How We Cease to be Alone

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I always feel the tug of spring when March begins.  We still have four feet of snow outside, and though we plunged below zero under the full moon last night, Wednesday’s above freezing temperatures melted the thick crust of ice and snow from the yurt roof.  The day’s thaw was enough to make everyone smile more, to go outside without a coat on, to remember the re-discovery of warmth that spring brings.

All seasons extend invitations for discovery in their own way, but spring’s invitation always sounds the loudest to me.  It comes in the calls and songs of birds returning: the honk of Canadian geese, the caroling robin, the high whistle of red-winged blackbirds, the rhythmic drumming of yellow-bellied sapsuckers.  Spring, more than any other season, announces itself in song.

I can’t get ahead of myself, though.  The mornings here are still quiet and cold, and when the sunrise hits the Worcester Range across the valley, rather than waking us up into a new season, the light seems to amplify the mountains’ stillness.

We’re in the edges of the seasons now, between stillness and growth, and I take this time to read more, to set conscious rhythms for my days, to stop and breathe in gratitude every so often and ground myself.  Soon, the greenhouse will be heated, seeding will be in full swing, the snow will melt, and the pace of the farm will go from a stroll to a sprint.

These are my experiences, though, my small discoveries.  I love sharing them with you in hopes that you will share yours as well, and perhaps to encourage you to go outside and discover more.  As Wendell Berry says, “Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.”

What are you discovering these days between winter and spring?  How is the world waking up to you?  How are you waking up to the world?Sunrise

My first yurt home

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“I want to live in a yurt,” a co-worker said when she learned today that I do live in a yurt.

“I want to live in a house,” I said in jest, “and to have windows and better insulation.”  I laughed, then conceded that, “it is really nice to live in a round space.”

It’s our fifth winter in a 20-foot yurt, and after so many years, the fact that our home is more of a glorified tent doesn’t phase me much.  It’s what we’ve built our life in, where our dreams have germinated, where our family grows.

We are both feeling ready to create more space, at least by next winter, and to move into a building with thick walls and windows that beg for house plants to sit on the sill.  Sometimes, though, it’s worth looking back and seeing what brought me here.

My first yurt home was situated under hemlocks on an Adirondack lake.  To reach the little yurt village where I spent a semester with 13 other students, we hiked a mile in through the woods, then canoed three-quarters of a mile across the lake.

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Canoe commute

It was the most relaxing commute I’ve ever had (though we didn’t commute very often)–more relaxing even than the 300 foot walk from my front door to the garden here at the farm–and surely the most inspiring commute, too.  There is something about the smooth strokes of a canoe paddle that bring the body into presence.

adkyurt

My first yurt home

I was 19 and learning that wildness could be part of my life everyday.  I was learning that living close to nature didn’t have to be relegated to yearly camping trips.  I was learning that the pulse I felt when I sat beneath a red pine could be the rhythm I set my days to.

After that semester ended, it would be five years before I’d live in a yurt again.

photo by Katie Spring

My second yurt home

Where I live now is my third yurt home–the second still stands at Applecheek Farm, where we apprenticed before finding our own land.  Edge built this one from saplings that dotted an old sugaring road in the Applecheek woods.  He sawed and hauled and split and assembled each piece with his own hands, his own muscle, and now it encircles us and holds us through these cold winter days.

Though we talk more of a house these days, it’s the yurt that has brought us to where we are.  It’s a yurt that became my home during my first earnest search for wildness, and a yurt that is my home still, as we cultivate our own wild hearts and grow our roots deep into this land.

My yurt home now

My yurt home now

What’s to come

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cilantro seedlings

share basket

I shouldn’t do this, but after reading John’s post, I couldn’t help myself–I had to take out the spring and summer photos and remember the heat and taste of what feels to still be a distant season.

We made it through last night’s cold, and the car engine managed to turn over this morning, despite it being -23.  If I sit close to the wood stove and stare into the photos enough, I can almost imagine that we’re tumbling amid all that food right now.  Soon.  Soon.

For now, I’m thankful for the heat of the stove, for bacon from our friends at Humble Rain Farm, and for the photos that remind me of what’s to come.

The Seeds We Sow

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I wish that living in a yurt on a Vermont hillside farm could make me immune to the annoyances of broken computers, and the odd frustration that comes when said computer is at the shop getting fixed and I am here with an old iPad that works well enough for emails, but not much more.  We finally got a loaner computer, and so I’m back to the blog after a few weeks of sporadic posts.

Truthfully, though, I’ve felt quiet.  Perhaps it’s not just the computer issues that have kept my posts minimal and short.  It goes like that sometimes, a wave of production followed by a quiet recession back into the deep, like the tide that swells and retreats.

The farm is covered with snow, the garden under perhaps 4 feet of it, and tonight the cold seeps in from under the clear night sky.  It’s a night to pack the fire box and keep the dials on the wood stove turned open a bit more than usual.

We’ve been in the throws of spring planning: greenhouse repairs, seeding charts, cash-flow charts, marketing, perennial design, and lists of infrastructure improvements.  It feels both exciting and daunting, and we oscillate between dreamy imaginings of all the good changes to come and business crunching, detached from emotion.

The work of a farmer begins long before the greenhouse is fired up and soil is spread out in trays.  The seeds we are sowing now are sketches on paper, numbers and images and words.  Though it seems like the summer is still far away, this work is important.  Before we can manifest something into being, we must first know what it is we want to create.

In all the planning and prep work, in all the manifestations we are setting out into the world, I took out this poem again, just to remind myself that sometimes, it is okay to be demanding as we manifest our dreams:

Throw away all your begging bowls at

God’s door,

for I have heard the Beloved prefers

sweet, threatening shouts, something

on the order of, “Hey, Beloved, my soul

is a raging volcano of love for you!

You better start kissing me–or else!”

~Hafiz

Grasp Your One Necessity

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“I think it would be well, and proper, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.”

~Annie Dillard

Hunger Mountain Summit, October 2014

Hunger Mountain Summit, October 2014

Happy

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It’s been snowing for days, flakes sifting down from the sky.  The shoveled pathway to the yurt has become a chute with snow-walls up past my knees, and yesterday as I hauled two buckets of water up in the sled, one foot left the narrow packed-down trail and I sunk in to my thigh.

It piles up around our little round home, and as the wood stove warms the snow on the roof, it slides and slumps off, growing the pile half-way up the outer walls, and we are thankful for the extra insulation it provides on all the cold nights that dip down below 0–all this snow makes it a cozy winter for yurt-dwellers.

fence line in snow

At this time last year I was stir-crazy, ready for a reprieve along the New Jersey shoreline, but now, I’m happy for the cold and snow.  Happy to stand in the forest and hear the swoosh of snow as hemlock boughs loosen their load.  Happy to look up just at that moment and see the flakes sifting to the ground.  Happy for the split second of weightlessness with each step before my snowshoes compress the lofty top layer of snow.

Happy, too, for the breaks of sun that open up the landscape, warming our faces as our breath puffs out into the cold air.

Beauty as well as Bread

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“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” 

-John Muir, The Yosemite

mountain in rock

mountain in rock

May you find beauty today, and everyday

May your stomach and your soul be filled

 

When You Need to Change Your Landscape

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You don’t have to go to the desert in winter to gain space.

When you need to change your internal landscape, it is helpful to change your external one, but still, it doesn’t mean you need to leave home.

Last night, one week after landing back on the frozen Vermont ground, we finally finished unpacking and cleaned the yurt.  Backpacks and duffle bags emptied and stowed away, kitchen table cleared off, floors swept, and all the sudden the yurt is bigger.

Sometimes all it takes to gain the space we need is a good home cleaning.

 

The Desert in Winter

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P1050057 P1050058 P1050077 P1050078Sometimes it’s the dying things, the prickly things, the all-dried-up for winter things that require us to look more closely.

Sometimes, even after two and a half weeks along Coastal California, dripping with figs and ripe with berries, it’s the desert in winter that finally wakes us up.

It’s the desert, which we almost reluctantly slouch into, that finally brings the rain, and after, the sunrise breaking over clouds, pouring light into the void and our own faces.

It’s the desert–coyotes and ravens, roadrunners and rats, mountains of rock and the dry crunch of sand–that moves with the simple knowing that it is enough just to be exactly what we are.

 

What the Redwoods Taught Me

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In Big Basin Redwoods SP

As a child, I didn’t understand that vacations were not inherently relaxing.  That was before I knew of making travel arrangements, booking flights and rental cars, saving money and keeping track of spending.  Childhood vacations were whimsical and magical and free of responsibility.

I remember visiting the Pacific Northwest, seeing redwoods for the first time and gaping at their size, at how even after they’d fallen over, their presence pulsed on as nurse trees, giving life to new saplings taking root.

I remember walking along Rialto Beach in Washington State: we went so far down the coast that the tide threatened to keep us trapped atop boulders as it lapped at our running feet.

This is how vacations are supposed to be.

Or at least, this is what I grew up believing.

Our trip to California was our first true vacation as a family, just the three of us, and I think it was magical for Waylon, just as the whole world is magical to a toddler.  For my own part, I wobbled between relaxation and stress, if for no other reason that I am an adult who has forgotten to be present always.

Still, some things came back to me.

On El Capitan State Beach, we walked north along the shore until the tide began to roll in and the steep coastline rocks jutted into the water, cutting off our dry escape.  In reality, only our ankles were in danger, but that immediate excitement infused me as I ran south to the higher ground, thinking of Rialto Beach.

In Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the trees rose up so high we couldn’t see their crowns, and when I put my palm on a cross-section of a recently fallen redwood, it seemed to smile, by which I mean, the steady presence of ancient trees continue to spread out even after they fall.

As children, we go on vacations without expectations.  As adults, we learn to hold our expectations tight, as if we are holding our child’s hand crossing the street and cannot let go.

Eventually, though, we get to the other side.  At some point, we have to open up our hands and release whatever it is we hold.

The Redwoods brought me that relief.  It’s impossible to be among big trees without opening to amazement.  They encircle you, trunks reaching up, canopies opening, roots stretching out beneath your feet.  Being so close to ancient life seemed to slow my own life down, making magic visible again.

John Muir said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

I’m not sure I can put into words yet what I received, but it wasn’t always what I expected.  The trees, though, they taught me again to slow down, to stand in quiet awe, to understand that life is missed if we are not present.

Inside a Redwood

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