02.19.2020

February is very much in the air here these days. This frosty morning was followed by a mild nearly-50-degree day. The days are lengthening noticeably at both ends. The daffodils and crocuses are popping up.

The bees should be emerging for early flights when the sun gathers some strength on those bright afternoons but I am pretty confident that my hive died off this winter. I’m disappointed to lose them, and it’s ok. I walked by the hive the other morning and thought, “yup, I think it’s time to retire that hive”. And then laughed at myself, because “retire” felt a bit grandiose for the situation.

I’ve reached that part of mid-life where I have accumulated a whole lot of interests and activities and things that I quite like to do or am rather good at. I love learning new skills and exploring new crafts. And there just isn’t enough room in one life to do everything.

And so it is that I’ve learned that I’m not very good at letting things go. It’s easy enough to let go of stuff things, those of the material realm. But the things I do feel stickier. Somehow if it made me happy at sometime or I was good at it, or god forbid, it was part of my identity… it feels like I can’t just let it go.

Except that I can. I must.

So this year, the bees float off the list of homestead enterprises, with gratitude for the sweetness they have brought us.

01.29.2020

I was almost awake this morning when I heard the power go out. That quick “click” and then the decrescendo as the background whir of modern living comes to a halt. I burrowed deeper into bed and dozed through the wind whipping the world outside awhile longer. Eventually I gave in and started the day by candlelight. The power was restored after a couple hours, about the same time the sun came up.

A few hours later, I was walking up the driveway and noticed a halo of silver catkins on one of the willows. Only those near the tips of each branch have emerged. On Sunday morning it was another omen of the season: Osoberry, always the first bright green leaves to appear. Somehow I had missed those first leaves and it is already putting out the earliest blossoms.

Spring marches nearer. And we are still deep in winter.

The steady progress of time and light are hopeful. And that onward march brings up my anxiety for all there is to do in that season and how I will get it done and how unready I feel just now.

Today, I just want to burrow deeper under the covers of winter, to doze a bit longer here in the season of unapologetic rest.

Perhaps I can learn to rest unapologetically in spring, too.

01.19.2020

Hello from deep January, when I still wake in the very dark most days and the sun doesn’t seem to rise up in the sky as much it travels along the horizon slowly brightening the world. More or less, of course, because it is January.

But the gray monotony was broken this last week by several systems moving through, bringing wind and snow and transient blue skies and a few spectacular sunrises. And a renewed sense of hope as an unexpected side benefit. Somehow the melting snow, even after it’s very short stay, stirred up some deep remembering of spring, of the softening and warming and greening and growing that is hidden latent in winter. I found myself looking at the snow-mottled ground and thinking about digging and planting and what we might grow together this year.

Yes, there is plenty of gray winter yet to come. But it doesn’t feel like a hope that spring is here, just a deep quiet confidence that it will come.

If you can’t feel it yourself just yet, I hope that my confidence is just a little bit catching.

12.31.2019

Greetings on the last day of this year. I have been feeling resistant to all the extra new year’s kerfuffle this year with the change in the decade. Maybe because I feel like I’m deep in some unknowable process of becoming and I don’t have any desire for a fresh start or a new plan right now. Maybe because I didn’t notice until Instagram pointed it out to me and I’m just contrary like that. Maybe because the whole concept of linear time feels increasingly preposterous.

So no big 10-year review or anything of that sort today, just a little catch-up from the last month and a half of unplanned time away from this space. Honestly, it’s not too big an update. Mostly lots of winter skies.

In homestead news, we cut our first christmas tree from here, which was joyous. Admittedly in part because it saved us hours of a hunting mission on a busy December weekend, but mostly just for the satisfaction of finding one more thing that this scrappy patch of land provides us. The chickens have also been free ranging which leads to all sorts of charming “is this my life” views out the window. Along with a pretty constant battle to maintain our claim on the front porch as a poop-free zone, and an extended contest with the roosters for yard dominance.

December has been gray and mild in these parts. It sort of wrapped me up in a blanket of cloud and demanded that I rest after a too-busy fall. It feels good.

And, of course, a few images from our annual late December beach trip:

Happy new year!

11.20.2019

Hello from deep November, where I’m a little bit disoriented to find myself on the downhill slide of this month already.

In terms of the homestead, November means the transition from pigs to pork. We shared six months of daily banter with these guys and they were good company, hanging out with us here on their final morning. But after a wet fall, I was ready for a break from managing mud and hauling heavy buckets of feed.

And of course slaughter day is only the beginning of another long process. Cutting, curing, sausage stuffing, packaging… Nearly two weeks later, Dean smoked the bacon this morning, so after that is sliced and wrapped and into the freezer, I think we will be fully done. Phew. The upside, of course, is a freezer full of fabulous pork, and after several months without our own meat after the summer away last year, we appreciate it all the more. So far we’ve sampled the bratwurst (which we made for the first time) and face bacon and can report that both were excellent.

Deep fall also means more indoor time and I’ve got several new creative projects in process around here, including this quilt.

I started saving worn-out overalls at some point… not because I had any idea of what to do with them, but just because they seemed to hold so many stories of this place and these days of our lives. Then several months back I remembered the quilts of Gees Bend, and suddenly it was obvious what the overalls needed to become. I started cutting a few things without a plan and ended up creating the center panel. Then it had to sit for awhile before I was ready to start cutting into the Carhartts. There was more cutting without a real plan… I would work on it for an hour or two until I wasn’t sure what to do next then set it aside for a few days or weeks and when I returned, the next step was there in front of me.

And somehow it all came together into something that feels right. It’s just a completed top at this point, so I’ll have to figure out how I want to back and quilt it next. So far, I’ve really enjoyed it – it’s been both challenging and freeing to let the process guide me instead of my usual way of working from a pattern or clear plan.

There’s a metaphor there begging to be drawn out, but I’m going to leave it and just admire this bright and foggy November afternoon.

11.03.2019

How about a chicken roundup? Our pullets are laying regularly now, so “gather eggs” has been added to the daily homestead activities. I can’t bring myself to call it a chore, though, because it is really pure delight. Dean pointed out how it is similar to the mail for me. It’s rare that I get really good mail these days, but the anticipation of checking for it never grows old.

How many eggs are there today? Which nest box did they all use? What color? Any tiny ones or giant double-yolks? All the delight without any of the annoyance of junk catalogs.

Our egg supply has been just matching our demand the last couple weeks, so that we had to make a giant frittata to use up the last of the store-bought ones languishing in the fridge. We use an egg skelter on the counter, and it’s been an interesting mirror into my scarcity mindset. By the end of many days, we have been down to just a few, and I find myself thinking, “oh, we’re almost out of eggs, I should save them” But we get more. Every day.

They don’t come by the dozen, so it hasn’t felt like we are awash in eggs. We have had a dozen or more in the skelter several times, but then we top dinner with a couple and bake a banana bread and suddenly it looks perilously low. Until mere hours pass and another handful get added to the supply.

It’s such a different experience, to trust this steady daily replenishment of a resource, instead of the abundance/scarcity cycle that I am so much more accustomed to.

I am also appreciating how good chickens are at cleaning up the scraps. This pumpkin was especially good entertainment as they transformed the face into increasingly creepier versions of the original. But we’ve found that they are happy to peck at all sorts of things that the pigs scoff at, and it’s a special kind of satisfaction to watch them turning kitchen castoffs into the treasure of fresh eggs in nearly real time.

In other chicken news: We culled three roosters a few weeks ago and roasted one right off. (Perhaps my first never-frozen chicken meal?) Seeing the difference from the meat birds we’re accustomed to was educational – the roosters had big ol’ thighs of rich dark meat but comparatively tiny breasts. And the skin inspired conversations about rendering schmaltz.

We still have a few roosters to send to the freezer when we get a chance. But maybe a couple fewer than we thought. Two of the Barred Rocks that we thought were slow-developing roosters seem to be leaning hen. The joys of being novices!

10.16.2019

I took a broom making class through our local folk school this weekend. Everything about it was right up my alley – an old craft, simple materials, and a practical and functional product. I went in thinking it wasn’t likely to be a craft that I would do on my own after the class, but it would still be satisfying to do it once.

Of course, I liked it and started considering how many brooms I could use in my life. But we talked in class about how it’s a hard skill to maintain because it’s obscure enough that there aren’t instructional books or online videos to refer to when you are trying to practice.

Then, Monday afternoon I took an afternoon walk out the driveway. On my way back, I met a woman carrying a full armload of mostly-finished brooms. I stammered out a few questions and learned that she recently moved into a little cabin near the end of our driveway. And she happens to be a broom maker. Who makes using the same technique I had just learned.

Broom-making skill: too obscure for the internet, but available in my driveway. I love my life.

When I Am Among the Trees

When I Am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

09.28.2019

A year ago on this date, Dean and I arrived home after five and a half months away. We walked in the door carrying backpacks and the weariness earned driving a U-Haul truck 3,000 miles. Yesterday, we drove a 30-foot RV up the driveway after 2,000 miles of touring the Pacific coast. It was a coincidence, and it felt appropriate.

It was all just similar enough to transport me back to that homecoming a year ago, and to appreciate how much living we’ve done in the past year. It’s been a good one. But nevermind this whole year, the last week was a good one.

Dean’s parents came out to visit and we rented an RV and drove down the coast of Oregon and Northern California.

It was a strange mix of the new and the familiar. Getting to appreciate places I have come to love through the awe of someone seeing them for the first time. Introducing them to RV life while stumbling upon a lode of family travel memories.

My parents bought a little motorhome when I was 5 and we spent a lot of time in it over the years. Whether it was one of the countless weekends at the lake or an annual summer vacation, the motorhome was one of my happy places. They sold that one when I was in my twenties but when it came time to pack the rental, I realized that I still knew how every drawer and cupboard was arranged. The sounds of everything vibrating and rattling just a little, the feel of the road moving under you while sitting at the table or lying on the couch. Time compressed or spiraling or however we describe those moments when it’s more layers than lines.

It wasn’t all nostalgia, but I struggle to write here about shared experiences, to find the line between telling my story and telling someone else’s. My story this week feels like one of revisiting old memories and creating new ones.

Tall trees, crashing surf, blue sky blending into blue sea at a distant horizon. Spades and sourdough and sleeping on the top bunk.

09.15.2019

I went backpacking, the first time I slung my pack since our AT hike last summer. It was a gentle trip with a good friend on a route that was special to her.

And it felt complicated. We spent half a day walking south on the PCT with thru-hikers streaming north toward Canada. I spent some time pondering bodily memory as I buckled the familiar weight around my hips and my legs churned out steady progress and it felt very much like autopilot had taken over and no time at all had passed since I had been doing the same a year ago. There was the awkwardness of transitioning my mind back from thru-hiker to weekender.

Backpacking has been the container for some of the most formative and meaningful experiences of my life. And it is one of my favorite recreations, a portal to simple joys amidst sometimes cluttered and messy days. I’m grateful for all of the ways it fits into my life and it can be challenging to navigate between these different modes.

And yet so worth it. For the beauty, the quiet, and the singular feeling of swimming in a mountain lake at the end of a day.

09.08.2019

I woke up this morning to clouds at tree-top-level and mist hanging in the air. It rained overnight; not enough to really soften the parched ground, but it feels different underfoot.

We have had a more abrupt transition to fall than usual this year. Summer often lingers, at least until the equinox, around here, but this year September brought a noticeable shift. The last week has been all seventy-degree days but it’s a weak seventy, like the air is too thin to really hold it close to you.

September has also declared itself the month of the rooster. We still have 18 chickens, and 9 of them are roosters. A month or so ago, the first started really crowing, and slowly the rest of them joined the chorus. You might not be surprised that nine roosters competing to be heard can make some noise. Then whatever the chicken version of testosterone is really kicked in, and our friendly chicken yard became a near-constant drama of rooster courting and pecking order discord.

The plan has always been to raise the roosters to full size and then put most of them in the freezer. A couple weeks ago, I wasn’t sure when the right time for that transition would be. This week, it is apparent that it’s time. Unfortunately, that became obvious at the same time that our schedule got really hectic, so it might be a few weeks until we can make time for that chore.

Upside, mature roosters should indicate mature hens so we could start getting eggs very soon!

I’ve read two books recently that I can’t seem to stop recommending. Both are the sort of non-fiction that string together a bunch of interesting stories and somehow manage to fundamentally change the way you understand the world.

Far From the Tree explores children who are different from their parents in some important way – deafness, dwarfism, autism, prodigies, etc. It’s an exploration of relationships that span the differences, but also a broader take on how we understand these differences – as illnesses to be treated or identities to be embraced. (Full disclosure, this one is a bit of a tome. The link is to the young adult edition, which I got from the library by accident but found a great option – it’s a little shorter but didn’t feel simplified.)

Why We Sleep is a pretty self-explanatory title. I didn’t expect to love this one. I don’t need any convincing of the importance of sleep – I have always needed and prioritized sleep, and been lucky enough to be able to get it. But I have learned so much and I’m fascinated by the details of what sleep science now understands about how it all works. I can’t seem to stop telling everyone about it (or thinking about it myself).

And I knit a hat! Not always a big event, but this one was my first project using the yarn I’ve been dyeing. I wasn’t sure how it would be for colorwork since most of the shades are pretty subtle in tone but I’m really pleased with the result.

I dyed tiny skeins (like 10g) so that second photo is a bit deceiving, but I did end up with a pretty good pile after several weekends of experimenting so I’m looking forward to a few more knitting projects highlighting these natural dyes. And while I imagine the outdoor stove set-up won’t be back until spring, I do hope to try some bark dyes that are long soaks without heat this winter.

08.25.2019

I was here most recently on the first day of my vacation, and I’m back again on the last day. On one hand, I have very little to report, especially if you might be hoping for evidence of adventures or projects, of what I did on my vacation. On the other hand, it has been a very good week.

I’ve gotten in the habit of taking some quiet time off at home over the holidays mid-winter, but at the height of summer my instinct is to go to the wilds to unwind. Staying home wasn’t so much an affirmative choice as a default option; it happened because planning and executing a week-long camping trip felt like too much.

I made a conscious effort to choose presence but otherwise had little plan or agenda. A puzzle instead of online reading. Records instead of streaming. Outings to town for ice cream or thrifting. Lots of puttering in the yard. A rabbit hole of Carter Family music history.

Dear friends came to visit and I got filled up on good conversation and it was wonderful to share time with them. And I’m really grateful that I had a few days on either side to just reconnect with myself and follow the pure whims of my own self.

After just a couple days, things started bubbling up unprompted. Ideas about how to execute a creative project I’ve had in the back of my mind for a year or more. The obvious furniture rearranging that would make two rooms work better but had never crossed my mind. The simple motivation to clean and reorganize the overstuffed tea drawers that had been annoying everyone for ages.

I know that it takes creating space to allow those ideas to bubble up. And creating that space right here, at home, meant being able to jump right in when they did. I think in the past I might have come home with a killer to-do list of all these great ideas and then been frustrated by not following through after I was back to the full routine of life. But instead, I feel like I executed the ones that were really great (instant gratification!) and let go of the ones that sounded great but didn’t actually invite me in.

I feel like I unlocked some secret door this week even if I can’t quite see what it means. Maybe just that finding real happiness, right at home, is a powerful thing.

08.17.2019

Postcards from an August day.

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.

08.17.2019

Postcards from an August day.

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.

08.13.2019

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.

07.24.2019

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.

07.13.2019

(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.)

07.03.2019

A permission slip for July:

Permission to take your breakfast/book/conference call/anything outside

Permission to move at a pace dictated by the heat of the day

Permission to not know where you’re going or what is around the next bend

Permission to let your whole body feel warm sun and cool water

Permission to test the limits of your intestinal fortitude for fresh fruit

Permission to seek something deeper than the standard on offer

Permission to admit that you are wrong when you are wrong, and to trust the voice inside whispering “this is right for you” over the din of “them” telling you otherwise

Permission to have grass on your feet, berry stains on your face, and dirt under your fingernails at any time

06.26.2018

Postcards from a June life…

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.

06.16.2019

A quick tale from yesterday:

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.

(Not exactly related, but this reminded me of a recent piece about wolves that I really enjoyed.)