September 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
The boys love to invent games, full of ever-changing and increasingly convoluted rules. In this game, they were roughhousing, then stopped to negotiate the particulars, which may or may not have included one of them being named “Dubbens” and the other playing the role of a domesticated baboon.
I am sure that we make many parenting mistakes. But I’m also fairly certain that allowing them the time and freedom to play these games – which can last for hours – is not one of them.
September 22, 2011 § 1 Comment
September 16, 2011 § 5 Comments
This is my column from the latest issue of Vermont Commons. When it comes to the trajectory of our country and the world at large, I seem to vacillate between brooding pessimism and spirited optimism. The pessimism is typically reserved for our collective inability to acknowledge and act on the structural deficits of our nation; the optimism blossoms when I consider the particulars of my small community of friends and neighbors and, by extension, the particulars of all the small communities of friends and neighbors around me. This got me thinking about the whole “collapse” conversation and wondering if perhaps a slightly longer view is warranted.
Early August and already I can feel it. I feel it mostly at the fringes of each day, like a photo with its edges slightly out-of-focus. The mornings are cool now, and darker, and in the evenings I look up from the task at hand to find the sun already dropping behind the Greens and everything disappearing into the wash of night. Fall. Not quite yet, but soon. And winter, inevitably to follow.
I am more energized now than at any other time of year, including spring. Paradoxically, as the nights get longer, I awake earlier and earlier, frequently soft-stepping down the stairs to find that it is only 3:00 or 3:30 and then soft-stepping back up to try and lull myself back to sleep for another hour or two. I lie there and listen to my family breathing, the dog softly snoring, the early, bedraggled crows of Brutus, our rooster. I lie there and watch the stars, and rather than wonder at how big the universe is, I find myself amazed by how small it seems. Because doesn’t it look like if you really tried, you could reach up and grab one of those suckers?
I used to find it strange that it feels like I am opening at the precise time of year when nature is closing. It is as if I am absorbing the energy being shed by the trees in our forest, the grasses in our fields, and the animals we slaughter, their blood soaking into the dun-colored soil of our barnyard, their entrails buried deep in the compost pile, where they’ll succumb to the same process that will eventually take us all. Only to be spread across our fields or atop the raised beds of our crops, bringing all those little shoots to life. Our animals are generous; they don’t know how to stop giving.
It is only when I allow myself see the larger picture that it all makes sense. We tend to categorize these things – this season is for that, that season is for this – but of course it is all part of the same balled up, interconnected, cyclical nature of things. We think of spring as the season of renewal, but forget that nothing can be renewed without something having been taken. And so the taking, the dying, and the shedding are all parts of the renewal, no less crucial than the early tender buds emerging from the trees or the first tentative suckles of a newborn calf.
There is so much talk lately of collapse, of the vulnerability inherent to the complex and convoluted systems that, like it or not, we are all dependent on. But I sometimes wonder if we’re thinking about it all wrong. For what is it we’re afraid of collapsing? A financial system that funnels profits to the top single percent? An energy supply that enables such false prosperity and wreaks such widespread havoc? Perhaps the true collapse was in the creation of and our subsequent dependence on these systems. Perhaps what we bear witness to, in the early years of the 21st century, is nothing less than the early-stage societal composting necessary to feed the cycle. We have all fed well (though obviously, some better than others) off the meat of these arrangements, and now it is time to bury them with all the guts and shit and detritus of our nation.
Now it is time for renewal.
September 6, 2011 § 4 Comments
Labor Day began as I have come to believe all summer days should begin: Chores, followed by a dip in the pond. Run, jump, splash, and float back the shore to clamber out, laughing and cleansed of the night’s slumber. Rye watches from the bank, saying the water is too cold, but the rest of us take the leap, and emerge feeling as new as the morning.
What follows is not much different than any other day. The rain is hard for a while, so we clean the house, which has been sorely neglected over the past weeks and months of summer. I do not particularly enjoy living in a messy home, but I also do not particularly enjoy spending time indoors when it could be spent out. Penny feels the same, if not more so, and therefore our house is perpetually cluttered and dusty, and no more so than during the months of April through October. I have almost come to accept it, although I admit there are times when it feels oppressive. But not oppressive enough to tilt the balance of my efforts toward the interior of these walls. Still, for the next few days at least, the mess has been vanquished.
Later, with the rain still coming, we head back outside to move brush from the shores of the pond, then to pick blueberries, then to plant our autumn salads in the greenhouse, then to split firewood, and so on. I do not mind working in the rain, not once I’ve warmed to the task before me and sweat has risen on my brow and back to mix with the water from the sky. It’s a good feeling, to be alive in the elements: The sound of the rain hitting the leaves above me and the ground below, the chill that gathers along my spine if I stop work for more than a minute or two. Even the mild discomfort of my clothing weighted by water. All are reminders of my humble place in this world, and for some reason, I am comforted by these sort of things.
My need for physical work seems to grow more urgent as I grow older. Sometimes this concerns me, because of the near certainty that I will someday be rendered unable to do such work. Hopefully, this will come via the force of aging, but I cannot discount the possibility of accident. There is no shortage of risk in so many of my daily tasks. Chainsaw, tractor, falling trees: The trifecta of rural tragedy. I try to keep that in mind but of course from time to time, or even more often, I forget. Still, it is a risk I gladly accept, because of course the alternative is riskier still. My body and spirit cannot seem to tolerate inactivity, although at times it seems crucial that they learn to do so, in lockstep with the inevitable decline of my physical being.
For now, however, I can revel in my capacity for muscle-driven work, which has actually increased over the past decade. I am nearly 40 and I am stronger now than I was 10 years ago, or even five. Credit this to the slow unwinding of my writing career, still a necessary and valued piece of my life, but which does little to satisfy the need to feel my body and mind at work upon the land. To have this need, and to be able to fulfill it, is one of the greatest blessing of my life, and I try not to take it for granted.
September 2, 2011 § 3 Comments
A few days ago, with the family away visiting relations, I decided to take a vacation. Which is to say, I chose to do nothing but which struck my fancy.
This is what my day looked like, in no particular order.
1. Milked and did other chores
2. Made ice cream entirely from ingredients produced on our farm (cream, eggs, maple syrup, blueberries)
3. Ate ice cream for breakfast
4. Gathered nearly six pounds of chanterelles
5. Ate nearly one pound of chanterelles
6. Picked two quarts of wild blackberries
7. Ate a pint of wild blackberries
8. Made four pounds of butter
9. Split firewood
10. Dropped a dozen trees and skidded logs with the tractor
11. Ate more ice cream for lunch
12. Swam in the pond
13. Greeted my family upon their return, after three days absence
It was a good day.