The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Raking It In October 14, 2013

Ah, such bounty in our lives these recent days. Too much to recount each sweet detail. Suffice to say we’ve been visited by friends, we ourselves have trapsed through the woods and across fields to call on our neighbors, we’ve enjoyed time outdoors in the finest fall weather we could ever hope for, and we haven’t encountered a truly bad mood all week.

Today we spent the whole day outside in the warm air, under a brilliant blue and cloudless sky which was framed by intense yellows and reds. Our birds freely roamed the woods and fields as they usually do, adding to a certain picturesque quality to the property. Once or twice Elihu and I have had a conversation about doing away with the whole chicken thing altogether, but we simply could never do it. We both agree that our avian companions add more than just charm to the place; they give it a certain energy, and they bestow a certain gentleness upon our small farmstead and soften the hearts of all who visit. And then there are the eggs. It’s nice to be able to have our pick of ‘free’ eggs each morning. Of course when the male-to-female, layer-to-non-layer ratios are off, the chicken thing begins to become a bit more of a burden that I’m comfortable with – as we must continue to buy feed for them with nothing to show for the investment. If it weren’t for my suddenly very busy work schedule I’d take em to the Amish farmer and bring em back in a cooler. (Yes, for this year we’ve put our lofty goals of butchering them ourselves on hold – just too much going on right now for one woman to handle!) But I can’t get it scheduled in for another week yet, so til then I must continue to feed the whole loud gang of crowers. It’s ok. I might even miss the ruckus when they’re gone. Maybe. I do know this: the chicken stock will be off-the-hook good, and it will feel very good to eat nothing but happy birds for the next coupla months. No more turning our consciences the other way when we eat our grocery store-bought meat. Not a huge step, but a step nonetheless.

Today was a day of leaf piles. Thank goodness that at ten my son still finds great joy being buried in great mounds of em. It’s one of those eras of youth that goes by too quickly – yet the memories stay with you forever. And when you’re in the middle of an afternoon of leaf pile play, it’s just the sweetest time. Playing in the leaves has been a two-day activity here, and while my ultimate goal was to make a tiny dent in the fall cleanup, Elihu’s was to remain hidden in the largest pile on the property as long as he could possibly hold out. I can’t finish my cleanup til that last pile goes… And as of tonight, one final (and enormous) pile is still there. He was so joyful all afternoon. Every now and then he’d bring a chicken in with him to his cozy nest in the leaves. (His nest-building was very determined and ‘Bower bird-esque’ we decided. ) I took pictures and more pictures, some worth sharing now, some only worth sharing twenty-five years from now when his own children want to see what he did when he was little… In the end, it’s enough to remember the way we laughed and laughed, the bright blue sky above us….

In the late morning we decided to embark on a little local adventure and find our way up a small mountain to a long-abandoned graphite mine. It was opened in the first decade of the 1900s and closed only a few decades later as a cheaper source of graphite was discovered in India. Crazy, huh? We did a little sleuthing online and saw a picture of the men at this graphite mine posed around a train bridge over a river, saw some buildings around them and a few barrels here and there. A small operation, it had from 50 – 100 men employed there and who lived on location. Hardly a handful of decades have gone by since then, and yet through the natural degradation that’s taken place it’s hard to even imagine such an endeavor thrived there once. It really does blow the mind how fragile and temporary we are, both man and machine. When we came to the foundation that looked much like the place they might have lived, we found some enamel food bowls, and while no barrels, we did see pairs of barrel stays, trees now growing tall up and through them. Another sixty years and I’m not sure anything will be visible. It was most fascinating to see the right angles and footprints of the former buildings and their tall walls built down the many feet of the mountainside to the ravine below. The place was once big and rockin, with a small guage train running up and down the mountain to carry the haul and the supplies. Lots of industry took place here once, but in the quiet woods of fall, all of it now softly covered in leaves and lichen, it just seems like something from a dream. We took a shortcut back to the trail, and as I grabbed for a root to pull myself up by, I saw something shiny and black, picked it up and – whaddya know, it was graphite! Sweet! When we got home, Elihu drew a picture with it. It chips fairly easily, so we’ve decided to keep it in a small plastic bag. Nice to have a real, ‘working’ memento of our impromptu hike. Btw – the place is only four miles on the odometer from our house (woulda been less had we just trekked directly through the woods from our place), and the whole thing took less than an hour. We experienced some impressive elevation and some dramatic scenery as we walked the edge of a very steep ravine and had some lovely views to Vermont on the way back. A fine, easy hike. Just right for my current fitness level. !

We’d hoped for a ride through the local wooded trails in neighbors Zac and Stephanie’s ‘Doodlebug’, their old model T with wagon in tow for mom and kids, but the motor started smokin a bit too much as they headed out over the field and so sadly they had to turn back. A slight disappointment, but in that our garden needed to be cleaned up for winter and we were still of a mind to remain outdoors, we put the change in plans behind us and meandered down the hill. Seeing all the devastation from our local wildlife population again was disheartening, but it doubled our resolve to learn from our mostly failed year and make the necessary fixes next year. Live and learn. We removed the rocks and threw em back onto the stone wall, picked off seed pods to save, rolled up remay and pulled the already ripped landscape fabric up and exposed the garden once again. We clipped back the tenacious arms of the ubiquitous privet plants and gave the place a much tidier look. Ready for next spring’s tilling and grand start-over.

We got our birds in and collected eggs, and stopped for a moment at the hammock on the way in. We both lay back, me with eight eggs on my chest (see where this is going, right?) and wondered aloud to each other if this old hammock could still take two of us. I said I’d never known a hammock to break – and no sooner had I said that then WHOOMPH it broke, and with it, several eggs all over me. ! Thankfully we weren’t hurt, so were able to get quite a chuckle out it. It was dark before we realized, and so without the need for Elihu’s dark glasses now, we enjoyed another hour on the trampoline. After snapping dozens of frames of mid-jump poses we finally went in. Not yet done with our day, once inside I went to the piano and began to practice Schumann and Beethoven while Elihu took a refreshing dip into the world of his Nintendo DS. If ever my son has had me worried he might be a bit too nature-loving and earnest about things like practicing and doing his homework, thankfully I have the video games to even things out. Whew. ! Nice to have a kid who’s got it good either way. (Once a school chum came over to visit and saw that our living room had only a piano, a harpsichord and some hand drums. “Why don’t you guys have a tv?” the kid asked. “Are you poor?” ) Wasn’t that interesting that the first thing he noticed to be missing in our house was a tv. Hm. Just have to add that that particular boy – and every other kid who’s ever spend an afternoon here – has never, ever lacked for something to do. But all that good old-fashioned nature type stuff aside, I am actually happy that my son has a video game of his own to retreat into. Hey, I like a bit of brainless FB surfing every now and then. Keeps things in balance. Right?

We did learn one not-so-pleasant piece of news earlier this weekend… and while it hasn’t spoiled our time, it had gotten us thinking about our small paradise here with a renewed sense of gratitude… Elihu and I had intended to walk to grandma and grandpa’s through the woods, but stopped at our neighbor’s en route. Our other young neighbors were there too – a nice surprise, and of course the grown ups ended up sitting down for a chat while the kids played. We never made it to our original destination. I’d turned down my neighbor’s invitation for a glass of wine – but changed my mind and accepted when I heard the news. Someone’s bought the tiny spit of land – the field that our driveway runs through – and is going to build on it and flip it. Don’t even know who will end up living there. Likely, given the numbers we knew, it would be a crap house too. I suppose better than one of those inappropriately huge McMansions, but still. Likely they’ll take down the island of woods that buffers us from the road. Very likely. That sure threw a downer into our day. Into our life, really, as pretty soon things will be much different. Our dark and quiet corner of Greenfield will soon be brighter and louder. If this were the suburbs it might be easier to take. But it’s not, and so all our hearts begin to break. As the two of us walked home through the field Elihu cried when we passed the stand of trees. “But that’s where the oven bird nests!” he protested, asking if we couldn’t perhaps reason with them on this account. But he knew better, and so did I. At least Crow Field – the much bigger area to the East where the Woodcocks nest and where we fly our kites and witness butterfly migrations – at least that’s untouched for now. But we all know it’s just a matter of time.

Since I’ve heard the news I’ve spent a lot of time just looking down our driveway towards its idyllic end at a pair of ancient wooden gates, permanently opened with wear and age. The driveway then takes a sharp left at the stone wall, revealing a vast, golden field beyond. This is the spot where a new house will soon stand. And I can’t stop thinking about it. I just can’t. While I’ve always known during our five years here that it wouldn’t always be thus – it simply kills me inside to understand that the change is finally coming. But for now I manage to shake it off, and throw myself back into the present, because it is, after all, such a beautiful one. And for now we have everything we need. Including an abundance of leaves for the most amazing leaf piles ever.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s