The Desert in Winter

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

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

Unscripted Hours on the Beach

On Pismo Beach

It was the mornings I loved the most.  For most of our trip, we’d wake near the beach, walk over a sand dune or beneath eucalyptus trees and their long, reaching branches, and blink into the tide.

Those unscripted hours found us walking, running, chasing waves, stopping to inspect sand dollars, and watching as Waylon splashed in cold streams of fresh water that ran into the ocean.

chasing waves

There is so much to do wherever we are.  We went to California loaded with suggestions, with places we must see and things we must do, but I forgot them all.

Sometimes the best way to see a place is to not do much of anything.

How much can you learn from a long stretch of sand and salt water?  How much do you have to learn?

Not very much, I realized.

Just this: breathe where you are, be where you are.

morning on Pismo beach

Along the Central Coast

Three weeks in California took us north from LA along the central coast, through Santa Barbara, Big Sur, and Santa Cruz, past San Francisco and up to Point Reyes National Park, before cutting east to Tahoe City, and then south again to Joshua Tree before finally returning to the airport last Wednesday.

Waylon meets the waves at El Capitan State Beach
Waylon meets the waves at El Capitan State Beach
hiking to a boulder field
hiking to a boulder field
Egret at sunset
Egret at sunset
Big Sur
Big Sur
camping among the redwoods
camping among the redwoods
bouldering at Castle Rock SP
bouldering at Castle Rock SP
evening on the ocean
evening on the ocean
view from our camp
view from our camp
hot springs running into a river
Buckeye hot springs, on the east side of the Sierras heading to Joshua Tree
camp
camp
A young Joshua Tree
A young Joshua Tree
nap time in Joshua Tree National Park
nap time in Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees

And now we are home, far from the 70 degree warmth of LA, heated instead by our wood stove as smoke rises in the single-digit air.  And we’re happy.  Maybe it’s the vitamin D we soaked up out west that still pumps through our bodies, but I think it’s more the fact that we are in the place we created, the place we chose to put our roots down.  While we let those roots stretch across the country, they always pull us back.

We celebrated our homecoming with a snowshoe through the forest yesterday, and as the dogs leapt and bounced through the fresh snow, we turned to the world at hand: white, bare, open.  The perfect canvas to start our dreams for another year on this land.

along for the snowshoe
along for the snowshoe

Filling up on Fruit

It took two days, a canceled flight, and multiple re-bookings, but on Friday night we finally landed in California.

We’ll be here for the next few weeks, and blogging will likely be sporadic.  As my friend Emily Buck says, we’ll be disconnected from the internet, and therefore more connected with the places and people in front of us.  It’s refreshing to turn meanings around and see that we can be “disconnected” when we are staring at our phones or computers, and connected when we look up to see another’s eyes.

So in that spirit, I’m keeping this short.  But I will tell you this: Citrus bought in Vermont should not be allowed to share the same names with the freshly picked fruits at the Farmers Markets here.  As I bit into a tangerine yesterday, I realized I’d never really had a tangerine before–the thin skin exploded with tangy, sweet juice in my mouth, so filled with water it was as if I were drinking.

So we begin our journey with fruit: persimmons, avocados, tangerines, strawberries, and cherimoya–fruits I didn’t know existed–now fill our shopping bag, and we’ll continue on like this up the coast, filling up at Farmers Markets and soaking in the sun along the way.

Alaska Bread

We made bread every Friday, each person or family proofing their own dough the night or morning before the bake; one person on oven duty stoking the fire all day; and then we’d come together in the late afternoon, and the soft, wet dough used to make snakes would be rolled out long and thin and go into the oven first, taking the hottest and fastest bake of all the breads.

We’d tear the snakes into pieces, dip them in balsamic vinegar and garlic olive oil, or spread herbed butter on the light crumb and devour the warm bread as the next batches went into the oven.  Mostly it was sourdough, with many variations: added honey, cornmeal, oatmeal, seeded crusts.  Then there were the cinnamon rolls, all puffed up and golden in their tray.  And after the baking, perhaps a chicken would roast in the heat that was left, or beans, or a moose stew would slow-cook overnight.  One bake would feed the whole farm bread for a week, sometimes more.

We took turns pulling loaves out of the oven, and as the snakes disappeared a mandolin and guitar might come out, the pedals of a spinning wheel would pat up and down to the beat, and the kids’ fingers would wind and tangle in cat’s cradle; some nights homemade ice cream balanced the heat of the fire; on the edges of the season, we’d eat inside where a wood stove warmed the house.

RWS_7345 RWS_7393 RWS_7400 RWS_7392 RWS_8358 RWS_7708 RWS_7677 RWS_9639We don’t have a wood-fired bread oven here on our farm in Vermont, yet.  It’s on the long list of building projects and won’t be built until next summer (I hope it gets built next summer!).  But I do have some whole wheat flour from a farm in Berlin, just a few miles on the other side of Montpelier, and I have this day to myself and a wood stove to crank up, and a bag of yeast in the freezer.

It’s been a long time since I made bread of my own; when Edge reluctantly admitted he had to go gluten-free for health reasons, the smell of fresh baked bread made me feel a little guilty.  He assures me now I should start again, the smell won’t hurt him, as enticing as it is.

And so here I go, warming the yurt, dusting the kneading board, baking bread.

 

{All this bread baking happened at Calypso Farm and Ecology Center, the farm where Edge and I met.}

Doing the to-do list, in the rain

We packed the car late on Monday night, slept for a few hours, then tucked Waylon into the car-seat and drove away at 3:45 am, south-bound for New Jersey to meet our new nephew. Before that, a long list of things to do:

  • cover all the crops with remay in case of frost
  • bring all onions and garlic to my parents’ house for storage (by next year we’ll have storage in the farm store, but for now the wind still whips through the barn boards and uninsulated walls…so off to Barre it is)
  • Complete the ditch needed to bring electric wiring over to the farm store
  • make pesto (parsley, cilantro)
  • pick up random stuff on the ground
  • clean yurt
  • make snacks for the road

The wood pile is half-split and the ditch is almost done, but 40 containers of pesto are stacked in the freezer, the onions and garlic are safely stowed at my parents’, the garden is transformed into rows of white covers, and we managed to leave the yurt in a respectable state and had a half dozen banana-almond muffins for the drive.

In the midst of it all, we’ve had rain for most of the last week, an element we are rejoicing over with the hope that enough will pour down to replenish our well before the snow sets in.  Even when it washed down on us during last Thursday’s harvest, we smiled to see the pond filling up and the world around us dripping with water.

We didn’t mind the rain that pummeled the windshield as we made our way in the early morning darkness down to New Jersey, where here, too, the clouds have gathered, but we don’t mind that, either–after all, how is a child supposed to learn about puddles without the rain?

discovering puddles

A Northern Jungle

So much will change in four days.  Last Thursday Waylon and I woke early in my parents’ house, and the four of us–Nana, Gramps, Mama and babe–drove to the airport and flew off to Chicago.  As we made our way west for one of my best friend’s wedding, Papa stayed home and tended the garden, moved the sheep on pasture, and brought spring greens and starts to the Farmers Market.

When we left, leaves were just beginning to explode from the tips of branches.

Clouds drenched the ground and hovered over Vermont while we celebrated in warm Illinois sunshine.  By the time we flew home, the eastern landscape had transformed again: forests shifting from translucent green hues to thick dense foliage.  A northern jungle, I can almost drink the maple leaves that pour and open all around.  After this long winter, even the trees are calling out in song.

Waylon and I took a day to recover from the travel, though we’re both still a bit tired.  It’s good to travel, to reunite with friends, to celebrate love.  And it’s good to come home, to walk the familiar path to the yurt door, to look west to the mountains and watch wisps of clouds rise after a rain, to be wrapped up in Edge’s hug, to greet the dogs–bodies wiggling and tails wagging–and after four days in the city, to ground myself in the quiet of this hillside farm.

 

 

Away, Home

Thanksgiving came, and with it a mini-vacation for us.  We packed up the car with potatoes, rutabaga, carrots, onions, garlic, squash, beets, and one large turkey, tucked Waylon into the car seat and headed south to New Jersey, driving through the night on Tuesday and arriving at Edge’s parent’s house just as early morning travelers were taking off.  My father-in-law came down the stairs as soon as we entered the kitchen, and as the house woke up I laid down and fell asleep.

The drive was worth it, bringing us away from the to-do lists and unfinished projects and into the warmth and light of a full family home.  We slept in, watched movies, played games and made art with our nieces, and cooked and baked and ate.  Waylon and Autumn, cousins only two weeks apart, met for the first time, bringing laughter as we watched many expressions pass over the two babes’ faces.  As hard as it is to leave the farm, being away brings a necessary break, a chance to be with family, to see past the to-do lists and let our minds wander out into more creative territory, rejuvenating us.

We stayed until Sunday, and with many hugs we were on our way, driving back in daylight this time.  The dogs wiggled and scratched at the door when they saw us, and I smiled at the familiar greeting.  Part of the luxury of getting away is then coming home: stepping out of the car, buzzing and overtired after a day of driving to stretch beneath the sky, wide, dark and twinkling, to breathe in the cold quiet of home on an early winter night, to crunch through the sticky layer of snow to the front door and open it once again.

Still To Be Discovered

I wasn’t ready to save the world, at least not by myself, but this is what I was told after college.  “You’ll save the world,” resounded baby boomers, friends of my parents, who must have somehow felt their saving abilities had passed.  I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do–I knew I wanted to write, and to be happy, but in the spring and summer of 2009, what I knew more than anything was that I could not hold the wants and expectations of others; it was all I could do to just to find the scattered pieces of myself in a time of great transition.

So, in 2009 when it may have seemed smarter to make decisions with my head, I instead threw out the valiant idea of saving the world and followed my instinct, my heart, on a much more important journey to let the world save me.  The looping path led me from Vermont to New Zealand, Tasmania, Alaska, and back to Vermont again, and now here I am, on a western slope facing the Worcester Range, with a husband, two dogs, fifteen acres, a burgeoning farm, and a baby growing inside me.IMG_1852If you’ve read my journey from my first blog post, you know how I got here.  But what I’ve learned is that how I got here is not always as important as the fact that I am here.  Sometimes, I feel full of possibilities with everything surrounding me.  Other times, I look at our bank account and wonder how we will ever get to where we’re going.  We keep moving, though, finding a balance between our heads and our hearts, and from it all I am learning patience and how things take time.  I am learning the beauty of slowness, though one day we will look back and say how quickly it all happened. I am learning the pace of moment to moment, allowing things to unfold as they are ready, and as I am ready.  We take in only as much as we can hold, and then we overflow, and both the filling and the flowing are beautiful.

It has been a while since I’ve heard the declaration, “You’ll save the world,” and I admit I don’t miss it.  It it not to say that I don’t love the world, though.  After all I’ve experienced, perhaps this is what I’ve learned: the world doesn’t need to be saved, it just needs to be known.  So let yourself be filled, and let yourself overflow.  There is so much still to discover.