Summer’s vibrancy is here, infusing into me, or maybe it is me infusing into the landscape of greens and blues.
Most of my writing these days is over in the farm blog, and instagram vignettes. You’re invited to join me in both of those places for the summer, as I share in words and photos the curiosities and creativity that is flowing through me.
Look down anywhere and you’ll see the pink with purple specks brightening up the leaf litter. Waylon and I spent ten minutes in one spot just last week, picking up flowers and placing them on our open palms, counting. It was only a promise of more maple flowers up ahead that loosened his wonderment enough to move along the trail.
Yesterday I set out with the dogs alone, no toddler slowing my pace to that of constant discovery. I needed to get into the woods, up the steep old logging road, over the brook and small pool that releases into a fall, across the elevated traverse among ash and maple and beech before I slowed. I needed to let my legs move so that my mind might begin to move, too—it was my morning for writing, and no words were coming out.
Instead, all I could I hear was Paul Simon in my head, singing The Only Living Boy in New York.
Over and over one line repeated: I get the news I need from the weather report. I can gather all the news I need from the weather report.
It occurred to me that part of the weather report is in watching the sky, in walking in the woods, in learning how to smell the change of air pressure. It occurred to me that the weather has been bombarding us with news forever. Long before satellites and the weather channel, the wind carried information, clouds grew into mountains, maple blooms fell to the ground.
Right now, wind is carrying information, clouds are growing into mountains, maple blooms are falling to the ground.
Right now, a coopers hawk hunts over our field.
Right now, it’s raining and seeds are softening their shells to sprout and the air is moving slow.
“We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience—even of silence—by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way, to locate the most tender and live spot and plug into that pulse. This is yielding, not fighting. A weasel doesn’t ‘attack’ anything; a weasel lives as he’s meant to, yielding at every moment to the perfect freedom of single necessity.”
— Annie Dillard, “Living Like Weasels”
I haven’t yet learned how to yield.
In her essay, Annie Dillard recounts a story of an eagle shot out of the sky and found to have a weasel skull attached to it’s throat; the weasel having had fought back against the eagle and almost won, never letting go despite its defeat. The weasel dying as it lived, yielding to its single necessity of being.
I haven’t yet learned how to yield. More accurately, I haven’t unlearned bias and motive and endless thought.
There have been moments. Glimpses of the yielding, when my body has laid on the earth and the hard barriers have melted away until the movement of breath came not from my lungs but from the ground; moments when experience overtook thought.
But the weasel. How it held to the eagle’s neck. Have I held to the eagle’s neck?
Haven’t there been times when I’ve dangled from necessity? Times when thought played no role in decision, times when I felt the pull of life beyond choice, and followed.
But I’ve let go.
At least, I’ve unhinged my jaw and questioned.
Is the process of unlearning the same as the process of learning? For so long I’ve thought that letting go was what I was after. Letting go of bias and motive and thought. Letting go of assumption and comparison and judgement. I’ve leaned so long on the phrase “to let go” that I’ve let go, too, of living like weasels.
The weasel doesn’t spend so many words on something like living.
Of course. And I’m not a weasel, though I can learn, or unlearn, in order to live like one. To yield, to grasp, to dangle from my one necessity and let myself fly to wherever it takes me.
For weeks before they returned, Waylon would pull at me as we passed by the pond and say, “froggies sleepin’?”
“Yep, the froggies are sleeping under the mud,” I’d say, and continue the walk to the greenhouse.
They broke their sleep last Wednesday night; as I turned the lights off and walked upstairs, their croaking bubbled its way through the walls and into our bedroom. It took me a few moments to make out what it was as I stood still by the window, stretching my ears to their call. For the first time since we moved into the house, I missed the thin walls of the yurt, how they let all the sounds in.
We are close enough to the pond, though, closer than we were in the yurt, and so even now as I write these words on Sunday morning, windows closed, I hear them: their popping percussion aided by the swinging notes of chickadees and the tinny flitting whistles of robins.
We counted 33 yesterday, legs all splayed out as they floated on the pond’s surface. Waylon’s counting is sequential up to 10, and then erratic after that, going 15, 18, 16, 17, 19, and so on, all the way up to 20-10. He corrects me when I say 30.
I wonder how much he remembers of falling asleep and waking to the springtime concert when we lived in the yurt. Yesterday Edge asked Waylon if he remembered where he was born. He replied, in mama’s belly.
“But do you remember where you came out of mama’s belly?” my husband asked, and then answered our son’s stare, “right over there; in the yurt.”
It’s only recently that Waylon has started saying, “member when…” and part of me smiles at his development, and part of me wonders what language is worth when so much of it is spent on the past.
What use does a toddler have for memories? What use do any of us have? Sure, there are the necessary elements of learning so we may know how to feed and clothe and shelter ourselves. The necessary learning to stay alive.
But the frogs are awake now, and there’s no use in dawdling over last week, when we’d stop and talk about their muddy sleep. The frogs are awake, and Waylon is counting, and there are stones to throw into the pond, and there is mud to play in.
What use are memories when all of this is at hand? When the sun is warming the water and maple buds are flowering and there is a whole, waking world to be present in.
6:12 am — A periwinkle sky, soft and bright and so translucent it seems to levitate above the mountains. Which of course it always does, but only now do I see just how the horizon is born from light.
6:22 am — The sky drifts into pastels, pink and peach. Waylon sleeps curled next to me as I read, and I think I am happy, content, peaceful, except none of these words are right. It’s something quieter, deeper, something nameless that fills me.
It eases the urgency of doing.
6:32 am — The light has cascaded from the sky onto the mountains themselves.
The mountains are like a farm woman: strong, steady, curves around the muscles. Sometimes they’re merely noticed, but eventually truly seen, causing the observer to stop and breathe in the beauty, the wildness, the stateliness, the pure bedrock of life at once tangled and ordered; a being large enough to hold contradictions and surprises and still offer comfort in the sheer mass of her embrace.
When I hold my son, I imagine the mass of the mountains in my hug.
When I hold my son, I feel his energy and I realize how much slower I’ve become. How motherhood necessitates that. How the wind, which once directed me, now flows through him. How I’ve come into conversation with the roots of trees. How I’ve learned to match the pace of mountains.
He is the wildness. I am the wild.
When I hold my son, I realize I have become a home.
6:38 — He sleeps. I write. The light pours down the mountainside.
In another few hours it will reach the west-facing hillside and be upon us all.
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.
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.
September. We are well enough into it now, though the burst of heat that wrangled itself around our limbs in the month’s first week felt more like summer than most of July. Much has happened in the last few weeks, as much is always happening on a farm in late summer, but it’s enough to say that vegetables have been harvested, new seedlings planted, and cover crops cast; it’s enough to say the sun has risen and set and we’ve sweat in between.
Of all the things I’ve witnessed this summer, nothing has lifted me as the sight of my toddler stamping through the woods to a particular tree and announcing, “Ash! Ash!” Maple was the first tree he learned to say, birch was the second, and for a few weeks our walks transformed from quiet strolls to three miles of excited shouts and screeches as Waylon pointed out every birch and maple we passed. At toddler height, he is learning to identify trees by their bark, and as I didn’t learn the difference between ash and maple bark until my husband began sugaring five years ago, Waylon’s declaration of the long ridged trunk as an ash tree had me smiling in wonder.
Edge pointed out the scales of spruce bark as Waylon repeated sprue, and he touched little knobs along the otherwise smooth gray beech, saying bee. How long did it take me to learn the names of trees? How long did I live before I could look through a forest and know at a glance the species that live there?
“Waylon is the smartest two-year-old I’ve ever met,” I said aloud, though if every toddler spent as much time around trees, they’d surely know their names, too. The beauty of toddlers is that they are so open, so willing to learn, so willing to connect with their surroundings.
To be open. To be willing. With these lessons, I learn over and over again the excitement of discovery.