The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

The Much of May May 23, 2016

Life is chugging away for us here, full of projects and deadlines and the usual related stress, but our life has also been filled with the many seasonal and traditional delights which we look forward to all year; those which help to lighten our load at a time when the world begins to press in on us. Finally it is Lily of the Valley time. Finally, the beautiful apple tree outside our door is at its fragrant and colorful peak. And finally, Elihu and I may walk the side of the road and harvest fiddleheads for our supper. With our birthdays both just past, this is the magical week of the year in which life seems to take a breath in, and everything hangs, suspended, in a rare, timeless window as we enjoy the forgotten corners of our property, noticing the tiny miracles around us with new eyes.

So many wonderful things have happened since the last post, and also, many challenges have popped up in their midst. I suppose we’re lucky to have had our precious, private moments alone here at the Hillhouse, and I’m very aware that any problems with which we are beset are most certainly first-world concerns, so at the end of the day, my complaints are not dire. And yet, being for the moment without water as we are, it is tempting to want to pout and wonder why us? Why now? Mech. A couple five gallon buckets will flush just fine, and for now we’ll just have to buy a bottle or two of Saratoga water at our local Stewart’s Shop so we can brush our teeth and make tea. Things are not so bad. I should like to say at this time that I have never taken our toilsome pump for granted. It’s done what it could, and now we have come to the point we just hoped would never arrive. But so we continue, just one more inconvenience added to the list of life that never ends…*

Where to start? Personally, I’m still feeling as if it’s just me toting the barge where the Studio is concerned, but that’s not entirely true. Artist and friend miChelle has stepped up, offering her art for our summer open house in June. Along with her modern sculpture and paintings we’ll be featuring a local jazz pianist – as well as the middle school jazz ensemble which he coaches, and in which Elihu plays string bass. It’s the promotion that’s hanging me up – that’s never been my strong suit, but there’s no avoiding it. Thankfully another board member has also made her design help available to me this week, and that lifts a huge weight off of me. This will be a week of posters and email campaigns. One hurdle at a time. One crisis, one jam session, one flock of chicks in the living room, one tuba lesson at a time, somehow, I’ve made it this far. I’m beginning to think that things might just be ok.

A few months ago, Elihu’s teacher put an envelope in my hand which contained an application to a residential summer science program at a prestigious local technical college. It had looked interesting, and I thought if Elihu didn’t get in, the process of getting transcripts together, soliciting letters of reference and writing essays might be a good learning experience on its own. At the very least, it would be good preparation for the college process which lay head. Why not give it a try? Although it had seemed pretty straightforward, the application did become a brief source of stress and teenage drama in the household, and when I personally delivered the completed package to the Dean’s office, it was a great relief to us both. But afterward, life quickly moved on, and the whole thing fell to the back of our minds. Until the other day, when I found a large envelope in the mailbox…

I was good, I waited til the kid came home. I poured myself a glass of wine – on the ready to take the edge off of our loss, or… Elihu opened the envelope, and the first word we both saw was “Congratulations!” I had no idea how this sort of thing felt. I had gone to a college which had  no entrance requirements save a high school diploma; the world of academic success was completely foreign to me. Furthermore, my son goes to a school which is itself structured in a way unlike all other schools; no tests or grades are given to mark and measure progress. That my son is doing well in math or science still seems rather subjective to me. But here was at the very least a measure of his potential… I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t simply his teacher’s glowing letter – or even Elihu’s own words, which ended with “I dearly hope you’ll choose me to participate…” No matter – success was his! Or maybe – dare I say ours? I do not wish to claim that which I did not earn – but surely, I will accept a nomination for Supermom, Spring of 2016. Tears came to my eyes immediately – but to my chagrin there was no moment of close bonding to follow… “I have to call Daddy!” he said with urgency, and without a second of hesitation – he didn’t even stay long enough for his eyes to even meet mine – he dashed off to his room. So instead, I enjoyed a glass of wine by myself at the kitchen table, basking in this new and wonderful feeling of accomplishment and success.

Sundays are a day of lugging and loading. Mornings start with a tuba lesson (on the second floor!) and end with a jazz ensemble rehearsal which requires a string bass. It goes without saying that both must first be unloaded and returned to their proper resting place before the other can be loaded up. That and the lugging of 5 gallon buckets of water, plus the lugging of a dead porcupine (whose roadside death we mourned, but whose body will hopefully entice the local turkey vultures to pay us a visit) have me feeling that I am earning my keep and more (not to mention the upkeep of an increasingly stinky flock of young chicks residing in our living room). None of it is lost on my dear child, who does what he’s able and works to make sure all that lugging is for good reason. I have this kid’s back, yes – but in all honesty, he has mine too. We hosted our first jam session at The Studio last week, and thanks to his great ear and true love of playing music, we were able to pull it off. I enjoyed my secret dream of playing drums (oh so rudimentary but rock solid are my beats) and got to see how it all might work. And it did. But without Elihu, it wouldn’t have. He knows how important he is. I thank him. (I also remind him that if he likes to eat – then he’s gotta play. !)

Last night we took ourselves out to dinner with the last of my tax return. It certainly wasn’t a justifiable expense – but each year we have a tradition of Elihu having frogs’ legs for his birthday dinner. Although mom had taken us out the weekend before for steak – a great treat to be sure – Elihu was still jonsein for his all-time favorite. I had told him that we probably wouldn’t go this year, and he’d accepted it ok, so when I suggested we go to the Wishing Well he yelped with delight. This kid had earned it. And truly, we both had such a great time. As usual, tables around us arrived, ate and left several times over by the time we’d finished our dinner. Elihu and I like to linger. We enjoy talking, we enjoy savoring and taking our time. We don’t like plates cleared until the very last moment. I don’t know how I got so lucky. Until this kid no longer cares for my company – or heads off to college – who needs a date? I know of no one whose company I enjoy more…

After supper we joined our friend Rob at the piano. He ran to his car to get a pair of brushes – which he told Elihu would sound really good on the resident bongos – and I played a couple of tunes while he was gone. When Elihu got the brushes in hand he and I did a couple of blues tunes. He sounded great – the brushes allowed him to swing in a new way, and I gave him a couple of breaks in which to stretch out. That was a memorable night for me; I can’t forget the way he looked at me – he was smiling ear-to-ear in the most delighted way I’d ever seen. It’s an experience that musicians sometimes have when they’re playing together and when things just sound and feel so good… And to share this kind of moment with my own kid? Man, that was a gift. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way too. We had even laughed out loud as we played. Later, when we finally said our goodbyes to our friends at the restaurant and headed out into the dark, spring night, we were both in such a happy mood. We walked to the car in the cool, softly scented air, coasting in the afterglow of a wonderful night out. Friends, music – and frogs’ legs too? Wow. Perfection had been achieved.

On the way home from the Wishing Well it began to rain, and I obliged Elihu’s plea to search out some frogs who would certainly be hopping across the roads by now. We popped in his very favorite polka CD and made a detour down winding Braim road. Our search turned up only one frog, who he deposited into our tiny garden pond when we got home. Our moods remained cheery and spirited by the fresh rainfall and the wonderful night out… Elihu retired to his room to read, and something prompted me to pick up my accordion – after years of having let it languish in the corner – and I soon found myself standing on the kitchen steps, under the awning, playing a polka out into the velvet-black night (by some small miracle our neighbors were all gone, and the lights were out in all directions – a very rare thing these days – an absolute gift from the Gods, I was convinced!). Somehow, I found those left hand buttons as I hadn’t since before my son was born. My accordion was the only other sound besides the rain; the melodies punched through the darkness and echoed out through the hilly woods. And oh, what a sound. What a feeling. What a night.

That was only a week ago at this writing, and yet it seems many months have gone by since then. So very much has filled our weeks – another week of students, school, tuba and bass, chickens, friends, errands, pets, excursions and all the mortar of life which fills in every available space in between. My friend Beth has more than solved my design quandary – she’s lifted The Studio to a whole new level with her graphic gifts… Her infusion of time, energy and enthusiasm has reinvigorated my own, and right now, I’m beginning to feel like I’m not all alone in this (save good old mom, who at the end of the day is always filling in the monetary gaps. I cannot wait til I can relieve her of this burden for good. Guilt is all I feel these days on that front. !)

Things will be changing here soon. I realize that the magical country life we’ve enjoyed til now will change a bit. Nothing’s changing overnight, and we will always be who we are, we will always live where we do – but our routines change, the landscape will change, the scope of our world will enlarge – most of this is good and welcomed. But I’m a sentimental gal, and I’ll always remember our simple, early days here with fondness. Maybe we’ll be able to preserve some of that as we move into our future. Yeah, I think we will. But inevitably, some things won’t be the same. That’s the nature of life. Things change. Things evolve. Kids grow up. And thirty-somethings become fifty-somethings. ! But thankfully with all the change come those surprises that make us forget the tiny heartbreaks. It’s exciting to think of what’s yet to come. And it’s that sense of anticipation that takes the edge off of the loss of what is no longer.

As I write this I think of Crow Field… I haven’t even mentioned the field yet… The huge field that lies just outside our window – the one in which we search out Woodcocks, fly planes and kites, and in general love and enjoy every day of our life here – it will become someone’s suburban backyard by summer’s end. A large house is going up in the field which we have come to think of as our very own. Of course the field is not ours, and we’ve known for years now that every year we have had the field there for us to enjoy was a very precious thing. Elihu broke out sobbing – and even began to shout and swear – when he learned that it had been sold. When I told him I’d found the ribbon marking off the house’s footprint, he told me he felt sick.

We’re acclimating slowly to this new idea of a big house in the big field. Slowly. It still seems as if it will never happen, but that’s how we felt about the ‘new’ house at the end of our driveway; and it did finally arrive. And as kind as the neighbors are, their windows are without curtains and their lights and sports bar-sized tv can easily be seen in our house. I so wish they’d consider window treatments. Hell, I wish they’d think of us – and realize that their light interferes with our space… But they don’t, and that has me worried the new neighbors won’t either… I suppose we’re damned lucky to have the space we do, so I try to keep it all in perspective and just keep going. After all, we live on a generous lot, we have room to run, room for a flock of chickens and a pretty nice view out the window. And we have a hell of a lot to look forward to with The Studio too; we are embarking on a new era, and things will only get more exciting in the coming years. Of this, finally, I have no doubt. Elihu and I will try our best to accept the loss of our field, as we welcome in the new friends we’re about to meet on our path. “Things”, as Martha Carver would say, “always work out”. Ok, Martha. Gonna to have to trust you on this one.

May has but one week left – and Lordy what a lot we’re planning on packing into it. This post itself is also rather jam-packed and I apologize if it’s too much. Skip stuff as you need (maybe I shoulda said that at the beginning!). Not having had the time to make weekly posts, this is something of a catch-up effort. Next time shouldn’t be such a novel. The photos that follow are also voluminous. Skip it all if you like. Those, like me, who enjoy voyeuristic windows into other people’s lives will enjoy; those who meant only to pass a few idle moments on their phones will either be long gone by now, mildly annoyed or checking out at this point. ! A tidier post to follow next time, I promise…

*(At the end of this writing we learned it was merely a broken switch – and not the whole water pump – which needed replacing. The greatest relief I’ve known in a long time, all thanks to our angel/neighbor – Zac? Nope. This time it was his father! We had help from absolute royalty, I tell ya. I do not know where we’d be without the timely help that family has given us through the years. !!!)

IMG_5904We started the month by launching Elihu into his teen years…

IMG_5945 Elihu’s Hess biplane takes off from the cake’s runway, aglow with candles for runway lights…

IMG_6235The entertainment at Elihu’s birthday parties has always been the hatching of chicks.

IMG_5971This year, one hatched in my hand.

IMG_6083Here they are at different rates of drying off… Fuzzier ones are about 3 hours old, wet ones a mere 3 minutes old, and sometimes still trailing their shells and egg sacs behind.

IMG_5959Chicks are cute, but the trampoline is always the #1 hit here at the Hillhouse. (Eternal thanks to Karen H!!)

IMG_6248A quick smooching of Athena before heading to school the next morning.

IMG_6106On May 2nd, this is what Spring looks like here.

IMG_6250Driving to school in the morning, we savor that vast, beautiful field while we still can. We’ve passed so many hours in that field together, with much hilarity involved. Elihu invented his Monty Python-inspired athletic events ‘Tussock Jumping’ and ‘Bramble Dodging’ in our crazy cavorts across the uneven terrain en route to visit neighbors on the other side of the field.

IMG_6333When I return home from driving Elihu to school, I am always welcomed by my beloved flock.

IMG_6393Each night, Elihu takes time to bond with the chicks, who will stay in our living room for a few weeks.

IMG_6593Weekends mean tuba lessons.

IMG_6609How lucky is this kid? He loves his teacher, and his teacher has chickens. ?!!? (Plus Mike lives only 10 minutes from us. That is more than amazing. !)

IMG_7535First, Mike plays along with Elihu on his warm ups.

IMG_7543And now, Elihu’s first-ever tuba duets with one of Mike’s six children. Afterward he remarked on how well she played. I added “yeah, and she’s really pretty, too.” Replied my low-vision (but not blind!) son, “Yeah, I noticed that.” !! She’s the same age too. Crazy. Two tuba-playing, chicken-owning kids just a couple of miles down the road from each other. Wow.

IMG_6674Later on that same day…

middle school jazz bandA bunch of middle school kids who are playing jazz. Ok, now this happens only 5 minutes from our house. Again, how lucky are we? The word “very” comes to mind over and over. And thank you John Nazarenko, for making this happen. Elihu is enjoying this beyond any musical experience he’s had thus far. (I know 13 year-olds don’t like to be called ‘cute’, but hearing these kids doing tunes like “Song for my Father” and “All Blues” is just that. Sorry. Next year they might be hip. But not yet. Today, they remain cute.)

IMG_7663These two kids really seem to play well together – and Elihu tells me W has a peculiar sense of humor too. This may be the start of a great friendship…

IMG_6670Post-rehearsal, Elihu’s in front of Zankel Hall, checking his phone for all those jobs that will surely be coming in by now….

IMG_6450Dad’s office, with the Steinway in the background. During his lifetime, this room was mainly taken up with harpsichords. Now that the piano is moving to the Studio, only my old suitcase Rhodes remains.

IMG_6518May 7th. Birthday of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and…. Elizabeth Conant! And what a birthday gift is this!

IMG_6434The Studio before…

IMG_6537…and The Studio after.

IMG_6584A Steinway at The Studio! Woo-hoo! This changes everything.

IMG_6547Ah, but the birthday girl herself has some schlepping to do… First jam session tonight… gotta get the room set up and ready… Aren’t I getting a bit too old for this?!?

IMG_6553Hillbilly load-in begins.

IMG_6561Sketchiest move I’ve ever made. Man, I guess I am getting tired. Or old. Or both.

IMG_6575Thanks to the assistance of kind and always-smiling Alex at the guitar store, the room is now set up! Now that was a most appreciated birthday present. Thanks for the help!!

IMG_6872In early May, the trees are still rather bare.

IMG_7020It arrived in a big envelope. I admit, that alone had my heart racing just a bit…

IMG_7022Wow! What a surprise was this!! Personally, I can’t remember ever receiving an acceptance letter. And so I live vicariously through my child. ! RPI will be a chapter unto itself, no doubt…

IMG_6720The chicks are still cute and fuzzy, and things are feeling very happy around the house.

IMG_8134On Mother’s Day, Elihu plays a little music for grandma…

IMG_8138…and then proceeds to ‘intentionally not smile’ in a posed picture – something which bugs mom to no end. (He says he merely wants to ‘be taken seriously’ when having his picture ‘formally’ taken.) Btw – can you believe my mom is 81? I don’t think she looks it. Do you?

IMG_6701Mother’s Day ended with an E and E selfie with chick. This, we hope, will be the rooster to take up Baldy’s post one day.

IMG_7029In early May, the chicks still live in a box in the living room. See how one is now perching on the edge? This tells us they’ll be moving to the garage soon. When they can fly – it’s all over. (That’s Elihu’s bass recorder on the left. People always ask us what it is.)

IMG_7228Friend and chord/melody style guitarist, Dan comes over for a bit of rehearsing. Hope we’ll be playing together this summer – if I can ever find the time to learn some new tunes. ! He’s been patient with my crazy schedule. More than grateful to finally have a guitar player to work with.

IMG_7091This is what happens when siblings take lessons together. One must always provoke the other. Little Coco is ready to strike with a subtle, but annoying tap on the shoulder of her big sister. !!

IMG_7255Oscarina, the large and lighter-colored fish at the bottom is a Koi, and is growing rapidly. Thankfully, she will now be residing in the prestigious local arts colony, Yaddo. The move went off without a hitch and we can visit her anytime we like. Yay!

IMG_7437We’re off to the Wishing Well for a fancy schmancy dinner. If we had our druthers, we’d eat like this once a week!

IMG_7487The heavenly scent of Frogs’ Legs. Unique to this establishment.

IMG_7471A dark selfie. So few pics of we two.

IMG_7439Rob plays piano here – a lot! I got to take up his post for a few minutes and enjoyed playing with my son on drums. A wonderful night all the way ’round.

IMG_7067Finally the weather’s right for painting The Studio!

IMG_7076Keith Sr. is doing some much-needed restoration too. It’s been decades since the exterior’s had any attention. Phew!

IMG_7414Keithie Jr. paints on the crew along with dad. Elihu and Keithie went to Kindergarten through 3rd grade together. No matter how different their life paths, that kind of bond made so early in life will always last.

IMG_7423Keith is maturing just a wee bit faster than my own child. Ya think? All in due time…

IMG_7278Another week’s passing and the green is really starting to show now…

IMG_7274Which means the apple tree is reaching its finest hour!

IMG_7272My cherished Lily of the Valley is finally here too!

IMG_7238As is the flowering quince (which appears more of a salmon or coral shade than in this pic).

IMG_7249In future Springs, this view will include a large house in the background. We are both still in a deep state of disbelief as our hearts ache with the loss.

IMG_7001Thankfully, other delights distract us. Elihu and I stood among the branches of the apple tree and enjoyed the constant hum of bees, flying hither and yon, as they visited every possible blossom. It was crazy the sound they made. Quite loud, and a resonant, almost single pitch.

IMG_7098Crazy cowbird, goofy guinea fowl.

IMG_6761Outside our kitchen window the red bellied woodpecker visits the platform feeder when the suet is gone.

IMG_6799Elihu takes a peek, but the woodpecker gets the feeling he’s being watched.

IMG_6819Outside, our two resident males hang out in the morning sunshine. Rooster, Bald Mountain is caught here mid-crow. Austin, to his left, is our crazy-ass Guinea Fowl. Never let it be said that birds do not have distinct personalities. !!

IMG_7343And chickens do have favorite foods too – pink apple blossoms are one of em.

IMG_7403Feeding frenzy.

IMG_7347Comic relief. And some serious attitude, too. !

IMG_7292We hope this will be the new resident roo one day…

IMG_6337…Cuz this old boy’s not gonna last forever. Poor Baldy, he limps when he walks, he sits whenever possible, and he only fertilized two of sixteen eggs this year. Yeah, he’s pretty much lost his mojo. But we love him still.

IMG_7557We saw this wonderful creature – the turkey vulture – just down the road. Having just passed a dead porcupine, we got an idea…

IMG_7571Out with the tuba, in with the poor dead creature.

IMG_7582Wow, sixteen pounds. Impressive!

IMG_7595We were sad to see she had been nursing a litter. We laid her to rest in our yard so that we might entice the turkey vulture and then watch it do its thing from our kitchen window.

IMG_7597Elihu picks up Christie, the stand-in for Thumbs Up, as she is the only truly friendly hen remaining.

IMG_7599A mutt of a hen (Araucana, Barred Rock and more), she lays olive green eggs.

IMG_7604Elihu carries Christie back to the house…

IMG_7610… and Pumpkin follows him back. (“Our” field is behind the row of trees.)

IMG_8636This is what the end of a weekend looks like. Sometimes I want desperately to run far, far away….

IMG_8411…until we settle back into our groove at home. Then everything is once again right with the world.

IMG_8154Lilacs uplift us too.

IMG_8160And look! It’s my long-lost accordion. I’ve left it out now to show my students (and to try to relearn all I’ve forgotten!) If an accordion doesn’t make things better, I don’t know what will!

IMG_7650It’s heavy, but it’s sparkly and loud, so who cares?

IMG_7753Usually a very trim, streamlined bird, this male brown-headed cowbird is showing signs of puffing…

IMG_7697…he’s mid-puff now… hoping to wow a mate he will rise to his full height and size while emitting an ultra-sonic high chirping which sounds like a video game….

IMG_7698bingo!

IMG_8160 (2)Inspired by the constant presence of birds in his life, Elihu, thankfully, occasionally finds time to draw birds. His love of drawing birds preceded all of his other, equally obsessive loves.

IMG_8172After supper we headed out to Caffe Lena for open mic. I knew Lena as a child, and so it makes me happy that Elihu continues to know this place as I did. (Bill Cole’s Woodwinds shop is just behind him – that’s where Bill kindly tweaked Elihu’s ‘beater B flat’ tuba and brought it up to speed. Great guy – kind, fair, and expert at what he does.)

IMG_8220“Good Folk Since 1960” is the slogan here. I can recognize a half-dozen artists at a glance whose shows I attended when I was Elihu’s age or younger.

IMG_8210Elihu has the ‘big kids’ laughing as he folds the performer’s entry cards into tiny origami cranes.

IMG_8192Before he plays, I want to make a pilgrimage to the men’s bathroom wall, upon which Elihu wrote at age 6 on the occasion of his first open mic. (It’s in red, and to the right and below the tree drawing.)

IMG_8193And here it is. Can ya read it? So sweet!

IMG_8216Tuning up.

IMG_8239These guys were fun. They gave the night the perfect bit of energy and humor.

But for me, this was the highlight of the evening…

I cut off the first line, as I was switching from camera to video… His first line was “I bought some instant water, I just don’t know what to add to it”. Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg are obvious favorites of this kid.

(Click here fore the link to his performance at Caffe Lena at age six.)

IMG_8271An old house in Saratoga that for some strange reason always stuck in my mind as a child. I liked the crazy roof over the stairs on the front porch. When I was little, it appeared cozy to me. Now, it strikes me as sketchy. Just as well – it’s history now!

IMG_8287Ah, the impermanence of it all. There goes the cozy roof.

IMG_8340This little guy is next, I was told by the developer. Thankfully, the new structures will be aesthetically similar, or at least in keeping with the vibe of the neighborhood.

IMG_8315Modern Saratoga looms in the background.

IMG_8349This is the sort of thing that will replace the old houses. Not too bad. Could be much worse.

IMG_8342I’m something of a demo groupie. I can’t take horror movies, but rather I am drawn to the violent and animated quality of a back hoe claw. It seems almost sentient…

IMG_8379On the way home I pass a picturesque cottage just down the hill from me, and I see it with new eyes. How charming it is at this time of year when all the white apple blossoms are in bloom.

IMG_8391Look how much things have grown in just a week’s time! This is the “lightning tree” which Elihu and I visit each Easter, and around which he has made a small stone structure with rocks from the stone wall at the field’s edge.

IMG_8551Saturday in the park. Congress Park, that is. In the foreground at the right is the baby willow tree that I had planted in memory of Jamaican-born banjo player Cecil Myrie, who died in October of 2014. He invited Elihu to busk with him when Elihu was just 6, and Cecil gave him his first two dollar tip. Our lives changed that day. (Can you imagine how truly grand this tree will look at the water’s edge in a few decades? I’m thrilled that I was able to contribute to the landscape of this handsome and historic park.)

IMG_8526Not exactly a brass plaque, but it works.

IMG_8542The willow tree with war memorial in the background. Wait – who’s that guy in the yellow shirt?

IMG_8535Shoulda known. It’s my kid – and he’s carrying a duck. !

IMG_8514Elihu loves to share ‘his’ birds.

IMG_8499We are such scofflaws!

IMG_8568Sometimes it really is hard to believe this kid is legally blind.

IMG_8479Since Elihu can no longer rely upon the ‘cute’ factor when busking, he’s trying out some new material. It seems to be working.

IMG_8608This is how we recycle our paper (and wood scraps) in Greenfield. Afterward, the ashes get tossed into the woods, where, as we say in this family, they “Go back to God”.

IMG_8624It’s been said that the fastest way to take off ten pounds and a couple of years is a selfie taken from above. !

IMG_7149Under the moonlight, we discover hundreds of tiny, white violets that we’d never seen before, growing all across our lawn. How is this possible??

IMG_7155A flash reveals them.

IMG_7179We lay on our backs in the moonlight and pick the tiny flowers until the hour gets so very late… Sunday night, back to school hours, we can’t stay out forever…

IMG_8421After Elihu went to bed, I took a long, mournful look at the silhouette of the field which will most certainly be transformed by this time next year.

IMG_8427At the end of the evening, I had the field and the full moon all to myself. I savored the moment, as I try to do with as many moments in time as I can be present for, because you almost never fully realize what you’ve got – until it’s no longer there anymore. For now, all is well. And hopefully, no matter what happens down the line, we’ll find a way to embrace the changes as they happen, and find a way to savor all those future moments too.

 

Full Up April 9, 2016

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life — wingmother @ 11:53 am

That my last, desperate and furious post has been swinging out in the wind for all to see over the past week has had me feeling the slightest tinge of regret. I wonder, sometimes, if I go too far, if I neglect to filter things properly for a large audience; if I might care to refrain from letting it all hang out as I sometimes do…. But then again… Isn’t that why I’m here? Ah well. This week, I can happily report that things are again, as I knew they would be, better.

Our emergency heating assistance finally came through (I’m amused that our oil vendor’s middle name is Serafin… For to me, he is always an angel arriving in time to save us…). Our support from the ex arrived, so too did the renewal of food stamps. The end of the month is the lean time – and since I know this intellectually, it helps take the edge off to some degree, but when the heat runs out and the support is late and the food stamps are two weeks away and half of my students cancel… That margin of time can be a frightening place in which to exist. I know there are always folks who have it far, far worse, but still…

I heard yesterday on NPR that people who live in poverty are not good at saving (duh) because they can’t see past their next utility bill… Furthermore, folks who live in poverty can suffer a drop in IQ of up to 13 points. So ‘they’ say. Good Lord, I’m fairly sure I cannot afford such a drop in my intelligence quotient. While the segment had intrigued me enough to stay in the car and listen long after I’d arrived in my driveway, I couldn’t help but think (hope is a more accurate word, I suppose) that this study had nothing to do with my kind of poor, which was clearly a more enlightened sort of poverty. Or was it? Man. Just when things were feeling so refreshed and hopeful…  I sat there for a moment, wondering at what this all meant for me. And then, I heard my father’s voice in my head, and it made me smile. I know what he would have said to all this nonsense. Fuggem. Time to unload the groceries and measure the new oil level in the tank. Things are good once again, and I won’t let some stupid study tell me otherwise.

Ok. So the larder is refreshed, we have 250 gallons of fuel oil (who could ever guess that such a thing alone could bring me such joy and confidence??) and I have paid my utilities to date. Whew. Car insurance next, and with two new students this week, that’s covered. All this lifts my spirits, yes, but there’s another side to my financial concerns these days, and that’s The Studio. While I have assembled a board, and yes, things will finally begin to change – it’s still essentially all on me – and mom. There’s an insurance bill for $600 due in a week. Again, I will extend my open palm to my mother, knowing that her own nest egg is dwindling with every downturn of the market and every empty hand I offer to her. Next year, after The Studio has been up and running for a calendar year, our insurance cost will drop by a considerable amount, so that ember of hope keeps me going. We have our first ‘real’ event (that is to say, not all done by me alone) in early June, and yet, still it’s 90% on me. In a year’s time it may be much different, but for now, I still gotta hustle. And I am the first to admit – I may be a spunky gal, but I’m a lame-ass when it comes to business. I aim to get better, of course, but it’s a real force of will to follow through and keep things moving, let me tell you.

Right now, this very morning, I must turn my attention to stocking our incubator with eggs so that by Elihu’s thirteenth (?!?!?) birthday party on May 1st, all the new chicks will be hatching out. That has been a seven-year tradition here, but sadly, I have my personal doubts about the efficacy of our handsome but aging rooster. I am not entirely confident he’s been doing his part – I highly expect most of the eggs this year will be duds. Who knows though – we’ve been happily surprised in the past. I just hope that in spite of this last round of snow and cold, Bald Mountain has been taking care of business. A few years ago he was brimming with piss and vinegar – you couldn’t walk within five feet of him without suffering a charge from the testy creature – but now, he limps a few paces towards his target and then sort of peters out, appearing to have forgotten it was he’d set out to do. I still don’t like to turn my back on him, but somehow, I feel the fire may be burning much lower this year. We shall see…

This week has also seen the resolution of an open-ended health question of mine. For a number of years I’ve experienced a slight tremulous feeling in my heartbeat on occasion, so at my mother’s insistence (as she herself has afib issues) I had it checked out yesterday. Knowing all too well what my heart behaves like during the onset of panic attacks, I am pretty well attuned to what my normal, beating heart feels like. After an EKG came back looking “textbook normal”, and after my doc heard no abnormalities herself, I sat there on the crinkly papered examining table feeling a bit like the boy who cried wolf. But there is one thing my age and experience tell me for sure: do not ignore the ‘God voice’. And this time, I didn’t. So at least I can have the confidence to know that I paid attention – and thankfully, have the peace of mind to know that as of yet, the medical world seems to think I have no worrisome issues of the heart. Which is good.

My friend, board member, sculptor, multi-media artist and go-getter of a woman miChelle just called to confirm that I’d read her recent, ball-busting press release. God bless her for taking up the charge when I was so distracted by my own personal mess this past week. This made me feel good to be sure, and so did the tip she gave us on finding a place where we can likely get ourselves a half-dozen fertile eggs. A mile or so from her house we’re told to look for the joint with the six-foot iron chicken on the road. Will do.

Elihu and I are treating ourselves this morning to breakfast out. It’s been a couple of months since we’ve done this – and while I still have to scrape together $50 for a tuba lesson tomorrow, we’re lucky to have enough cushion to do this without too much guilt. Afterwards, we’ll drive off on a new adventure, looking for the six-foot hen and the new friendships and adventures that lie just beyond…

By the time we retire tonight we’ll be restored and ready, the incubator gently ticking away again in the living room, all of its rows full up with eggs ready to begin the big change.

 

 

Grasp March 19, 2016

IMG_4925

Lately many things have been coming together for us here at the Hillhouse. My kid has finally found his people – he’s met the local RC flying club, and ever since he’s been happier and more hopeful than I have ever known him to be. Last week The Studio had its first-ever board meeting, and as regular readers will understand, this is a very big deal for me. So yeah, things are going well here. You might say that for the first time in a long, long while, the things that Elihu and I have been after finally feel like they’re within our grasp.

This is not to say that life is not without its hiccups and unforeseen challenges. Because they’re keeping pace with us as we move into our future. The arthritis in my hands has gotten dramatically worse over the past couple of months, so much so that I noticed the other morning that I can no longer make a fist with either hand. Also, my hands ache almost all the time. Last week I remember noticing that I felt ‘better’ in some way, but I wasn’t sure just how I felt better. I did a little scan of my body and came to realize that my hands did not hurt. For a few hours I soaked up how good it felt to be absent of discomfort. But the last couple of days my fingers have started hurting again, and in new places too.

This bums me out, of course, but I’m grateful for the technique I was taught all those years ago, because it’s what’s saving my ability to play at this point. I accepted the job of playing piano for the traveling Missoula Children’s Theatre again this year, but I admit that I hesitated. I knew I could play, but it wasn’t comfortable. But hell, I may as well play until I can’t. I still love playing music, and for now the reward outweighs the discomfort. Who knows – maybe my hands will plateau here for a while – maybe forever – and I can simply adjust to the new normal and put the concern aside. I wish I were able to forget the issue altogether, but every morning when my fingers hurt, and every time I drop something because I can no longer grip well, I admit that I worry. If things are like this at the age of 52, how will they be 20 years from now? I try to let it go, but still…

Elihu’s doing very well in everything except the odd math test, which continues to be something we need to keep an eye on. Although tutoring has sometimes seemed to me a last-ditch effort made by those doomed to academic failure, (maybe my own personal experience with high school algebra has had something to do with this idea!) we’ve decided to get him into an after-school program a couple days a week. The main reason for this is not so much to keep him up to speed – for he very much understands the subject – but rather he needs help showing his process on the page. Having low vision means that the kid tends to do a lot of stuff in his head – he reads a passage of music once and memorizes it, he sees a problem done once and memorizes the path to the answer, he hears a poem read once and can recite it back. He doesn’t see well, so his brain makes up for it in other ways. Which, in the case of math, isn’t always a good thing.

We wouldn’t even care quite so much if it weren’t for his interest in a two-week residential summer camp on nano sciences held at a local technical college which will require finely-honed math skills. The 250 word essay that Elihu must write to demonstrate his desire to learn will be a piece of cake. The rest will take a little brushing up. If Elihu is accepted, this will prove to be a life-changing summer for him. Me, I hope he gets in because it will finally give him an opportunity to negotiate his way through the world without an adult helping him at every turn. Vision problems? Trouble navigating across campus? You’re a smart kid, figure it out. It’ll teach him to realize when he needs help (which he hates to admit) and it’ll give him the opportunity to learn how to ask for help. As a mother who is there at every turn for her child and who goes to bat for him more than anyone else in the world, I can assure you that this kind of surrender is a real challenge for me. But I can see the lasting value it will have, and if the kid decides he’d like to go to college there, it’ll be less of an unknown. Plus, this campus is only a forty-five minute drive, and if he ever did truly need me, I could be there for him.

Yesterday my computer was hacked, my backup laptop was pronounced dead by the guy at Geek Squad, and I got two scary but bogus calls informing me that I was being investigated for tax fraud. The bizarre confluence of these events – all within an hour or two – was disarming. It also cost me the cushion of $100 I’d managed to pull together from a few recent lessons to have a tech team fix the problem and get me up and running again. It was a bit deflating, even in the face of all the recent good news. When shit hits the fan, even though I shouldn’t take it personally, I often do. Seriously, I am so fucking broke. Why me? I was just about to sink into a deep funk when perusing Facebook for some distraction, I heard the news that an old friend in Chicago had lost her home to a fire. She, her daughter and mother had made it out ok, and so did the many animals they have (they rescue and foster lots of critters), but they’re now living in a hotel, and lack all the basics one needs. I quickly gave the dregs of what was left in my combined accounts to the Gofundme page someone had set up for her. I stopped pouting and counted my blessings.

The whole afternoon I was trying to understand how something so tragic could happen to so good a person. And then I got a call from another friend – here in Greenfield – and learned that a twelve-year-old boy we knew had just died in an accident on his ATV. This kid was very close to Elihu’s childhood pal Keithie, and immediately I worried for our friend. Apparently, Keith was with the boy when he died. Man. His parents had gone through a very bitter divorce just a couple of years ago; his mother moved out, his dad’s young girlfriend moved in, and shortly thereafter a new baby arrived. And now this. Shit. After considering whether or not to share the news with Elihu or wait, I gave in and told him. We sat at the island in the kitchen for a moment and wondered at the unreality of the news. We sat and we sat, unable to comprehend it. Then, for a moment, we cried. How and why shit like this happens is impossible to justify or understand. All the ‘manifest your reality’ crap, and ‘it was meant to be’ sort of thinking just doesn’t come close to cutting it in situations like this. Whenever I feel as if I’ve had an unfair go of things, I step back for a moment and I can see how lucky and blessed I am. I know I’m not the only parent who tortures herself with visions of their child dying or tragedy befalling them in some ghastly way, but it’s things like this that breathe life into those fears all over again. You try to dismiss the concerns, you tell yourself those things happen to other people, but you know that however miniscule, the chances for catastrophe do exist. You can hold on as tight as you wish, but that’s still no guarantee that you won’t lose your grip on what you hold dear.

Today Elihu and I are enjoying a nothing day. It’s after five and neither one of us has gotten out of our pajamas, and likely we won’t be changing before bedtime either. Tomorrow morning he has his tuba lesson, so the day has been spent practicing, taking breaks to fly helicopters and visit with our rooster. A laid-back day in which the two of us have spent a lot of time on the couch, laughing, being silly and doing a whole lot of nothing. I drank it in. His still-high, young boy voice, his smooth, baby-perfect skin, his skinny boy legs, his undying love for me, all of it so very precious. One day, I tell myself, one day this will be a distant memory…. I savor every moment, I push away thoughts of Billy, his mother and father and all those who loved him so, and how acute their pain is at the very same moment that I am here enjoying the company of my own cherished son. I look at my sore, distorted knuckles, and I sigh. How closely intertwined are the good and the bad.

It seems this life is like a very challenging game in which the stakes are high, the potential for suffering great, and yet there is at the same time opportunity for great moments of love, happiness and joy. And when those precious times do come to us, we must hold on tightly while we’re able.

IMG_4117Drilling for gold – the maple sap variety, that is.

IMG_4130Hammering in the spile (a fancy word for tap).

IMG_4155The sap runs when the sun shines, it freezes up at night.

IMG_4171While I tapped the trees, Elihu flew paper airplanes from the trampoline. He is in absolute heaven when flying crafts of his own creation. (One is stuck in the top branches of the apple tree.)

IMG_4292A sure sign of Spring. How on earth do they do it? A hope-restoring sight.

IMG_4815Ah, a male Cowbird has returned. (I’ll be sure to share some of their crazy courting dances over the next couple of weeks.)

IMG_4820The boiling operation on the porch. Sadly, my weather-worn grill wasn’t hot enough so the job moved indoors, leaving my walls and stove coated in a sticky film.

IMG_4915The product of our labors! It’s a good feeling to eat pancakes made with your own eggs and topped with syrup from the trees right outside your window.

IMG_4312The Missoula Children’s Theatre’s ‘little red truck’ and The Studio’s ‘vintage CRV’.

IMG_4425The Missoula directors are amazing. They take 60 kids on Monday and have a fully produced, choreographed show with songs, dialogue, makeup, costumes, props and scenery up and running by Friday night.

IMG_4400Little Miss Coco, one of my piano students, has her turn at the makeup station.

IMG_4443Next-door-neighbor Ava listens to pre-show instructions.

IMG_4320The pit orchestra is ready…

IMG_4325Here they are! Samantha, center, in yellow, will soon be living in Martha Carver’s old farmhouse. Abby, on the left and looking over her shoulder, is another neighbor and piano student. Her house is a straight shot down the hill and through the woods from our place.

IMG_4354A fine production of Peter and Wendy (copyright issues prevent them from using “Peter Pan” as the title). I don’t know as many kids in the Greenfield Elementary School these days as I once did. Already many of my young friends whom I first met here are in high school now. The progress of time is hard to comprehend.

IMG_4601Elihu’s arsenal is assembled and ready for his first “Fly Jam”.

IMG_4602Finally, Elihu meets his brethren.

IMG_4671The Flying Tigers are directly in our flight path. Time to grab the controls and take to the air…

IMG_4960Elihu catches me dozing off with Bald Mountain on my lap.

IMG_4955Elihu works on his entrance essay for RPI while I give Baldie some attention.

IMG_4940Just look at that spur on Baldie’s left foot! He’s missing the other one, and we so wish he could tell us the story of how it happened. He’s defended the flock and been injured so many times. He’s a good rooster. He’s with us because one year at culling time Elihu decided he was too pretty to butcher, so he picked him up and hid him until we returned from the Amish farmer. I remember him busting up with laughter at how well he had fooled me. Glad he grabbed this handsome fella to be our homestead roo, because the Hillhouse wouldn’t be the same without him.

 

 

 

Our Chapter Book January 17, 2016

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Growing Older,Mommy Mind,Pics — wingmother @ 11:38 pm

If only we’d signed up at the library early on to have our checkout history saved – we’d have been able to re-create the impressive list of all the fantastic journeys that Elihu and I have shared. From the time he was five, when we moved here, til the time he decided that he’d rather read the stories for himself (just over a year ago – I milked it, believe me!) we have covered impressive territory – from stand-alone chapter books to six-book series, we have journeyed to so many far-away places that we can hardly recall them all. But thankfully, some details do remain – and today we found ourselves (it’s not just my flabby recall at play here!) struggling to piece together the scenarios we’d once lived in our own chapter book adventures here at the Hillhouse, as the memories now spread across so many years.

Today, after Elihu’s tuba lesson, we were both pooped. It was a mid-day lull in which we could summon no energy for anything that needed doing. No school writing assignment could be written, no chickens could be fed, no aquarium could be cleaned, no laundry could be put away, and there wan’t enough oomph to make lunch, either. And so we pulled the curtains in the living room closed, and retired to the generously-sized, L-shaped couch. We each found our spot, adjusted the pillows, split up the throw blankets and settled in.

Although we were both too pooped to actually do anything, we, as it turned out (will you really be all that surprised?), had plenty of energy to talk. And so we passed the next thirty minutes like two bunkmates at summer camp, stalling after lights out. We spent our lounging time exchanging long, thoughtful pauses between funny remembrances and tangential offerings.

We reflected on our seven and a half years here. Having just had a conversation the morning before about adolescence and all that would come with that new era, it seemed we two were in something of a reflective mood these days – taking inventory of the past, and sizing up the fast-coming future. “I’m just looking at this room in a new way” Elihu said. “You never really notice places when you’re there all the time. But look at those windows – they’re huge! People must really notice them when they come here for the first time, ya think? Look at the instruments here. Accordion, tabla, tuba, harpsichord. Wow. Imagine seeing all this when you walk in. To us, it’s just our house. But it is pretty amazing.” He paused for a bit. I was about to say something when he spoke again…”I like the way it looks through new eyes.” Yeah, I also liked this room a lot. It’s cozy, it’s tidy (mostly) and in spite of how many objects live inside it, the room does not feel the least bit cluttered or overwhelmed. In fact, it has the opposite feeling: the room feels welcoming and cozy. Peaceful. Perfect for two homebodies who are feeling pooped for no particular reason and need a generous couch on which to ruminate and stall a little longer.

“Think of all the birds we’ve had here that seemed normal.” Pause. “Like ‘no-big-deal’ normal” Elihu added after a few moments of silence. Yeah. Come to think of it, we had had a lot of different types of birds through the years. I thought back to the different phases of his bird life – of our bird life. I had always followed Elihu’s lead in his love of all birds – and thinking back on it, I wonder if I would have done so now. Did I jump on board so easily because I was still in shock at even being ‘out here’ to begin with? Or did I just feel I had nothing to lose? Cuz I really don’t think I had the slightest clue as to the adventures that were to ensue after bringing our new avian friends home… Really, from parakeets to parrots, homing pigeons to golden pheasants, button quail to barnyard geese and a hundred chickens in between, man, we’d seen a lot of feathered friends here. And the thing was – we remembered them far better than we remembered all of those fantastic books that we’d read. We remembered the unique qualities of every bird, we recalled every adventure, every mishap and every lesson learned. And we recalled how lucky we were even to have had those memories at all… I mean, how many people have been fortunate enough to call out to a homing pigeon named King Louis to come and join them for a stroll?

“When you’re in ’em, you don’t even realize it”, Elihu said. “It’s not like you actually realize you’re in the ‘duck’ chapter or the ‘goose’ chapter. It’s just what you’re doing. You don’t think of it like that.” I agreed with him, and told him that I’d written a post on this idea a few months back. And that I’d been thinking of addressing it again, because it seemed we were on the precipice of another new chapter. He was nearing the end of his true boyhood; this April he would be a teenager. And as we’d discussed the day before, lots of things were going to change. “You’re going to be a teenager!” I said, hoping for an emotional response from him. “How does that feel?” I asked, waiting for a revelation, but instead he answered, “I’m not really that worked up about it. “I guess I was, about four months ago or so, but now, now that I’ve had time to think about it and adjust, I guess I just kinda know it’s coming. I mean I can’t change that, so why should I freak out about it? It’s coming, so I should just look forward to it, I think”. Mentally I was scribbling notes as fast as I could – trying to capture this moment, hold it, remember it for always. After all, I’d been so careless about remembering so many things in the past. This moment I was bound and determined to remember…

Eventually we did get to our individual tasks of the day; he to his writing, me to my cooking and cleaning, muttering to myself all the while as I pulled out pots and pans and began to chop onions for the umpteenth time in a week… Grumbling all the while about how I didn’t understand how anyone could possibly need to eat again so soon – as we had only just finished eating a few hours ago… And then promptly scolding myself for even thinking such a thing, much less lamenting out loud… Round and round I went from complaint to apology, hearing Studs Terkel in my head all the while, and how he had spoken of the old Eastern European mamas in their babushkas, going about their household chores while audibly lamenting their plight in life… Sheesh. My current chapter would most likely reflect something in the domestic arena. Some days it certainly felt as if this was all that I ever did. !

In spite of my errant mutterings, lunch was as pleasant as our respite on the couch. As has been the remainder of the day. Now I sit in my chair, and it being a weekend (tomorrow is a holiday on account of Martin Luther King day), we are in our casual, unrushed mode – which can push bedtime back to a very late hour, which makes the start of the new school week a challenge. I shan’t let us stay up much later, but as Elihu is fully engrossed in another chapter of his book, and I am still musing over the recent chapters of our very own edition, it’ll be a while yet before either one of us is asleep. As I think back on our time here, it’s clear that I can’t recall it all – but I can recall moments and highlights, paragraphs here and there – just enough to demonstrate how very far we’ve come in our seven year journey.

“I guess I’d call this the ‘tuba chapter’ if I had to give it a name” Elihu’d said when I asked him how he thought of his current life. “And the early ones, maybe they were the bird chapters?” I asked. “Naw” he said, and paused. “They’ll all be bird chapters.” (I guess what I’d add to that is that the past years have been about flight and aviation as much as they’ve been about birds.) Although Elihu’s been wanting to play bass and tuba since he was tiny, it’s only been recently that he was even big enough to play either. So gradually, he’s moving from one love into another. I can begin to see the general direction in which our story will grow – no specifics, of course, because that’s at the very essence of life – the details, detours and adventures we can never anticipate! Good Lord, if we could know what was coming in the next chapter, I wonder if we’d jump out of bed or hide under the covers? Thankfully, we haven’t a clue as to what’s ahead, so there’s nothing to be done but turn the page and see how it all works out…

eliandduckThis is the image that comes to my mind when I think of our early days here at The Hillhouse. Just a boy chasing after a bird on a fine summer day.

brodyandbookThe early years were also about Brody, our Senegal parrot (who chewed all the woodwork in the kitchen and needed as much attention as a toddler. He now lives with an elderly bachelor in Schenectady who actually relishes such a needy companion.)

king georgeOnce upon a time, Elihu was as cute and tiny as was his button quail, King George.

drawingquailNot long after we moved here Elihu began to draw the objects of his passion.

waxwingAt nine, Elilhu drew this from a dead Cedar Waxwing we’d found. He embellished it bit and made it into its fancier cousin. (He drew this with a ball point pen!)

Lanner falconShortly after that he got a falconer’s glove for his birthday, and got to use it, too!

grandpaandelihuThis was also the chapter of grandpa; Elihu will only remember his grandfather as an elderly man. Thankfully, they had some nice moments together, like this one in the park, where Elihu shows off a duck he caught (one of literally dozens he’d caught over the years.)

IMG_1719This is our life now; the final few paragraphs of the first, chock-full chapter – or perhaps, more aptly, the first book in a series. (Note the indoor glasses; a perfect halfway darkness for seeing in bright interior light. This was the missing puzzle piece for reading music.)

tuba momTuba-toting Mama. I’d hoped the days of lugging gear were over. This is a chapter I don’t mind closing!

IMG_1626Elihu’s playing tuba for Drake, his new friend from school. It’s likely that Drake will be prominently featured in future chapters.

IMG_1654Elihu still loves flying. Here he enjoys piloting his quadcopter from the cozy confines of a big bed.

IMG_1720This morning Elihu spent some quiet time with his all-time favorite bird, rooster Bald Mountain, father of the flock.

In real life chapters don’t always begin or end in one single event. But one can still feel the gradual ending of one era and the emergence of another. And these days, things are beginning to shift. A young boy still lives here, but a young man will be taking his place before long.  Our book will have a new chapter very soon…

 

Up Is Down December 27, 2015

coop pic

The day after Christmas we buried our beloved red hen, Thumbs Up. Elihu wasn’t here, but he was on the phone with me as I placed her in the ground. I put the phone on speaker and set it down as I shoveled the dirt upon her, my son sobbing along with me the whole time. Chickens may live well over a decade, yet this gal hadn’t quite made five years. Somehow we’d always thought she’d be here as Elihu grew up. With a personality more like a golden retriever than simple red hen, she animated our household in the most delightful way, and it’s hard to imagine how different the energy will be around here now that she’s gone. I’m almost surprised at how deep my grief is over this loss. My father died two years ago tonight, and while it should go without saying that I dearly miss him, this recent loss is just so fresh and acute that I cannot shake it. And with my son so very far away, my heart is breaking all the more.

These days I’m larger than I’ve been in years, and that too is nagging at my heart. Being unable to fit in my beautiful clothes, and becoming out of breath just going up a flight of stairs, all of this has me grieving for a time when I felt and looked my best. In the past I’ve managed to pull myself up and out of my funks, and I’ve shed as much as fifty-five pounds in one year, but I don’t know where the resolve will come from now, and I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll ever turn things around. My fingers are getting knobbier and ache with arthritis each day; this alone is a hard reality to accept. Every evening I take my relief in glasses of wine, the worrisome double-edged sword; it’s the much longed-for and soothing end to my day, yet it’s a source of countless useless calories that only add to my problem. I manage to pull myself through the days until that blessed evening hour when a sleeping pill will take me away from this waking world. And when the next morning arrives, I am once again overwhelmed and under-confident that I can do anything about it all.

When I hear about successful people who have jobs, money, families and such, becoming overwhelmed with depression, it’s hard to understand. Me, it seems that if you can pay your bills, then things couldn’t be all that bad. Right? But then I look objectively at myself; I have a lot going for me, so this current state of my spirit can’t really be justified. But still, I can’t help but wonder how differently I’d feel about life if only I had a little bit more money. If I had a job – and a paycheck. I know how glorious I feel each year when I get my tax return – the whole world opens up. Fuel oil, a haircut and color, new shoes for the kid, a barrel full of scratch grains for the flock, dinner in a restaurant – all sorts of things become possible, and with that possibility I feel a certain spiritual uplifting. It’s crazy, honestly, because none of this shit really changes my day-to-day reality, but somehow, having just a tad more than enough can feel so very, very good.

Recently I learned that Facebook had been charging me methodically over the past few months for many small commercial posts. Somehow (and I am not alone judging by the hundreds of comments just like mine, oh how I pray it comes to a class action suit one day!) I misunderstood a one-time ‘boost’ for a contracted series of boosts, thereby creating a slow but devastating hit to my PayPal account. Now this is the ‘slush’ fund I count on for Christmas and other treats. Imagine my surprise when I went to buy a couple of gifts for my son to find under the tree on his return, and there was nothing left. What the hell? Following the charges, I found the source of the problem. And I realized it was a case of ‘me versus the machine’. I would not win this fight, nor would I ever see that $300 again. Holy fuck. I was feeling shitty enough right now. Now this. Mom had made it plain that she was unable to help at this time – property taxes were approaching – so I knew I couldn’t go to her. I asked an old friend if he could loan me the sum – just til early January, as that’s when my students were returning – but after a few days there was no response. Feeling ill about having appealed to him for help, I’d been wishing I could take it back. But that wasn’t possible. What was posted was posted. Ugh.

Phooey. Thumbs Up is dead, I’m broke and fat, and my kid is a thousand miles away.

The up side is that my mother is still here, my neighbors are all wonderful and supportive, and I have friends who help buoy my spirits through the lifeline of the internet. My house is warm (bless this mild winter!!) and my son is has two goddam tubas and a myriad of instruments to keep him happy. We have six happy fish, three happy frogs and fifteen remaining fowl. I have a view of Vermont and a fucking grand piano. Ok, so my Wurlitzer needs a bunch of work, but hey. I have one.

Looking back over the years I see this same sort of lament over and over here on the blog. And it gets a little tiresome, I know. Sometimes it kinda feels like reading the journal of a middle school girl: ‘poor fat me, no one has it as bad as I do, no one understands me’ again and again. Things aren’t really so bad, I know it, but still…  I haven’t figured out how to pilot this Studio thing, I haven’t approached anyone to join the board yet, and my office is a fucking nightmare of unfiled paper and undone to-do lists. Yes, the refrigerator is organized, the pantry tidy, and the floors are as clean as they’re going to get for now. My house is in order now, but my life is not. It’s up to me, I know it. Holding out hope that I’ll find the oomph inside me to get the Studio going, to lose twenty-five pounds, to get my teaching materials filed and organized. But from where I sit today, I can’t imagine how I’ll get any of this shit done.

Yesterday I was rocking my sweet Thumbs Up after she had died. I was holding her against my breast, her neck against mine… I looked out past the Christmas tree to the hills beyond and remembered the year before last; I had been rocking in that same chair, looking out over that same view, tears streaming down my cheeks as I anticipated the imminent death of my father. Here I was again, so sad, so sad. Still, this was part of life. Nothing so wrong with being sad, I thought to myself. Maybe the best thing one can do is just invite the sorrow in and push through it hard. Sad doesn’t last forever, after all. Nothing does. Which ultimately, I suppose, is a great gift.

On Christmas morning I rose in an uncharacteristic panic; in my gut I had felt something to be very wrong. I sat up in bed and felt fear wash through my body. Without second-guessing myself I ran to the coop. The backyard was eerily quiet… where was Bald Mountain? I opened the door – the coop was nearly empty. Had there been an attack? Had the automatic chicken door opened too early and allowed a predator to enter? Adrenaline flushed through me. There, on the top roosting bar, were two old gals. Usually there were three. Shit. Thumbs Up…. where was she? I panicked, opened the other door and searched the run. There, in the far corner, was my girl. Hunkered down, seeking solitude, I knew in an instant this was a bad sign. She’d been in and out of the kitchen clinic several times over the past month, and I knew things weren’t good with her. But I didn’t know they were this bad.

I rushed her inside and this time decided to demystify her ailment. I knew it was an impacted cloaca of sorts; she couldn’t pass normally, and this was dangerous. I risked cutting into her flesh and creating a possibility for infection, this I knew, but I had to do something. So I did. I removed strange-looking tissue and tried to relieve her as much as possible. I bathed her and dried her and returned her to a bed in the mud room. We’d lost a hen here just a few weeks ago – this was ominously familiar. I stayed with her for a while, talking to her and taking photos that I knew in my heart would be the very last ones…

I called mom, the one person on the planet besides my son who ultimately has my back at the end of it all – and told her what was going on. God bless my mom. Offering me guidance and advice – here she was at nearly 81, and here I was at the age of 52 – and my mom was still my mom. It almost felt physical, the relief upon hearing her consolation. I was touched by her care and concern for me. She was saying things that made me feel better… Even if I might have said those same things to myself, hearing it from my mother was different. Yes, we agreed, there was nothing left to do for Thumbs Up. I might as well go on with my day as planned. I would go to the nursing homes and visit those who had no visitors.

With a book of carols and a harness of old-fashioned jingle bells in my bag, I headed out. First I visited my old next door neighbor who was happy at my unexpected visit. Her daughter and son-in-law soon arrived, and it was nice to see her tiny apartment full of people and holiday spirit. Satisfied to know she would have company for the day, I took my leave and went to another retirement home nearby.

The second nursing home was empty save for one woman who sat alone in the lobby while Christmas music played quietly, almost as if mocking the cheerless atmosphere. A large tree and a multitude of poinsettias beside a gas fireplace tried to give the place a cozy, home-like feel, but they were too contrived to do the trick. There was no one at the reception desk, in fact the office and dining room were dark when I arrived. I walked up to the woman, sat on the couch beside her and began talking. We passed a half hour before we saw another resident walking past. The woman I’d been speaking with said her son was coming to get her, but she didn’t know when. I’d begun to wonder if these plans were real or imagined.

The woman who next joined us was tall and lean, with her shoulder-length silver hair in a striking blunt cut. She, it turned out, was from Holland. She recounted a long life; how she’d come here at the age of 23 knowing no one, how she ended up going back to school for chemistry, how she married and had children, settling in a well-to-do New Jersey suburb. She wondered at her old home, the one in which she and her husband had shared over fifty Christmases. “Ach” she said, waving a hand in the air, “It was sold years ago. Who knows where all my things have gone. All my chairs, the curtains, the paintings….” She seemed disgusted, heartbroken and resolved all at the same time. My heart ached again, but I didn’t let on. Here it was my job to be the giver-of-cheer and hope. I asked if I might see her room here, how she had decorated it, where was it that she now lived. Both she and the first woman enthusiastically offered to take me on a tour.

We passed the rec room, which I knew to have a piano, as I’d played it years ago for a program my friend had organized. I sat down and opened the book of carols. The room was half-darkened, and the carpet sucked up every sound. In the quiet I began to play “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to which the ladies began to sing. I moved gently into several more slow and beautiful melodies, after which I felt it best to conclude. Then we three moved down the long corridor to the first apartment. It belonged to the tall Dutch woman who had introduced herself as Nellie; I learned from the plaque on her door that her full name was Pietrenelle. Adorned with white ceramic windmills and wooden shoes, her room was much as I would have expected. We moved on to visit Phyllis’ room, after which we headed back to the lobby. Two more folks had arrived in anticipation of dinner, and soon the smells of food began to waft into the air. I was surprised to see a middle aged man accompanied by a bulldog come through the front doors. “Dan!” Phyllis said, her countenance lifting as she saw the two. “Are you Dan?” I said, looking at the man and then gesturing to the dog. “He should be Dan!” I laughed. “He is actually a she...” he responded. Dan had not a clue as to the reference I was making (Yale’s school mascot is a bulldog named Dan. My dad was a Yaley, and of course, my son shares a name with the school’s philanthropic benefactor, Elihu Yale.) “…and her name is Lucy”.

I assured the women that I would be back to visit again, and I could see happiness and relief on their faces. This, if only a small bit of hope in the world, was better than none. I had done something. Not much, but the last two hours had been very pleasant, and I hoped the effect would last a little while.

When I arrived home I saw a horrible sight: Thumbs Up had fallen from the bench and was now propped up, wings spread, on the laundry detergent bottle. She was breathing in and out very, very fast. I tried to move her, and her head wobbled. Then she erupted in a spasm of movement, writhing her way across the floor, faltering on wobbly legs. This reminded me of a nervous disorder, but until now it had only seemed a gastric affliction. None of this mattered now. I gathered her up and put her in a nest on the floor. I tried to share her experience, breathing in and out breath for breath. Shit. This was horrible to watch. I couldn’t touch her, it would have caused her more pain. Her eyes were half opened; she was trying to maintain. Mom was waiting for me; she’d gone all out and made a thirteen pound turkey and all the works of a Christmas dinner. I really did not want to leave my precious girl. My heart yearned to hold her as she died – but I knew it could be an hour yet. Showing my mother love by being with her for supper was ultimately more important. I left reluctantly, and before I closed the door I told my beautiful red hen goodbye and that I loved her.

When I returned two hours later Thumbs Up was dead, as I’d expected. But her death had been violent; she had gotten up and out of her bed and died a few paces away, her bowels evacuated on the floor. I imagined her last minutes, I knew they were painful. The only consolation now was that she was gone. I was surprised by my immense and immediate grief; I ran to her, held her close to my heart and wept as I hadn’t – in two years.

She died on Christmas, and I placed her underneath the tree that night. The next morning I held her for a long time before I dug the hole, called Elihu, and finished saying goodbye. Yesterday I made my errands, and today, while I’d planned to finally assess my overflowing office, I’ve done nothing but choose photos and write. As casual as this blog may appear, it takes hours to create a post – even longer when dealing with pictures. Uploading is tedious and time-consuming. In between I take little breaks to look at the tree, or out the window at my flock. Like prodding a fresh wound to see if it still hurts – I’ll rest my eyes on the little white marker under the flowering quince bush.

Everything has its time, everything has its season. We get fat, we get thin. We get sick, we get better. We lose our way, and then we find it. We all flourish, we all fade. And whatever goes up, no matter how we might wish it otherwise, will eventually come back down. What a path is this life! Bless us all as we make our way through this great, mysterious journey. A hearty thumbs up to us all, and also to that little red hen who gave us such delight along the way.

IMG_0486I got to spend some time with Miss Lucy, the newest addition to the neighborhood. That was a treat.

IMG_0528Got busy getting down to all that grunge at the bottom of everything. This takes time. Glad it’s done.

IMG_0557The day before Christmas. All is well, and it sure doesn’t look like anyone will be dying anytime soon. Thumbs Up is the light red one on the left in back.

IMG_0576Butt shot – look away if you find it gross. Part of chickening. Austin, our comic guinea fowl enjoys the platform feeder. He thinks he’s a songbird.

IMG_0567Thumbs Up was calm in her bath as I removed scar tissue and gunk. It almost seemed as if she knew I was trying to help her. Such a good girl.

IMG_0594Getting her warm and dry. Again, while many hens might have protested, she stood there willingly. Perhaps because she was almost done with it all… Who knows.

IMG_0700Christmas day, she was different. After all, she herself had sought seclusion. I brought her to the stoop for a last visit with her flock.

IMG_0755I opened the door, and as she has so many times before, she hopped up and walked inside. I know no one else would have been able to tell, but she had an unsettled look about her. She made strange sounds and stood a little too erect, plus her eyes had a distracted appearance. Call me crazy, but hey, she died only hours later. I try to honor the ‘God voice’ when it tells me something. It’s a mistake to ignore it.IMG_0759Specks, the only hen who we’ve had longer then Thumbs Up, watches as her sister comes inside.

IMG_0650See how her tail is drooping? This is an unhappy hen, likely in physical discomfort.

IMG_0762I would take her pain on myself, if only I could. How can I love a hen so much?

IMG_0790My new friends at the nursing home, Phyllis and Nellie. Oh, and Lucy, the bulldog.

IMG_0824A sight I’ve seen all my life. Mom does it all.

IMG_0835Always superb.

IMG_0834This silver had been in my father’s family for a long time.

IMG_0857I smooch my old cat, Mina. She can’t live with us as Elihu is very allergic. My ex husband and I got her over 15 years ago. She is ancient now, and she won’t be here too much longer herself.

IMG_0885I expected to see Thumbs Up gone when I got home, but it was shocking nonetheless. My heart positively broke. Strange that we’ve butchered and eaten so many of our own birds, but this, somehow, was entirely different.

IMG_0957So beautiful were her colors.

IMG_1067I finally place Thumbs Up in her little grave. Pumpkin, the only remaining red hen, comes to see what’s going on.

IMG_1080A small piece of limestone marks the spot where Thumbs Up rests under the flowering quince bush.

Thank you, little red hen. Don’t tell the rest of the flock – but you were always our favorite.

 

 

Light in Spite December 24, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Growing Older,Mommy Mind,Pics,Vids — wingmother @ 4:24 pm

doveThis year there’s no snow here for Christmas, but the dove on our garage looks just the same as it has in years past.

This morning on Facebook I saw that someone had shared a video of the horrific ways in which extreme fundamentalist Muslims meted out punishment for perceived crimes. I will not relate here what those were; at this time in our culture we’re all well aware of the medieval practices that still exist on this planet. I realized that the intention behind sharing this gruesome post was to make sure that this behavior wasn’t being ignored, but instead was being exposed and brought to light. Intrigued, and in spite of knowing what I would find, initially I had opened the link to watch – but then quickly closed it when I realized what I was doing. I was about to – as my young son so often puts it – “give my energy” – to the wrong thing. I was about to empower the very thing that I wished to disempower. “Where attention goes, energy flows”, yes? We know this stuff exists, but do we need to bear additional witness to it? Me, I’d rather send my attention in more life-affirming directions.

I am keenly aware of the suffering that fellow creatures continue to endure at the hands of man. My outrage, however, is not an answer to the problem. It’s my personal feeling that the best way I can combat the evil that exists in the world is to act in my own tiny world with love, kindness and respect. That being said, I’ve lost a few friends over the years because I have sometimes not offered the kindnesses I perhaps should have; I may not have given thanks where they might have been deserved, or have kept up with ongoing small talk and pleasantries, or perhaps insulted someone without meaning to. In some cases sometimes life has simply carried me in other directions. But never have I wished any of my onetime friends – regardless of how our relationships may have ended – any ill. Not even my ex husband. Or his wife. Instead, I send them my best wishes and continue to move forward in my own world, interacting with those around me in the most positive ways I can.

When you no longer have small children in your home, or when a parent is no longer alive or a dear friend absent, this time of light and love can carry a deep, poignant pain. There’s already so much heartbreak in the world, and one doesn’t ever have to look far to see it. Add to that the contrast of what we imagine such holidays should look like – and how they actually do look in our lives – it makes it even harder for some of us. I’ll bet that there are far more people who don’t experience anything close to the picture-perfect scenarios that the media will have us believe are the norm.

How many folks actually know the experience of ‘dashing through the snow’ on a sled pulled by beautiful draft horses? Me, I was a lucky girl; I actually did know this experience first-hand. (As kids we found it very funny when the horses stopped along the way to drop steaming poops in the snow. And let me also add that occasionally horses fart at they walk. Again, as a kid, hilarious stuff.) I was blessed to experience old-fashioned country Christmases with trees fresh-cut from our woods, bells jingling on harnesses, the smell of wood fires in the stove and beef from our own animals on our plates for very special meals. Of course, as a child, I had no idea that this wasn’t how everyone else experienced this time of year. Instead, the things that I did wonder at were more the logistics of it all; just how on earth did Santa make so many deliveries? And just how did he manage to get into our house? We had no fireplace! (I also remember one year deciding that I really had heard sleigh bells outside and being thrilled and a little frightened at the same time.) Those memories are so distant now, but I still have them, and I will always have them; those past experiences have been the best gifts of all.

My son has only ever spent one Christmas here with me at the Hillhouse. And it wasn’t the magical time I’d hoped for. It certainly didn’t live up to the times my brother and I had as children here in Greenfield. That was another era, for sure. The year in which Elihu stayed here was sadly missing in some sort of magic. I knew that it would be a challenge to maintain a cheery atmosphere in a household of two, and while I did manage to cultivate some of it, it just wasn’t the same. While it breaks my heart that I will never have a memory of a happy, familial Christmas with my son here in our home – or elsewhere, for that matter – I know that it’s far more important that I make that opportunity available to him by whatever means. And so once more, my son is with his ‘other’ family for the holidays. He’s with his little half brothers, his father and his father’s wife, and theirs will be a bustling and full household. So, in spite of how empty it feels for me, I’m happy in knowing that my son is experiencing his own magical time.

Tonight I’ll go visit my old friend Jim, a man who once worked for my father, and whom we Conants consider to be family. Ironically, my mother and brother will go to visit another old family friend – coincidentally also named Jim – who also worked for Dad’s Baroque festival years ago. My brother is so full of rage and hate for me that he will decline to attend an event if it means we must be in the same room at the same time (not to mention a car ride – that would be out of the question. This is why Andrew did not join us for Thanksgiving. His choice.) So thankfully mom, Andrew and I will each have a destination tonight.

I may miss my child, but being alone is not something I dread. Honestly, it’s something I cherish. So being alone on a holiday isn’t so bad really. Like my mother, I enjoy having my space and solitude. And, like my mother, tv acts as a modern-day hearth in my home, a conduit to the outside world which gently animates the quiet space and gives the feeling that one is not so all alone. (For me Facebook also helps alleviate the quiet without disturbing my privacy.) My mom has always been a gracious (and talented) host, and I, like her, strive to make guests – planned or otherwise – feel at home when they stop by. I try to find food and drink, and I make an effort to keep energy up, positive and lively, even though sometimes I’m far from in the mood. This is the good aspect of having guests. They require that one keep human connections; their visits keep things enlivened, and sometimes they can offer happy distractions. (For me, the other side of the hospitality coin is that I love to be alone, chatty and entertaining though I may appear, and I get a bit agitated if I have to share my space for too long. Guess I’ve turned into something of a hermit here in the country!) I also have a never-ending list of things that need to be tended to, and I always look forward to the long stretches of kid-free time I have over holidays. Without them, I have no idea how things would get put away, baseboards dusted or the floors washed. It’s a time of utility for me, and this I consider a huge gift.

The one thing I find lacking at this time in the year is not so much the holiday hubub or the presence of children and happy chaos, rather I’m sensing that I’ve received more than my share of good fortune and experiences in my life, and somehow, I wish I could offer up something in return to the world. So I’ve decided that this year I will do something. I’m going to give something back. In years past I would have paused because I had no ‘real’ reason to do such a thing, no group affiliations, no projects, no ‘excuse’. But this year, I find I’m too old to care. I am going to visit some local nursing homes. I’m going to see if anyone needs a visitor. I may even bring a book of carols. I don’t know. Not sure how it will pan out. But I don’t care. My solitude is welcomed, but theirs may not be. So tomorrow I’ll be making a gift of my presence. Hopefully, I’ll spread a little light where it’s needed.

In spite of how things may appear right now on this planet, let’s continue to shine our own little lights in our own little worlds as we’re able. Maybe one day the light will make it into every forgotten and neglected corner. One never knows, and it certainly can’t hurt to try. So tonight I’m wishing all of us creatures on Earth happiness and peace wheresoever we may find it.

Click here to hear me singing “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”, complete with the seldom-heard verse at the top.

The night this video was shot I stayed in my old house in Illinois, if you can believe it (I hardly can), along with my husband and his then girlfriend. All of us – my husband, his girlfriend and their new baby – my son and me too – all had Christmas together. If it hadn’t been for the antidepressants I was on, I can tell you that this super-human feat would not have been possible. But in the end, I was doing it for my son, in spite of the bizarre and painful situation, so that he might have a happy Christmas, undisturbed and unchanged by our recent move to faraway upstate New York. 

 

When Is When December 16, 2015

IMG_2683

Our sick hen holds back from the flock and stands still in the sun to keep warm.

Our urge, as humans, is to help other living creatures survive. (For the sake of expanding on this idea, for the moment let’s forget that we humans have also created entire industries and careers out of actively killing fellow humans and creatures as well…). Although most of us will probably squash any spiders found ‘trespassing’ inside our house, there remains a part of the population that will search out a cup and piece of paper, and safely transport the innocent to the great outdoors. That is a population to which I belong. (My own fine line is drawn at mosquitoes, however I have been known to offer apologies and ask forgiveness before smacking the little devils into the next plane of existence.)

Recently, we had a chronically not-well hen take a downward turn. For months I’d seen the way she hunkered down on the floor of the coop at night instead of joining her mates up on the roosting bars. This alone told me something was amiss. But aside from keeping good coop hygiene and feeding them a robust diet, there was little else I could do without stepping into a whole circus of tests and expensive dietary supplements. I wasn’t going to give the whole flock antibiotics, as that would have rendered all the eggs unsafe for eating (and cost us our modest egg-selling business). Naw… Aside from saying a little prayer for her each night as I closed up, and telling her softly that I loved her and was on her side, there was little to do but wait and see how things would turn out.

About a month ago I’d had her in my kitchen, along with our treasured Thumbs Up and another new white hen. The young leghorn had a chronically prolapsed cloaca; the last bit of muscle of her digestive (and laying) tract kept coming out. I would oil up my hand and massage it gently back in, but within hours her body would begin to push and squeeze it out again – against her own will, poor girl – and I could see the look of distress in her eyes as a plum size piece of her insides (which was bright red and quite challenging for me to look at) would emerge, unable to retract back inside the poor hen. After two days of physically manipulating her back into shape only to find her elongated and pushing uncontrollably, we knew there would be no lasting fix for this gal. So our neighbor Zac helped us out by chopping off her head in one deft blow, ending her misery and pain. (We call this method “Zaxupuncture”. Sometimes the most humane of all.)

vigilThumbs Up kept the vigil with her ill flockmate for a long time. I was also amazed to see our nervous, perpetually-moving guinea fowl, Austin, walk up to the sick hen and stand there by her side, virtually motionless for a good ten minutes. Animals just seem to feel when things are changing in the creatures around them.

Recently, the chronically not-well gall, whom we call “Mother of Martha” had begun to hang around the kitchen door, almost as if suggesting she might like to come in for a respite. Thankfully, the true, biting cold of winter hasn’t arrived yet, so our flock is still in relative comfort. But this is a gesture that shouldn’t be ignored; it can be a sign that something in the bird’s constitution is amiss. And so I took her inside. But instead of perking up after a few days of r&r, she flagged even further. Home-made concoctions didn’t even do the trick this time. Believe me, I waffled inside. Was I prolonging her discomfort? Was I making her out to be more important (read: anthropomorphizing her) than she really was in the grand scheme of our small farm? Did she warrant – more to the point – did she herself even want more assistance?

Hen in A BucketThis appeared to be a sign of vitality, but ultimately it was just a last blip of activity.

Just a few days earlier she had been ticking her way across the wooden floor to observe a piano lesson one minute, head deep in the birdseed bin the next. Seemed she was doing pretty well. But the following day, she hunkered down in her corner and took on the look of an animal waiting for its time to go. And so at this time I chose not to fight it; the tiny ‘God voice’ inside me told me to just leave things be. Instead of intervening, I turned the heat up in the mudroom and made sure she was comfy with water that was very easy to get to. What else could I do now? It was really up to her. It truly felt as if she was finally at death’s door. So, having done all I could, I retired to the downstairs office to get some work done. A couple of hours later I had gone upstairs fully expecting to see her on the floor and gone from this world, but to my great surprise, instead, I found her bed empty. Keep in mind that she had been pretty well snuggled in there, and she’d been hard-pressed to move at all the last time I’d seen her; it woulda taken good bit of oomph to get up and out of her nest and onto the floor. But somehow, up and out she had gotten herself. I was so moved at seeing her silhouette in the hallway, standing there alone, waiting for someone to watch, to follow or sit beside… She was seeking some final companionship, I think. One can never know of course, but it sure felt like it.

IMG_2883Mother of Martha came out into the house for one last visit with me. This was quite a surprise, as she’d been too weak to move only hours earlier.

She stayed with me in the living room as I taught a piano lesson. But before we wrapped, I looked up to see that she had left us. Later, I found her close by the heaters in the mudroom. Now I got it. Yup, now it was probably time. I made one final effort to feed her; I slid the eye dropper full of probiotics along the length of her beak, hoping she’d take it on her own. She did. She swallowed dutifully, and uncharacteristically, without protest. Her eyes remained closed the whole time. But this time, something was very different. She clamped her beak tightly shut as I attempted to feed her the remainder of the dose. I tried a bit to pry them open, and if I’d put some more muscle into it, I might have. But somehow, it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. So instead I gently wiped her chin clean, hoping to restore whatever appearance might be necessary to maintain her avian dignity, and then let her be.

After a few hours she was unchanged, eyes closed, breathing in and out. I tested her strength, seeing if she could stand, but she collapsed under her weight. No point forcing things. Rather than leaving her to sit in her mess and all alone in the mudroom, I made a brand new and clean bed for her and placed it in between the two radiators by the kitchen table. There was privacy enough, yet she was still within our sight. I turned up the heat to make sure she was comfortable. And then we waited.

IMG_2962At last she’s resting comfortably in the kitchen. We’re just waiting now.

A friend dropped by and he joined us for supper. We were a noisy bunch; laughing, talking and continuing to live life as usual. When our guest left, quiet finally returned to the kitchen. I sat beside the hen for a while. I didn’t stroke her; that would have been more for me than for her, and by now I felt strongly that she needed to be left alone. So instead, I talked to her in a low tone, and assured her that she was loved, and that she’d been a good hen. I thanked her for all the eggs and told her what a good job she’d done, and then I turned out the light and said goodnight.

That night I’d had a feeling she’d leave us, and as I’d expected – and at this point had hoped for – I found her dead in the early morning light. I’ve come upon several dead hens in my day, and none has ever succumbed in such a graceful pose as she. I took the one breast feather that had fallen from her as a keepsake, then put her body to rest in the screen porch until I found a moment (albeit several days later) to bury her.

Soaring HenShe left us like an angel in flight.

She now rests with the other favorites; King George, the button quail who lived with us cage-free and nightly uttered his plaintiff wail for a mate as he scurried along the baseboards of the house (imagine that at the same time we also had a cat – and the two of them were absolutely oblivious to each other), and there was Molly, our very first hen, white with a necklace of black dots, as well as a few songbirds who’d crashed into windows. Our three-legged gecko was also buried in this small plot by the flowering quince; this little girl had had a cancerous rear limb amputated shortly after we’d moved here (the vet took pity on our heavy emotional load at the time and did the surgery for free). Our little pullet Martha rested there too, and now her mother had come to join her.

I’ve been present at the end of a few friend’s lives – as well as a few pet’s – and from those experiences have come to recognize the ways in which living beings behave as they near the end. My father’s passage was my most intimate experience with the death process. I remember wanting desperately to know exactly when it would happen. What to look for, what signs might immediately precede the moment of death, so I would somehow be readier for his leaving us… I remember hounding the hospice nurses for more information as they cared for my father, and as his life’s end grew obviously closer. As Martha approached her death this past summer I felt more familiar with the process, and although hers was also a welcome end to a full life, it was nonetheless a deeply strange and sad time. But sad as it may have been, I was relieved to actually recognize some of the signs and events in her progress towards death, and it made me better able to handle it all.

But that’s clearly not how everyone feels about things; my mom just couldn’t seem to adjust to the reality that Dad was on his way, and for a long while she seemed to think that somehow, somehow, things might still turn around for him. Signs that were obvious to me were easily ignored by her. Funny what comes to mind – but I remember how Dad had come to a point where he could not drink on his own; a time when he needed a straw. I remember suggesting this to my mother, but she strongly resisted the idea. Inside I’d gotten very angry inside about this – couldn’t she see what was happening? He was dying already! He was thirsty! He needed to drink, and he needed our help! What on earth was she waiting for? “Someday when” was here; ‘when’ was now! Until the very last few days I don’t think she wanted to believe it. But even she had to acquiesce, and realize that ‘when‘ had finally arrived.

Every day I pass the spot where a nineteen year old boy was recently hit by a car, shortly after which he died. It’s very much on my mind these days, as there is no avoiding the roadside memorial. Also, the boy’s middle name was Elihu, and so the tragedy has fixed itself even more personally in my thoughts. I think of his mother every day too, and naturally think then of my own child, and how his life gives so much meaning to mine. I take not a moment with him for granted. Also, the older I get, the more deeply I understand how very important it is to live fully, courageously and compassionately in the moments still remaining. Those flowers at the side of the road will not allow me to forget this.

The other day at breakfast Elihu asked why grownups were always so worried about the past and the future. Why, he wanted to know, were we always worried about ‘when things were going to happen, or what things were like back when‘? “Forget the future!” he said, almost angrily as he swept a hand in the air. “Forget the past! Now is all there is! Now is when!” He apologized for sounding annoyed. I told him he was right, and that I heard him. I agreed with him that we can’t always make plans for ‘when’, but as humans, it was what made us feel safer in the world. Then I thanked him for expressing himself. I told him he really was right. I sat in our little kitchen and looked in wonder at this insightful, loving person whom I’d been so lucky to have beside me in my life, and I breathed in, grateful. Yes, Elihu was right. The most important when of all – was now.


Post Script: A heartfelt thanks to those who contributed towards our campaign to expand our media storage here on WordPress… We were able to purchase a package that will likely support us for another couple of years. Thanks to you we can continue to post new photographs without saying goodbye to the old ones! Yay!