A Clearing in the Wild

RWS_0036There are times when the roads of my inner landscape are covered with rocks, and my ankles feel weak, and I’m not sure which way to go, until a note of beauty strikes my ears and I gulp in the sounds directing me aright.  There are times when life is so full that the smallest ounce of beauty brings me to tears.

Beauty doesn’t hide in the realm of joy.  That’s it’s power–it’s ability to catch us as we stumble, it’s ability to wake us from blindness, to hold us in sadness, to guide us through pain.

There is so much beauty in this world.  Why can’t we bathe in it, share it, spread it?

That’s what I’m after now, to share beauty with you all.  So I share with you this song, A Clearing in the Wildby Red Tail Ring, which struck a chord in my heart and re-awakened a longing that pulls me to the wilderness:

“let yourself go
sigh like the rapids
breathe down your body
let the dam overflow
and release the day like a thunder of sparrows
and lie in the stillness when everything’s gone.”


It’s high summer, when computer time dwindles and the fields keep me outside.  I turn my posts now to frames of beauty, to moments of stillness and moments of wonder and moments that rush through my heart, beating me alive.

This is Summer

evening light, by Katie Spring

A certain quality of light infuses my days, and I can’t help but fall into it.

These mountains we live across from pour the evenings over us, wash us in mists and sunsets, reflect the first light of each new day’s dawn.

This is summer, this letting go of extraneous matters and responsibilities, this filling up of light, this wordless pull to the outside that quiets the core of my being.

It’s Okay and Good and Beautiful

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

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.

You Can Plant Beauty

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?


Creatures of Habit

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.

Unfurling into May

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.

Take These Eggs

{In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a poem each weekday through the rest of April, and I invite you to join me!  Leave a link to your poem of the day in the comments section below.}


Kindling sets flames to lick
the firebox
a cast iron skillet
takes the heat,
holds it in its open face,
and I crack the egg.
Just yesterday I threw compost
out to the chickens,
and the matted roots
of harvested pea shoots,
green stems sticking up
like stubble.
Somehow the earth
is thawing—melting
snow sets rivers running
through the field
and the chickens peck
emerging worms in the barnyard.
We all have creation inside us
The chickens, they take worms and compost,
turn it into muscle and eggs.
Me, I take these deep golden
yolks, thick and smooth, into my mouth
I turn them into muscle and milk
to feed my babe
and he, too grows:
supple skin stretches
over elongating bones
teeth cut through gums
even his voice
rises and shifts—
an audible, intangible
He does not know yet
of spring
how thin blades of grass cut
through winter’s kill
how green spreads like a wave
from the valley up this hillside,
how the lone call of the raven
is replaced by chickadees, robins, hermit thrush, and
the reverberating howl of the snipe.
He knows of the barnyard,
of chickens and eggs,
of warm milk.
He knows of cool mornings,
hot stoves.
And what do I know of creation?
Only that I cannot explain it,
though morning sun streams
through the window,
though steam rises slowly from my tea
though even in stillness
everything moves, pushing us into
(I originally posted this almost exactly a year ago, and this season pulled me back to the poem).

What My Life Is

{In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a poem each weekday through the rest of April, and I invite you to join me!  Leavea link to your poem of the day in the comments section below.}

I can tell you I am a mother,

a farmer, a writer

but these definitions do not tell you

the quality of my breath

or depth of my laugh

or the hard pulse of my longings.

I’ve met challenges

in every phase, and for so long

I equated what I’m doing with

what my life is.

But the truth is

life is movement, energy–

rain falling to the earth

fire burning in the stove

bodies warming each other

beneath the blankets.

susnet over Dumpling Hill

What Cannot Be Said

{In celebration of National Poetry Month, I’ll be posting a poem each weekday through the rest of April, and I invite you to join me!  Leave a link to your poem of the day in the comments section below.}

Some questions cannot be answered in words:

Why are you alive?

We can say: because my parents made it so

We can say: to make the world a better place

But there is something more

that can only be felt:

the wind tugging at your limbs, whispering in your ears

the song of air

the rhythm of water tumbling

the immediacy of a pumping heart

dancing the body into freedom