What use are memories?

frog eggs in the pond
frog eggs in pond, april 30 2015

The frogs are back.

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.

 

 

Risk on the Mountain

View of the Worcester Range from the summit of Camel's Hump
View of the Worcester Range from the summit of Camel’s Hump

I dreamt of bears on Friday night, having read of a black bear on Camel’s Hump who’s not afraid of humans.  A popular Long Trail campsite below the summit has been shut down for the summer, and hikers are encouraged not to take the Dean trail that leads through the site.  In my dream, it was five bears, not one, and they were brown, not black, all after the food in my pack.

Despite this, I was on the trail the next morning at 8:30 with my dog, Pebble.  My legs fell into a comfortable rhythm as Pebble pranced and snouted along the worn path of the Monroe Trail, 3.1 miles from parking lot to summit.  It felt good to sweat, to fall back into a familiarity on this mountainside that my legs first learned when I was four years old and determined to hike “by own self.”  Halfway up I stopped where water dropped off a rock and crossed the trail, and I cupped my hands to catch the water and splash my face, cool my neck and the pulse on my wrists while Pebble lapped at the stream.

Sweat returned quickly as we climbed higher toward the alpine tundra of the summit, but the winds on the exposed peak cooled me and whipped loosened hair from my ponytail across my face.  As Pebble and I walked the rocky top a family came up from another trail.

“Zoe!  Sit down!  You’re making me nervous.”  I looked up to see a smiling girl around 8 slow her pace and crouch down at her mother’s call.  It made me think of my mom and all the times my brother and I pushed her limits of comfort as we explored the edges of summits.  Zoe was no where near an edge, surrounded instead by rounded slabs and alpine plants that traced through cracks in the rock, and though the wind pressed her back and ballooned her jacket on one side, her feet were firmly on the ground, the risk of blowing away far less than the risk of tripping on a root when they got back on the trail.

It made me think of risk and what we learn of it as children, of what we teach our children as adults.  It made me think of the difference between real and perceived risk, and how we learn to be alive.

My mom was raised with the phrase you can’t be too careful, but she traded this phrase for another when she raised me, saying the greatest longing of the soul is to be free.  Though it was her voice that called me away from rocky edges, she brought me to the mountain.

It would be too easy and simplistic to say that my dad taught me risk and my mom taught me safety.  The two are tied together.  Without risk the vitality of the soul isn’t safe, and without safety–the safety of love and trust and a web of people who support you–risk becomes riddled with fear rather than aliveness.

I am after aliveness.  I am after the vitality of soul, the exhilaration of exposure, the peace of solitude.

Hiking reminds me how to find all this, how to move with it and hold myself in its presence when I am not alone on a trail.  When I am alone on a trail, it reminds me that the risk of running into a bear is worth each footstep that allows my mind to wander, my heart to center, and my spirit to become more alive.

The biggest risk to life, to the quality of being alive, is not going to the mountain, but rather never going to it at all.

Traveling Light

Morning Light

Summer grows roots from my feet into the soil of this land.  The sun bleaches streaks of blonde in my strawberry hair, and freckles emerge like seeds on my skin.

The earth and light do their part to keep me here, though the wind blows in some afternoons and I feel the old pull of travel tug at my chest.

On morning walks with the dogs, Waylon on my back, I follow worn paths through the forest and imagine the roots of my feet rolling up and down the land like waves, loosening my body with each step so I may follow the breath of air.

Some mornings before I finish my tea, the light travels for me, and I step outside to move with the rising mist and sun rays filtering down toward the soil, whispering a single word: soften.

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I remember the tug I often feel while traveling, to stop in one place and dig in, to find the veins of the land and match my rhythm to their pulse.

The morning turns to day imperceptibly, suddenly, and tasks take their place in my mind as the sun rises high into a clear sky.  It’s time to tend to the fields now.

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All day the light travels, bringing evening about, and we hang our tools and prepare dinner and sit outside to eat as the earth tilts away from the sun and the sky dances itself into sunset.

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The air is still and my chest is quiet and my soles root into grass.

The light deepens into night, and though I’ve not left this land all day, I’ve witnessed movement, been part of the full round stretch of day and the long exhale of twilight.

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The Wild Ones Emerging

Coltsfoot was the first to emerge, pushing its dandelion-like yellow blooms up along roadsides and old gravely logging roads.

Then came the peepers in an evening chorus around the pond, and the bubbles of frog eggs floating in the water.

frog eggs in the pond

Just a few days ago, a friend pointed out a splash of white flowers beneath maple trees on the road, bloodroot blooming out of leaf litter in the filtered sun.

And yesterday I noticed a carpet of trout lilies blooming behind the yurt, the yellow petals flexing open, faces slanted down to the earth.

trout lily

The perennial gardens are waking up, too: peppermint and spearmint, peonies, iris, dicentra, yarrow, echinacea, rudbeckia–all coming back, finally, and bringing the last sleeping parts of me back with them, too.

Where I’ve Been

pepper seedlingsEvery year the transition to the farming season slows down my blogging.  Outside, the earth is trying to thaw even as snow sloshes down every few days.  Each time I walk to the greenhouse I hear water running in streams beneath the snow, and I linger to hear the flow gurgling under my feet, promising thaw despite the low-pressure cold fronts that persist.

Sun is coming our way, though, and inside the greenhouse we are seeding, watering, up-potting.  Waylon has his own spot in the greenhouse, cuddled with the dogs on the camping pad that Edge has been sleeping on these past few weeks so he can stoke the wood stove fire through the night.  Of course, Waylon toddles all around the gravel floor, making games of putting rocks into yogurt cups and pouring water from one bucket to another as we seed.

The greenhouse is a place of growth for all of us, seeds, toddler, mama and papa: family.

Simple Yurt Luxuries

Of all the sounds in the world, running water is one of my favorites.  In spring (or near spring, as we have seemed to drop back into winter for a few days here in Central Vermont), the sound and sight of flowing water means thaw.  It means birds returning and snow melting and damp pasture grasses revealing the gold bodies of their autumn blades.

Inside the yurt, though, the sight of flowing water brings me to my feet and has me whooping with excitement.

I came home last night to see Edge’s body half submerged in the hole under our sink, where a line connects a hand pump to our shallow-dug spring.  Last winter, the line froze, and in an attempt to thaw it with a torch, the line ended up with a hole in it.  Come summer, we always found ourselves too busy, with the water line at the bottom of our to-do list (and hauling water in the summer isn’t so hard).  Come winter, we figured it’d freeze again anyway.  When the March snows softened, hauling water suddenly became a drudge with east post-hole step uphill.

So it both excites me and relaxes me to say, our hand-pump is working.  It may not be the turn of a faucet, but that water sure does look like its running as it pours into the sink.

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What’s to come

cilantro seedlings

share basket

I shouldn’t do this, but after reading John’s post, I couldn’t help myself–I had to take out the spring and summer photos and remember the heat and taste of what feels to still be a distant season.

We made it through last night’s cold, and the car engine managed to turn over this morning, despite it being -23.  If I sit close to the wood stove and stare into the photos enough, I can almost imagine that we’re tumbling amid all that food right now.  Soon.  Soon.

For now, I’m thankful for the heat of the stove, for bacon from our friends at Humble Rain Farm, and for the photos that remind me of what’s to come.

The Seeds We Sow

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I wish that living in a yurt on a Vermont hillside farm could make me immune to the annoyances of broken computers, and the odd frustration that comes when said computer is at the shop getting fixed and I am here with an old iPad that works well enough for emails, but not much more.  We finally got a loaner computer, and so I’m back to the blog after a few weeks of sporadic posts.

Truthfully, though, I’ve felt quiet.  Perhaps it’s not just the computer issues that have kept my posts minimal and short.  It goes like that sometimes, a wave of production followed by a quiet recession back into the deep, like the tide that swells and retreats.

The farm is covered with snow, the garden under perhaps 4 feet of it, and tonight the cold seeps in from under the clear night sky.  It’s a night to pack the fire box and keep the dials on the wood stove turned open a bit more than usual.

We’ve been in the throws of spring planning: greenhouse repairs, seeding charts, cash-flow charts, marketing, perennial design, and lists of infrastructure improvements.  It feels both exciting and daunting, and we oscillate between dreamy imaginings of all the good changes to come and business crunching, detached from emotion.

The work of a farmer begins long before the greenhouse is fired up and soil is spread out in trays.  The seeds we are sowing now are sketches on paper, numbers and images and words.  Though it seems like the summer is still far away, this work is important.  Before we can manifest something into being, we must first know what it is we want to create.

In all the planning and prep work, in all the manifestations we are setting out into the world, I took out this poem again, just to remind myself that sometimes, it is okay to be demanding as we manifest our dreams:

Throw away all your begging bowls at

God’s door,

for I have heard the Beloved prefers

sweet, threatening shouts, something

on the order of, “Hey, Beloved, my soul

is a raging volcano of love for you!

You better start kissing me–or else!”

~Hafiz

Happy

snow-hat

It’s been snowing for days, flakes sifting down from the sky.  The shoveled pathway to the yurt has become a chute with snow-walls up past my knees, and yesterday as I hauled two buckets of water up in the sled, one foot left the narrow packed-down trail and I sunk in to my thigh.

It piles up around our little round home, and as the wood stove warms the snow on the roof, it slides and slumps off, growing the pile half-way up the outer walls, and we are thankful for the extra insulation it provides on all the cold nights that dip down below 0–all this snow makes it a cozy winter for yurt-dwellers.

fence line in snow

At this time last year I was stir-crazy, ready for a reprieve along the New Jersey shoreline, but now, I’m happy for the cold and snow.  Happy to stand in the forest and hear the swoosh of snow as hemlock boughs loosen their load.  Happy to look up just at that moment and see the flakes sifting to the ground.  Happy for the split second of weightlessness with each step before my snowshoes compress the lofty top layer of snow.

Happy, too, for the breaks of sun that open up the landscape, warming our faces as our breath puffs out into the cold air.

The Courage to Try

 

I’d like to learn how to make whiskey

and play the fiddle

and how to sew quilts.

At a certain point in life it seems we give up on some desires, the big, far-away lofty ones, and a few small, close, dear ones.  We accept the idea that we needed to learn how to do it when we were young, and a small measure of defeat sets in and reincarnates itself as hopes for our children.

But I still want to learn how to speak Spanish, and French, too.

I’d like to learn how to ride a horse, and then have one of my own someday to ride along the logging roads in the forest that stretches out and rises up from this hillside pasture.

Learning doesn’t have to stop.  Childhood wonder doesn’t have to fade away.

We wake up everyday and we can open our eyes to possibilities, because that’s what each new day is: a possibility.

I don’t know what I’ll approach first, the whiskey or the quilting, the horse-back riding or the fiddle.  I just know that it’s not impossible.  All it takes is two hands, an open mind, and the courage to try.

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