The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Dream Gene July 23, 2014

Woke up in a sort of zombie-like state this morning. As usual, my dreams had taken me to far-off places full of fantasy, and in waking my heart sunk to remember the mundane reality I’d returned to once again. Not mundane in that it itself isn’t full of its own unique twists and turns or even challenges and new experiences, but rather mundane in the sense that the feeling is the same; my surroundings look the same as they did yesterday – and many hundreds of days before yesterday, too. The smell of my room is the same, the sounds of cars passing on the distant road, the birds, the whistling of the teapot – all of these are just the same as they have been all of my life. In short, my waking world hardly changes from day-to-day, while my dream state each night takes me to far off places and fascinating scenarios which almost always make waking a disappointing experience. How can waking life compete with a Mad Max futurescape in which handfuls of near-vacant apartment buildings with abandoned pools and gardens sit aside a vast, inland sea waiting to be explored? Or a mysterious, urgent migration to a dusty, desert country surrounded by masses of people and filled with amazing new landscapes? Just two of my several dreams last night. Just two places of the many thousands I’ve visited. I suppose I’d rather have those memories than not, it’s just that it makes coming back something of a bummer.

“You get that from your father”, my mom has always said when I begin to try to describe any one of my dreams. And it makes me smile to think of it. Yeah, my dad would be as confounded as I am when he’d vainly try to tell us about his previous night’s travels. “Oh sweetie boopis, I had a dream,” he’d start, smiling and trying my mother for an interested ear, and she’d almost always wave him off, saying “oh daddy”… Regardless, he’d make an attempt to draw us into his dreams; he’d begin to tell us bits and pieces of his recollections… He, like me, would struggle to convey the detail, the nuance, the essence of the dreams – with near fruitless results. I always felt bad for him that we couldn’t share in his visions with the enthusiasm he so desired, because I knew how he felt. Many times I’d raise my eyebrows and tilt my head in apology, telling dad that we sincerely wanted to share in his excitement, but we couldn’t possibly ever know what he’d seen. In the end we’d wind up chuckling at whatever humorous or fantastical remnants he could recall for us. Dad was a charming and funny man, and he could make just about any story, however incomplete, a delightfully entertaining little piece.

For years I’ve stated, in all sincerity, that my dreams are the better part of my life. Usually folks protest when I say this – some even seem to take offense from my remark – and they’ll remind me how much I have to be grateful for, how exciting my life here really is. I point out to them that I don’t disagree with them; I’ve had a wonderful variety of experiences in my life, and as most lives go, I’d say it was one of the more interesting ones to have lived. But still…. there is simply no way that this earth-bound life can compete, no matter how many places I visit, no matter how many lovely, serendipitous moments I experience, no matter how many delicious foods I taste or how much gorgeous music I may hear or how many beautiful pieces of art I may observe or how much exquisite weather I feel – none of it can possibly stack up to my dreams.

Usually, it’s the sense of place that strikes me first in my dreams. A landscape, the architecture, the light and mood, and mostly, the sense of space. It’s nearly impossible to describe, but my surroundings can be expansive and yet intimate at the same time. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it’s a bit like looking over a toy train set. In one glance you can see the town, the countryside beyond, you can understand the scope of the land to its horizon, and yet at the same time you can see the components that make up the town; the buildings, the cars, the signs, the tiny windows – and even the people inside the windows. You’re able to take all of it in and understand the whole scene from the minutiae to the monumental, all in one fell swoop. And it’s like that with my dreamscapes too. Often I visit a place on the edge of a large body of water. Often there are buildings, pools, gardens, pathways and plazas… I can trace the general components back to my hometown of Chicago; it seems to be the inspiration for this reoccurring theme. Lord knows I miss that lake and that city. I miss water dearly too, and so seem to make up for it in my dreams. But there are the adventures too – not always pleasant, but still compelling. Last night, for example, I suffered through a chapter of a ‘not prepared for the gig’ dream (which will no doubt have musicians smiling, this is not a phenomenon exclusive to me!) and while it was not pleasant, the feeling that was ever-present as a backdrop to the nasty situation more than made up for it. I was in a plastic, phenomenal place, and it promised to morph soon enough, taking me away and into a more agreeable situation. Truly, it’s more about that elusive feeling than the specifics. Language cannot convey this essence, this feeling. It simply can’t be shared with anyone else on the planet. Its memory can be savored, but only alone. Dreams, as transporting and restorative as they might be, remind me of how isolated each one of us truly is here on this earth. Dreams are my salvation, and sometimes my prison, too.

I have many memories of dreams that are for me as real as any memories of this world. When you get right down to it – what’s the different between one memory and the next? They are both no longer current experiences; they are simply recollections of a past experience, whether real or imagined, and they both now live solely in your memory. The dream and the ‘real world’ memories are, therefore, equally real. I have learned so much from my dreams and traveled so extensively, that knowing I can’t choose to revisit these places and circumstances again – under my direct control, that is – often gives me a profound sense of loss and sorrow. How can I hope to make anyone understand? I’ve yet to meet another person, except for my father, whose dreams were so rich and vivid and full of detail. So real. Who yearned deeply to return to these places. Whose heart broke upon waking from them.

On mornings like this, it can take me a little extra time to get going. To shake it off, to come to, to get back to the to-do list. Maybe that’s why this morning’s unfolding a little slower than usual. I’ve completed all of the domestic projects I’d intended, my garden is as finished as it’s going to be (and looking rather pretty too), my coop is doing fine, the flock is blended, my house is clean and my basement organized. With nothing pressing in on me this morning (except the Studio – but that’s a whole new chapter which requires entirely new to-do lists) I find myself rather stuck. Not a bad place to be, I guess. It’s kinda like a pause in the flow. This morning it’s taking me a little bit longer coming to terms with this reality again. A couple of phone calls have come in as I’ve been writing this, and they’ve helped pull me back into the physical world. And today I could use a little help in waking up, because the dream thing in me runs deep. After all, it’s in my genes.

 

Breaking Ground July 19, 2014

It started quietly. I’d heard some large machinery moving about down the driveway, and then silence. I waited. Then I took a walk to see for myself. It was an eery sight. A small piece of earth moving equipment had been deposited in the empty field. It had begun. I tried to savor the light of the open field, tried to memorize everything about the space as it still was, tried to get over my sadness. I would never be ready for this. I reminded myself that there was once a barn in this field, and that too was gone. That there were once cattle grazing here, and they were also long gone, and that before the cattle fields there was nothing here but forest; even the stone walls that run through the woods were not ancient, as they seemed from 2014′s perspective, but at a mere two hundred years old, they were relatively new installations. I tried to convince myself not to lament the change so deeply; this land had been undergoing constant change over the past two centuries. And before the area had been settled by Europeans (and subsequently that development mourned by local Native Americans), very little had changed so dramatically in millions of years. But it didn’t stop me from grieving the loss of another hard-won field though. Yeah, change is part of life, but I can still miss what was. Thankfully it’s not quite here yet, and I can still enjoy the spot of green at the end of my long driveway. From where I stand today, it’s still unimaginable to me that in that space will soon stand the silhouette of a two-story house. As I’ve said before, I’m not good with change.

Martha turned 88 on Thursday, and I think it was probably the first such birthday in all her life that it was not sweltering. The Conants and the Spiaks joined Martha at The Farm in her kitchen, the only room in which she has ever entertained, and we enjoyed a fine summer supper of hamburgers and hot dogs, mom’s potato salad (one of my top ten favorite foods on the planet – it’s understated and so damn good) and some cold cocktails. Jesse and Sam, the young girls close to Elihu’s age were there representing the next generation. I showed them the markings on the closet door where I’d been measured when I was their age, they in turn showed me around the winery that their father was building on the property. We visited the resident horses and I told the story of the enormous barn that burned down, on this very day (some birthday present!) when I was their age, years ago. How it took out one of the great Maple trees, how it changed the place forever. Martha recounted to us that the first thing she did after ringing the dinner bell and calling husband Frank in from the fields was to move the harpsichord out of the house to prevent it from burning, should the house catch fire. (She and Frank were musicians-turned-farmers and gave me a great experience of animal husbandry and old-time farm life as a child. Martha also taught me how to read music and later gave me a few very practical tips on accompanying that I still use today.). This place, simply called by all of us “The Farm”, has been my heart’s epicenter since I was a tiny child. Even now, as Martha hangs on, doing barely more than living from day to day (she suffered a stroke thirty years ago and can only move the right side of her body), knowing that she’s still here gives me a feeling of anchor. Of place, of center. In spite of many trips to the hospital and nursing home after small heart-related episodes, Martha always manages to come home. This time, though, she seems slower, a bit more tired. No less spirited, no less intimidating than she’s ever been (no one still dares to counter her on any thing), she still strikes me as a bit closer to the end. At least I can kinda see it now. I guess I’m just getting ready, because aside from the death of my mother, this will be the biggest change I can imagine.

I’m still puttering away, trying to beat the clock and restore order to my home. I’ve sunk a good hundred hours of hard labor into this place over the past couple of weeks, and am making milestones that have even gone beyond my initial to-do list. After living here almost six years, I have only just yesterday unpacked the last of the boxes from the move from Chicago. Can you believe that? And that last box will remain packed, I’m afraid, as I simply have not the use nor the space for my fine wedding stemware. A few more paining projects (garage doors, cellar wall) remain, and there’s Elihu’s room to do a deep-cleaning and inventory of (that’ll be a bigger job than I think now) but I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is a great relief.

The Studio is cruising along now too, with our second complete week of art camp behind us, and a great number of ideas for the future being born. There’s big change here too; the place seems to be taking on its own forward trajectory as new uses for the room come to mind, leaving the memory of fine Baroque concerts on July afternoons far behind, and breaking my heart in tiny ways as the new course becomes more clear… I am only now coming to terms with the idea that this is a place undergoing a real transformation, and in order to do this well I’ll need to invest myself fully in the new direction. I won’t sabotage my progress in the name of nostalgia, but like the field at the end of my driveway, I will grieve its loss.

My garden projects have reached a nice point of completion, I finally figured out the coop door opener (which has been broken for almost 2 years now), I’ve finally rid my house of every last unused item – books to boots – and I can now say I know where everything is. Ha! How many people can say that of the contents of their home? My office, however, is altogether another situation, and it waits for my attention soon. I need to check in with the Waldorf School too; if they haven’t found a replacement candidate for my post, I may have to get back to the piano soon. That is not a detour I relish. I’ve hit a nice forward stride, and hope to continue with added momentum.

Oh, and today is the second anniversary of my divorce. It took over four years to accomplish, and I didn’t even learn I’d been legally divorced until many months later. My ex has been married to his new wife for over a year now too. Strange as it may seem, it’s only just about now that I’m truly feeling I live here, and that this is my life – and that I really am a single person in the world. Being totally honest, I do miss the man I once lived with, but I also know he’s no longer the person he was, so I can’t lament not being with him now. He’s different. Guess I am too. In going thru old photographs this past week I found myself still very wistful about the old days, and I still missed aspects of those lives very much, but I’ve come to the point where I can’t imagine my life without this chapter. I’ve been resisting this new time of my life just about the whole time I’ve been living it because I missed things that I felt were taken from me without my consent. I moved because I had to, not because I wanted to. And I still think of those places as my home, but now, finally, in my heart this place has joined them. Having the time in which to properly inventory the place, rid myself of old baggage and apply some tender loving care has helped elevate it to the status of a sacred place in my life.

Things are changing in so many ways here at the Hillhouse. For the past six years here it’s seemed that life, for the most part, has moved at a steady pace, and change has come in manageable doses; now it seems that the tide is coming in all at once and things are beginning to change in rapid and dramatic ways. Not to say that the change won’t be manageable, because in the end I believe it’ll all be fine. In the words of Martha Carver, “Things always work out“. I’m learning to accept that life requires change, growth requires entropy. Nothing is static. And in order to have wonderful new experiences, we must first break new ground.

IMG_9191The very first cut.

IMG_9187The neighbor boys are excited to see the machines working so close to home. I can’t help but dread the whole in my driveway filling up with the profile of a two-story house.

IMG_9170Here are the plans…

IMG_9214Ryan and Brandon enjoy being outdoors with all that’s going on…

IMG_9180They spotted a snake which I just managed to get – hence the fuzzy pic – and then it wriggled away. All muscle, they are. And stinky too! I’d caught tons of em as a girl and had forgotten that stinky ooze they poop out when frightened. Ich.

IMG_9218I’m breaking ground too. Putting in my final garden bed next to the house.

IMG_9219I’m not ever strong enough to drill a screw without first pounding out a little pilot hole. What a wimp. Takes more time this way too. Oh well.

IMG_9223After some painting and pounding, I’ve got my relatively cheap, DIY garden edging in. (Painted 2x4s with shims nailed perpendicular to em to act as stakes to hold them upright. A couple of L brackets to keep corners square.)

IMG_9232My requisite tools. Heard of Saratoga water? Bottled right here in town.

IMG_9243I’ve brought an end-of-week surprise for the kids at art camp…

IMG_9246It’s Bald Mountain! A couple of years ago I brought a rooster in for the drawing class. These clay students wanted to see him even though he wouldn’t be modeling for them.

IMG_9263He’s getting smooched whether he likes it or not. !

IMG_9299He lets out a loud crow in a small room.

IMG_9285Kestrel shows off her bas relief tile from the class.

IMG_9291Ceres says goodbye to campers and moms.

IMG_9332At my mom’s place, just up the driveway from The Studio, a turkey makes a visit (hummingbird at right by feeder).

IMG_9337Here he is up close. What plumage!

IMG_9311And here’s my guy Baldy on the short ride home. My house is about 1/8th of a mile past the sign, same side of the road.

IMG_9321Ah, the bee balm is out and the butterflies are back.

IMG_9351And my new chickens, now 3 months old, are right at home here. (Last year at this time I put in this pond.)

IMG_6581About a month ago Elihu, Mom, Andrew and I went to visit Martha in the hospital. She spent several weeks in a nursing home, and finally made it home again.

IMG_6587Martha’s always on. Aside from some hearing loss, she doesn’t miss a thing. No exaggeration.

IMG_7861Here’s Martha, eighty-six years ago at age two, in Deposit, New York. (Note how her haircut hasn’t changed!)

IMG_9124Here she is some sixty years ago…

IMG_9126Note the ashtray, ubiquitous in her generation.

IMG_9142Sometime in the ’70s, cigarette in hand (husband Frank to the left, he died in 2000) standing in the kitchen, which looks pretty much the same now.

IMG_9077The same place, forty years later.

IMG_8937As I’d driven in, I was greeted by a turkey vulture in the driveway.

IMG_8935Wish it were a clearer pic – but you can certainly see that wild red head. I made Elihu a turkey vulture costume for Halloween one year. What a crazy looking bird, and big, too!

IMG_9030Martha’s spot is no longer at the table, but behind the island, as it puts all she needs within reach. Also never far away is dog Masie, the sweetest black hound dog who lets no one near the house without great fanfare. Good watch dog.

IMG_9075Martha, holding court. Mike, Kelly, Mom and Andrew in attendance.

IMG_9088Another view… only difference through the years is the clutter. !!

IMG_9037Upstairs in this historic farm house it’s another story; quiet, still and spare. My mom and dad stayed in this room when we first began to spend our summers in Greenfield, before we bought the Old House (where Andrew lives now).

IMG_9040This is the adjacent room in which Andrew and I stayed; I vividly remember us both walking through this missing panel in the door and thinking it quite a fun game. The panel is still missing after four decades! I’m too anal to let something like this go unattended. Frank and Martha had a farm to run, however, and this was likely not even on the to-do list.

IMG_7868Here’s how tall I was in 1972! The very height of the door latch was decided on because it was as high as I could reach. All the kids in the area flocked to Martha and her famous kitchen, and many of us can follow our growth on the inside of this closet door.

IMG_8963American Gothic, tailgate style. Jessie and Sam are Elihu’s age – they’re in the same 4H group. Mike’s put in a vineyard in the fields we once hayed as children. Martha has given her place to this hard-working family. They’ll have a lot on their plate when that time comes.

IMG_8965Mike built this almost all himself. Next pic of this the siding will be up.

IMG_8983Impossible to count the man hours involved in planting and tending these vines

IMG_8989Fruit’s looking good now; it’s taken several years to reach this point.

IMG_8998The new barn, much of which Mike did too – the white house can be seen to its left, under the trees.

IMG_9015I learned to ride here when I was little.

IMG_9010It’s become so grown up with vegetation over the years that it’s only possible to see the whole place from the barnyard. Even then it’s almost swallowed up by greenery. I remember this as a thriving barnyard with sheep, cows and horses when I was a child, and the house, yard and gardens were much better groomed then too.

IMG_7867An old photo of the front of the house, which was built by Prince Wing in 1805 (Prince’s son’s name was Elihu).

IMG_9096After a great 88th birthday party for Martha Ward Carver, Jessie sounds me off on the shofar which her sister and I uncovered in the music room. Good thing she’s taking up trombone in the fall, I have known very few people to ever get a true sound on this thing. She can.

IMG_9103Later that night, as I sat reading on the couch, I heard a strange commotion down the hill. Soon there was a glow of flashing lights through the woods, so I had to investigate. Some poor fellow had veered to miss a deer and accidentally plummeted down the incredibly steep hill towards the marsh. Here the truck is finally towed to the road level. Trees and boulders ironically saved the driver. Talk about breaking ground! May my adventures be a little less harrowing.

 

Setback July 15, 2014

Today I’m just exhausted. Yesterday I found out that my emergency water jugs had been leaking on the floor of my mudroom and required some immediate attention –  the sub floor there is the only floor there and it was getting soft and spongey. I dried it out the best I could, then at midnight began to paint. I’d been moving boxes and crap and dealing with stuff all day long and was fired up to get it done. Shortly before this project began, I got a phone call from Sherry, the one person on the planet with whom I’ve been friends with the longest. She called to tell me that our childhood pal Joey had died. We knew it was coming, I’d seen him this past Christmastime and he looked positively ancient. He suffered from a couple of fast-moving cancers and we knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer. So it didn’t shock me, but it did move me deeply. A heavy, sad weight hung in my gut all night long as I digested the news.

How crazy it is that one moment you can be feeling such joy, hope and new glimmers of healthy progress, and yet a moment later you can be consumed by total loss, total fear, total sorrow? I had driven out earlier that day to find a newly painted orange circle marking the post which described my property’s edge. Unfortunately, it was smack in the middle of my driveway. A silent marker that screamed ‘We’re coming for you’ by the new owners of neighboring lot. Well, maybe that wasn’t the specific message per se, but certainly there was an implied warning: Things are about to change. Don’t say we didn’t tell you so.

I called the town zoning guy again today, and in spite of having had several conversations with local residents who all seemed to agree one ‘needed once full acre’ upon which to build – and in spite of his not having denied that assertion at our meeting last week – he told me that wasn’t the case. That if a lot had been described as such before the current zoning laws – then it was fine. All they needed was to make sure the building was setback far enough from the lines – so of course, the smaller the lot, the greater that challenge. But apparently, they’ve got their setbacks met, as the newly planted stakes and red nylon tape will show.

I lost another hen this week too. Dear old Dinah – plucky gal she was, a beautiful glossy black and the first to peck at anything that moved. Like Madeline and Thumbs Up she had a fully loaded and very discernible personality. I swear I don’t know how I’ll take it if Thumbs Up gets it too. Even after watching three absolutely adorable baby raccoons eat up all the bird food (and enjoy the bird bath too) over at mom’s, I still understood that I had a task before me that I had to commit to, regardless of the conflict it created in me. They were cute, but they were predators. The battle wasn’t over.

In Vietnam-like humidity and heat I re-baited the traps, two humane, one designed to kill. Sweat dripped off of my forehead and deer flies paid no attention to the Deep Woods Off that I’d soaked my clothes in. It was a very unpleasant experience. I’m not a woodswoman, not an overtly outdoorsy person, but this was my job to take care of. Emboldened by my small successes, and now hip to how cleverly those raccoons have evaded my traps, I now came up with a more secure method of setting the traps. I tied food in cheesecloth and secured it deep inside the bumane trap with wire to prevent them from making off with it as they had several times in the past. I staked the cages to the ground, I covered the lethal trap more carefully and dripped the remains of the cat food can into the hole. A quick check this morning showed nothing, and I won’t be able to rest well until I see at least three more gone.

Even though it’s my goal, oh how I dread the squeal in the middle of the night telling me the conibear trap has finally snapped… In an effort to release the second raccoon I caught in this trap from his extended death and suffering, adrenaline and compassion helped me to leave my bed, find my boots and sledgehammer, make my way into a dark and rainy night and finally whack him in the head. I cannot convey how wrong this felt, even when its goal was to help, not hurt. But these are strong creatures, and even after four heavy hits (he uttered the most horrific shriek at each one, God forgive me) he wouldn’t die. Instead, he seemed to regain his composure afterwards and relaxed into a slow, rhythmic breathing, which I matched, breath for breath, waiting for the final one. After some five minutes he was still going, and so I said a prayer, asked his forgiveness, and went back inside.

I’ve killed only two raccoons, and it seems there are still another five out there. How long will this go on? I hate living like this – it’s like I make a small advance, and then there’s another setback. I get my house in order, then discover the floor is failing, my son is having a great vacation with his father, then he calls me last night from the doctor’s office, his third day into a high fever. I was beginning to feel hopeful and lighter recently, now all this. And now I have to steady myself for a possible drama with the new developers. I can neither afford to litigate nor to rebuild a driveway. I am in a strange, dreamlike state at the moment. Kind of a low-grade state of dread, which I’m trying to mitigate as best I can by reminding myself that everything happens as it should.

The other night Andrew got raging drunk again, told mom to ‘fuck off’ at some perceived injustice she’d helped mount against him, and then sped off in his car, absolutely poised to kill himself and easily take someone out with him. Tough love won’t come through here; whenever I call mom and my brother’s in the room with her, her voice is clipped and her words brief. It’s as if she’s being watched, censored, threatened. “Is Andrew there?” I’ll ask. She’ll always answer quietly, “Yes”. Yesterday, as I was meeting with an HVAC guy, Andrew barged in and told me my car was in his way. I moved it, and immediately he got in and screeched away again, clearly showing me once again that I had every benefit in life, and that he suffered in this world all because of me. That’s the story he always tells his few friends, Martha and mom. He won’t tell me as much though - because of course he won’t even speak a word to me – so driving off at top speed is the only way he can convey to me what a bitch he thinks I am. And how privileged my life is. If only.

The Buddha plaque I rescued from the used clothing bin the other day is now clean and painted, mono chromatically the same shade as the wall on which it hangs, and he reminds me that I cannot attach myself to outcomes. I must go with what is. I know this, and sometimes it makes me want to put my goddam fist through a wall in protest, but I know it wouldn’t accomplish much. Not only am I faced with acceptance, but now find my ego must withdraw from its zone of comfort as I begin a conversation with the very people to whom I gave a piece of my mind not four days earlier. I must negotiate with the people with whom I have already expressed my disappointment in hopes that they’ll show mercy on me. Ich. I feel as if I’m going through an accelerated life course on ‘growing up and dealing with shit’ these days.

A couple of health issues have appeared too recently, nothing crazy alarming, but it may require surgical assistance. So ok, universe, what in hell am I supposed to learn from all of this? It’s so tempting to feel sorry for myself, but I remember the potential ahead. The Studio is in week two of classes, and if we can just keep moving forward in baby steps like this, then maybe we’ll get somewhere good and happy in the end.

But again, I must remind myself: there is no end. Never a point of happy conclusion. Two steps forward, one to the side, and then a couple more in an altogether unforseen direction. In truth I know it’s about the journey – not the coveted, illusive ‘destination’. So I try to enjoy the circuitous route. And for the most part I enjoy the trip, even with some of its detours, because I know they all serve some purpose, whether immediately apparent or not. And I also know that progress doesn’t necessarily mean forward movement, or even positive, welcome movement. After all, cancer is progress too. Life doesn’t assign good or bad to the continued movement and change. It simply is what it is. As bitchy as I’m tempted to get with all of this self-administered spiritual assistance, I know it’s all true. Even though it would be so much easier to just get really pissed off about everything (I may yet have a private pity party), it’s helpful to remind myself of this stuff over and over again.

I also have to remind myself that most forward movement usually involves a couple of setbacks along the way.

IMG_8794At mom’s, just one property away, these three young raccoons feel totally safe coming out in daylight. Makes me very nervous. The raccoons have taken hens right out from under my nose in the afternoon. There’s no true ‘safe’ time now.

IMG_8790Apparently, the corn isn’t enough to satisfy them.

IMG_8802Adorable, innocent creatures of God that have as much of a right to live as any other creature – or enemy and thief that must be killed and stopped from making progress? Enigmatically, the answer is: both.

IMG_8749Here it is…

IMG_8750…the eye of the storm.

IMG_8881This guy reminds me to keep my cool even when things begin to heat up… I’m just not sure he’d be down with my killing raccoons. He was a pretty peaceful fellow. Oh the dilemmas that life here on earth presents us with. The duality of it all sure can be exhausting sometimes.

 

 

Defeat, Distraction and Divots July 12, 2014

These days I tend to think of my life as being empty. Void of the things that made it fulfilling and enjoyable a decade ago. And certainly, in some ways it’s true. The nature of my life now is completely different; back in the day I lived in a bustling metropolitan area and was always involved with several creative projects at any one time. I enjoyed the great privilege of producing and hosting my own radio show, of performing in all the great venues on a regular basis, and most nights of the week were concluded in the company of friends at a restaurant eating great food. I shared my world with people who also lived their lives inside a whirlwind of creative endeavors. Yeah, it was an incredibly enjoyable time in my life. And while this chapter might not be as thrilling, it’s really no less busy, no less full. I have to remind myself it’s just different. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing, it’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m constantly faced with new challenges, both physical and emotional, and I learn from every one of them. It might not be as flat-out fun as the way I seem to remember my old life as being, but if I take a step back and observe things as objectively as I can, it appears I am not living an empty life at all.

Actually, my life in the country is chock-full of tiny events, and I am still a busy woman, only it’s a different kind of busy. In fact, I sometimes wonder how many years it will take me to find myself moving again with more regularity and less urgency. How long til I reach a point of equilibrium? Of balance, of true contentment, of peace and ease? When will the need to put out small fires cease? I suppose my feelings of discontent are partly due to the Studio and my apprehensions about all the unknowns before me, and I suppose things will only get more demanding on that front. But that’s ok, I have a suspicion that that sort of work is likely to bring more contentment than trying to trap raccoons, finding ways to keep the water out of my basement or dealing with less-than-forthright neighbors in sketchy real estate deals.

I am grateful that my partner, artist and teacher Ceres Zabel, has just successfully concluded her first week’s class at the Studio. All the kids had a great time, they learned a lot and came home with beautiful pieces to show for it. This weekend we have more work before us as we tidy the main room and turn what is currently a construction zone into a tamer, cleaner version of a workspace. More elbow grease. But that kind of work feels better than any other. I can’t wait til the classes are done for the summer and I can begin to get the insulation in and the sheet rock cut and back up – with my own hands. Until this whole experience I never would have considered doing some of the labor myself, but I’m discovering that it doesn’t hurt to try and learn how to do things yourself (plus a lack of funds kinda motivates as well. !). There hasn’t been a husband or partner around for the past six years, so I’ve had to suck it up and figure things out for myself when shit’s hit the fan. And this Studio experience is like more of the same – only on a larger scale. I have learned so much in this adventure, and it’s barely begun. So much yet to learn.

Actually, learning things is was makes things interesting. I can thank a recent heartbreaking and shady sale of the adjacent property for a quest which turned into a day-long hunt for maps, deeds and property descriptions and had me driving all over the county to collect information. I learned some interesting things along the way, some of which had absolutely nothing to do with the business at hand, but hey, isn’t that what makes life more fun? It wasn’t an errand of joy necessarily, but it turned out to be a joyful day of sorts. If nothing else, a nice diversion from the stay-at-home grind of chasing chipmunks and chickens and comparing quotes from contractors.

And then there were the lovely, impromptu visits over the past few days with neighbors, and the moments of pause they provided in my busy life. My house is cleaned out, now only the organizing remains. The field at the end of the driveway (thank God not Crow Field – the big one where the Woodcocks return each spring) will likely see the building of a too-big-for-the-lot house by fall. After penning letters giving both the seller and the buyer a piece of my mind, all that’s left to do now is to get back to building my own life and business. A couple of diversions have taken my mind off of the changes – both welcome and unwelcome – that are appearing on the horizon, and now it’s time to get my eyes back on the path directly ahead.

Diversions keep it all possible, they prevent the reality of life from becoming too daunting and dark. Thank goodness for kids and frogs, unexpected visits from neighbors and tiny, impromtu outings. Oh, and thank goodness for calls from your own child who tells you that he’s driving ‘right now’ down the strip in Las Vegas and then says ‘oh my God I have to go now Mommy cuz there’s too much to see…”. I am happy, happy, happy to know my son is enjoying himself and seeing the places I can’t afford to show him myself. I’ve already seen them, now it’s his turn. He’s in the middle of a great summer, and my heart lifts to know it. Knowing that makes whatever hardships I might be feeling in the moment so much easier to take. I miss my son, but  I know that he’s living a summer he’ll never forget. And in my own way, I guess I am too.

IMG_7961Less than an acre, but soon there’ll be a four bedroom house squeezed onto one of the few remaining fields in Greenfield.

IMG_7960What saddens me is that this field is next to my driveway. What angers me is that the owners asked that I pay to have my driveway moved so that they could sell their lot. (My ancient right-of-way makes the lot too small to develop – legally. That doesn’t seem to have stopped them in the end.)

IMG_7964Here is the tiny bit of disputed land – make a triangle from the rock on the right, the white plastic jug in the driveway, and the right rear tire of my car. But hey, if this is what it takes to prevent a house from going up, so be it. It’s the law, but the law doesn’t seem to be working. As long as I don’t have to move my driveway (more like a road really), than I’ll just have to accept the unwelcome change.

IMG_7981Neighbor Ryan stopped by for a little frog catching. Just when poor Stanley (the frog) and his family thought they could relax. Ha!

IMG_7993Mom Boat Tailed Grackle gets ready to feed her ‘baby’. (Big baby, huh?)

IMG_7995I’ve got a primitive and slow camera, but look at this! Love it.


IMG_8004The juvenile is gray with dull, gray and brown eyes. Adults are black with iridescent greenish-blue plumage and have strikingly contrasting yellow and black eyes.

IMG_8146Elihu will be bummed he missed the annual blooms of our rare Canada lily.

IMG_8148Time for art camp at the Studio!

IMG_8324Ceres has been running her Odyssey School of Fine Arts for over twenty years – its new home is now in the Studio.

IMG_8326After a short lesson, the kids get down to work.

IMG_8307Today they were given magnifying glasses to help inspect the details on the blooms and leaves they were to draw.

IMG_8329Here’s Mason’s final product!

IMG_8351Miakota’s had a great time this week.

IMG_8306Tom gets started…

IMG_8331…and here’s his final drawing.  Nice shading!

IMG_8344Much trickier than it looks.

IMG_8023Now to peel back the many layers of  the property line mystery…

IMG_8032We may live in a virtual culture, but there’s still plenty of paper hidden away in the vaults.

IMG_8039It’s details like this that I’ve come to the department of Public Works to see for myself.

IMG_8030Ah, the crazy language of property description.

IMG_8046Course I’m a bit of a map freak, so this was very exciting. Here’s a local map from over a hundred and fifty years ago.

IMG_8052Here’s a town that doesn’t even exist anymore – it was built around an old glass factory, just north of Lake Desolation. (I love the way each building has its owner’s name written beside it.)  It’s kind of like the East’s version of a ghost town. You can find bits of glass and pottery in the woods on the site but not much more as humidity eventually claims everything. When the industry collapsed and the town was no longer needed, some of the houses themselves were moved down the mountain on rollers and re-constructed in Saratoga Springs – a good ten miles away. Impressive and amazing to me.

IMG_8073I’m a great fan of all things modern and mid-century, and I’ve always loved this lobby of the county building, complete with lamps made of the same granite as the table upon which they sit, and dig those original (and sadly kinda shabby) metallic gold lampshades!

IMG_8066Now onto a title insurance company. Bit of trivia for Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford fans: this is the site of some interior restaurant scenes from The Way We Were.

IMG_8063Disappointingly, there’s not one single detail left that would even give you and idea for the soda fountain it once was. (Also a disappointment was finding no deed or title description to be found that mentioned my driveway and thereby proved, on paper, of its existence before we bought the place.)

IMG_8067More movie fun facts: the scene in which Bob ties Barbra’s shoes in the moonlight was filmed here at the historic Medbery Inn in downtown Ballston Spa, New York in 1972.

IMG_8374I stopped by Zac and Stephanie’s and before I knew it, I’d tagged along with them to the local Polo grounds to see my first game. Saratoga Springs is a horse town, and this famous Polo field is a mere three miles from my home, yet I’ve never been. (Maybe cuz it’s $30 a car, and I’m usually traveling solo.)

IMG_8441The ground rumbles when the action gets close. All that prevents the ball from flying out into the onlookers is an 8″ tall board on the perimeter of the field, and the incredible skill of the players.

IMG_8443There they go!

A short bit of live action on the field (which is I hear is the size of nine football fields).

IMG_8449Wow! One of the kids in our group actually got a ball!

IMG_8437The half time tradition of ‘stomping the divots’. The horse’s hooves leave footprints, some of which are pieces of sod that can be stamped back into place. One must be careful to tell chunks of dirt apart from other, similar-looking mounds before stomping. !

IMG_8368I haven’t tailgated in decades – this was a multi-generational party with lots of kids. Grandpa Phil (in blue) chats with son Zac (in yellow). These guys are my saviors – they helped fix the Studio up so we could open, they’ve helped me catch varmints, close up my chickens, fix water pumps and more. This is Annabelle in the pink sunglasses, she’s the big sister of three.

IMG_8208At the end of a full couple of days, I head back home down my beautiful and peaceful driveway. I’ve never taken this rural landscape for granted, but there’s never a good time to see it go. I’ll miss this field terribly. But on we march, into the unknown of the future, grateful for what still remains.

 

Stinky Stuff July 8, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Mommy Mind,Pics — wingmother @ 11:27 pm

There’s been a lot of action around here lately. It’s been hot and muggy, and I’ve put in a lot of time dealing with the various pieces of crap still embedded in the corners of my property; pounds upon pounds of plastic sheeting in giant piles over what used to be the garden, long-lost, tangled piles of old chicken wire sunk beneath mounds of wet leaf litter and even car parts from a previous tenant all needed to be collected and added to the growing pile of junk that was to be hauled away. Frank, the handlebar-moustached junk man swung by with his big truck today, and I jumped in the bed to help load up all the crap. He kindly undercharged me for the huge haul, and soon he was pulling away down my long, winding driveway, leaving me a clean homestead for the very first time since I moved here, now almost six years ago.

Finally, finally, my space was clear of every last item I didn’t want or need. The flower garden outside my door was looking trim and neat and the cut lawn stretched out, perfect, in all directions. A day or two before I’d managed to start up both the tiller and weed trimmer and had enjoyed the old, familiar smell of two cycle engine exhaust as I put the finishing touches on my place. Wow. Such a long time coming, but now it was here. I sat on my steps, exhausted and surrounded by my chickens, and I reveled in the moment.

A short time later, sweaty and covered in bug spray, I took off my grungy clothes and started the shower. No sooner had I done this, than I heard a car honk in my driveway. Wrapping a towel around me and running to the door I saw a woman get out of the car – the one who owned the lot through which my driveway runs for about fifteen feet – and she announced to me that she needed to finalize the plans for the driveway, as she had a sale that was to close the next day at one o’clock. Thankfully my somewhat compromised state allowed me a polite stay on the conversation. I promised to call her shortly. And I did.

What ensued was the most civil yet heated exchange I have ever had with a person. She wanted to sell her property – but could not do so as my driveway went through it. She wanted to inform me that ‘first thing in the morning’ there would be a load of gravel dumped so that I would no longer have to cross over her property. I countered (not wanting the probably inevitable building of a house virtually on my driveway) by citing the easement we agreed on when we purchased the house; we bought the place with the right-of-way as part of the deal. She disagreed, but I told her that this was all a moot point – and simply hearsay – until we both had the deed in hand. Then she reiterated that tomorrow she would simply mark her property line with large rocks if need be.

Man, she was a tough woman, and she remained eerily polite throughout. I am no negotiator, but I kept my cool and stuck to my guns. I believe she was calling my bluff, but nonetheless I won’t feel completely at ease until I’ve visited the town clerk’s office tomorrow morning and can learn the truth. She posited that my driveway might have ‘migrated’ over the years and that gravel would fill in the new driveway’s path – I pointed out that it was a well-constructed road, it had not ‘migrated’ at all, and furthermore a simple load of gravel would not be enough to move it. I suggested that the situation be remedied by my family simply buying the some 100 square feet in dispute on which my driveway sat. She told me this wouldn’t work, as that would leave her less than an acre, and that wasn’t enough to build on. Last time I checked, the zoning in town required five acres for a new house. So much for preserving the rural nature of our community. If holding out on this precious, tiny area meant staving off the development, if even for a little while, then I knew it was worth it.

Yesterday, intending to catch a raccoon, I caught a skunk instead. After my initial panic wore off, I spent a little time on YouTube educating myself on safely releasing the creature from the trap without getting sprayed. This event was truly a right of passage for me. This past week I’ve seen the death of two fatally trapped raccoons (sadly even had to whack one in the head to hasten his demise – that too was a strange initiation into real country life), I’ve shot my first gun, and I’ve taken out a dozen rodents in my house. I’m getting braver, but still, this took some new-found courage. It went well, and without incident. I pray for another such ending in this dicey new affair with the neighbors.

It looks like our private little sanctuary in the country might be changing soon. And after finally getting the place cleaned up and looking like it should. Phooey. This is what really stinks.

IMG_7928Surprise!

IMG_7929Not a terribly sharp image, but still you can see how beautiful she is. I was surprised at the amount of white on her – and what a tail.

IMG_7922Got the cage oh-so-carefully draped in a cloth to calm her and reduce her vision. Suited up now and goin in!

IMG_7932I managed to get the door open and propped up – but she wouldn’t leave. I ran inside to get some smelly canned salmon with which to entice her exit, but in the two minutes I was gone – she had left on her own. I’d wanted to watch her leave, but just as well. A good ending to a potentially stinky situation.

 

Stuffed July 6, 2014

We are a culture of stuff. Crap just seems to find most of us, regardless of whether we are filthy rich or dirt poor. Our contemporary American culture grooms us to become professional consumers and collectors from the earliest age. Even our organic, untouched human nature, regardless of cultural affiliation – always in search of wholeness, satisfaction and existential peace – places great importance on objects to help us fill those voids and still that pesky uncertainty. We all know that a flag is really just a piece of fabric, but plenty of us are still a little squeamish about seeing it hit the ground. Trinkets and mementos tug hard at our heart-strings by offering us tangible evidence of long-gone memories.  Finery represents to the world our good taste and our economic success. And then of course, there’s that ‘new-from-the-box’ rush against which few of us are immune. Stuff is comforting, it’s exciting. It’s what we crave. To many of us, our stuff really, really matters.

To some of us, our very identities are completely identified by and wrapped up in the stuff that we own. Most of us live with a low-level of this affliction, but as the current run of tv programs on hoarding will bear out there’s also a growing population of people who act like absolute magnets for matter; people who feel somehow safer, more emotionally protected and at peace when completely surrounded by stuff. All contingencies of life are potentially prepared for, all heartbreak warded off, memories continue to live, and past hopes and dreams, whether realized or not, linger comfortingly in the physical realm. Most of our stuff is merely a collection of inert, valueless objects, but to the super-invested owner, the very experiences or memories those objects represent – whether either in the past or possibly yet to come in the future – are one in the same with the object.  Owning an object also seems to mean owning control over the thing that it represents. And control gives one a feeling of comfort. Of predictability, stability and ultimately, of safety. To have control is to have the illusion of peace. And the illusion of peace can sure feel better than no peace at all.

Stuff helps cover your shit up. It weighs you down and buffers you from any possible hurtful, frightening or unpleasant experiences. Stuff insulates you from pain of living – but only temporarily. It can help mask the fear, yeah, maybe, but in the end, stuff kills. In the end, it’s the stuff that has the control over you, not the other way around. If you’re a person that doesn’t feel the nagging tug of stuff, count yourself lucky. I know you’re out there; I’ve met a few folks for whom it’s never been an issue. “But what about all of your schoolwork, your artwork, your… you know, all your stuff?” I would press them, but the response from these folks would often come easily, matter-of-factly. They didn’t remember really, they guessed that they just didn’t ever think about it much. Their stuff just kind of disappeared over the course of their lives. Who knew? That kind of answer always blew my mind, because I myself have been in a constant battle with stuff since I was a young girl. A hand mirror given to my by Louis and Patty, a stuffed suede dog from Switzerland that Hannelore brought me, an empty spool of thread my grandmother left behind or an ever-growing box of my drawings and writings. I kept tight watch over my stuff and it broke my heart to think of it lost or gone forever. I try to imagine what it’s like not to live as I do, and I just can’t.

My basement is currently under siege; stuff from toys to clothes to aquariums to old paper mache costumes take up valuable space in a humid and dank, ever-shrinking space. Gifts of hand-me-downs sit in bins, waiting for their seasons, or perhaps even to be given away, broken candles await the winter project of making shiny new ones from the remnants, lps line up on sagging bookshelves, volumes of photo books too take up more shelves. Stuff just blooms from the corners and the mass seems to have grown bigger than the last time I took a casual inventory. For someone whose main goal in life is to live simply, I am years away – or at least many hours away – from that goal. And whenever I make some headway, it seems something throws me back again; a kindly drop off of clothes or toys by a friend or classmate, a couple of ‘bird things’ from grandma here and there, oversized drawings of Elihu’s, or hundreds of his unique paper airplane designs that now require storage in an enormous plastic bucket. When assessed one object at a time, most of them seem reasonable enough on their own. But there comes that certain threshold in the accumulation at which it all of it seems equally deserving of a rented roll off container.

A short time after college, and long before it was hip, I worked as a personal organizer. It was a short-lived endeavor, as I felt that most clients needed both a psychologist and organizer in one, and after a certain point, I didn’t have the skills to wrest unhealthy people from their hoards. ‘Assess a Mess’ ended before it might have realized a good measure of success; the job took a huge amount of energy and stamina to do right, and my own personal energies were going in a different direction. So it makes me wonder; if I didn’t have the stamina to deal with people’s messes back then (when I was young and had more oomph) how on earth will I deal with this mess, now? Plus there’s also another phenomenon to purging and cleaning out – it’s easier to do it for other people than it is for yourself. It’s simply not as easy to make the hard decisions when you’re so emotionally invested in things. But I also know this about cleaning house: when the time is right, you find it in yourself to get the job done. I’ve also known major cleanouts to happen around big life changes. Obviously there are the stories of death and divorce, cross-country moves or major career changes, but there are physical and emotional chapters too which play a part. When I was twelve, shortly after I’d first gotten my period, I did a heroic job of cleaning and organizing my hugely sloppy and congested bedroom. Martha, family friend and matriarchal figure, asked if I’d ‘just begun menstruating’. She seemed to have skills of divination; how on earth did she know? She laughed and told me that often ‘when girls become women’ they do something of that sort. I guess it’s kind of like the nesting that soon-to-be mothers are famous for.

There’s definitely change afoot in my life; I’m pretty sure it’s part of what’s been contributing to my panic attacks and bouts of deep depression lately. And if change is what I need to get this massive clean-out underway, I have a hunch that I’ll find it in me to get this thing nailed. Gotta unload a little of life’s ballast to set sail for new seas…

kitchen hoardThis is my brother’s kitchen, it’s a mixture of garbage and non-garbage items. Hard to tackle even if you’re feeling strong and of good spirit; how on earth can someone so compromised by depression even begin?

kitchen clutter

And here’s my mess, after coming home from a friend’s house and receiving the contents of her pantry and other assorted things after her recent out-of-state move. It was daunting, so much so that I hired a neighbor girl to help me get it packed away.

IMG_7558I’ve spent hours upon hours excavating my cellar and garage. It’s not quite organized yet, but at least it’s out in the open where I can see it all… I’ve posted ads in Freecycle and Craiglist hoping to give it all away. Maybe the key words ‘free stuff’ will move it out faster.

IMG_7721Sure enough, folks were coming by long before the thing was even supposed to start. Drat, I forgot to post ‘no early birds’. That’s ok. Everyone’s lighthearted. One woman even went to get me coffee when I mumbled something about not being ready so early (and also kindly invited me to visit her church one day)… I met a bunch of very sweet people that afternoon.

IMG_7710It’s sad for me to see things go… this little blue trike my kid dubbed “Mongey” when he was four. Never a cuter sight than that tiny boy pedaling along furiously, his baby curls blowing in the breeze…

IMG_7716The wizard, acquired at a truck stop and now missing an arm (which always inspired us to cry ‘it’s just a flesh wound’) has found a new, enthusiastic owner. (Btw – if you, new owner, should read this post, I have the power supply – find me and I’ll get it to you.)

IMG_7718There goes a model of the Tally Ho. I once jumped off the cap rail of that boat and kept this for years as a memento of that day.

IMG_7729Told this gal she’d have to wipe it clean; it was too hard for me to do.

IMG_7731My grandma Lydia’s raccoon coat is simply too musty for me… hope this woman will give it another go.

IMG_7775This cherub poster hung over my marital bed for years – in the early, posters-as-art days… My ex felt it should be on our walls here to help give Elihu a sense of continuity. ! I’d felt there were other, more important symbols of ‘continuity’ than this, and it’s been languishing in the basement ever since.

IMG_7767I’m even willing to part with my Noel candle, purchased at the Jewel in Wilmette (the one on Greenbay that had the escalators) as I, at the age of six, repeatedly begged to have it. (It lasted, untouched til the last of the giveaway, so I ended up sneaking it back into the garage. Shh..)

IMG_7769I was giving it all away…. I wanted stuff to move, after all. Ended up making $25 in tips. Good karma sales.

IMG_7821Unearthed from the vaults. Those on the top are from the bicentennial! And the Eli business was a nod to both Yale (founded by Elihu Yale, and my father’s alma mater) and a mentor figure of dad’s at Yale, who’s name was actually Elias. When my son’s name finally came into my head (he was nameless for a good week) I first saw in my mind’s eye this license plate. Crazy, huh.

IMG_7755I remember many nights going to bed with this fan in the window. It used to scare the pants off of me. As kids, Andrew and I would fake dare each other to stick our fingers into the unprotected metal blades. They don’t make em like they used to – and it’s a good thing, too!

IMG_7754Look – made by Montgomery Ward. A drop of oil and you’re ready to go.

IMG_7749It’s this young girl – also named Elizabeth – who’ll be enjoying the fan next.

IMG_7766More sentiment. This is the main activity that kept my son busy on our drive here when we left Illinois.

IMG_7806This is what’s left of an impressive Quetzacoatl/Archaeoptyrix (yikes, I don’t remember which!) costume I made year before last (complete with 12 foot wingspan on a working pulley system), and in the upper right, a goofy but earnest portrait of a young Navy man that I would love to pack up and send to Evanston’s Lucky Platter. Evanston peeps, ya think?

IMG_7804What’s a girl to do with an enormous monarch caterpillar costume?

IMG_7799I’m running out of steam…

IMG_7738Keep it going… I see some shabby chic makeovers in the future..

IMG_7740Make yourselves a big ol load of stuff…

IMG_7820The next morning, I’m left with just a few things..

IMG_7818A bunch of trash…

IMG_7819Some wonderful clothing which will go to a local community center…

IMG_7810And soon we’ll have our own Burning Man here – only it’ll be Burning Gingerbread Man…

IMG_7816Bald Mountain approves of the tidy garage.

IMG_7823Ya know what happened at the end? A really nice man named Dan showed up, and while my offerings disappointed, he did end up with an Oliver Sachs book, a couple of nice planter pots, plus he was a saint and helped me schlep all of the remaining items to the roadside for passersby to pick up and whisk away.

IMG_7826Good Free Stuff. Well, kinda. At least it’s free. And so now am I.

Aaaahh.

 

Love Penny, Lost Raccoon June 30, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Mommy Mind,Pics — wingmother @ 1:13 am

The other day I’d taken my jar of change in to Walmart to redeem some big-time cash for my savings. After the coins had all filtered down through the machine I heard one final and ringing ‘clink’ sound. I checked, and to my surprise retrieved one single penny, cut into the shape of a heart, and with the word “LOVE” stamped into it. Having been rather at the end of my rope recently, and finding even this outing to be something of a challenge with respect to my panic attacks alone, I couldn’t help but see it as a sign. Some readers may smile and nod knowingly, others may think me silly. Who cares, regardless of the means, this little love penny came to me. It came to me at a time when I needed a secret hello of some sort from the universe – real or imagined. When I went to redeem my change for the big money (I even liked the sum: $17.17) I just had to share my story with the gal at the register. She thought it just as sweet and serendipitous as I, and I departed, happy, feeling like I’d just been given a mysterious, secret wink from the world. I tucked the little copper heart into an interior pocket of my purse. Several times during the day I’d pull it out and examine it in wonder. I imagined the person who tossed it into the machine, smiling, thinking of the recipient, hoping it would make their day. I thought of them, thanked them and received the special little penny with gratitude.

Today I awoke with a heart lightened by my surprise ‘love penny’ from the day before, and an attitude refreshed by a sense that things might still be on my side, in spite of all I had before me. Needing someone to bear witness to the unbelievable volume of the stuff I had collected in my basement alone (and needed to get rid of in the coming few weeks), I had my mother – bum knee and all – brave the cellar stairs and come down to witness the enormous mess before me. “How did you get all this stuff?” she asked me, unaware that even she had played her own small part in the chaos; a Sierra club backpack here, a stack of Audubon bird calendars there… Crap everywhere. I don’t even understand how it all got here. I just don’t know; stuff finds us. Hand me downs – a very welcome staple of our life here in Greenfield – take up far more space than I’d realized. Having excavated the old ‘root’ cellar I find the main room now piled from floor-to-ceiling with bins upon bins… It seems so innocent at the time, a friend sends a box, someone leaves a bag on our steps, a classmate one size larger leaves us a bin… Don’t get me wrong, we need this stuff. It’s what clothes my child. Between what I make and what his father sends – there’s not enough to buy clothes after our bills are met. So it’s all a tremendous blessing – only we can’t ever use all of it. And it takes a lot of time to go through and set the extra stuff aside. And besides – some of it is still too big for Elihu right now, so we have to save it. It all takes up space.

But so do old Halloween costumes and boxes of paper airplanes. So do RC cars and defunct helicopters and vintage computers… It all adds up, and the result is a basement in which we can both no longer find things nor walk around in. And I for one have had it.

So when folks lightheartedly ask me what I’m doing for the summer (you know, with all this time in which to relax!) it’s impossible to answer them as truthfully as I’d like. I have a LOT of shit before me, from my own personal stuff to that of the Studio. And I’m just one woman. But I take heart this morning, because after all, someone, somewhere sent me little give of love… and just remembering this makes me smile. Yeah, I have a lot to do, and a huge adventure still before me, but I’m beginning to feel hopeful again. I’m in my own personal zone now; I don’t even know where my kid is – it’s only when I check in on Facebook that I see the photo a friend has posted of him. He’s in Fort Wayne, Indiana today, busking and netting some good tips and giving an interview to the local paper. Good for him. I’d like to check in, but I gotta keep moving.

Today I’m emptying the garage, cleaning it, having the brush dealt with and setting traps for the raccoons. May not sound like a lot, but it is. A wonderful fellow named Joe came today and worked hard in the hot summer sun cutting the chest-high brush and cleaning up a years’ worth of neglect. It was a good day. I began to feel that I might be regaining some control over things. I began to feel like the universe was putting out little signs for me, hoping I’d pick up on them.

The day before, just before I’d found my heart-shaped penny, I stopped to watch some guys unloading a bin full of donated clothing. I’d been doing a little reconnaissance regarding the destination of all my stuff… I was wondering where this stuff ended up, and if in fact it all got used. They insisted it did, and furthermore, they offered that they could even come to my house to make a pickup. Although it was mostly clothing that people’d left in the bins, I saw that other artifacts had been tossed into the heap as well. “I don’t even know what this is” the young man said as he held up a bas-relief portrait of Buddha. “That’s Buddha.” I informed him. He gave me a rather blank look. “He’s kinda like Jesus for another part of the planet.” “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of him. Yeah. Cool.” he set it down again and went back to throwing bags of clothes onto the truck. “Would I be breaking the rules if I took him?” I asked. “Oh, you’re cool. You can take him.” the boy answered. And so I did. I thanked the guys, wished them well, and tucked the Buddha into my backseat. It felt very much like a little nod from the universe. I could definitely use a little Buddha today. A little paint and tlc, and he might just be a perfect pick-me-up and addition to our wall at home. And then I got the penny not a half hour later. Both of em, just what I needed, at just the right time.

I’d set the humane traps the day before for the raccoon, but had been twice duped by the clever beast. First, somehow, she’d managed to retrieve the chicken thigh cooked in bacon fat without so much as tripping the damned thing. That morning she’d fooled me again, by digging underneath the closed trap and retrieving the bread from below the cage, through the mesh. Inside the house I’d been having another ongoing drama with Gwendolyn, our resident chipmunk. She’d gotten so comfortable in our house that she’d now sit on the kitchen table while I drank my coffee in the morning, sitting as still as I believe a chipmunk to have the patience to, and she’d just watch me while I sipped. A good two or three minutes would pass before she decided she’d had enough, and she’d flit away. When I’d taken Elihu to the airport last week, I’d also taken Gwendolyn, or at least one of her relatives, and so there was every chance that a family had taken up residence in the car as well. For as sweet as they seem, for as endearing as Gwendolyn was as we shared our moment in the morning, I cannot forget that she and hers threaten the electrical system in my car as well as  the safety of the food in my pantry. Like the raccoon, she too thwarted my efforts to use the humane trap on her, escaping the closed trap with the bait, and without injury.

It’s not been an easy decision for me by any means to take action, but tonite I had to. I had Joe set a real trap for the raccoon, and rat traps will follow for the chimpmunks. Tonite, shortly after I’d taken a shower and was about to get into bed, I heard a shrieking sound. I went out to the edge of the woods and saw her there, stuck, flailing. It was not as I’d thought it would be. I ran to the garage and searched in vain for my sledgehammer with which I meant to end her suffering.  Now in tears, I ran to call neighbor Zac, who showed up only moments later, but just too late. The raccoon had finally died. And as Zac and I worked to free her from the trap, I saw she was a mother. Her kids had likely stopped nursing and were grown, she didn’t have milk, but still, it was hard to see. Having just died, she was warm and soft. I held her like a baby, I told her I was sorry. I understood it was she who’d taken my beloved hens, yet still I didn’t feel glee at her death. A little relief, yes, but it was still sad.

It’s so hard to reconcile all of the extremes in this world. One day I can’t imagine waking up one more morning, the next day I’m encouraged by tiny signs…. One day my heart is angrily set on taking out the animal that’s been killing my own, but in the end, I feel a mix of sorrow and a mild sense of regret. No celebration. No mourning really even. Just sort of a nondescript settling in of the process. Tonite I feel a mix of so many things all at once. The relief that soon my extra things will be gone, that soon the Studio will be underway, that the raccoon is dead. Good and bad, despondent and hopeful, living and dead. It all exists in such close proximity.

I think of my penny, and I go to retrieve it from my purse. It’s not there. In a mild panic, I search for it everywhere I can think of, in the junk drawer, in my car, in my jewelry drawer, in every corner of my purse. I don’t remember moving it since the last time I dropped it into my bag… How on earth is it gone? Yet it must be. In my possession for less than a day and night, I am saddened at the loss. I hadn’t even taken a picture of it. I google the image, and I find nothing like it. There is no proof of my sign… it’s gone…. And then I think of the love penny and how it did just what it was supposed to at the right time, and now it was simply on its way to do its job again for the next person in need. And I think of my new friend, Mr. Buddha. That middle way he talked about. Let things come as they will, and let them go. I guess I just gotta go with it. Easy come, easy go.

I can’t help but look to tomorrow with a new sort of excitement and anticipation, and at the same time I look at the past with gratitude and a sense of wonder. I’m sorry about the raccoon, and I send her my love. On we go, may we all be on the way to a better place, whether it’s here or somewhere yet unknown…

IMG_7434My garage is bursting…

IMG_7410… and my basement is full with Halloween costumes and the assorted detritus of life.

IMG_7413Some things I can’t part with… old concert posters and a certificate for my father signed by Pablo Casals.

IMG_7550Elihu drew these on his easel at five, shortly after me moved here.

IMG_7427God bless Katie and Kat – they helped with the gruntwork.

IMG_7475Some things – like this paper plane of hundreds – get burned.

IMG_7442Joe has been another Godsend. He’s helped cut the overgrowth on my property, which is wonderful, but I learn he’s a trapper, too.

IMG_7446It takes a bit of finesse to set it right.

IMG_7449This is what it looks like when he’s finished.

IMG_7560This is an unsuccessfully closed trap from which a chimpmunk escaped – with the bait. !

IMG_7565I’m sorry to say that in this picture she’s still alive, and struggling. This was horrible to witness. From now on when I do this I’ll have my sledgehammer on hand. This must be quicker and more humane.

IMG_7570When she does finally pass, I admire her hands. So clever, just last night she’d removed bait from a humane trap and escaped. I’ve even seen her use these hands to remove the lids from garbage cans. She was very smart and talented.

IMG_7584I can’t help but cradle her. She’s dead now, but still soft and warm. I thanked her for being a good mom and doing what she was supposed to. Even Zac, as seasoned a farm fellow as he is, he wasn’t any happier about this than I was. She’s now been double-bagged and is in our freezer pending ideas from Elihu. I think it’ll just be a memento of a tail. I just don’t have an appetite for revenge barbecue. Bless you little girl, hope you’re in a better place. I’m relieved that I don’t have to fear for my hens anymore. Hopefully we’re onto a new chapter.

 

 

 
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