All the News I Need

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The forest floor is littered with maple flowers.

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.

It’s all I need to know.

 

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.

 

 

The Fog Always Lifts

Soft clouds hung in layers across the valley this morning, hiding the mountaintops but revealing the middle: the hour-glass field, the mountains’ arms reaching through the mist into the valley, and a gradual clearing to the North where Elmore rises at the end of the range.

It is the first time since Tuesday that I’ve woken rested with a clear head. Last week, clouds clung to the ground, the fog so dense that from our front door even the barn looked blurry.  The air warmed and clouded my head, too, infusing my sinuses with pain, creeping soreness into my throat, swelling my eyes until I could only lift them halfway.

The fog always lifts, though.

We did the chores together this morning, and as I walked to the barn where Edge was feeding out the hay, the morning clouds dissipated and the mountains woke up through the mist.  I stood at the fence with eggs in my hand, watching the sheep around the feeder, their thick fleeces specked with hay as they pulled last summer’s grass through the slats.  Even through last week’s rain, they often chose to stand outside instead of under the barn roof, their fleece so thick and warm they didn’t seem to notice.  Now the clear cold air is returning, and with it the sun.  I look up to see the sky again and imagine trees on the mountaintop, their branches laden with hoar frost, the forest quiet and still but for the wind and the rustling of animals moving across the slopes.

The Luxuries of Farming

Today I wake to the sounds of cows mooing for their calves.  It is 6:00 am, and soon the heifers will be brought in from the field to be milked and reunited with their babies.  I’m not on for chores this morning, so I’ve slept in a bit.  Edge left a fresh pot of coffee on the stove and took our dog Nobee for a walk.

Yesterday the sky stayed clear and heat settled in, but now thunder is banging overhead again and rain is falling.  The sky looks light, though, and I’m hoping it will pass quickly.  In the past week we’ve had longer, harder storms than I’ve ever seen.  The rivers swell and rise, flooding more towns.  Last Wednesday the wind started swirling as I was bringing the cows in for evening milking.  I looked to see the northwest sky darken and send down bolts of lighting.  Within minutes it was upon us, and just as the cows turned the corner around the barn, the wind whipped dirt into the air and our eyes.  Edge, who had been doing skid-steer work near the barn, parked next to the tie-stalls and we ran in to take cover.  We spent the next thirty minutes in the milk house waiting for a break in the weather so we could run back to the yurt.  The wind kept up, the rain dumped like a waterfall, and the thunder and lightening struck so close together it was as if they had become one entity.

But the break came, and we sprinted back home.

The next morning brought more rain and news of floods and evacuations in near-by towns.  A few panels had ripped off the barn roof, a chicken house was blown over, and the hay wagons were on their sides in the road, but all the animals were okay.  The rain continued off and on, and until yesterday it felt like it might not let go.

There have been reprieves, though.  Through it all calves have been born, chickens have laid eggs, and grass has grown.  I’ve stumbled into moments of contentment and delight despite the persistent storms:

Pigs sucking up milk, munching food, and letting me scratch their backs;

Calves running up the sawdust pile and looking up with a sawdust mask on their faces;

A bobolink singing in the field while I moved fences;

Barn swallows flying in and out of the llama paddocks to their nest, which I found tucked in a corner beam inside the barn;

Walking out to the fields and seeing mist rising up to a clear sky;

Baking brownies in the yurt while rain sounded on the roof.

Through it all, our soils have drained well, so we have not been flooded here.  I wonder how much more will come, how often we will see the extreme, or if we have even seen the extreme yet.  Vermont feels more secure than other parts of the country right now, but still there are farmers who have not been able to plant because of floods, and others who cannot sell produce for 90 days after a flood because of the debris left on fields from the river.

I have thought before how animals seem to spend each day only working to find food and eat.  I have thought how repetitious that seems, but as a farmer I am reminded that it’s what we all do.  Whether we raise animals, grow vegetables, or work in an office, we eat.  We must eat, and we must work for our food.  The weather, be it rain, drought, tornado or sun, affects us all because it affects our food.  What can we do to work with the weather?  For so long we have fought against the environment, molding it into roads and buildings, asking it to support the luxuries of the western world.

I have changed my ideas of luxury.

Now convenience is going to the garden, not the grocery store.  It is working with the soil and feeling the grit rub into my skin.  It is drinking raw milk from the cows I help tend.  It is paying for food in sweat and understanding the worth of money in this way.  These luxuries may not seem to make life easier to some, but they do make life more meaningful.  When the rain stops, as it just did, I notice the luxuries of beauty and peace that the world offers up for free.

Birds Bringing Spring

Winter came back last week, bringing its cold air and flurrying snow and giving the mountain five more inches of powder.  I should have known it would happen–spring never comes that easily.  The weather forecast predicts temperatures in the 40s by the end of the week, but what I really trust are the birds.  Last Friday morning as I sat reading by the fire and listening to the intermittent coo-cooing of mourning doves, a new voice flew in honking.  I jumped up in time to see two canada geese fly over the yard and on toward Mt. Mansfield.  It was just the two of them, but still a sign of spring migration beginning.  As Aldo Leopold writes in A Sand County Almanac, “One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”  I’m on the lookout for the rest of the skein.

After the geese left my view, I stood at the window looking for the mourning dove and the red-winged blackbird that had just chimed in with it’s high “tee-err.” My eyes caught a small dot high up in a birch tree; through the zoom of my camera, the blue feathers and pointed head of the bluejay came into focus.  As I lowered the viewfinder, I noticed three more birds in a maple–all robins–and another bluejay in a second birch.  By noticing just one bird it was as if I could suddenly see them all in plain sight, and excitement surged through me.  Imagine what else I can see now–now that I have begun to look!

For my birthday my parents gave me the Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America. I have been curious about the energy that some of my friends and my parents get from birding, and now I am beginning to find out where it comes from.  The book’s foreword says that “Peterson often observed that ‘[birds] are the most intensely alive of all creatures–often moving, darting, hopping, flying, or at times migrating thousands of miles.’  By observing them and appreciating them, birders seem to absorb some of this tremendous life force and therefore stay very much alive themselves.”  Along with this aliveness, birding brings about a greater understanding of the environment by pulling one’s attention to the details of a habitat–the interaction between plant and animal species–and the consequences of changing weather–the migration of birds through seasons.

As a child, long before I picked up any bird book, I knew the reappearance of wild geese and red-breasted robins meant spring, and that soon the ground would thaw for those robins to find worms.  I’ve seen the birds’ return again, so despite today’s freezing air, I trust the instincts of a species that listens, feels, and acts upon the earth’s subtle changes.  What other changes might come if we all were to listen?

Mud is Here

Mud is here, and the earthy, wet smell of spring pulls me outside.

For days I have heard red-winged black birds sing, and on my runs I see them flit over fields heavy with melting snow and soggy, straw-colored grass.

No longer do I wish to bundle up and stay cozy by the fire at night.

Now my legs long to stretch and leap; my lungs fill with the sweet warm air; my freckles reappear under the bright springtime sun, and I do not want to stay inside long enough for them to fade.

Vanishing Night

Last night I saw the northern lights.  There won’t be many more nights that offer the chance to see their colors.  They were faint green, a long wisp across the sky just above the tree line, and another stretch in the middle of the night sky.  By the time I went inside and got Meredith, Colby and Kelsey back out to see them they were gone.

At 10:00 the sun still reaches up from the horizon to create dusk, and the light is lingering longer by 5 minutes or more each day.  As we drove home from Calypso the other night, we saw the last bright full moon, hanging low and big over the land, shining like new copper.  As the spring progresses the moon will show as a faded white in the sunny sky, and the stars will stay hidden in the light.  I’ve been told I’ll have a lot more energy because of the constant sun, but I wonder is it a worthy tradeoff?  For so many summers I’ve spent the nights following trails to campfires, finding my way by looking up through the trees at the moon, or laying in open fields beneath falling stars and millions of pinpricks of light splayed across a dark navy sky.  Is it possible to prepare myself for the ache I’ll feel when summer really starts?  Or is it too presumptuous to know how much I’ll miss Vermont and the summer camp I spent the last 14 years at?  I do not know what will come, and I am happy to be here in Ester.  But even as I live in the moment, there are times my mind wanders and worries, and I don’t know yet how to stop it from doing so.

On Friday Meredith and I went to a yoga class in town, and the instructor offered this intention for our practice: May I be willing to meet each moment of my life as it is.  To which I’ve added: May I be willing to accept my life with love and compassion.  When I am caught in moments of worry, I can remember this and know that exactly where I am is where I am meant to be.  It is okay if I miss Vermont, and it is okay to be happy and find home in another place.

February Snow

The snow is falling in big white clumps, soft and heavy and unrelenting. For most of February, the ground looked as if it had been stripped naked, and it laid with sparse white patches unable to cover the brown grass. But today the raw land, shocked like a sleeping child whose blanket has been ripped off, is finally being covered again.

I laugh in the sticky snow, which coats my hat, wets my hair and my jacket, and I wonder how an element that brings sleep to the land can inspire so much liveliness in myself. The flakes started falling yesterday evening and continue now, steady as a river in spring, and I find joy in the extra effort that walking demands; I slow down, I see snowflakes thick on branches and on my eyelashes. It has been a long time since I’ve experienced a day like today, surely the first one of this season.  Monty, the twelve-year-old beagle I am taking care of this week, marches along the back porch, carving a small labyrinth with walls as tall as him. When I take him for a walk he spins in circles at the door, impatient until it is opened and then excited as he jumps over the snow bank, sniffing through the fast forming layers and marking his territory every few yards.

I heard from my friend Quinn, who lives in Washington, D.C., how the city shut down in the blizzards that struck, and how she found herself enveloped in a quiet that only snow can bring to an unprepared place. Montpelier, Vermont, on the other hand is lively today. Cars continue like any other day down the road, and I pass by people layered in sweaters and jackets, hat and scarves, smiling with their eyes, their mouths drawn up high like wool socks over long underwear, warm and protective. It is the snow we have been waiting for; we’re finally feeling redemption after the endless reports of storms hitting the Mid-Atlantic States and stopping before they could reach the mountains and hills of New England.

I am happy. As I sit here, now back inside with my coat drying out and me changed from slushy jeans into warm sweatpants, I can see the snow still falling straight and heavy to the ground. It will be a quiet night, the land once again insulated from the cold winter air. When I walk downtown to yoga class, I’ll smile at the soft compression beneath my boots, the safety that comes with snow banks between sidewalk and road, and the magic of new space that fresh snow always brings.