So you carry on

January 1, 2014 § 4 Comments

When your father dies out of the blue, in the darkness of a cold barn during a late-April ice storm – when he is found in the hay meant for the cow and calf, and when no one can say for sure what even happened – then you might curl into what remains of your family and stop reaching out in trust toward the world. (It was a hesitant trust to begin with.)

You might go in secret to the desperate places of grief. You might stop writing the happy stories of life for fear of the ultimate sadness that must come along and scribble itself into them. You might decide to not have feelings at all and give it a real go (you might fail). You might ask a million questions to and of and about God, and when that does nothing you might stop talking to Him completely — unless someone else can offer you their words to use instead. You might turn to liturgies and the prayers of saints and hope that’s enough.

Sometimes you might be so angry you are seconds away from throwing a tantrum, full-fledged arms and legs kicking, like any competent two-year-old.

You might create some kind of strong outer self that still acknowledges what is worth being grateful for, that greets and welcomes people, that manages to laugh out loud and love much of what happens all around. You won’t understand how this outer self goes along with the unsightly mess that is inside, but it doesn’t seem entirely fake, and you decide to go with it because, after all, what is the alternative?

The days keep happening, as they must. Emptier than they should be. More things ache in different ways. But as the months spread themselves out you might, more than once, come across something that makes you pause, that makes your chest swell in that old real wonderful-world way, that tricks a smile into place and stirs the idealist you can’t completely tamp down. A meteor shower in the middle of summer, while you lie on a tarp spread over the wet grass. Lively delicious dinners with friends (even if it takes jump-starting two trucks to get there). A jog through the woods and a chat on a footbridge. A plot of purple carrots and children who practically hop up-and-down in the discovery of them. Fires snapping and glowing. A beautiful painting, unexpected. Riding a chestnut horse in the hour before dusk.  A hidden swamp for you and the dog and decent muck boots. Babies and giggles and dimples and freckles. Little gifts handmade and hand-selected, surprises that say, gently, you matter to me.

So you carry on. Nothing will be the same, of course. You will have to cling to the memory of the sound of your father’s voice, the crinkles around his eyes when he smiled, the knowledge that the nose you are not-so-thrilled to have inherited came, actually, from him, along with your long legs and your need to be close to the dirt oftener than not. You will have to imagine rather than see him walking through the pasture with you and when you have a question about livestock or trucks or gardens you will not have his answer, unless you can find it in one of his books. Your family will seem small and split and only heaven will make it completely right again after a very long time. But you can feel the prodding of whatever good has shot through this broken world, the good that wants you to fight for it and be a part of it and hold it and increase it.

And you might reach out.

April begins

April 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

Today was spring for real, the kind of day where you start out in layers and end up in shorts and a t-shirt by afternoon. Mine began with feeding animals and ended with new books from the library, and a cup of hot milk and coffee, and plans to write (well, after this).

Gosh, I love planting flowers! All around the house and yard on this afternoon off. Cosmos and flax and alyssum and forget-me-nots and a few others. Isn’t it nice that seed costs so little yet turns into such a bounteous sort of thing? And I love that the woods are white with spring ephemerals. I think I have followed trails through spring beauty, and/or hepatica, and/or wood anemone. (I will look closer next time.)

And I love that we are putting pollinator-friendly shrubs and perennials in our farm garden and that it will bring lots of life and beauty to that place. Yesterday I got to visit a nursery called The Unique Plant and the inviting, lush landscape and blooming shrubs there nearly had me giddy.

My camera-less-ness is really just sad when there is so much to capture!

Oh, well. For now, here’s a shot from last weekend, when we went to the beach for my sister’s birthday. Sand and sun! And a salty dog.


They conserve.

April 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.” ~ Wendell Berry

March is . . .

March 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

“March is a tomboy with tousled hair, a mischievous smile, mud on her shoes and a laugh in her voice.”  -  Hal Borland

Anyone want to go to Greece?

March 17, 2013 § Leave a comment


Joel 2:21-24, 26a

March 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

“Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things! Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield. O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. . . .  You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied.”

A passage to ponder while on my knees in the dirt on these cool/warm, sunny/rainy, almost-spring days. Can gardening be a part of bringing heaven down to earth? I have to think yes.


February 16, 2013 § 3 Comments

Sometimes, and especially in new places, I start keeping a kind of list, a collection in my head, of things that nature impresses upon me. All along the way there are these gifts; do we notice them? When I start collecting I seem to remember to notice, to make it habit, and to receive them with gratitude. Here are a few from the past week:

1. Two coyotes playing in the woods at Occoneechee Mountain. They looked like they were fairly young and were bounding about quite happily, until they saw us – Tass with her ears perked up, and me peering closely, and fighting the urge to go and join in the fun. At night we can hear packs of coyotes howling, howling, long strains breaking into yips, voices joining one after another.  I love it, this reminder that I am not alone nor solely among humans, and that the night, when we grow still and quiet, brings forth others who have much to say.

2. A bird’s nest made of horse hair, glittering with beads after a rainy morning. The walk in the woods that day was splendid, damp. There is so much green here, even this time of year, all the mosses and lichens, the trunks of trees. I knelt down in the leaf litter and dug through the layers, through the forest floor to the clay below. I just needed to touch it. The soil here is so unfamiliar; I know it is not as “good” as what we have back in the Midwest, but it fascinates me. I am beginning to love its redness. It belongs here, this way, you know, and it’s important to learn how we might grow things well in this place – respecting what a garden needs while also appreciating what the earth is.

Nearby a tree had fallen, and its base formed a wall of clay soil and various rocks; I dug at it a bit, shaped the clay in my palm, pulled the rocks out and felt them, ran my fingers over the velvety green at the foot of the trunk, and hungered for a book on regional ecology.

3. The moon hanging like a crescent-bowl in the sky on Valentine’s Day. The stars so, so spangly up above the pines. That, my friends, is a love-gift.

4. Yesterday Tass and I went walking a near trail, and we found a spot where we could slide down the muddy banks and climb onto a couple small boulders in the river. I sat there while she waded all around me, and the early afternoon light struck the water upstream of us. Everything was brown and golden; the water is murky green and moves just fast enough to be noticed; the temperature was 60 degrees and the sun warmed my face. I sat there and smiled, for I knew we had found a favorite spot, to be visited again, to watch change over the seasons.

5. And then, today! What happened today nearly outdoes the others – in any case, it was certainly winter flaunting herself (which I always appreciate). We woke up to snow falling – in such delicious wet flakes, big as a quarter, tumbling down slow as you please. I stood on the porch and looked up at the gray-white sky, at all those specks and each one of them different. Later the flakes grew smaller and fell faster, and soon the ground and all the limbs of the trees had a proper white coat over them. When I’d finished helping a friend pull up her floor, I went home and had a cup of tea and let the dim of evening settle in, and then I went walking through the woods. I love the white mysteriousness of snow at day’s end, especially inside a stand of trees. They say this kind of snow hardly ever happens here. I’m inclined to think North Carolina did it for me. Welcome, Northerner.

Why, thank you.

Beginning Farmers: Learning, Networking, and Connecting to Place

February 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

Check out the article (title above) that I wrote for A Growing Culture! Here’s a link, with the first couple of paragraphs below:

It’s no secret that more and more young people in the U.S. are looking to establish careers in local, organic, and small-scale farming, despite the risk, instability, hard work, and moderate income. Even many well-established career adults are abandoning their corporate jobs to start farms – and writing books about it. Most of these folks are unapologetic about their choices, choosing instead to either shout to the rooftops about why they’ve chosen a lifestyle such as this one, or to quietly go on doing what’s important to them. Yet as much as farmers enjoy their independence, getting started and continuing successfully depends upon a network of support from other farmers, researchers, landowners, and the general public.

Khaiti and Andrew French, who run Living the Dream Farm in Clayton, Wisconsin, were drawn to farming because “of loving good, real food and caring about how animals are raised in agriculture.” They are famous for their duck eggs in Minneapolis circles, and also raise turkeys, rabbits, chickens, and goats. Farmers such as the Frenches, inspired by voices such as Wendell Berry and Fred Kirschenmann, seek meaningful connection to the land, family-centric lifestyles, and practices that are in line with their carefully considered ethics.

Read more.

And . . . home, again

February 8, 2013 § 1 Comment

I’ve remained on the quiet side the past couple of months, but guess why? Because changes galore have been happening. I like to take a little while to settle in before I start talking about it.

Remember when I went to North Carolina? Well. I’ve come again, with all my belongings and my dog in tow. We mean to stay.

I’ve faced transitions enough times that I feel something of an old pro at them (I no longer let all the uncertainty and newness pile up until I can do little more than burst into tears, for example). One of the best things about putting yourself into precarious and/or unfamiliar situations is that you learn to adapt, reach out, and trust. You fear risk less, because even while it sometimes makes things quite uncomfortable and even unpleasant, on the other side of risk you might find something wonderful. And you trust that the universe (or, for me, God) will catch you. In this overly-independent society you actually learn to accept help and to cultivate gratitude. People like to help people, did you know that?

I’ve been caught again and I have fallen into what seems to be a very good place. I’m so excited to be working in the farm and gardens at a year-round camp in the Piedmont region of North Carolina. Here in Orange County we have many, many small sustainable farms, fantastic food co-ops, winding roads, and horses galore. Two and half hours east, we reach the ocean. Two and half hours west, the mountains. Everyone has been so kind and inviting; southern hospitality is not a myth. Tassie is thrilled to have new friends, and so am I.

We went walking with one of our new friends and her dog the other day, and since I am currently camera-less (two broken ones), here is a first shot of us in North Carolina, courtesy of Leah Maloney:


Pardon the messy hair; some days, like those where the only things on the agenda are a long walk and a lot of reading, it just seems all right to let it stay a bit wild.

So. We are going to become southerners. Hold on tight, y’all. I can’t wait to find the stories that are here.

Among other species

February 1, 2013 § 1 Comment

Here’s a passage I came across in my reading yesterday that made me pause, re-read it, and ponder for a bit:


Thoreau, and his many heirs among contemporary naturalists and radical environmentalists, assume that human culture is the problem, not the solution. So they urge us to shed our anthropocentrism and learn to live among other species as equals. This sounds like a fine, ecological idea, until you realize that the earth would be even worse off if we started behaving any more like animals than we already do. The survival strategy of most species is to extend their dominion as far and as brutally as they can, until they run up against some equally brutal natural limit that checks their progress. Isn’t this exactly what we’ve been doing?

What sets us apart from other species is culture, and what is culture but forbearance? Conscience, ethical choice, memory, discrimination: it is these very human and decidedly unecological faculties that offer the planet its last best hope. It is true that, historically, we’ve concentrated on exercising these faculties in the human rather than the natural estate, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot be exercised there. Indeed, this is the work that now needs to be done: to bring more culture to our conduct in nature, not less.

- Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education




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