The Wildness and the Wild

4/6/2016

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.

Wild Spring

A new name for the blog!

Wild, adj: going beyond normal or conventional bounds; deviating from the intended or expected course, specifically: a life rooted in joy and freedom

Spring, n: a time or season of growth or development; the season between winter and summer; a continual source; a surname, specifically: Katie Spring, a writer, farmer, and mama.

Wild Spring, n: a blog on growing a deep-rooted life through homesteading, simple living, and embracing the wildness that weaves through each day.

I’ve been searching for a new name, but always come back to wildness.  Even after weeding in the garden or cutting the grass, I tumble into wildness, into the intersections of a cultivated and untamed world.  Gary Snyder writes, “Wildness is not just the preservation of the world, it is the world.”  And so I see it as I walk the fields, in the rows of crops, the pac choi going to seed, the witch-grass coming up in the pathways, and in myself: dirt pressed into fingerprints, freckles darkening in the sun, wisps of hair flying free from my braid.  And I see it in Waylon’s face, in his uninhibited joy and excitement, at his surprise when he stands on his own or discovers something new in the soil.  Everywhere I look, wildness pulses through our days.

In thinking of a new name, I came back to this post I wrote a few years ago, titled Wildness and Words:

If I were to ask each person one question, it would be this: what sustains you?

Not where do you work and how do you pay the bills, but what makes you wake up each morning, feed yourself each day and continue to breathe; what is it that really fills you with life?

If you were to ask me this question, I would respond: wildness and words.

(…read the rest here)

I hope you like the new name, too.  The posts will keep coming, but right now rain on the yurt roof is lulling me to sleep, and it’s time for rest.  Be well~

droplets on fern

 

Wild Weeds at Llama Bean

Introducing Llama Bean Garden at Applecheek Farm!

When Edge and I moved to the farm, John and Rocio let us take over the “sacrifice field,” where the cows had overwintered, and turn it into a growing space.  During the second week of May, on our first walk out there, I looked at the remnants of round bales—spread out circles of hay trampled into the grass and mud—thought of the date, and wondered how are we going to get this ready in time to plant?

We quickly decided to change the name to the “sacred field,” hoping this would help it along, and we changed our planting plans from oats and wheat to dry beans and corn for cornmeal.  After a few days of Edge plowing, disking and raking with the tractor, and a few more days of rain, we started seeding on June 1st.  Since then, we’ve planted an acre with kidney, black, European soldier, kenearly, and cannellini beans, and nothstine dent and Calais flint corn.

As we worked, we continued to think about an official name for our garden, since we plan to sell some beans and cornmeal through the farm store this winter, and will be growing grains to market in the coming seasons.  Inspired by all our beans and the view of the llamas in the paddocks next to the field, we chose to name our sacred field Llama Bean Garden at Applecheek Farm.

Despite the lack of preparation last fall, the beans and corn are growing just fine, and so are many other plants.  It’s got me remembering the Thoreau quote: “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

I’ve written about wildness before—about learning to see wildness not only in the forest, but in the garden, too, and remembering how wildness creates a harmony between order and chaos.  Well now I find myself approaching chaos as wild weeds begin their take over of the bean and corn plot!  Edge and I have been running over each chance we get to free the rows from the strangling stems and leaves of plants we did not sow, but it will be a while before our crops are tall enough to out-compete the weeds.  With a lot of cultivating and under sowing of cover crops, though, eventually we will be able to look back and laugh about the time when Llama Bean looked like this:

 

cultivated corn rows surrounded by beans lost in weeds

 

We are asking a lot from the land by trying to create a large garden so quickly, so for now we’re working with what we have, and we’re thankful to have a plot to grow in.  Edge reminds me that we can work to manage the weeds instead of fight them, and I like this subtle change of words.  We are striking a balance between chaos and order, between weeds and crops, and remembering that wildness has its place everywhere, even at Llama Bean.

Alaska to Vermont: Eloping with Edge!

We made it back in a 1988 Subaru DL wagon, all the way from Alaska to Vermont with no GPS (not really a problem since we drove on the same road for half the trip) and no cruise control (a bit more of a problem since our right butt-cheeks got sore from continual pressing on the accelerator).  Besides the engine’s tendency to overheat, causing us to always have the heat on and the windows rolled down a bit, the trip was smooth–especially after buying two new tires in Whitehorse.

The day before we left Fairbanks, we decided to honor our love through marriage, so on the morning we left the Viking Lodge, we drove back through Tok and, with the town librarian and judge’s assistant as our witnesses, we said our vows and became husband and wife.

The road trip turned into our honeymoon, and as we traveled through the yukon, Jasper and Banff, Idaho, down into Southern Utah, across Colorado and Kansas, and all the way to the east, we reveled in the landscape and sank deeper into our love.

As we drove we saw birds: osprey, bald eagles, ferruginous hawks, geese, arctic tern, grouse, magpies, ravens, chickadees, red-winged blackbirds, swans, ducks, a boreal owl, peregrine falcons, gray jays, blue jays, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, and more we left unidentified.

We saw animals: buffalo, moose, elk, caribou, deer, a black wolf, gray fox, coyotes, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and wild horses.

At night we sought out campgrounds, or took a few turns down quiet roads to hidden pull-offs where we could park for the night.  In the morning we made chai, ate granola, and packed the car again for the next leg of the journey.  Our days were casual with steady driving and spontaneous stops to look at birds, take pictures and stretch our legs.

We spent two days in Southern Utah hiking and climbing before making the final push home, aided with chocolate and maple syrup.

Now we are back in Vermont, living and working on Applecheek Farm in Hyde Park.  In the first week we have milked cows, witnessed the birthing of calves, been pooped and peed on, put up a yurt, planned our bean and corn plantings, waited out the rain so we can plow the field, and become part of the daily chore rotation.  As the season progresses, we will also be helping to develop the farm’s educational programs, sell food at markets, work in the 2-acre vegetable garden, and of course, with all this milk, we will make ice cream.

I am happy.  I am so happy.
To be living in a yurt.
To be living on a farm.
To be living with my love~

Back to Alaska

“We’re taking a train to New Jersey, flying to Alaska from there, and then driving back to Vermont,” I told my friends.

Jordan paused for a moment and then asked, “Why?”

We all laughed at the blunt questioning in her voice.

“Well, Edge’s car and most of his stuff is still up there so we’re going to get it and visit everyone, too,” I answered.

But there’s more to it than that.  After a winter of renting a house and staying in one town, I am ready for a journey.  A week ago, as I was running in the spring afternoon, I thought about movement across the land, about travel and staying in one place.  My feet ran forward as fields melted and streams grew, and I remembered my nomadic ancestors–those perceptive, migrating people that we all come from.  What trace of them is left in me?  Is it their instincts that I feel telling me to walk, run, and to notice the world that keeps me alive?

It is a continual conflict within me: to stay in one place and know it deeply, or to travel and know the world as a great mosaic, all pieces making one place.  I like to believe that I can dig into a place even while traveling.  I like to feel that I can meet it full on, despite the brevity of time.

Terry Tempest Williams, in a talk she gave at the University of Fairbanks, said, “The most radical thing you can do is stay home.”  In this world of petroleum power, I believe this.  What do I love about staying?  Seeing the seasons through.  Working the land.  Growing my food.   The power of canning, freezing, pickling.

And this brings me back to the beginning of it all.

We have learned to celebrate agriculture and storage.

We have learned to reward ourselves with vacations.

There is a tension between these two things.

I am sitting in the Seattle Airport, waiting for a flight to Fairbanks.  In less than one day I am shooting across the country, and I will take just over two weeks to drive back.  So much oil.  And still I go.  It is a radical thing to stay home these days.  There is a lure to go far away, and since the advent of personal cars and cheap flights, we’ve all got the hook in our mouths.  There must have been a lure, too, for the nomads, to cultivate and rest through the seasons.  To stay in one place.

So I search for the convergence of these things, and I feel the churning within me as a river does when two tributaries come together.  I am going back to Alaska, back to the wild that forces you out of the car, the wild that asks your intention.  Is it to pass through, to get to the end?  Is it to discover?

I will dig into each place, meet it full on, despite the brevity of time.  My intention is to discover.

Saturday Morning, Sugaring Season

Chocolate Cake and

Chai at dawn

Your lips, the whiskers of

Your mustache in my mouth and

The whiskers of your beard

On my skin.

 

It’s early spring and

Already you taste of sweat and dirt

All those long days

In the sugarbush.

Lately you’ve been coming home

With gallons and

I taste the sweet maple on your tongue.

I brush flecks of bark from your face and

Feel your gritty hands along my belly,

Giving the memory of smoothness to your skin and

Texture to mine.

 

In the morning, even the dog

Is tired–

12, 13, 14 mile days following you in the forest–

And we must rouse her three times before

She joins us in the kitchen and

We feed her

As we feed ourselves

In the morning light.

February Light

The sun is rising earlier now, and daylight stretches longer into the evening.  February is beginning cold–high of 18 and low of -6–and bringing nine more inches of snow in its first week.  I don’t mind, at least not this morning as the fire burns in the stove and I am wrapped up in flannel and fleece.  February is often the hardest month of winter, blowing in bursts of frozen air and winter storms, but it is also the month I notice the shift of light on clear mornings as the sun reveals the winter world for a few more minutes each day.

Just a few weeks ago Edge was leaving for work in the dark.  Today, though we woke to a starry sky at 5:30 am, by the time he walked out the door at 6:45, dawn had graced the sky with soft shades of blue and faint hints of pale pink and yellow.  Stratus clouds line the horizon, but the great bowl of sky above them is clear.

Now I must get ready for work: grab extra layers, fill a travel mug with tea, say goodbye to Nobee and warm up the car.  I wish Nobee and I could trade places for today–her ski down the mountain and me walk through the fields and cozy up to the fire with a book.  Off I go anyway, knowing the afternoon light will linger long enough for us to walk together when I get home.

Losing and Finding Compassion

My political consciousness began to develop at age 13, when my middle school held a mock presidential election during the campaigns of George W. Bush and Al Gore.  Though it was a close race, if it had been up to the eighth graders at Barre Town Elementary and Middle School, Gore would have won.  The next fall, as I worried about braces, boys and being cool, two planes flew into the World Trade Center and began a cycle of fear that has fought to control the US political climate since.

Now, at 23, I am still learning the repercussions of 9/11, still trying to understand the massive shift it caused, still trying to comprehend the fear, hatred, and loss that has ensued as a result.  Because of both this act of terror and my country’s reactions, which have caused more terror, I have grown up in a time of fragmentation that would have us believe that conversation and compromise are for the weak, and the “other side” (whether it be republican or democrat or any religion that we are not) is inherently wrong or evil or both.

My personal experience holds a different truth.  Despite my encounters with division, more often I have found connection.

In the fall of 2006, when the newspapers were filled with threats of North Korea and battles in Iraq, I found peace in the Adirondack State Park’s Massawepie Lake and forest trails lined with red and white pine, tamarack, hemlock, maple, birch and spruce.  As a few people prepared for war in one place, a few more people prepared for ecology lessons in another.  When the weight of the media began to push me down with sorrow, I’d paddle into the middle of the lake and sit quietly, listening to the chickadees, squirrels, osprey and insects.  In these moments, there was no doubt that this part of the world was in harmony and kept alive by the interconnections of species.

Who is to say that war outweighs ecology?  Who is to say that violence and division trumps happiness and harmony?  Why must the news of our world be filled with the negative extreme?

Looking back at all the moments in my life that held confusion, anger and sadness, I see that the places I escaped to are what brought me back to peace.  I wonder how this world might be different if everyone had a place of wildness to retreat to with enough space to breathe clean air and hear the rhythms of nature.

When I was in Hobart, Tasmania last December, I saw the Dalai Lama speak.  The University of Tasmania hosted him, but the Chinese government prohibited the University from bestowing an honorary degree to the Dalai Lama, and since such a large population of its students are Chinese, the University complied.  When His Holiness sat in his chair on stage, he smiled and laughed, and to a group of 2,000 people this joyful being who lives in exile from his country said, “It is a very serious danger to lose compassion.”  What happens when we lose it ?  Hate, anger, and all those emotions that arise out of fear take hold and build walls to keep out any voice that may offer something different.

The news this week showed us what happens when one has lost compassion.  The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her staff, and bystanders is a consequence of extreme fear.  A commentator on the BBC World News Report on NPR said that this act of violence differs from those of the 1960s, a time of multiple political assassinations and violent riots, because the American people do not have a promise of hope to balance it out, like the promises of equality or money or jobs that the 1960s held.  This comment may weigh us down more.  I see hope.  I see hope for Giffords, for the families of the victims to heal, for the political climate to shift towards communication and bi-partisanship, for finding space to grieve and forgive, and for transforming fragmentation into connection.

In her book Finding Beauty In A Broken World, Terry Tempest Williams writes, “Social change depends on love.”  Let us look for love as we heal.  Let us change not with blame or fear, but with love and consideration.  This event offers us the chance to reunite our country as a community—not necessarily one that agrees on every bill passed by congress, but one that is willing to truly listen and communicate openly.  As the healing process begins, I offer this:

Standing quietly by ourselves may help us remember the sanctity of silence, the power of unity, and the strength of compassion in the midst of an ever-changing world.

Traveling in the Backyard

After so many winters of travel, I am settling in for this one.  I’ve always thought of winter as a quiet, reflective time, but I hadn’t noticed my travel rhythm until now: last year I went to New Zealand and Tasmania; in college I’d use winter breaks to travel to Utah where my cousins live; my junior year I spent break getting ready to travel abroad in Northern Ireland from the end of January through mid-April.  Now, having returned from Alaska in November, I am moved into a post-and-beam house in Cambridge, Vermont, with a lease that runs until the end of April.  Edge and  Nobee (our dog) are with me, and we are sharing the house with my brother Jeff and a friend, Erik.  All summer I spoke to Edge of Vermont and looked forward to being back here, but now I feel the travel bug jumping inside me again and I’m searching for a way to calm it.  What did I learn from my travels last winter, though?  Be still, be here, sink in.

I am taking lessons from the dog, learning the excitement to be had each time we go outside.  Nobee loves the large field behind our house, where our neighbor’s draft horses sometimes plod, and she sprints through the snow, diving up and down like a dolphin in water all the way into the trees at the edge.  From there we walk through a small opening in the fence that leads to another field, and we traipse along the boundary of the open space before ducking under a barbed wire fence back into the woods.  Nobee leads, always a sprint in front of me, and I follow behind her, breathing in the snow-crisp air.  Maple and beech trees stand together and give way to intermittent groupings of fir trees near streams that cut small valleys through the forest.  Two weeks ago I heard a gun shot before we went out, and Nobee led me to the kill: blood-stained snow and the innards of a deer the hunters didn’t want.  We visited the spot every day for a week, interrupting crows so Nobee could snack, until all that was left was a small part of the stomach, which had become a frozen disk.

We continue on through the forest until we reach the third field, which looks out over a large red barn, horses outside in a paddock, and a farmhouse on Lower Pleasant Valley road.  Across the road the land rises up to a rounded peak called Cady Hill.  Nobee does a lap around the field, and from here we turn around and head home, arriving back after an hour.

I discover more each time we go out: a bright orange fungus on a maple branch, a simple wooden bridge with inch-wide gaps across a stream, a large rock balanced on a bent tree to mark a trail; and each time it snows it is as if I am entering a new place, creating tracks that were not there before, and ducking under heavier snow-covered branches.  I have struggled with my desires to travel, and to stay in one place and know it deeply, but perhaps here I am doing both.  What is travel but movement across the land, and an opening up to a place one didn’t know before?  Each walk is an exploration.  Each interaction builds a deeper relationship.  So I will keep learning and watching Nobee as she scoops up snow with her snout in the middle of a sprint, effortlessly happy to be here.

Alaska Wild

My summer of light is over.  The moon has returned to the northern sky.  In August I woke two nights in a row between 1:30 and 3:00 am and walked outside to darkness—or what darkness meant then, the deeper end of dusk—and looked up to see the moon shining like golden cream, my favorite light extending in a circle across the sky.  In my last days on the farm at the end of September, it was 9:30 pm and navy blue, it was 11:00 pm and black, it was nighttime and starry.

When school got back in session on August 18th, I started teaching classes in the garden.  One day while on a break, I heard a teacher in the faculty lounge say, “Fall is my favorite time of year because it’s dark enough to see the stars again and still warm enough to stay outside to look at them.”  All of my life I have loved summer nights for the stars and moon, and it still amazes me that people can live for months on end without this and see it as normal, but I did learn to love the unending light and all its energy.  Alaska’s nighttime has a way of breaking open, boldly renewing the world for the second time in twenty-four hours.

Now, after six months and with the return of night, I am driving home to Vermont with my friend Katie, who flew to Fairbanks to make the month-long journey back with me.  Throughout the summer I felt the pull towards the east, to know the soils, roots, rivers and mountains of my home more deeply, but Alaska draws me in now, quietly like the sway of wind in trees, like the slow then quick brilliant change from green to red in the tundra.  The wild here moves everyday across the land and sky; it knows its beauty and harshness and is calm in it.

When I first arrived in Alaska I wondered if the cities and people infringe upon or accentuate the wild, and what I have found is this: the wild is where the moose and lynx cross the paved road and keep going; it is where I take the road and then leave it.  Wild is found in the meetings of animals and people, and in the moments that hold stares without thoughts—that moment before you take out the camera and you watch, looking at each other with curiosity and wonder before going again on your own path.  Wild is everything and it is everywhere.  As I drive across the country now I see the wild extend through Canada, and down into Montana where I am now, and I know it keeps going, and I will follow it.