Living In The Space Between

This is April: snow storms and sun, freezing rain and a weekend thaw, a precarious balance between hibernation and re-emergence into the world as spring comes, then slips away, and slowly comes back again.

I feel like a seed struggling to sprout.  Though all the ingredients are offered–water, sunlight, warmth–it seems it takes weeks to crack the shell and work a shoot up through the soil. Last season I flowered, through the winter I tucked in quietly among the snow, and now I pray that I will germinate.  April is not just a balancing act for seeds, but for us as a farm and family as well.  It is when we are spending money and relying on more people to sign up for our CSA, it is the last month of my full time job before I go to part time and devote more of myself to the workings of the farm, it is when I cross the bridge from second to third trimester and walk ever closer to the birth of our baby.  For now I am living in the space between questions and answers, the space, as my midwife says, where divinity lives.

I have doubts, but I have persistence, too.  I must be a parsley seed.  It takes so long to sprout that I almost give up on the whole tray until the first seedlings push ever so slightly at the soil and remind me of the strength that patience requires.  I tell myself: if I am a seed, all I have to do is to know that every potential is inside me.  I tell myself: the life that is easy is not necessarily the one that brings me alive.

I am living in the space between the questions and the answers.  Some days I cry in a swell of emotion.  Some days I am steady.  Some days wildness fills me and pulls me to the forest where so much life is waking up.  I don’t know if I will ever get to the answers, but like a seed I persist, for I fiercely believe in this earth.  I believe in the goodness of the world, in the tenacity of the world, in the connections that keep us alive.  Like a seed I persist, pushing up at the soil, working my way toward the sun.

There Is Nothing Wrong With the World

I spent the weekend in Woodbury, Vermont at Wisdom of the Herbs School.  For two days we walked on the land, slowly, meeting early spring wild edibles and flowers.

On Sunday, George, one of our teachers, put this idea out to the class:

There is nothing wrong with the world.

For two days, I have not been able to leave this thought.  Wild leeks, corn lily, blue

cohosh, trillium, spring beauty, marsh marigold, American dwarf ginseng, trout lily, wild lettuce, coltsfoot, and dutchman’s breeches–these plants are evidence.  There is nothing wrong with the world.

And yet, how quickly that notion can become lost in anxiety during conversations of genetically modified food, habitat destruction, and carbon levels.  How strong the pull of sadness can be–so strong that I sometimes find myself grieving for the world.

And yet, yellow-bellied sap-suckers, chickadees, red-winged black birds, robins, goldfinches, white-breasted nuthatches, crows and ravens–these birds are evidence.  There is nothing wrong with the world.

Annie, our herbal teacher, said to us: Humans do belong here.  We have a special place in the world–our feet are rooted in the earth and our heads are in the heavens.

We do have the power of balance.

We can remember this.

There is nothing wrong with the world.

There is nothing wrong with the world, so let us look deeply and ask, what is it that really needs to change?  And then let us remember how to balance.

Waiting to be Planted

All my life I have been living in this world, and only now do I search for a home.  But all celebration is lost in words like “parcel” and “lot” and this makes it hard to find the perfect place when what I want is the valley that reaches up to the mountain that touches the sky that holds the clouds that rain down into the river that nourishes the land I walk on.

All my life I have been living–my hair an extension of the wind, my feet two seeds waiting to be planted, my fingers earthworms digging in the soil–and only now do I post signs that read “looking for land,” though I find land everywhere I go, though I am constantly surrounded by land.

Tax maps and septic plans, listings and for sale signs: pieces of paper with boundary lines and words that do not show the curve of a ridge line or the mix of grasses and legumes in a pasture.  Half of me yearns for that paper titled “Deed”, and half of me laughs, knowing I am home wherever I can run barefoot and free.  And yet, I have had so much time with the wind, and I can hear the land whispering, inviting me to it, and I hear my body asking to be rooted in return.

Sprouting Grass Moon

The first full moon of spring shines tonight

April’s moon has many names:

Pink, Egg, Sprouting Grass, and Fish

Pink for wild phlox, one of the first spring flowers

Fish for the shad run, which Native Americans counted on after a long winter.

Nobee and I go out to look for pink, but all we find is green:

 

Ours is the Sprouting Grass Moon, then,

And we welcome it fully.

May our pastures return healthy this year,

May this grass feed the animals, and in turn us,

For another green season.

Wonders We Wait For

I woke on March 9th to snow-frosted trees and a fresh layer of snow on the ground, but spring, it seems, has come quickly, bringing with it warm air and pulling us into the high 50s.

There are downsides:

We don’t have a refrigerator, and winter allows us to keep milk and yogurt between the door and a fleece blanket, where enough cold air seeps in to create a microclimate that nicely mimics a fridge.  With warmer temperatures, we need to get the coolers out and get back into the rhythm of changing out ice packs to keep food cold.

It is too warm to use our cook stove, so I turned on the gas stove for the first time since November.  Though this excited me in some ways, the immediate ease of propane is shadowed by thoughts of paying money for a fuel that does not easily come from the earth, especially compared to the wood we harvested from the farm where we live, which has kept us warm through felling, chopping, stacking, and burning, and has provided our meals for the past three months.  You can say that wood does not come easily, either, but I take comfort in knowing exactly where it came from, how much physical energy was required to obtain it, and that new trees are growing in its place.  It is a renewable resource that I can see regenerate in my lifetime, whereas propane is not.

Still. I made pesto potatoes and eggs for lunch on the propane stove, and they were delicious.

Spring brings many more upsides:

Maple Syrup.  Edge woke at 3:00 am with a feeling he needed to check the holding tank in the sugarhouse.  With only an inch of room left and more sap flowing in, he called John and they fired up the arch.  Twelve hours later, the fire is still burning, sap is still boiling, and the trees are still giving more.

Seed Starting.  There must be part of us that opens like a seed and sprouts to life each spring.  The first stretch of sunny days awakens me with a new energy, and I am giddy to pass it on, planting herb, vegetable and flower seeds in the greenhouse.  Though it is still a few months away, the first garden harvest is in sight, and I can almost taste the pea shoots and radishes.

The uncovering of wild things.  Footprints in the snow melt away to reveal other forms of life: hobblebush, saplings, blue cohosh, lambsquarters, dandelions, blackberries, and so much more.  Slowly the ground begins to warm, bringing life back to frogs, turtles, beavers and bears.  The shells of wild seeds soften so they may set new roots down and stretch new stems up.

Then there are the wonders we unconsciously wait for in this season that returns light to the northern hemisphere.  Just as winter pares us down, offering space and clarity, spring wakes us up and puts a bounce back in our legs—those roots that nourish us so we may reach up like flower petals and shout YES to the open face of the sun.  So though I say goodbye to the make-shift fridge and cooking with the woodstove, I say hello to mud and sun, to the leafing out of trees and shrubs, to the forest filling in again, and to the sweet syrup of maples, which nourishes us the whole year through.

Sap Moon

The full sap moon
rises tonight
over warm air
and melting snow and
maple trees moving fast
beneath their bark
as sap rises from roots to branches.
 
Canadian Geese honk,
returning on this early
spring day,
while farmers start seeds in greenhouses
and fires in sugar houses,
breathing in soil and syrup, and
softening their own skin
so they, too, may grow
into a new season.

Caught Between Opposites

As I drove North along Lake Champlain on Friday morning, I was ready to admit my mistake—I had written that Lake Champlain is not yet frozen over, leaving an empty stretch of water where ice-fishers and skiers should bewhen I saw the trucks, shanties, and people spread across the ice.  I smiled, happy to see I was wrong, until I looked ahead to open water, deep dark blue textured by the wind, and felt a small flip in my stomach.  There is an empty stretch of water.  My eyes shot back to the blue truck parked on the ice.  Yes, it was still there, and all the bodies on the frozen part of the lake seemed patient and at ease as they watched their lines for bites.  Though there were no skiers, though the lake is not completely frozen over, and though the car thermometer read 41°F, the ice fishers prove that winter has not conceded to spring just yet.  There is still strength in the cold nights.

Today I take the dogs to the river, looking for ice.  The Green River’s current is too strong for a solid sheet to form, but everywhere I look in the forest, crystals and long columns of glass appear.   I slide my fingers along the cool smooth surfaces; I lean in close to see the way the ice connects with a quality of movement that makes it seem as though it has paused in the middle of dancing.

photo by Katie Springphoto by Katie Springphoto by Katie Spring

Down at the river, thin sheets of ice balance on rocks, adorning them like lace, and amidst the steady pulse of the water and quiet stillness of the ice, I feel the conflict of a winter caught between melting and freezing.  There is no turmoil here, though, and I learn once again that opposites always coexist—beneath the ice there is always water, and with the stillness there is always energy expanding or contracting, but moving just the same.  Sometimes these opposites are hidden, and sometimes they are in plain sight: fishermen on a half-frozen lake, a summer-green fern caught in ice.  The question must not be do we look at them, but what do we do?  Conflict and opposites will not go away, but I know from the river there is a way of living that bears witness without judgment, and a way that allows for change and consistency at once.  So what do we do?

Look.  Deeply.

 

And then ask again, what do we do?  The answers come one step at a time.

Cold Snap in a Heat Wave

I had seen a recent picture of them in the paper, and I had heard on the radio of several sightings around Vermont, but still I was surprised on Sunday morning, as I walked across the UVM campus, to see a flock of robins playing in the wind and bouncing about on the thinly veiled ground.  My teeth chattered as I headed toward the Davis Center, where the Northeast Organic Farming (NOFA) conference was gearing up for its second day, and in the single-digit air I felt my neck stiffen, my arms shiver, and my feet quicken their pace.  In this winter that has been so mild, all of the sudden 9°F sends a deep cold into the bones.  Then I think of the robins and wonder at their agility and speed on a day like this, when they should be at least in Massachusetts, if not further south, where food is more abundant and temperatures are warmer.

Food, though, it seems is one of the reasons some Robins stuck around: there is enough food to be found this winter, due in large part to the warmth of the season.  Last week, Jane Lindholm, host of Vermont Edition on VPR, spoke with experts and callers about the effect this winter is having on Vermont.  One woman called in to ask why the variety of birds at her feeder has decreased, and the answer was because there is more wild food readily available right now.  Another reason we’ve seen more Robins is due to the subtle but steady climate shift.  In his essay “Bear”, Craig Childs states: “Climate zones are shifting north across the globe at a rate of a few feet every several hours, and species are steadily following, sending out scouts to find fallbacks and future niches.”  Though we’ve known about climate change since at least the 1980s, and though I studied it in college and have seen the graphs and charts, these physical reminders—robins and the flow of sap in early February, a tropical storm ravaging Vermont land, an autumn posing as summer—these are the things that shock me into knowing how deeply we have altered the world we depend on.

It takes a few moments for the warmth of the Davis Center to seep into my bones, softening my neck and relaxing my arms.  I welcome the heat into my body, and see others streaming through the doors to find relief as well.  As a species, we have adapted to cold climates through clothing and shelter, and as a society we have designed vacation packages to Oceanside resorts, where we can lay in the sun and absorb its energy.  Sometimes I wonder if the American people would care more about climate change if we were going into an ice age instead.

I walk up the stairs to the fourth floor, where Wendy Johnson, a Buddhist meditation teacher, gardener, and environmentalist, is waiting to give the Key Note speech on resiliency.  I take a seat in the front row, and when Wendy stands up to the podium, she looks out with clear blue eyes and says, “Gratitude.  First I want to start with gratitude.”  She then asks us all to stand and face east, and leads us through the four directions, grounding us in place.  “It takes groundedness in to be present in this world,” she tells us.  When Wendy speaks of resiliency, she speaks not only of the physical earth, but also of the necessity for we as people to slow down, to go deep into life, and to “plunge into bearing witness.”

I share this with you now, in part to bear witness to changes that may devastate the world, and in part to bear witness to the beauty of the world.  Both are at hand.  Robins and winter, cold and hot, harmony and discord.   Like all animals, we depend on this climate, and as it shifts so does our food, our livelihoods, and our home.  Let us bear witness together, share in gratitude for this world and our lives, and ground ourselves like trees into the earth.

Grass and Flower Stems

Wild geese in the fields

Fox at the edge of the pasture at night

Coyotes laughing in the dark

The farm is surrounded by wildness.

 

Pigeons take flight from the barn roof, swooping downward in one big mass, then flying up again, cresting like a wave that rolls and breaks across the sky.

Seeds left on the ground from last year’s sunflowers took root months ago and now yellow heads on thick stems stand tall in the garden.

Wildflowers bloom along lane ways and against buildings; bull thistle engulfs the south side of the sugarhouse.

The farm intertwines with wildness.

 

Edge walks barefoot all around the farm, grass, dirt and manure rubbing into his skin.  We’ve taken to bathing in the pond rather than walking up to the farmhouse for a shower.  Edge washes off while six-inch long catfish nibble at his toes; I dance in the water, dunking my head fast and picking up my feet to keep the catfish away.

Inside the yurt spiders weave webs to catch any other insect that may find its way in, the dogs curl up on the bed, and simmering soup stock warms our small space.  As the weather cools, dew forms a glittering screen on the glass dome, and we sip hot mugs of homemade chai on crisp mornings.

From my home I hear cows and crows, dogs barking and coyotes howling, chickens clucking and yellow-throats calling witchity-witchity-witchity!  There is no full separation between cultivation and wildness here, and I do not strive to make one.

Mud and dirt, manure and compost, forest and field, people and animals, water and air.  These layers of our lives are stitched together with grass and flower stems.  A continuous woven mosaic.