The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Switch August 29, 2017

This time of year is hard for me. Is it hard for you, too? Friends on the south side of the planet may feel this way in the Spring; but here in upstate New York at the end of August, this is the time when we feel the heat give way and the chill setting in.

It appears first as the general fatiguing of the green. The outermost leaves on the trees begin to fade ever so slightly… It’s hard to detect, really. There’s more of a feeling of something being different than actual physical evidence. Then one day the leaves take on an olive hue. And then, a few weeks pass during which the evenings are all of a sudden much cooler, the crickets are chirping louder and the dark is falling sooner and sooner each evening. And then one day, there they are: the patches of orange and pink on the tips of the maple trees. Yup. It’s happening. No longer can you pretend that the start of school is still a far-off reality. No longer can you muster the desire to visit the unheated municipal pool. No longer do you feel the need to nap in the sun with a book.

Summer is over, and yet it’s not quite Fall. It is that time in-between.

I’m reminded now that my thermostats need replacing and my furnace needs servicing. I remember that an oil tank is an expensive thing to fill, and that it has been a long summer with very little income. However, it has been an amazing summer. There were adventures and discoveries and many long stretches absent of professional commitments. And I enjoyed every moment of it. Can’t say I didn’t have a great summer, but man, ten months is such a long, long time to wait for pool weather to come around again. I’m a water-loving girl stuck in the middle of the north country and it can make me crabby, especially at the end of the warm season.

My current funk won’t last too long I know; there are many items on the docket for Fall which help to keep my eyes on the horizon and a bit of hope in my heart. There is much to do, as always. Never enough time, as always. Lots of learning ahead, and few regrets behind me. All is happening in its proper time and place, I know. But no matter what, I’m just never quite ready for the switch.

 

Gleaning September 21, 2014

Yesterday was the last day of summer, and it was a day of the great year-end harvest at a friend’s vineyard here in Greenfield. Mike and Kelly began to plant vines several years ago with the hopes of making their own wine one day. The first batch was made last year, and this year the operation’s really begun to pick up speed, as Mike’s finally built himself a great structure in which he’ll make and house his stock. The vineyard sits on Martha’s farm land, and when she’s gone, much of her property will go to a land conservation group in town, and the rest of it, plus the grand, two-hundred year old farmhouse will go to Mike and his family. He and I have known this farm since we were tiny, and it feels wonderful to see it enjoying a re-birth with his new business. My son derives a great sense of continuity knowing that I worked on this farm when I was his age, and he’ll continue to have a relationship with the place well into his own future. Who knows, maybe even his children will one day find themselves helping to pick the bounty at the end of a growing season.

The temperature for working outdoors was simply perfect, the grapes were at their targeted sugar composition, and the harvest was a success. (I will note that one of Mike’s young daughters had a rather bad accident which landed her in ER. While she’s ok, she did require some extensive sewing up. We feel horrible that it happened, but relieved that it wasn’t worse.)

IMG_3718Martha Carver’s grand farm house, once lived in by Elihu Wing, one of Greenfield’s earliest residents, and built in 1802 by his father, Prince Wing, who supplied neighboring Saratoga Springs with the horses needed to pull the increasing number of carriages in town.

IMG_3713As when I was a child, horses now live on the farm again.

IMG_3674We stop in to visit Martha. Just in time to meet egg farmer Dick as he makes his weekly delivery. He’s kind of a rock star in our world.

IMG_3657A visit with resident hound dog Masie. A real sweetie and Martha’s faithful companion.

IMG_3668I love all the little details of this house, unchanged since I can remember.

IMG_3558As a child I went haying in these fields. Amazing how land can find new purposes – and in such a relatively short span of time.

IMG_3566This is what we’re cutting free from the vines.

IMG_3604It took a lot of friends to help bring in the huge harvest.

IMG_3611There were kids and dogs everywhere.

IMG_3583Elihu and I get started.

IMG_3581It was kinda like a treasure hunt. Grapes were everywhere.

IMG_3574Elihu and Sam enjoy some grape juice. It was so very delicious – surprisingly tart, yet at the same time sweet. Hard to describe, but lovely to taste.

IMG_3559When we’ve filled our five gallon bucket it gets driven back to the weigh station.

IMG_3587This took about fifteen minutes to pick, and weighs in at around 18 pounds.

IMG_3589Then it gets hauled off the the wine making shed.

IMG_3591The total take for the day was around four thousand pounds. !!

IMG_3697Here’s where it ends up. The old farming gear in the foreground was in use when I was young.

IMG_3616First, the grapes go in here to get de-stemmed and seeded.

IMG_3622Then they go into that giant red vat. Gravity alone pushes the juice out, and it comes thru a tap into the waiting bucket. That’s the slow way – the faster, more labor-intensive (and thorough) way is to squeeze the juice out. Either way, the juice goes then goes through tubing into giant stainless tubs after it’s pressed.

IMG_3631Here’s where the juice is held for now.

IMG_3634The big space inside. There’s storage for casks on either side, just outside of the frame.

How cool is it that ‘Red Red Wine’ just happened to be playing as we got to the wine shed? Seriously. (Ok, so this is white wine, but still.)

IMG_3306Yeah, fall’s on its way.

IMG_3318This was an unintentional harvest; from our chicken poop/compost pile emerged this gigantic squash plant…

IMG_3310…with crazy-big leaves.

IMG_3345And lots of blossoms. I’m careful to pick just the male flowers to fry up for supper, as there are more of them than the female blossoms, plus females, of course, will turn into fruit if pollinated. One year we had a serious shortage of bees and had to knock up our blossoms by hand. For real.

IMG_3326Here’s a newly knocked-up blossom.

IMG_3340Here’s a cross-section of a female blossom. They grow closer to the main stem while the guys kinda stick out a bit more.

IMG_3331The result. Pretty! We’ll leave them to grow a bit more before we pick em.

IMG_3352We have so very few apples and pears this year. Just as well; my post-Atkins weight gain all started last fall when an abundance of fruit ‘necessitated’ I bake lots and lots of pies. !

IMG_3355I found a turkey feather where our old garden was last year. Turkeys are always roaming through our property. My mom feeds hers daily, and they come right up to her house. Mine keep a safe distance from bird-chasing eleven year old boys.

IMG_3361The new flock on the hill.

IMG_3347And our house atop the same hill. Our yard has four terraced levels to it, this was taken from the third one down from the house. At the bottom of our yard, the woods continue on down to the road below.

IMG_3537The pullets have started laying! But look at how small their eggs still are. Not all of the gals are laying yet, either. We’ll still have to buy eggs from Dick before we’re back to self-sustaining again.

IMG_3535It’s been a while since we’ve had any variety in the color of our eggs. All eggs, regardless of whether they’re green, brown or white, taste just the same. It’s just fun to have different breeds and enjoy the variety of colors.

IMG_3764After enjoying a fun visit and bonfire with our neighbors, we ended up setting our own pile on fire. We’d waited for the perfect night, and this seemed to be it. We even said goodbye to these crazy gingerbread figures we’d had around for a while. It was our own burning man.

IMG_3746I found some sparklers leftover from the 4th.

IMG_3798The grapes have been harvested, the eggs are in our fridge, and all of our scraps and sundries have gone to the heavens in the fire. Onward into a new season we go. Good-bye and thank you, summer. Hello and welcome fall.

 

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Just a friendly reminder that if you’ve enjoyed my posts and would like to buy me a cup of coffee (that’s a blogger’s euphemistic way of saying ‘give me a small tip’) you can click on the tip jar icon at the top right of this page and it will allow you to do so rather effortlessly through Paypal. Thanks for considering, and thanks even more for contributing to the coffers of this writer and mother.

 

Cool and New September 1, 2014

It’s a lovely, late summer morning. A cool, humid breeze blows gently in from the east, causing the still-green trees to gently nod and twist. The temperatures inside and outside match, at a comfortable 70 degrees. For the first time in a long while, one can detect the season that’s coming in a few weeks. Though still green, the leaves are not the bright, lit-from-within green of spring, nor are they the rich, full green of a tree deep in the middle of its growing. Now, they are what I call a tired green… Just the faintest hints of olive and yellow begin to emerge when the light is just so. As I sit here this morning, the light itself is gray, the skies heavy with a coming rain, the green still looks like summer. But the rays from a setting sun would betray what’s really going on. This is that time of year in which we must all make our internal goodbyes, our quiet inventories of all that we’ve managed to do during the brief time when we didn’t have to wear anything extra to go outdoors… This is when we sigh, we surrender ourselves to the inevitable change. We shrug our shoulders, declare to friends that whether we’re ready or not, fall is just about here. School, after-school programs, the tasks of making lunches and cooking planned, sit-down suppers… Routine is coming. And soon after, colder weather.

Although I’d given notice at the Waldorf School back in June, and was assured mid-summer that I did not need to concern myself at all with the possibility of being needed again at school in the fall – that there was already an interested prospect for my replacement in the works – plans changed, as I had suspected they might. Apparently the ‘new’ gal who’d been enthusiastic about the post came to realize that the time it actually represented (yeah, I know, how hard could it be to be a musician? Ya show up and just play, right?) wasn’t worth the lousy money they were offering. Coulda told her that. For me, however, it had been worth it, as I had wanted to be with my son, I had wanted to get my reading chops up again, I had wanted to make driving him into town every morning worth the gas money. But it wasn’t enough for her, and I’m back on the hook. Which is a lousy thing at this particular time. I have a lot going on with the Studio – much of which I must do with my own hands – and this job will interrupt my workdays in awkward ways, blacking out entire mornings or afternoons, causing more delays in my progress. I wasn’t able to work this summer because I had things backing up here at home, I had a few house guests, many large-scale outdoor projects, and at the end of the summer I had a child about. This fall I’d planned to hit the ground running… But now I’m stopped. I can’t see an entire movement program at the school hanging in the balance should I refuse to play. I can’t do that to the kids, or the school. I had promised I’d help if they absolutely needed me, and disappointingly, now it turns out they do. They assure me it’s only for the first quarter. Yeah, the quarter in which I begin to teach my class at the high school, start up again with piano students, begin a new diet – plus it’s the quarter in which I must get both the Studio and my home ready for winter. Pretty lousy timing to be sure.

This afternoon we dropped our house guest Ken off at the train. He is setting out for an unknown adventure of his own, going to live somewhere new and turn to the business of tending to his health and even more importantly, his painting, his peace and his sanity. I feel like Elihu and I are also embarking on a new life; middle school, playing in a full orchestra and wearing contacts for my son, restoring and building the Studio while still working part-time, keeping a supportive home life and a full teaching schedule for me. I’m a little afraid, to be honest. It’s a lot on its own, and on top of it I’m planning on beginning another weight loss campaign at Weight Watchers in a week’s time (sponsored by my mother) and that will be an enormous challenge, I’m sure. The Atkins diet, while allowing me great and relatively fast success, assured I was seldom hungry (yet it also assures one gains it all back when eating as one did before). I know well enough – from having lost 55 pounds after Elihu’s birth – that WW is not as easy-going as Atkins. And me, I’ve been finding my solace over the past few months in chips and wine – exactly as Elihu had predicted I would over the summer – and this will not be an easy habit for me to break. Yeah, I have no friggin clue how I’ll pull through. Some folks have suggested the ‘humiliation’ diet: admitting – to the pound – on my blog how much I weigh each week, how I’m failing or succeeding – in real-time. Naw. I don’t have the stomach for that. So I’ll continue to share my experience, and at the risk of seeming catty, will casually fail to mention any hard and fast numbers. As you may see, I’m trying to give myself a bit of cover, a bit of safety to withdraw into should I – in the words of sixth grade boys these days – experience an ‘epic fail’. As of this moment, I really don’t have the confidence that I’ll make it. Still hoping against hope that I’ll find it in me to pull the motivation out of thin air.

As soon as the train had slid north out of the station and our friend was safely off on his journey, we turned to go and in our path found a young boy with caramel-colored skin standing beside an enormous, broken duffel bag, a faint smile on his face, in the middle of the pavement and looking lost. Happy, but lost. Like he could use some help. I asked him where he was going, and he told me Skidmore. “A student?” I asked, feeling almost silly – he was clearly too young to be anything else. Man, he looked like a lost doe in the woods… “Yes” he answered – with a gentle voice, and some vague, hard-to-pinpoint sort of accent. I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to figure out what kind of accent it might have been – or even if he had an accent at all and maybe I wasn’t just confusing it for a relaxed conversational style. I asked him where he was from and he told me New York. “Well, Brooklyn, actually” he added. Hm. “We can give you a ride to campus, would you like that?” “Oh yes”. He was still all smiles, despite having to move his broken and uncooperative bag to the car. In a short ride through town I got a few answers from him and his profile began to flesh out a bit. Raised by a single mom, one of three kids, the last to leave home, and in possession of a flip phone almost out of minutes and just a handful of change to his name, he was undaunted and ready for his new start. “So how were you going to get to school? What were your plans?” I asked, mystified. “You were my plans, I guess.” he smiled his response. What an interesting person, I thought to myself. What an interesting adventure is this life…

We found his new dorm and there was a cheerful crowd of students there to not only meet him, but to carry his bag for him and welcome him with handshakes and pats on the back. Byron (who liked poetry and computer programming and answered with surprising enthusiasm for an eighteen year old when I asked if his first name was Byron, “as in Byron Keats”) had made it to the end of a long day’s travel, which had started very early that morning on the subway, where he and his mother had parted ways. All I could think of was: what if this were my boy? Left to find his way on his own, not enough juice left in his phone to let me know he’d arrived and not enough money left to eat? I felt maternal towards him and wouldn’t leave until I was satisfied that he was safe and sound and at his destination. Just as he was about to be swept away by the welcoming committee to his new room – room 222, another seemingly serendipitous nod from the universe that things were all as they should be – I opened my arms to hug him goodbye. I kissed his cheek and held him as his mother would have if she’d been there. It was the least I could do for her, so far away from her baby. I insisted he get in touch when he was able, and then, not entirely sure that he ever would, made a mental note of the dorm name. Then off went Byron, on his new adventure, leaving us in the same, cool-headed manner in which we’d found him. Off to his new world. It started to rain, and we turned to head back the few miles left to our place, where soon we would be starting off on a new life of our own.

It did indeed rain today. It rained so hard that I could hardly see to drive, so hard that when I pulled in the driveway I found its entire surface one large, moving sheet of water. All my new landscaping was a few inches under fast-moving water, and our creek bed was finally living up to its name. I called Elihu away from his video world and had him join me outside. We followed the stream of water down the yard and into the woods onto the steepest part of the hill. Down it tumbled, making wonderful gurgling and rushing sounds which excited us both and drew us farther along its path. We passed almost an hour making dams, pulling up leaves and roots, freeing up the water here, stopping its progress there… We both fantasized, as we have done for the past six years, about what it might be like if we could one day afford to free up our stream bed again. How exciting it would be to have a real pond, a real creek… But then again, would we necessarily enjoy it so much more than we were now? Our lives were so simple, yet it didn’t diminish our enjoyment of what we had. As I listened to my son’s still-high child-voice, I realized that perhaps next year things might be different. He might not enjoy passing an hour in the rain with his mother as he did today. That our life, just as it was right now, was delightful and precious. And that one day, in the not-too-distant future, I might well look back on this time with a sigh of longing. No matter if our water ran in nothing but a grassy ditch across the yard, no matter if our schedules were scattered and a little too full for our comfort, no matter if money and heating oil would be scarce again this year, I knew that we still had it good.

The year coming up looks more unfamiliar than any of those that have come before in our six years here at the Hillhouse, but somehow I know it’ll be ok. I’m not saying I’m not scared, cuz really, I am. In all honesty, I think I feel more frightened than ever before. Yeah, definitely. I am. Yet somehow, I’m not sure quite how, I’m managing to keep my cool as I face down this new life of ours and watch the old one disappear behind us in the rear view mirror. And like our new friend Byron, I guess it couldn’t hurt to keep a smile on my face along the way.

IMG_2522I can’t believe my artist pal’s been living in this kitchy, Americana barn for the past two years.  Cute, but enough already. Time to move on, indeed.

IMG_2533Engine’s here…

IMG_2526One final selfie…

IMG_2535Elihu spreads his wings as Ken departs.

IMG_2541Next thing we know, it’s “Welcome, Thoroughbreds!” Here we are at the lovely, wooded campus of Skidmore College.

IMG_2542A cheerful coed with a clipboard is here to meet us…

IMG_2545A whole team is here to meet us! I unload one of Ken’s paintings – done when he was about the same age as these kids – so that we can unload Byron’s bag.

IMG_2547I feel better when I see such a great reception.

IMG_2550After a hug, he’s on his way. All the best to you, happy freshman year!

IMG_2557We spy a hawk on the way home. Always a thrill.

IMG_2559This, however, is not such a thrill. My heart still sinks. I know we’ll adjust in time. Just one more new thing to accept.

IMG_2567After a vigorous rain shower, our place looks tidy and clean.

IMG_2564Spreading our wings now, ready to fly off into the new school year.

 

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Just a friendly reminder that if you’ve enjoyed my posts and would like to buy me a cup of coffee (that’s a blogger’s euphemistic way of saying ‘give me a small tip’) you can click on the tip jar icon at the top right of this page and it will allow you to do so rather effortlessly through Paypal. Thanks for considering, and thanks even more for contributing to the coffers of this writer and mother.