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. !!!)
We started the month by launching Elihu into his teen years…
Elihu’s Hess biplane takes off from the cake’s runway, aglow with candles for runway lights…
The entertainment at Elihu’s birthday parties has always been the hatching of chicks.
This year, one hatched in my hand.
Here 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.
Chicks are cute, but the trampoline is always the #1 hit here at the Hillhouse. (Eternal thanks to Karen H!!)
A quick smooching of Athena before heading to school the next morning.
On May 2nd, this is what Spring looks like here.
Driving 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.
When I return home from driving Elihu to school, I am always welcomed by my beloved flock.
Each night, Elihu takes time to bond with the chicks, who will stay in our living room for a few weeks.
Weekends mean tuba lessons.
How 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. !)
First, Mike plays along with Elihu on his warm ups.
And 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.
Later on that same day…
A 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.)
These 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…
Post-rehearsal, Elihu’s in front of Zankel Hall, checking his phone for all those jobs that will surely be coming in by now….
Dad’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.
May 7th. Birthday of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and…. Elizabeth Conant! And what a birthday gift is this!
The Studio before…
…and The Studio after.
A Steinway at The Studio! Woo-hoo! This changes everything.
Ah, 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?!?
Hillbilly load-in begins.
Sketchiest move I’ve ever made. Man, I guess I am getting tired. Or old. Or both.
Thanks 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!!
In early May, the trees are still rather bare.
It arrived in a big envelope. I admit, that alone had my heart racing just a bit…
Wow! 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…
The chicks are still cute and fuzzy, and things are feeling very happy around the house.
On Mother’s Day, Elihu plays a little music for grandma…
…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?
Mother’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.
In 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.)
Friend 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.
This 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. !!
Oscarina, 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!
We’re off to the Wishing Well for a fancy schmancy dinner. If we had our druthers, we’d eat like this once a week!
The heavenly scent of Frogs’ Legs. Unique to this establishment.
A dark selfie. So few pics of we two.
Rob 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.
Finally the weather’s right for painting The Studio!
Keith Sr. is doing some much-needed restoration too. It’s been decades since the exterior’s had any attention. Phew!
Keithie 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.
Keith is maturing just a wee bit faster than my own child. Ya think? All in due time…
Another week’s passing and the green is really starting to show now…
Which means the apple tree is reaching its finest hour!
My cherished Lily of the Valley is finally here too!
As is the flowering quince (which appears more of a salmon or coral shade than in this pic).
In 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.
Thankfully, 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.
Crazy cowbird, goofy guinea fowl.
Outside our kitchen window the red bellied woodpecker visits the platform feeder when the suet is gone.
Elihu takes a peek, but the woodpecker gets the feeling he’s being watched.
Outside, 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. !!
And chickens do have favorite foods too – pink apple blossoms are one of em.
Comic relief. And some serious attitude, too. !
We hope this will be the new resident roo one day…
…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.
We saw this wonderful creature – the turkey vulture – just down the road. Having just passed a dead porcupine, we got an idea…
Out with the tuba, in with the poor dead creature.
Wow, sixteen pounds. Impressive!
We 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.
Elihu picks up Christie, the stand-in for Thumbs Up, as she is the only truly friendly hen remaining.
A mutt of a hen (Araucana, Barred Rock and more), she lays olive green eggs.
Elihu carries Christie back to the house…
… and Pumpkin follows him back. (“Our” field is behind the row of trees.)
This is what the end of a weekend looks like. Sometimes I want desperately to run far, far away….
…until we settle back into our groove at home. Then everything is once again right with the world.
Lilacs uplift us too.
And 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!
It’s heavy, but it’s sparkly and loud, so who cares?
Usually a very trim, streamlined bird, this male brown-headed cowbird is showing signs of puffing…
…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….
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.
After 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.)
“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.
Elihu has the ‘big kids’ laughing as he folds the performer’s entry cards into tiny origami cranes.
Before 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.)
And here it is. Can ya read it? So sweet!
These 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.)
An 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!
Ah, the impermanence of it all. There goes the cozy roof.
This 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.
Modern Saratoga looms in the background.
This is the sort of thing that will replace the old houses. Not too bad. Could be much worse.
I’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…
On 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.
Look 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.
Saturday 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.)
Not exactly a brass plaque, but it works.
The willow tree with war memorial in the background. Wait – who’s that guy in the yellow shirt?
Shoulda known. It’s my kid – and he’s carrying a duck. !
Elihu loves to share ‘his’ birds.
We are such scofflaws!
Sometimes it really is hard to believe this kid is legally blind.
Since Elihu can no longer rely upon the ‘cute’ factor when busking, he’s trying out some new material. It seems to be working.
This 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”.
It’s been said that the fastest way to take off ten pounds and a couple of years is a selfie taken from above. !
Under the moonlight, we discover hundreds of tiny, white violets that we’d never seen before, growing all across our lawn. How is this possible??
A flash reveals them.
We 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…
After 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.
At 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.