The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Easter Morn April 24, 2011

Hallelujah! The Lord has risen, and so has the temperature! Fully expecting to see a figure beginning with 3 or 4 on my kitchen door thermometer, imagine my surprise and joy just now in seeing 60! Really? Wow – gotta let those chickens out, surprised I haven’t hear them crowing yet. (Two days ago I awoke to see snow covering everything, and rather thickly, for a spring snow. I’d thought briefly to post a picture on Facebook, but snow in April hardly warrants surprise for northerners.) It’s a lovely, sunny, warm and still Easter morning here in upstate New York. I look around and imagine all those farmer types who might be just a little miffed that they’ve got to dress up and go to church on such a good day for getting some outside work done. Then I think, well, at least it’s great weather for getting the kids dressed up and loaded in the minivan… That’s better. Should really start this day with a more uplifting sentiment.

Coffee cup in hand, I stand on my front steps and begin to think over all the things I’ve learned so far in my two years here, and then I begin to consider all the lessons yet ahead. I begin a quick inventory of the things that have begun to come into my field of awareness. First off, I’m really glad to have serendipitously come across the author Michael Perry through his latest book “Coop”, which I found directly in my path as I did a final once-over of the local Borders on its last day. Got it for a buck (sorry, Mike). Therein is a nice chunk of not only remembrances that parallel mine in many ways (growing up farming, a late sixties, early seventies childhood, going it alone with a capricious ‘try it and see what’s the worst that could happen’ attitude and more) but a lesson in the end which I would do well to learn from. He comes to the conclusion (bless that man, oh how I wish my ex had felt the same) that it is his wife who really holds down the whole operation as he spends a good deal of time on the road. He credits her for feeding the animals and tending the garden while raising the young children. Then he begins to realize that farming is in itself a job, and that he really cannot both farm and write professionally – at least to the degree he’d thought possible at the outset. My mother expressed her concern recently that this garden/chicken thing is a huge endeavor, and that I should be putting the bulk of my time into The Studio instead. Well, somehow, I’ve managed to juggle things before, and with nice results, so I’ve been thinking I can pull it off. But in the two days since she said this, the reality is beginning to sink in. A 20’x40′ garden. Forty chickens, a new coop and run (which I must build). An eight year old boy. A community arts center with summer camp programs (which I run). A concert hall dedication ceremony and Baroque concert with promo to be done, tickets to be sold. Sheesh. I haven’t even added in my new membership at the Y, my ambitious new ‘women on weights’ class or just general life. Caution rises up in me and a new, more responsible voice begins to emerge, telling me that it’s not about ego, that I have not failed if I can’t pull it all off, that I must remember that everything takes half again as much energy to manifest as one bargains for at the top.

Ok. Today at Easter dinner I will sound out mom and Martha – now the old women at the table – and I will see how crazy my plate looks to them. Just since I awoke about an hour ago I’ve already begun to research tillers and what that labor is about. Hmm. Front tine: cheap, but good for small gardens. Require more effort. Rear tine: expensive, good for big jobs, less grunting. My mom has a small Mantis I can use. That will have to do. I guess before my farmer neighbor came over the other day to offer a kindly consultation on my land, I’d had romantic, Foxfire-ish visions of swinging a hoe in the humid, hot July, laboring down the rows stopping to pluck a potato bug here and there, wiping my brow as I assessed my progress and happy to finally have a good reason to wear my floppy garden hat. Oh dear. I need to slow down and think this over.

I’m just so thrilled to be alive now, to have the tools for self-education right here in this little box. I have become a sponge these past two years. One can investigate virtually anything with google and you tube. That saves one a lot of time and mishap. While there is absolutely no substitute for jumping in and experiencing your own three stooges moments, it behooves one to do a little reconnaissance first. With these tools I add one more; getting out and visiting with those who have gone before. In my search for free lumber on Craigslist, and my forays into the countryside to pick up the stuff, I’ve enjoyed many very educational discussions with folks who’ve been at it for years. Building, fixing, raising, growing. So I’m asking a lot of questions. Man, the information just comes in. And so does the dawning realization that I just might not be able to pull it all off – at least not this year.

In the two decades I spent living with a classical guitarist, the most frustrating thing about it was quite literally, a fingernail. (This is the line that will get all partners of guitarists to smile, the guitarists themselves won’t, and I’ll get into that here.) Fareed was constantly swiping his right hand thumbnail with a teeny fragment of fabric-soft, ultra-fine sandpaper which he ALWAYS carried with him (or almost always – the occasional search for his missing sandpaper was as frantic as the search for the crying baby’s missing pacifier). The right hand thumbnail, to a classical guitarist, is the essence of who he or she is as a player. The very physical condition and shape of the nail combined with the technique (oh dear, to add flesh or not to add flesh? Segovia or Williams?) is what makes the ‘sound’. And by sound I do not simply mean it simply plucks the string; rather it creates the quality of the sound that defines the player. The endless filing of the nail was accompanied by daily and even hourly proclamations that his sound was getting closer. To what? I waited for years to arrive at that destination. My husband was always trying to improve his sound. Improve his thumbnail. Improve the angle at which it reached the string. He was in ceaseless pursuit of that elusive combination of a thousand micro-changes that were apparently ALL of great significance to the end result. He would announce hundreds of times with sincere elation that he’d made a discovery today! And I would try, so hard, and many, many, many times with genuine thrill, joy and love for him at his success, to share in that moment. But I’m sure you can imagine, that at the thousandth such proclamation it was hard to conjure real thrill. It was tiring. This day-to-day emotional roller coaster of the search for the perfect thumbnail shape. I began to get a grouchy about it sometimes. I found it very hard to believe that after years of fussing with it he hadn’t come upon the perfect shape. Or at least perfected some method of getting somewhere in the workable neighborhood.

But indeed, God is in the details. Many times in my new single life in the country I’ve smiled to myself at his unending process with a new light of understanding. I too, am realizing the umpteen million degrees to which one can take any endeavor. And all the different results that manifest from those nearly invisible changes. From growing seeds to monitoring the humidity in my incubator, I’ve seen the effects of subtle changes on the results. I guess I’m now a believer. I wonder how I might give him this gift; how can I tell him, with love, that I am sorry for my exasperation at his tiny triumphs? How can I convey, with humor intended (for it is kinda funny to me now) that I have a better understanding of how much more there is to anything than one can possibly understand at a casual, outsider’s glance? In my heart, I apologize to him many times for this, and I almost always laugh, because I am beginning to be humbled by how many choices go into life.

So on Easter morning, I am taking stock. I am renewed with hope, I am educated by my past. I am going to slow down today. Perhaps I’ll see if the trout lily is up in the woods. Heck, I don’t even know if it grows this far east. There’s so much I don’t know. It’s such an adventure, this life. A pain in the ass to be sure, but humor and gratitude oil the big machine. I’m off to git her started. Nice and slow, Elizabeth, you’ve got a lot ahead.

 

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