No Mud, No Lotus

No Mud,No Lotus

Years ago, sitting cross-legged in a yoga class, my teacher spoke about the muck on the bottom of the pond.  How the muck is home to the roots.  How it gives birth to the lotus.  I sat there, grounding my sacrum to the floor, strengthening my spine, feeling the opening at the crown of my head, and breathed in the lesson.  In that moment, the relationship between the mud and the lotus was so clear.  You’d think as a farmer I’d never forget it.

But I do forget it.  Despite the compost we shovel on our field each year, despite the fact that my livelihood depends on manure, I forget the balance.  I have to re-learn it each spring.

The month of March churned up the internal muck, and I caught myself there, in the opaque sludge of worry, in the heavy suction of resistance.  It took weeks to remember that pushing down to find grounding is futile in the muck.  It took weeks to remember how to trust in letting go.  How to trust in the mud.

Eventually, movement returned.  I don’t know if it was external validation or the wind bringing in warm air and clear skies, or the exhaustion of trying so hard that finally brought me to letting go, but I’m shifting into spring and feel the shoots starting to rise from the murky base.

Somewhere in all of it, I remembered sitting in that yoga class, remembered the space that filled my body as I breathed from the flower down to the roots, remembered that this cycle has spun through me before.  And I’ve woken up into trust, into space, into abundance.

I’ve woken up.

No mud, no lotus, Thich Nhat Hanh said, and I remember that the pond, too, sleeps and must wake each spring.  That the lotus, too, must bloom anew each year.

 

 

Good Medicine

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March came in with a bluster of sustained wind and strong gusts, dropping the temperature 40º in the course of one night.  The house trembled against the gusts, and I laid in bed, my stomach hollowing with each shudder of the posts and beams.  All night I breathed and drew my breath to the earth, to the roots of trees.

On the first of March I woke tired but thankful for the stillness after the storm.  Thankful for the space that comes after struggle.

Subsequent nights have been calmer, the mornings warmer.  On Friday I woke at 5:30 and watched the dark of night soften into a blue twilight, the mountains shifting in shades of blue from persian to azure to lapis and finally to a dusty french blue before reaching the lightness of day.  It was only 20º at 6:00, but when I opened the door to let the cat out, the air whispered of spring and I lingered in the doorway listening to the clear notes of a chickadee calling fee-bee.  

Those simple notes.  Can I describe to you how they woke me up?  Can I tell you how the day before I felt struggle, for no reason except that that I did?  And how this one moment at the door, when the air felt just a half ounce heavier and smelled just a few degrees warmer, when the chickadee whistled two clean notes, how in this one moment my chest flooded with space.

Struggle and space.  Breath in and out.  The cycle can happen so fast.

Sometimes I want so much to do something good that I forget the goodness of caring for myself, of tending to my heart.  Sometimes I want so much to do something good that I feel only the struggle of trying.

Then I remember the medicine that is always at hand:

Waking early is good medicine.

Reading poetry is good medicine.

Letting myself be inspired by others’ creativity is good medicine.

Being in awe is good medicine.

I come back to breath.  I come back to grounding, to the lessons offered up by trees, to the strength of roots.

I come back to the stillness after the storm, to the chickadee and the texture of early spring air.

I come back to the tending of my heart, and I know how fiercely beautiful this world is.

And I know how wonderfully beautiful it is to see it.

 

 

A New Story

photo by Katie Spring

I’ve been thinking about stories lately, about the larger story of our society that plays out over and over again, and about the undercurrents of alternative stories that whisper through the static.

At a Hanukkah celebration a few weeks ago, our host stood to give his yearly toast, and he said, “I’m having a hard time celebrating the myth of Hanukkah this year.”  He went on to tell the story of Hannah and her seven sons, all slayed in front of her as they refused to denounce their faith to the invading army.  Eventually the Jews won, and the story told was one of martyrdom and the birth of Hanukkah, and so we celebrate the victim overcoming the enemy.

And this is where the tiredness came into Harlan’s voice.  He spoke of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino.  He spoke of the whole of written history with all its beheadings and wars and conquering of one group over another.

“It’s always the same story of victim and martyr.  It’s not getting us anywhere.  We need a new story, and I don’t know what it is.”

I was quiet as a discussion ensued.  His emotion swirled around inside of me as I herd his plea and understood the depth of yearning for change, for peace, for a future that will hold our children safely after we have gone.  In the weeks since, that one statement has gone through me over and over as I try to answer it: we need a new story.

As his words resound in my head, others come in to answer.  I think of my friends who run Earthwise Farm and Forest, and how Carl said, “Our lives are not a rehearsal.  We advocate for the life we want by living it.”

I look at their lives and see another story: one of resilience, of interdependence with their land and community, of activism balanced with the steady building of a home and family and farm.  I look at their lives and see how true their words are, how they are living the story they want to bring forth into the world.

I think of Harlan and the weariness in his voice as he said I don’t know what it is.

While I may not have the complete answer, either, I do know that while the world is bigger than any individual, change is not.  Sometimes we all feel small, and that is okay.  Sometimes we all feel defeated and frustrated, but still it is important to witness.  It is important to feel.  The only true defeat is in thinking we are too small to matter.  You are not too small to matter.

Every beginning, every story, starts out as a seed.  Some of us are the seed sowers.  Some of us are pollinators.  Some of us are the wind and birds that scatter the seeds wildly across the land.  Some of us are seed savers that carefully and tenderly carry the story into the next generation.

You do not have to play every part.  Only your part.  You do not have to be recognized with a Nobel Prize or a plaque or anything at all.  Just discover your heart.  Discover what makes you feel light and do more of that.  Share it.  Most of the time you will have no idea how many lives you are touching by simply living in a way that brings you more alive.

This is what brings me alive: touching soil, planting a field of vegetables, growing flowers, feeding others, writing.  In my personal story, I’m a seed sower, but in the larger story of the world I think of myself more as a pollinator, helping a new story bear fruit and flower.

Think of pollinators: insects, bees, butterflies, birds.  They are so small.  And we need them.

Don’t wait until you have more money or a better car or more time.  Create the life you want by living it.

That’s the only way a new story will take root.

 

 

Spring’s Lesson

spring morningI push open the door to let a dog outside, and feel the cool humidity of a spring morning.  The sunny days of the previous week hinted that we were really heading out of winter, but it’s not until this moment when I inhale the smell of condensed snow, wet bark, and the remnants of yesterday’s rain that I realize the scent of spring has infused itself into the air.

Yesterday, a flock of birds lifted from a tree and burst through the air, dipping and rising and propelling themselves in an arc through the sky.  I stood still for a moment watching them before I got into my car to drive to work.  Only one more week before I leave my seasonal job and stay on the farm instead, though watching the birds I feel a tug of freedom and wildness and want nothing more than to follow them over the hillside.

This morning, before I got out of bed, still sleepy as Waylon crawled back and forth over my body, the cooing of a mourning dove drifted through the yurt walls and gently welcomed me to the day.  Now a dog barks and a crow caws and Waylon and Edge bumble out of the door to stoke the greenhouse fire.

All morning, I’ve stolen into seconds of silence: sipping tea in the rocking chair, standing at the open door and staring at the fog-covered mountains, sneaking up to the lofted bed while Waylon and Edge do dishes.  I don’t want to leave this foggy morning, though the twilight’s mist has already risen from the fields.  Isn’t that spring’s lesson though–that waking up ins’t always a matter of our mind’s readiness, that the day breaks open whenever it does, and we can break open, too.

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Birch Seeds and Birds

Birch seeds cover the snow this morning, speckling the white ground like freckles on sun-kissed skin.

Birch Seeds, March 20

The seeds have little wings and tails, stretching out like birds flying across the snow.  As I stand looking down at the wash of seeds, a flock of birds lights in on the birch branches above.

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Their song reminds me of lace somehow, a high pitched chorus sifting through bare branches down to my ears, and suddenly it feels like spring is arriving.

How fitting to find these two, birch seeds and birds, scattering themselves out along the world on the first day of spring.

Happy Equinox!

Mud Season Transition

“Part of being our best selves is having the guts to not avert our eyes, to look closely at what scares us, what disappoints us, what threatens us. By looking closely we have a chance to make change happen.” 

~Seth Godin

Baby Maple

It’s a messy transition between winter and spring.  The white canvas of snow that welcomed reflection melts into mud, ruts up the road, and floods the river.

When we are finally ready for long days and warm air and the time to put our dreams into motion, we get pulled into potholes and have to inch along when we are ready for speed.

It’s the moment just before the leap, the transition between planning and acting, that we must look at the things we hold and decide what to let go of, decide what will serve us and what needs to melt away with the last of winter’s snow.

It’s the transition that asks us to slow down and look into the mud.  It’s not always easy, but if we don’t slow down, the ruts and potholes will break us before we get anywhere.  Now is the time to look closely, to sink in, to plant a seed in the thawing earth.

Sometimes–often times–slowing down and letting go are the first steps in creating change.

How We Cease to be Alone

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.

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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

When You Need to Change Your Landscape

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.

 

Stillness Isn’t Static

Snow Drift
Snow Drift

The wind is whipping, howling, pushing, crashing

It holds steady around 20 mph, then throws a big gust, shakes the whole yurt, pulls me from my chair to go sit by the dogs and tell them, “it’s really windy out there,” just to hear my own voice, to be sure I’m still firm inside this circle of made of saplings and canvas.

Just yesterday I wrote how important it is to be gentle with ourselves.  That’s not to say the world won’t shake us awake at times.  Lessons and change come in many forms.  Sometimes the wind will weave gently through your hair; sometimes it will blow you from your feet, upend your whole world; sometimes this is exactly what we need to learn how to open our eyes.

I feel my heart a little more with each gust that rumbles my home.  My body’s awareness piques, and suddenly I am more animal than I was yesterday, attuned to the rhythm of my breath, the strength of the wind, the pulse of my veins.

It’s all practice–I’m learning that stillness isn’t static, but rather flexible, steady, and constant.  The lesson is rushing across the landscape outside, perhaps it is the land outside: how to be still and open to the changing winds at once.