It’s Okay and Good and Beautiful

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Some days I feel more than I think.

This morning is overcast with intermittent rain, as if a shower head is being turned on and off and on at random intervals.  It’s a morning I want to turn a shower on, rather than pump water into a pot, heat it on the stove, take it out to the sauna, scoop it with a yogurt cup, and pour it over my head.

On most days, I love this.  I look down at my feet in the small black tub, meant by its manufacturer as an animal watering trough, and see how little water my bathing requires.  I stand alone in the sauna and breathe in the solitude of an enclosed space dedicated to one thing, so different from the open circle of our yurt, where there are no lines or doors between bedroom, kitchen, living room, playroom, and office.

But today I feel the clouds moving overhead, and I can’t put into words the vulnerability and power that pushes against each other within their deep gray forms stretching across the sky.  It’s a day I want everything to be easy and a day I know nothing will be if I hold to this desire.  It’s a day I feel vulnerable for no particular reason.  A day I feel emotion and creativity and power well up inside me from that vulnerability.

It’s a day I want to tell you that it’s okay to take pictures of things that aren’t pretty.  It’s okay and good and beautiful to sit with the things that slow you down, the things that make you vulnerable, the things that for whatever reason make clouds billow up in your chest.

I don’t have any pictures for you today, just these words and the wind blowing diagonal up the field, which will perhaps reach you, wherever you are, to tousle your hair and pull you from somnambulism into presence.

Learning Nature’s Language

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in the forestA heavy rain last night, and now a cool morning.  Tall grasses adorned with seed heads give indication of the slightest breeze, as they dip and swirl as if in conversation.  It’s a language I can’t decipher in words, yet I feel their gentle contentment in the burgeoning sun and the drips of water sliding from their slender leaves.

There is birdsong, as usual these mornings, but I cannot tell you what birds are singing. After 28 years of living, I can identify only the songs of chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, mourning doves, crows and ravens.  I can hear the high screech of hawks overhead, but do not know what type of hawk it is.  For a few years I knew the sound of saw-whet owls and the different beats of woodpeckers, but they are memories of my memory now, and I am in need of a new lesson.

In a recent essay titled Landspeak in Orion Magazine, Robert MacFarlane writes about the deletion of nature-based words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and the way human relationship to nature changes as we lose the ability to interact with nature through language.  He writes:

“A basic literacy of landscape is falling away up and down the ages. And what is lost along with this literacy is something precious: a kind of word magic, the power that certain terms possess to enchant our relations with nature and place. As the writer Henry Porter observed, the OUP [Oxford University Press] deletions removed the ‘euphonious vocabulary of the natural world—words which do not simply label an object or action but in some mysterious and beautiful way become part of it.'”

A few weeks after reading MacFarlane’s essay, I heard a commentary on Vermont Public Radio, titled “Documenting the Decline,” in which Vic Henningson notes MacFarlane’s writings, and says:

“As the number of botanists declines and words relating to nature disappear from dictionaries, the evidence suggests we’re becoming strangers to the natural world, victims of self-inflicted ecological illiteracy. And when we no longer understand nature, no doubt we’ll finally stop worrying about climate change.  We’ll still enjoy looking at nature, but as novelist and naturalist John Fowles noted, landscape alone is a “bare lifeless body” without the flora and fauna that give it speech, movement, and dress. ‘Without natural history’ hewrote, ‘the world is only a fraction seen. [Imagine] not knowing any flowers, any birds. [T]o so many, they are meaningless hieroglyphs.'”

It took me 19 years to begin learning the names of trees, plants and wild animals in a meaningful way.  As a student on the Adirondack Semester, I was immersed in nature, and our ecology class gave us the language to enter the landscape.  Six years later I took lessons in the language of Vermont’s natural landscape through the Wisdom of the Herbs School, and I opened myself to a new world of wild edibles and medicinals.  I learned that the natural world is always open to us; transforming our understanding of nature from a “fraction seen” to a whole web of living beings is a matter of transforming our own relationship with the life around us.  It’s a matter of opening ourselves to the wonder of learning and the mystery of the natural world.

Now I can tell you about the differences between cultivated plant varieties you grow in your garden, and how to increase your yields with organic growing practices, but on the edge of the garden the field begins, and beyond that the forest spreads like a waves over hillsides and mountains.  At the chatter of a squirrel or the call of a bird, my son stops and listens, his mouth forming a perfect circle, his eyebrows lifting his eyes wide open in exclamation as he points toward the sound–Mama, did you hear that?!  

I see in him our natural place in the layers of the world; how we are constantly drawn to nature, to learning those layers and becoming a part of the landscape around us, how this is wired within us.  His curiosity wakes up my own, and I realize the joy and responsibility of teaching him this language.  It means I have to learn it, too, and for that I am grateful.

Set the Table with Rabbit

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My latest article in Vermont’s Local Banquet is all about rabbit–who’s raising it, how it’s done, the challenges and benefits of rabbit as a meat source.  
Silver Ridge Rabbitry: New Zealand Rabbit

I circulated the room with a tray of hors d’oeuvres, weaving through bridesmaids, groomsmen, and guests. The social hour was winding down, and by my fifth or sixth pass through the crowd, I knew who the vegetarians were—who to offer the stuffed mushrooms to, who to pass by with the pulled pork.

The pulled pork had gone fast, and as back up, the caterer I was working for that night provided pulled rabbit to take its place.

“What’s this?” guests asked.

When I answered, “Pulled rabbit with sweet potato,” hesitation came over their faces…

read the rest at Vermont’s Local Banquet.

You Can Plant Beauty

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planting flowers

planting flowers

You can plant beauty

You can create beauty

Your life is a unique expression of energy

Your expressions are powerful

How do you choose to move?

 

Millennial Farmer: Perennial Dreams

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I began writing a bi-weekly column called “Millennial Farmer” for the Burlington Free Press in January.  Here’s last Sunday’s article, about perennials and the roots of community:

For years I dreamed of perennials: raspberries and blueberries, an orchard of pears, plums and apples, slightly wild and sprawling flower gardens with curved pathways and benches to stop and sit and breathe it all in. It seems surreal now, as I witness spring unfurling for a third year on our land, that the rosebush is greening at the base of the stems, that the dicentra are flowering into their bleeding hearts, that the peonies are actually stretching up out of the soil.

Read the rest at Burlington Free Press online

Seeds: This way is rootedness

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“A seed is a conveyance system for information. It is words taken wing–words written in the language of adenine, cytosine, guanine, thymine, ancient instructions clasped between hard covers, everything needed to carry a story to a new place where it can take root. Long before writers figured it out, seed-bearing plants had found a way to convey to the next generation wisdom accumulated over millions of years. A samara is wisdom with ailerons. A dryas seed is a set of instructions with hair as wild as Einstein’s. A dandelion seed is an epic on a parachute. A sander seed is a poem stuck to a sock. An elm seed is a prayer book: This way is life. This way is rootedness.”

~Kathleen Dean Moore, quoted in Seedtime by Scott Chaskey

I’m reading Seedtime and am more amazed with seeds than ever, so I’m celebrating them today with a collection of photographs: dandelions gone to seed; calendula in flower and going to seed; a maple seedling; milkweed in flower; and pasture grass going to seed.

Seeds are the basis of life and so much beauty in this world, and we get to be part of the story.  Plant a seed, and you become part of a regenerative process.  It’s a simple act, but the most important acts almost always are.

Creatures of Habit

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Morning clouds Monday whispered thoughts of rain all morning and afternoon, with undulating gray clouds stretching across the sky.  I was beneath them broad forking the lower field and feeling anxious about money, as so happens from time to time.  As I worked, I listened to an episode of Redefined Life, a podcast my friend Aaron Mead recently began.

The conversation between Aaron and Jeff Shapiro, a wing-suit BASE jumper, played in my ears as I pushed the tines of the broad fork down into soil and pulled back, loosening the bed.  The rhythm of the work slowly eased its fingers into the jumbled knot in my stomach, and as it loosened, the conversation turned to happiness when Shapiro said that happiness is a choice, and that nothing outside of us can give or take away happiness.

The warm air and cloudy sky afforded the perfect temperature to be working outside; the trees in full green framed the field and rose across the hillside into the mountains; my body was moving, and I felt that choice to be happy.

The antidote to anxiousness is presence.  Out in the field, working with soil and plants, I fall into rhythm and it leads me to presence, which in turn opens my body to choices beyond anxiety.  Like happiness, presence and awareness of the now is a choice, and like anything else, the more you practice making that choice, the more you say “yes” to it, the more natural it becomes.

We are creatures of habit.  I’d like my habit to be happiness.

Aaron also interviewed me for Redefined Life.  We spoke about writing, farming, and creating a business.  I was nervous to hear the episode,not quite remembering all that I said, but it served as a reminder to me why I do all that I do.  To hear it, visit Redefined Life online.

History, Herstory, Ourstory

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All over the news are stories like this, and this, of sexual assault.  Some stories end with a woman raising her voice, some end with a woman losing her life.

This American Life recently aired an episode in which college boys talk about how they learned about sex and what women like (from other boys and porn, not from actually listening to women).

All over the news are stories of drilling, fracturing, contaminating, spilling, plowing, spraying, of people doing what we will to the earth in the name of economics and power.

The way we treat the land and the way we treat women and their bodies are inextricably connected.

Society’s history is built on stories of men in power, of women and land as property.

There are other histories to be re-learned.  As my eighth-grade history teacher taught us, there are herstories and ourstories, too.

It’s time to reconcile the record.

Unfurling into May

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May green

And suddenly it’s green.  It happens all at once, and every year I forget the immediacy of unfurling leaves and popping green until that moment when I look up and see the sunlight catch the color anew.

The farm is unfurling into May, too.  10,000 onions, 700 feet of salad greens, 600 feet of spinach, 400 feet of tomato plants and snap peas, plus kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, carrots, beets.  We are in with our whole hearts and bodies now.

This little boy of mine is in it, too, learning to slack line with his Papa, learning to walk in the pathways instead of on the garden beds, and learning to be gentle with transplants.  When he tried grabbing the tomatoes, I said, “Be gentle with the plants.  Give them love,” to which he responded by bending down, softly brushing the leaves and saying “looaahhh”

Now even the grass gets loves from Waylon.

pointing out birds

The birds, too, command his attention.  Crows, ravens, carrier hawks, red-winged blackbirds, robins, even a heron landed in a tree to scout our pond the other day, and Waylon announced it all, saying “toot toot toot” to show us the birds.

And now he is pointing out the window, saying “side, side” and so it’s time to close the computer screen and go out with him into the day.

The Wild Ones Emerging

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Coltsfoot was the first to emerge, pushing its dandelion-like yellow blooms up along roadsides and old gravely logging roads.

Then came the peepers in an evening chorus around the pond, and the bubbles of frog eggs floating in the water.

frog eggs in the pond

Just a few days ago, a friend pointed out a splash of white flowers beneath maple trees on the road, bloodroot blooming out of leaf litter in the filtered sun.

And yesterday I noticed a carpet of trout lilies blooming behind the yurt, the yellow petals flexing open, faces slanted down to the earth.

trout lily

The perennial gardens are waking up, too: peppermint and spearmint, peonies, iris, dicentra, yarrow, echinacea, rudbeckia–all coming back, finally, and bringing the last sleeping parts of me back with them, too.

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