May all that is unforgiven in you
May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.
May all this is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.
May all that is unforgiven in you
May your fears yield
Their deepest tranquilities.
May all this is unlived in you
Blossom into a future
Graced with love.
Hello from the other side of September. I’m bleary with tired, but somehow this little patch of sunshine on some very old marble tiles is making me feel a bit more hopeful.
September was absurdly full here, every weekend day booked from start to finish with off-homestead activity, every weekday seemingly overflowing with two extra things on the schedule. I decided at the start that my best strategy for coping was to just keep moving, and aim to be as present as I could with the constant motion. It mostly worked, I think, but I have some serious plans for sustained sitting in October.
Clearly I’m in no state to write coherently today, but perhaps we can start with a few postcards from the last month…
Greetings from the northwesterly most point of the lower 48! For our anniversary, we spent a day exploring the Makah Reservation, which has a fabulous museum and this gem of a little hike.
The University of Washington, with the quad as quiet as an actual postcard. I attended a conference that happened to take place at the UW in Seattle. Due to the quirks of ferry schedules, I had some time to kill and I discovered that a Saturday morning between terms may be the quietest time on campus. I hardly saw another soul while I wandered around, and it was seriously good soul medicine to just take in the quad, the big old trees, the beautiful buildings, the library filled with stained glass, the gardens, the whole pedestrian scale of the place. Just to remember that such places exist and they have existed for a very long time.
Everyone loves pigs! At least everyone in our neighborhood, which is a relief. Our go-to pig-sitter moved away last month, so we had to figure out new arrangements in advance of a ten-day trip to the east coast. In the end, three separate neighbors pitched in to share the load, we have a stronger web of connections, and the pigs are still happy and growing.
And… it turns out I took surprisingly few photos this months, so that’s all I have for postcards. More words soon.
As I sit down to type, I see my purple-stained fingers and imagine that there’s some evidence of berries on my face as well. It’s sort of a constant right now, when the blackberries are ripe.
The Himalayan blackberries, to be more specific. The ones that crop up in the untended verges, all the compacted, abused, spent… humanly impacted places. And not just grow, their thick vines grow impossibly long, arching up and out and forming a tangled mass that quickly overwhelms fences and given the chance, swallows small buildings.
Which is precisely why, for 50 weeks out of the year, I curse the blackberries and cringe at their sight. But then there is that window in late summer when the berries are ripe, and our relationship becomes so much more complicated.
For those few weeks, the overgrown corners and unkept edges hold the abundant, sweet taste of late summer. We have plenty around the homestead but I always smile to see people picking along roads and around town, braving a tangle with the vines to fill a bucket or a bag. The berries are free, but not without cost. Payment will come by way of shredded shirtsleeves, time with tweezers spent extracting festering thorns from tender fingers, and the tell-tale marks of forearms criss-crossed with bramble scratches.
I love wild berries for the ways they taste wild – their tang, tartness, complexity mixed with the sweet. But there is none of that in these blackberries, they are just big and sweet and juicy. The sort that will drip down your chin if you’re not careful.
I baked a peach-blackberry crisp last week. When we finished it off on day three, I washed the pan and made another without bothering to put it away empty. As we were finishing off the second one, Dean subtly mentioned that there were just enough peaches left for a third. If you find yourself in possession of peaches and blackberries, I highly recommend you make one for yourself. (My only modifications were to cut the brown sugar to 1/3 cup and use AP wheat flour.)
In summation: Himalayan blackberries, love and hate. Which seems alright, I should undoubtably spend more time considering how nothing is as simple as my judgments of it.
There is probably no more thoroughly documented rug out there, but here for it’s final celebratory appearance, is the braided wool rug project.
I love everything about the completed rug. I love how it’s thick and squishy underfoot, how it entices me down to sit on the floor, something I didn’t realize I didn’t do in our house until I suddenly started. I love that it’s sort of wonky but perfectly functional. I love the balance of tones and patterns. Most of all, I love the story of this rug.
I fell in love with the idea of making braided rugs years ago… probably 2009. Sometime after that, I started working on the shirt cotton rug, as a “practice” for the wool one I really wanted to make. And then my sister came across one of the all-time best thrift store finds, a giant appliance box full of wool, most of it cut into strips and sewn together and wound into wheels, all ready to be braided into rugs. So many hours invested in rugs that someone never got to make. She paid $5 for the whole box. We were still in the cabin, and storage space was in very short supply. So I jammed as much as I could into one Rubbermaid bin (a fraction of the box) and tucked it away in a back corner of our shed. After I finally finished the cotton rug, that bin found it’s way to the house just over three years ago. I braided the first few feet of it on the living room floor before we had any furniture in that room. I quickly realized wool was a different animal than cotton, and the glory of the internet introduced me to Braid-Aid folders and the braider’s table clamp. I made slow progress that first winter, but then it fell into hibernation. Last fall, I convinced Dean to make it a joint project. We rarely worked on it for more than an hour at a time, or more than a couple hours a week. But all winter and through the spring, one of us would ask “are you up for sewing this evening?” and we’d make a little more progress. Dean started out sewing strips into workable lengths from a few wheels that had no seams, then switched to lacing. I braided and braided and braided. And together, we made a rug.
It’s just a rug, but it’s a rug that is a story, and I am most at home when I’m surrounded by stories.
Another backpacking trip in the books. It feels too ordinary to write about – a few days of cruising on fine trail into the high Olympics, a day spent doing nothing more than watching marmots and clouds and exploring a creek, and then back out. Sunny summer days, shady old forest, huckleberries that Dean declared the best he had ever tasted, and the simple joys of having an alpine meadow all to yourself for a day. Well, except for the marmots.
There’s nothing ordinary about it at all, I suppose, but it speaks to the richness of this life that I can find it so. It’s a mark of a good trip when we spend the drive home daydreaming all the possible itineraries for our return. It was a short hour-long drive, but long enough to know that we found another backyard gem.
August arrived with a heat wave and skies filled with smoke from distant wildfires. It felt like I would be admiring the flowering herbs and watering the garden every other day forever. Because August is time, suspended.
Until it’s not. I can’t help but notice that after these several long months of waking up and falling asleep in the light, or at least semi-light, darkness is once again encroaching on both ends of my days. After finally stripping down the bedding to it’s lightest summer configuration, the cooler nights this week required I add a layer back. We got rain overnight Saturday after almost 60 days of none. And today, as I was casually walking the perimeter of the pig enclosure, I noticed this:
Looks at all those leaves. The ground nearly carpeted with them, and more fluttering down in the sunshine while I stood there dumbfounded. That is not a scene out of high summer.
I know that it’s the drought. But I also get the distinct sense that this summer may end as abruptly as it began, that it may be time to brace for impact. Bam, autumn. Just like that.
I’m not ready. But tomorrow, we’ll hike into the mountains for one more stretch of days sleeping on the ground in the high country, the closest thing I know to slowing time.
I finished a sweater! It’s a pretty fabulous shade of green!
This sweater had a completed body with one and a quarter sleeves when I set it aside during the Olympics (yes, the summer 2016 games). I let it sit for months, before I was finally prepared to face it again. And after a nice smooth start, it fought me every step of the way from that point. I ripped out both sleeves and started over on those. The button bands and collar required similar trial and error. It felt like a lot of one-step-forward-two-steps-back. It ended with a cliffhanger where I wondered if I was going to run out of yarn.
Through most of that, I was still pretty excited about the kelly green sweater I would have in the end. But in the middle of summer, even that wasn’t motivation enough to weave in ends and sew on buttons for the last month. I’m relieved to finally call it done.
The fit isn’t what I was aiming for, somehow my gauge swatch was pretty impressively off so it is a size or two wider than I planned. I think it’s still totally wearable, especially on the homemade sweater scale, but short of the ideal I imagined when I set out. But I’ll take done over perfect.
Dean and I backpacked around Mount Hood last weekend. We planned the trip as another in the series of the “loop trails around a Cascade volcano” we seem drawn to, but it ended up being a surprisingly nostalgic trip for me. Which really shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was.
Mount Hood is Portland’s backyard mountain, and Portland was the first place I lived out west. Mount Hood is where I learned to ski and snowshoe. It’s where I took my first real backpacking overnight. I volunteered for the Forest Service there, and came to appreciate what capital-W Wilderness means in modern public land management. We also walked about 15 miles of PCT tread, which is pretty much memory lane.
In the end, it wasn’t our favorite trail. It was dusty and busy. But we saw all the faces of Wy’East (the traditional name for the mountain), under cloudless blue skies, and he was looking good in his summer finery.
The bench that I built last summer, only to finish it just when summer ended, finally found a home. It is tucked up above the orchard under a big leaf maple. A spot to watch the sun rise over the far-off mountains or to enjoy the cool shade on a sunny afternoon. I finally moved it up there a couple weeks ago, and then properly leveled it a week later.
It’s a simple thing and it is giving me so much joy. Another perspective on this homestead, another excuse to just be outside, another reminder of how powerfully our environment influences our days.
I used to think that I excelled at efficiency, that I got things done. But I think I mistook what I thought I should be for what I was. I meander, I get distracted, I come back. Usually. It’s only about a year after I thought I would have that bench, but there it is, giving me joy. I’ll take it.
Permission to wander.
Permission to go outside.
Permission to be gentle.
Permission to rest.
Permission to feel.
Permission to feel sad when you “should” be happy.
Permission to feel joy, even when you are sad.
Permission to be confused or scared or both.
Permission to ask for help.
Permission to tell the stories.
Permission to be quiet.
Permission to evolve.
Permission to not know the answer, and to live in the not-knowing space.
Permission to be messy, inside and out.
Permission to be.
The homestead report feels… quiet for mid-July. Which probably tells you more about where I am than where the homestead is, but you knew that.
The pigs seem to be doing well. To my continuing consternation, they still shun pretty much all vegetable scraps. But they have caught up to where I expected on the grain feed schedule, so most of my anxiety about their eating has eased. Those two above are pretending not to like getting wet while standing directly in the hose spray, an activity that is good for some solid entertainment on any warm afternoon.
The herb harden is yielding a pretty constant trickle of small delights, like this trug of lavender. (And can we all take a moment to appreciate the beauty of that trug? A recent gift that I adore…) I’ve also been keeping the dryer running and stocking the pantry with lots of lemon balm and mint, chamomile, a bit of arnica and calendula, and the like. Nothing big or exciting, but plenty of goodness.
The vegetable garden is a very mixed bag. We’ve had some bad luck, and I haven’t had the energy to keep up with it. I think it’s time to re-evaluate our vegetable gardening enterprise, but I’m just at the point of recognizing that I don’t love it enough right now to pour in the hours of labor our current garden requires. While that sounds simple, it feels like a big messy tangle of ideas and expectations to unravel. So in the meantime, I’ve given myself permission to neglect the parts of the garden that just feel like a drag and spend what energy I have on the parts that I’m still enjoying. I brought in our first three zucchini this morning, along with a big haul of lettuce. The late-summer crops like squash and tomatoes are looking a lot more promising than the early summer ones (broccoli, peas, etc), so I’m holding out some hope yet.
It wasn’t a great wild berry season, especially compared to the bounty of last summer, but the trailing native blackberries, always a bit of a hunt and peck for a few jewels, are surprisingly abundant. Dean and I picked a few spots around the edges of our clearings this afternoon and ended up with maybe a pint to top our ice cream for a treat.
I think that’s about it for a homestead report. Nothing exciting, we have slipped into summer and while it feels a little quiet, there are all sorts of sweet bits.
It is a special gift to take a hike with a friend who walks the same pace and loves the mountains like you and is comfortable sharing a 24 square foot tent. Even if you only get to hike together once a decade. Maybe especially if that trip only comes around once a decade.
My friend Aaren flew across the country to venture up into the Olympics with me, our first joint trip since we met on the Continental Divide Trail in 2007. We were a bit early for the high country, but it felt less like we were forcing an itinerary and more like we were just stepping over the edge and watching summer emerge.
Within a few weeks of both our fortieth birthdays, it felt fabulous to mark a new decade by walking 40-odd miles and fording a creek raging with the spring melt that challenged us to be both strong and smart. To spend a day and a half without seeing another soul. And to take a whole day to just soak in the mountain air, swimming, knitting, exploring, napping.
It was powerful to take a little time to reflect on growing older in the midst of an activity that makes me feel so alive and so capable. I hope that I mark several more decades by carrying a backpack into the mountains and staying a spell.
I was in the garden early this morning, weeding before the heat of the day set in, and thinking about how much I’m looking forward to backpacking with a dear girlfriend next week. Our trip to the mountains feels a bit like a pilgrimage, a journey not to a place on the map, but to a place inside us and between us, one we can’t locate before we set out. Not a “major life event” pilgrimage, but the sort where the experience is the intersection of place and meaning and the next footstep.
The idea of pilgrimage seems to be rather a theme these days.
Years ago, I referred to my regular trips back to North Dakota as “the annual pilgrimage”. It was mostly a flippant turn of phrase that I liked the sound of, but there was a kernel of truth as well, and it came back to me on this last trip.
I’ve made that trip so many times, and I will so many more, each one a different journey over the same ground. The ground, of course, just a container for the real journey. Each repeat demanding something different of me, and offering something else as well.
In recent years, I’ve started to understand the ways that the landscape of that place feels important and yes, sacred to me. It’s not any specific patch of ground so much as certain elements of the landscape. I’ve learned to make time to drive quiet highways and wander the backroads that call to me, to breathe it in through all my senses. This trip, I watched a pile of storm clouds roll by miles to the north, and realized I had forgotten what it was to see weather across the open plains. And everywhere I went, the smell of dust and lilacs heavy in the air. Because the parts of me that sing in those places are quiet so often, I can’t help but give them rapt attention when the conditions are right and the songs emerge.
I also spent a day exploring some of the physical landscape of my family history with an aunt and my grandparents on this trip. We drove up and down each street of the tiny town they grew up in, past farmhouses still standing and farmyards that have been completely erased save for the approach off the road. Each little landmark a portal to connect the past and the present, the physical memories held by the land igniting snippets of old stories. A pilgrimage, to be sure. A journey to the timeless space that holds the past, memory, the present, and dreams for the future.
It was one of the best days I can remember. I want to write so much more, but I can’t translate the experience to words just yet. A perfect example of how “the stories that seem most worth telling are the ones that feel impossible to actually tell.” I started writing this post weeks ago, and it has stubbornly resisted my attempts to fit it into a neat container. But today, it feels worth sharing the messy version.
And worth continuing to explore this idea of pilgrimage, this sense of honoring the journey and the places we find ourselves in, in all the forms that can take.
I turned 40 yesterday. Predictably, I seem to have done most of my angsting about the change in decade in advance, but it still prompted some reflection on decades and the ways they do seem to delineate our years.
From this vantage, the central theme of my twenties was figuring out who I was, or more often, who I wasn’t. I went down so many paths trying to satisfy the expectations of others, only to find myself at a breaking point where the only options were to let my self be swallowed by those expectations or to jump ship in some dramatic fashion. I bailed from student teaching, a first marriage, and a “good” job (several times on the job one). I escaped to live abroad, to climb mountains, to hike thousands of miles… all of which turned out not to be the point, but provided clues about who I was along the way. I’m grateful that I mustered the courage to bail each time I needed it, and I’m even more grateful that I (eventually) figured out how to avoid getting myself into circumstances that required courageous exits.
It’s surprising to me now how thirty really was an inflection point. Between my 30th and 31st birthdays, Dean and I took our first trip together (to Alaska), I started telecommuting, and we bought the land that has become the homestead. The last decade feels like it has been all about staying – the slow and hard work of building a home, a community, a relationship, a life. Figuring out how to accept this person who it turns out I am, this person who doesn’t tidily satisfy expectations, be they others’ or my own. It’s all so much less dramatic than my twenties, but it feels much more radical.
So here I am at 40. I celebrated by biking out to a local state park for a quick overnight camp, and as I struggled up the umpteenth little hill with my gear-laden bike, I thought about how grateful I am for this body at age 40, for how alive I continue to feel when I run and bike and backpack and dig and all the other ways I inhabit this physical body. I can’t really imagine what the next decade will bring, but it feels filled with possibility. However it unfolds, gratitude and possibility feels like a pretty good place to start from.
It’s June, also known as “peak jungle” around here. Any novelty of spring and all its new forms of life is gone, but we haven’t yet reached a point of getting anything in return for our labors.
Chickenfest is only a week away, so I find myself mentally plucking them and trying to assess how they will compare to the gallon ziploc standard. I thought I had given up trying to guess chicken weights after the year when I was sure we had a batch of giants and they turned out to be pint-sized, but I can’t seem to stop myself. For the record, they look small to me, but I’m sure I’m biased by the fact that our hatchery order got messed up, so we ended up with all females a week later than I planned. All will be revealed in a week.
At least the chickens seem to be doing their part by eating every speck of food we give them, which is more than I can say for the pigs. We somehow ended up with a batch of pigs who are picky eaters. They have shunned pretty much all the vegetable scraps we have tried to give them, and are eating less grain than I expect. They are just as social as our past pigs, though, which means that they will eat more if one of us is standing next to their trough. Which has left me in the unfortunate role of a caricature of an Italian grandmother, hovering over the food telling them how if they really cared about me, they’d show it by eating more barley. And then nagging them to share nicely.
I don’t even want to mention the garden, but I will briefly. About ten days ago, some local ravens discovered our garden. For several days, they visited to pull plants out of the ground. They didn’t seem to eat anything, just pulled the plants up, roots and all if they could, or cut them off at ground level if they couldn’t. The first morning it was kale and lettuce, then the cabbage and chard, maybe half of our 150 or so onions, all the cucumbers… They seem to have moved on so I think we can salvage parts of the garden, but I haven’t recovered from the heartbreak of it enough to take stock of just what.
The herb garden, on the other hand, is full of all sorts of joy. From the mutant valerian (over 7′ last time I checked) to my first-ever arnica blossoms to the near-constant parade of bumble bees on the chives… Basically, I could list every single thing growing there and tell you how it makes me happy to watch it grow. So I rescind that comment about getting nothing back yet – the herb garden is giving out delights, which explains exactly why it’s my favorite these days.
This place. It speaks to me in a way that feels so real and visceral and that I don’t know how to translate into words at a keyboard. I had many visits to fit into my few days in North Dakota, and this river was one of them.
“The lake” was the singular feature of that landscape that captured my attention for most of my years, but in the last few its charm is lost to me. It just seems to be a lot of muffled quiet, too much water obscuring the real stories drowned by it.
Along the river, I can still see the hills carved by the centuries and the depressions left by the natives who lived in just that one village for twice as long as Europeans have dwelled in the area. I can lean into the trunks of old cottonwoods and listen to the wind whisper through the stands of grass. I can walk through the bottomland, dense with plants that I now recognize as food and medicine and all the animals that thrive there. I can watch the water flowing and flowing and even though we’ve managed the flow of that water within an inch of its life, it still has life, and its fierce constancy inspires me.
Because water is life.
I rode the train to North Dakota and back this last week, my favorite way to make that trip. The ride is just over 24 hours, so I eagerly pack my bag in anticipation of a whole day to while away. Reading, knitting, and writing projects. The iPad loaded with podcasts and music. All the good snacks.
And everything that I packed was used, some a little, some a lot. But every time, I’m a little surprised how many hours of the day I find myself not doing anything, or thinking anything, just staring out the window at the clouds in the sky and the rolling ground, content to watch the world unfold as I’m gently rocked down the track.
Of course I can’t help but try to capture those moments, hopeless though it is. More hopeless when I’m holding a mediocre iPad camera up to a dirty window in the attempt. But the gap between the hope and the results doesn’t seem to dull my instinct to try, so I’ve got a whole pile of shots like these. A little wonky, but the view from a train nonetheless.
There are lots of reasons train travel suits me so well, but I think the biggest is just that the time it takes to get from one place to another on the train matches the time it takes me to mentally travel from one place to another. Flights so often feel like I’m hurtling across time and space and I land disoriented and trying in vain to catch up with my body. On the train, I have time to leave behind whatever I was holding from my departure, time to experience the transition, time to prepare myself for an arrival. That kind of space is necessary, which is a lesson that I should remember in more aspects of life.
A couple days of sunshine coaxed the lilacs open. And if you look again, you’ll see that the grass is actually taller than the lilacs. Which feels like a pretty good metaphor for the state of things. (They’re not especially small lilacs.)
This was the May weekend that I’ve been hoping for. Seventy degrees, sunshine, and no commitments beyond the homestead. I have a bit of sunburn on my arms, a few blisters on my hands, and stubborn dirt under my nails that even an extra-long shower didn’t dislodge. It is mildly uncomfortable to sit, walk, or stand and I hope not to kneel for several days.
I spent 5+ hours on the garden yesterday and another 4 today. Dean put in a couple-hour stint of hard labor each day as well. We still didn’t get everything done, but it’s a hell of a lot closer and for the first time in a few months, I feel good about the state of the garden.
Which mostly means that almost all the planting is done and the weeds aren’t too out of control yet. That feels like a pretty good definition of gardening to me… I almost finish one task before the next is overdue. Over and over all season.
We got out for a good bike ride this morning, which feels like another hallmark of the season. We just need a picnic on the bluff and I will be fully reassured that summer is on its way.
Also reassuring? The pigs are settling into being pigs…
This homestead got approximately 400% more adorable yesterday. Somehow I completely forgot how tiny new pigs are and how endlessly entertaining it is to watch a tiny pig… well, do anything. Perhaps they also seem cuter because there wasn’t an intermediate step of cursing and chasing a remarkably agile tiny pig through the spring jungle. The whole transition was completely uneventful this year, and I’m only crossing my fingers and knocking on wood as I write that.
The most important part, of course, is that it is my turn to bestow names this year. I tried to convince Dean that since we couldn’t possibly top Kevin and Bacon, we should really just stick with them, but he was having none of it. Luckily there seems to be an endless supply of porky puns, so I think I’ve settled on Mia, Jon, Virginia, and Hamilton.
The top picture is minutes after they landed in their new digs, the second how when I greeted them first thing this morning.
And lest the pigs get all the attention, the chickens would like you to know that they are just fine, thanks for asking. They are ugly bird-brains, but I try not to hold that against them.
The bees also arrived last weekend, so we’re at full occupancy. The rest of the homestead report is more mixed, this endless cool and wet spring throwing wrenches in all sorts of plans. So let’s save that for next time, and go back to squealing at pictures of the Hams:
I have an abundance of rhubarb from the garden these days, along with a distinct scarcity of compelling rhubarb recipes. Let me be clear: there is no scarcity of rhubarb recipes, just ones that satisfy all of my persnickety criteria.
I am a purist, so anything where the rhubarb is disguised by a pile of strawberries (or anything else, for that matter) is disqualified. Similarly, my goal is to eat delicious rhubarb so I can’t be bothered with anything that buries a cup of rhubarb chunks in a giant cake or loaf or the like. And I’m just not interested in anything requiring equal amounts of sugar and rhubarb, so that the finished result is cloyingly sweet with a hint of tang.
For years, I was content to make a good compote to spoon generously over some plain yogurt or a scoop of ice cream. And that still sounds delicious but I’m off all dairy (and pretty much all fake dairy) these days, and the dairy always seemed essential to that whole approach.
So this weekend I got desperate and resorted to the internet. And there on the front page of smitten kitchen, the second page I opened, like a clear message from the universe, was rhubarb upside-down spice cake.
I made this cake yesterday at a point in the late afternoon when I was too exhausted to use my arms or legs. It became apparent about three minutes in that I was in no state to be baking an unfamiliar recipe – pretty much every direction was following by the thought, “f*#& it, close enough”. But at that point, I was committed, so I half-assed and short-cut my way through. My only deliberate modification was to cut the sugar by about 1/3, because, ahem, me.
I think this is my all-time favorite rhubarb cake recipe. There’s a generous layer of rhubarb, mellowed as much by butter as sugar so that it’s neither cloying nor pucker-inducing. And the spice cake is the perfect complement, adding depth and flavor, neither austere nor rich. Don’t get me wrong, this is not my all-time best cake specimen. But given the deliciousness that came out of that wreck of a baking session, I am confident in the potential here.
Confident enough that I needed to tell you about it.
Now there’s still a pile of rhubarb in my fridge so if you have made it this far and still have any suggestions, please do share.