads outside in all kinds of weather to the park, the pool, the playground. They are learning to be adventurous kids and now the farm gets to be part of their repertoire. I hope that as they get older, they are able to enjoy a passionate relationship with nature here. I hope that it lights a quiet fire inside them, a deep connection with and love for the Earth that stays with them into adulthood. And I hope that connection is a support for them as they grow and mature and wonder what it means to be a human being on this planet.
Maria, age three, spent the night with us this past weekend. She was recovering from a bout of strep throat, so she was lower-key than normal. It was the second time she spent the night with us at the farm, and this time she was more at ease and did not look at me every hour with a worried expression and ask, “Mommy?”
One of her favorite things to do is go across the road to our neighbor’s, the Bishops, and take the tour of their animals. That includes kittens, puppies, rabbits, ducks, a horse, chickens, and Maria’s personal favorite, newly hatched chicks. Whenever we return from the Bishop’s place, she always asks me, “Where are your horses?” And, “Where are your eggs?” Ah—all in good time, little one. Didn't you read my last blog entry about how much work this all is?

Why I don’t take my camera with me when we visit across the road, I don’t know, but here are some highlights from our place…
Cutting paper is always fun.

And here is a good one: Soon after she and I are lying down for bed after a no-nap day, Grandpa calls up the stairs, "Hey Maria, want to sit on a horse?" Our neighbor, Ernie stopped by with Casey, a retired barrel racer. Miss Maria, complete with bed-head hair was all for it, yes.
We love the tractor...

Till next time, little girl!