Today was the first day of a vacation at home and it felt important to set a tone. I walked early and spent some quality time in the hammock with my journal. I spent hours putting a puzzle together and listening to records. There was knitting accompanied by podcasts, perfectly ripe peaches, and Vietnamese take-out for dinner. Feels like I nailed it.
Greetings from August. Merriam-Webster tells me that august means “marked by majestic dignity or grandeur” but I think it should describe the state of a perfectly ripe piece of fruit, warm from the sun and hanging heavy on the tree. The kind of ripeness that can’t be suspended and captured, that is utterly transitory.
This particular August has definitely felt like the peak ripeness of the season so far. Full of small adventures nearby, time outside, hours playing with yarn in natural dyes, out-of-town visitors and time with friends… so many things that I enjoy and that I have invited in. And yet, amidst all of that glorious summer, there is an urge to curl up and be still as if embodying the calm I crave might make it so. I am trying to practice finding my calm center and staying steady while riding the current of it all. I’m not sure how it’s working.
This August has also found me reflecting on last August. A year ago, our Appalachian Trail hike was nearing its untimely end.
When the anniversary of the start of our trip came around in April, it felt very fresh. I could step right back into my mind a year earlier as I was excitedly winding down obligations and preparing to set out with so many hopes for a half-year sabbatical, and the quiet of 2019 felt very mundane in comparison. But somehow over the last four months of living, the span of a year grew. The endless rain and rocks and mud and bugs and sheer physicality of last August feel distant from this August in a way that the two Aprils did not.
And then there is, of course, the reckoning with the gap between our hopes and how the trip actually ended. It wasn’t a tragedy, but it wasn’t the triumph that we imagined, either.
The Race to Alaska is an event that shares some of the spirit and experience of a through-hike (minus the race part, of course) and this excerpt from their wrap-up in June is about as good a description of our experience as any:
“They put everything out there and came up short of a dream to find it replaced with another something. An accomplishment they never expected and a satisfaction they are still trying to understand.
“How can a person be satisfied after pushing up against a challenge, giving everything – 100% of their skill, tenacity, courage, spirit, and hope – yet still come up short? In struggles as deep as these, you find identity. You go to a place where you see yourself for the first time; your relationships, your ego, humility, greed, compassion, leadership, thresholds for pain and cold are all shown in stark honesty. You get a chance to see the true parts of yourself for the first time. Or maybe the first time in a long time.”
It all sounds more dramatic than I’m really comfortable embracing, but I also accept that there is some good reason this rang true. Coming up short is uncomfortable on so many levels and reaching an edge is a satisfaction that takes real work to understand. And yet, here I am; here we are. Undoubtedly shaped and pushed in ways that standing in triumph at the finish never could have. There’s an ache in my heart for the us-from-2018 and I am proud of where we are, and who we are, a year hence.
It’s a lot to unpack, but you know by now I’m prone to reflection. Especially when sunsets return after a couple months of long northern days stretching past my waking hours.
Happy August, y’all. May it feel like a biting into a perfect peach, complete with juice dripping off your chin.
Good morning. This is how the sky looked just after I woke up this morning. After the long pause that is the weeks around the solstice, I can feel the light shifting toward autumn, just a little. Which feels a bit off, because July has been uncharacteristically cool and cloudy, so part of me is still waiting for summer to fully arrive. But then we have a couple of days like this last weekend, when it was 80 degrees and sunny and my bones soaked in the heat and it felt so good to get rid of the jeans in favor of a lighter layer. And I remember how there’s an ease and a sweetness that comes with the slightly shorter days, how the heat of the day gives way to a summer night. In early summer, I’m asleep before sunset but a summer night is something to savor… a reminder to savor it all, really.
I spent a good portion of this past weekend playing with natural dyeing for the first time. Equal parts thrilling and humbling, as I suppose any new craft should be. I experimented with two dye plants I could collect from our property – Oregon grape and rhubarb. The Oregon grape was my first experiment – the left half in the photo above. After producing a satisfying shade of yellow on my four mini-skeins, I tried a few modifiers to see what other shades I could create, and managed instead to turn three of them back to a muddy version of the natural I started with. Call it a good lesson in the effects of acidity.
Rhubarb root was my second attempt, on the right above. I got more of a beige than the orange I was hoping for from my initial dye, I’m guessing because the temp got too high. But a range of alkaline modifiers gave me orange and pink undertones to the beige, which felt like glorious triumph after the Oregon grape.
In other homestead news, the chickens are charming and full of entertainment and surprisingly difficult to photograph. Our most recent delight has been feeding them wild berries from the brambles around the edge of the yard. Potential egg-laying is still a few months off, but I have caught myself imagining the joy of our own eggs while I cook my breakfast in the morning, so it feels a tiny bit more real.
PS – For those of you who suffered the glitch of the last post publishing many, many times – I’m sorry! Fingers crossed that it’s sorted now.
(Yes, I’m publishing this well past the date, but that was the date I felt compelled to share these photos, when I uploaded them and created a post. But then I never got back to write any words to go with them. I’m learning that sometimes the quiet is what I have to share.
It’s not that there were no stories, but I need to catch them as they pass, or let them go and trust that they weren’t meant to be written just yet. It doesn’t work to save them up or to go back and write them later. So there you have it, a couple of moody July skies, good for pondering or inducing rib-expanding inhalations.)
A June-uary walk through light morning mist hardly registers as gray when there is green grass and bright flowers and a high likelihood of blue skies by afternoon.
Changing weather means so. many. good. clouds. to wonder at and ponder.
These engineered-to-grow fatties are headed to freezer camp this weekend, our first real harvest from the homestead in a long while (unless we are counting two quarts of maple syrup, which might register by a measure of effort but certainly not volume).
And speaking of harvest, this lavender was a first little taking from the herb garden this week. And after giving up on the idea, I managed to find some time and a sunny spell and a mostly recovered shoulder and got a few annuals planted in mid-June. A bit of veg, some more flowers… it’s good to have something to fuss over and watch grow right out the door.
More skies. Hay being cut in the fields. June, glorious June.
7a: I crawl out of the tent and start my day with a quiet walk along the shore. One of the eagles that we had delighted in listening to around the campfire last night is sitting on a branch over the beach. It sees me but doesn’t stir. It has my full attention, and I instinctively reach for my camera looking for just the right angle. Too many branches obscure it, so I’m a little disappointed, but mostly just amble on, inhaling the brine of low tide.
4p: Sitting at the kitchen table eating some strawberries and chatting with Dean. Movement catches my eye out of the window, movement like a large eagle in full wingspread lifting above the roofline with one of our young chickens in its talons. We run outside, just in time to see it disappear down the driveway. We give chase but of course it’s futile, they are gone and there’s no sign of where they went.
Neither of these encounters with an eagle are more true, but the proximity is a stark reminder that neither is fully true on its own either. The world is more beautiful and complete and awe-inspiring for having eagles in it. The homestead is more vulnerable and there is one less chicken on it for having eagles near it. Like so much else in life, the truth is both/and.
June skies. So far, it’s been the sort of month where it’s raining AND the sun is shining at the same time. The sky is full of grey clouds AND amazing light. There’s no in between, there’s little transition. It feels like an apt metaphor for life at the moment.
The homestead is humming along. The meat birds are only three weeks away from their adventures at freezer camp (already!). The layers are exploring their new yard and eating all the bugs and turning from delightful balls of fluff to actual birds with individual personalities. The pigs are adorable and contradictory, running towards us excitedly and then getting too close and running away scared or chasing each other in circles and then flopping down into a pile.
It took a few weeks to settle into animals this year. The ritual of morning chores was immediately familiar, but it also felt like an endless hustle to stay half a step behind. Some part is probably attributable to the year off and just being a bit rusty on the details. Some part is definitely adding the layers into the mix, complicating the old systems and needing to build new ones. I didn’t realize the anxiety I was holding until I felt it release. Early one morning this week I was walking down to the chickens with a 40-pound bag of feed on my shoulder mentally ticking off the tasks of fermenting feed and sprouting peas and filling waterers and cleaning the coop and it was all taken care of, and I just felt… capable. It’s a nice thing to feel once in a while.
In unrelated news, I’ve read a string of good books and have been meaning to share those things more frequently, so let’s start with a few today:
Educated by Tara Westover – I’m late to the party on this one, but joining the chorus. It’s really good. And not because her childhood is a fascinating story and so different from mine and yours, but because she describes the human experience with clarity and insight that was mind-expanding. Like this: “Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those give to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind.”
A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza – A story of an Indian-American Muslim family, with parts told from each member’s perspective. At some point, I was sure that I was four different characters and that it was describing every major family-type relationship in my life. The story is compelling but the real star here is the nature of relationship itself.
The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton – Hope and humanity from a man who spent thirty years on death row for crimes he didn’t commit.
Sitting down to write this post feels overwhelming, which probably explains why it hasn’t happened sooner. The days are full around here. Full of moments, full of (little) changes around the homestead, full of stories. I’m also in a season of eventful internal life, shifts in perspective that I’m not ready to try to put words to for the internet, but nonetheless contribute to the feeling of ohmygod, so much is happening and I can’t possibly catch up. So… now that we all agree it’s impossible, let’s see what happens.
We have pigs! They arrived without drama and are settling in (still a relief each year, the chases that started our pig-raising adventures aren’t fresh but they aren’t forgotten).
The meat birds are on grass! We had to replace all the netting on their yard this year and it turned into a crazy-quilt of netting and zip-ties and a whole lot of time spent holding our hands over our heads. Ugh. But also… done.
Poppies! This is the vegetable garden, which is growing nothing but a bumper crop of feral poppies this year. It feels like such a relief to have given myself this year off to re-evaluate how I want to garden, what parts of it really feed me and what parts just feel like another obligation on the long list.
Salmonberries! Summer berry season kicked off last week and the salmonberries are giant and abundant. Not everyone gets genuinely excited about salmonberries but I really do. I think the best ones are like a grapefruit-berry. I’m not-so-secretly hoping it’s an indicator of the berry season in general, despite knowing just how unlikely that is to be true.
May skies from May happenings. A picnic, a beach hike, a couple morning walks.
April feels like a distant memory already. I think it’s mostly the chicks that are responsible for that. They arrived on the second of May, just after the weather turned warmer and sunnier. It’s less that there’s so much to do and more that there’s just so many bits to occupy your attention. We got layers for the first time, which are so different from the meat birds we’ve raised in the past. Which I knew, but it’s a different thing to know something and to watch it right in front of you.
We had one injury early on that meant we had a house chick for nearly two weeks while he recovered. A day or so in to the regular soundtrack of tiny chirping, I understood the draw of pet birds better than I ever had. After it was obvious that he was recovering but lagging his peers’ growth, we brought home a companion from the feed store and watched tiny chicken friendship unfold. As Dean was putting the finishing touches on the new coop yesterday, I had to call out, “Can I get your help? There’s a chick in the middle of the living room.”
We bought unsexed chicks so I’m watching raptly as they slowly feather out, trying to figure out who will grow up to lay eggs and who will grace the table.
Last night there was a giant owl sitting outside the new coop in broad daylight, plotting how he could get past our defenses (I assume).
So many tiny dramas of feed and temperature and housing and well-being, that’s the story of May around this homestead. You?
Woosh. Beltane arrived last week and along with it the moment of panic when I realized we are now more than halfway to the solstice. (I also remembered how many other springs I had the same thought and how I always seemed to catch up with the season somehow.) And then a fabulous spell of May weather arrived and just like that, something clicked.
In the last week, we have picnicked at our favorite spot on the bluff, I have taken my first real bike ride, a box full of chirping chicks arrived in the mail, and I discovered that with all this glorious morning light, I can fit in a five-mile walk before work. I feel like I’ve found my footing in this season.
The morning walk is probably the most exciting part of that list. It’s a sweet spot of a walk where it’s long enough that I can usually tire out the chattiest of the voices in my head and find some quiet, but it doesn’t feel like a workout. It takes me through some beautiful old forest and around a little lake in a nearby state park that feels pretty distant from the homestead, but I don’t have to drive anywhere, or even see a road. It just feels really grounding to start the day with that much time outside. Here are some signs of spring from a recent morning:
And I can’t resist because it just never gets old… chicks! in the mail!
A little show-and-tell for you today. I finished knitting this mantle just in time for my recent meditation retreat. I can’t decide if it’s brilliant or ridiculous but I think I love it. (Though it was really pretty ideal for days of sitting and walking in moody spring weather.)
Knitters are the biggest shawl enthusiasts, because a shawl is basically just a flexible canvas for all sorts of interesting knitting. And I really think that the next candidate for underappreciated garment to bring back is the mantle. It’s basically a sweater without the pesky design considerations, which translates to a bigger canvas and no shoulder geometry.
My original motivation was to use up a whole pile of leftover Lopi yarn, which meant that I had to modify the original design to suit the colors and amounts of yarn on hand. I drew the yoke design with colored pencils and graph paper during our February snowstorm and then knit it furiously to see if it would actually work (a few on-the-fly modifications required but mostly, yes). I lost momentum when I got to the solid blue but it got exciting again as key colors dwindled. In the end, I managed to use every last inch of the light blue, and had less than a yard left of the oatmeal and the dark blue.
This was just the sort of knitting project I’m enjoying these days – good pattern inspiration paired with plenty of room for creativity, low yarn investment, and an unfussy finished product.
I returned home this weekend after only a week away and was shocked by how different it looked. The grass grew a foot or more. (Really. We have grass, not lawn.) The big maple trees outside the upstairs windows transformed from branches of light-filled chartreuse blossoms to green leafy canopies. The daffodils are fading and the cherries are in peak bloom.
I could keep going, but I don’t think there’s any need. It’s spring… a frenzy of growth, a riot of green, an endless transition.
Forty-seven new baby chicks are due to arrive next week. We will be ready, or ready enough. But right now… I feel a little unsteady in the sea of change. So I am huddled under a quilt inside, remembering this sky from my morning walk.
‘as you are.’ says the universe. ‘after…’ you answer. ‘as you are.’ says the universe. ‘before…’ you answer. ‘as you are.’ says the universe. ‘when…’ you answer. ‘as you are.’ says the universe. ‘how…’ you answer. ‘as you are.’ says the universe. ‘why…’ you answer. ‘because you are happening now. right now. right at this moment and your happening is beautiful. the thing that keeps me alive and brings me to my knees. you don’t even know how breathtaking you are. as you are.’ says the universe through tears
A reminder that I needed today, and maybe you do, too.
Nayyirah Waheed is one of my favorite voices on Instagram right now, interjecting poetry that catches my breath into the usual scroll.
And my very beginner calligraphy practice feels a little like embodied poetry. Moving slowly, feeling out the shapes of each line and letter. Letting go of everything I think I know about writing the words and allowing them to sink into me.
Right in character, April has been full of showers so far, and the green seems to be rising up almost in real time. I have been watching nettles and dandelion appear and multiply, tufts of grass poking up through the colorless pale of winter pasture… all these individual bits of spring life. And then suddenly one morning walk, the ground was a sea of green, punctuated by some old husks of last year’s growth hanging on among all the new.
It was the same story with the alders and willows and such… I watched the buds swell on bare brown branches and then, seemingly overnight, all the tiny leaves sprouted and they were a sea of bright green branches, shifting the whole hue of the landscape.
It brings back memories of last spring on the trail, watching spring rise up through the layers of the deciduous forest, slowly filling in with more and more density of green week after week.
I thought those observations were the introduction to something more, but it turns out that might be all I have to say right now.
It feels like another time of transition. Nothing radical, but a few natural endings creating some space. I’ve found myself reading more than usual, watching some television, listening to a few extra podcasts. It feels like a time to just take in a lot of input and let it all stew together a bit before I can figure out how it will become output.
So hello over there. Whatever kind of internal season you find yourself in, I hope you find some delight in watching the spring come to life around you.
Late March sky. Vibrant and blue with the promise of all things new and renewed. Streaked with the evidence of the constant movement, change, the energy of all that is stirring.
The frogs are croaking, the ducks flush from the wetlands on my early walk, the geese fly overhead in pairs, alerting me with their honking. And the long slow parade of green unfurlings marches another step each day.
But my attention keeps returning to the sky. This time of year, with the light changing so fast, I feel the humming energy inside me. If I try to control it, to hold it in, it becomes anxiety. So I try to let it move through me.
I look up and think about how I strain to imagine what this patch of earth looked like a hundred or five hundred or five thousand years ago, but beings from all time gazed up at the sky and saw the same dance of light and color, the same pageant of cloud. This little reminder of the vastness of time and place is so good when the light is unsettling and work feels urgent on all fronts and the news cycle is a never-ending nightmare.
And sometimes, the blossoms and the sky appear together, and it might be the most magical of all.
Hello? Words feel tentative and strange after all the silence here of late… I was walking to the library yesterday, and passed these cherry trees at the primary school in full bloom. And immediately, I remembered taking photos of the cherry trees along the river in Portland five years ago, how that was the moment when the idea of this space first felt real and possible. Yesterday’s unexpected cherry blossoms felt like the nudge from the universe to come back here.
I decided back in January that it was time to let go of this space, that it didn’t quite fit me anymore and I was ready to close it up. And it felt important to me that I do that, somehow state my intention and not just trail off in the middle of a thought. But somehow, I never quite found the words or made it back here to do that.
And then, a couple weeks ago, something shifted. It occurred to me that while this space didn’t quite fit me anymore, I was free to change that. The container of the blog was a little stale, but it was really how I was showing up to it that wasn’t working for me. When I started writing here five (!!) years ago, I didn’t know what that would look like but over time, I found a groove. Since then, my life and my interests and the things that really engaged me have continued to evolve, but how I shared here didn’t so much.
I want to change that. I want to try to write about the things that feel alive for me right now, even when they feel too vague or weird. I want to reject the narrative that no one else could possible be interested in photos of the sky, because they sure seem to captivate me. Or whatever I’m fascinated by next. I really don’t know how this will go or what it might look like, but I guess that’s the sort of thing that you mostly just have to figure out by doing.
Thanks for coming along on the ride.
The ride! The most recent musical hole I’ve (happily) fallen down has been Amanda Palmer’s new album, and I highly recommend it, starting with the epic song The Ride.
Hello again. I have more pictures of winter skies. A lot of them, actually, although I’ve really tried to cull it down to some number that seems reasonable to impose on you and your kind attention here.
As has become our tradition, we saw in the new year at the beach. It was a pretty classically fantastic winter beach weekend, with moody dawns and brilliant dusks and a few spots of blinding blue in between. The waves crashed non-stop for three days, the kind of roaring and breaking that vibrates through your whole body and glues you to a spot in the sand, staring, absorbed by the ceaseless rhythm of it all until suddenly you are scrambling to keep your feet dry and looking around sheepishly to see who might be witnessing your high-stepping.
Going into the weekend, the turning of the calendar didn’t feel much like an event that needed marking this year. I had several big transitions in the last few months, and did my share of reflecting on what they meant to me, on our journeys and lessons and gratitudes for 2018. But it turns out that there’s always room for more reflection, or at least there was this time. So I stood on the beach and felt the waves and thought about all the living that we crammed into the last year, and what kind of hopes I have for the next year. And it felt good, especially that part about new hopes.
I hope that you, too, can stand and look at a horizon and feel peace and possibility this year. I hope that you will be awed by light and clouds. I hope that you will find a bit more trust in the innate goodness of yourself and the universe. Maybe even enough trust to allow a new crack in the protective armor you have constructed for your heart, a crack that might allow you to be seen a little more honestly or to feel something you thought was too uncomfortable. Maybe that crack will open just wide enough for some of that light to sneak in. I guess what I’m saying is, I hope that your heart feels a little brighter this year.
I took these images several weeks ago at this point, before packing up boxes for friends and family, before writing cards. Right in the midst of the hubbub of all the making and baking and everything that I’ve come to think of as “decembering”.
After all that, the holidays themselves usually feel like a deep breath, or maybe a long exhale. It didn’t go quite as planned this year. A big wind storm on the 20th knocked our power out and it stayed out for more than two days. So there were lots of candles for the solstice, but by evening number two they were feeling decidedly less charming.
The power returned, the house recovered, and after a few more days of baking and sewing and cleaning and re-stocking, christmas went on (almost) just as planned. And every afternoon, I managed to get out for a walk to actually feel those deep breaths. Without trying, I think I came back with photos of the sky every day. Sky with moon, sky with fog, sky with light playing on the clouds… it was all captivating in real time.
In retrospect, it’s a lot of photos of winter skies.
There were a few oddballs, like the winter greenery or christmas dinner.
Hello from deep December. Deep in the dark days, when sunrises like this one come well after 7a and slowly, and some days it feels like it never quite gets fully light.
And I’m sure that it has been an endless stretch of gray half-light until I look back at my photos and I am reminded that there were a few gloriously cold and bright days a few weeks ago, and I even took a long beach walk on one of them.And then I remember it was dumping rain every chance I had to get out for a walk yesterday, so when it finally cleared after the sun had set, I went out despite the dark. And the moonlight was brilliant and I couldn’t stop marveling at my shadow and the stars and the glory of a landscape awash in night-light.
So clearly the gray has not been continuous.
But there is much gray, and I try to find the beauty in it to counter the tendency to feel oppressed by it. I find myself drawn to the shades and grades in the gray, allowing my eyes to adjust to the dimness and discovering that there is more subtlety than just “gray”. And perhaps conversely, I find beauty in the almost-monochromatic scenes, like bare branches and broad sky. Like maybe color is just beside the point in this light.