The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Mix June 4, 2017

Our eldest hen Specks is gone. The fox got her in one of the many rounds she’s made on our property this spring on the quest to feed her new litter of kits. How can I begrudge her? Again and again she takes birds from our fast-dwindling flock. We take the hits in stride; we cannot truly shed tears, but our hearts become so very heavy at times with the losses. Specks was the last descendant of our original flock, and her sudden departure two weeks ago still causes me grief. A large bird, she was white with odd little flecks of black and brown, heavy-lidded eyes and a gentle demeanor which allowed for one to easily scoop her up for a quick passing smooch. She was sister to our beloved Thumbs Up (who died on Christmas day of 2016) and her death marks the end of an era for us here at the Hillhouse.

But our losses have not stopped there. The tenacious mother fox has come to visit – and in broad daylight – repeatedly, sometimes several times in one afternoon. Day before yesterday, when we were just at our neighbors and Elihu was happily flying his favorite new helicopter, we lost our young rooster Alden (son of Bald Mountain and hopeful new king and father of future generations) as well as a few other girls. Not all of our hens have names, and that does make it easier when one of them turns up missing, however now we are down to a bare-bones flock of just eight hens, half of whom have endeared themselves to us with charming traits and distinctive personalities. I hold my breath every time we do a count; is chatty Christie still with us? Laid-back Gildie and curious Scottie? These three are the ones I watch now, staying my heart for what seems the inevitable loss to come.

Bald Mountain is still here. Though no longer the robust, take-no-prisoners eleven pound bird he once was, he manages to hold his head erect (although his arthritic tail often flags) and continues to crow in the face of being beat up by the drake and chased by the fox. He is a survivor. Truth be told, he is our family dog and when he finally goes there will be a huge shift here. All of my students and all of our friends know Baldie. He is still the reigning king. But even a king must meet his maker, and we hold out hope that when his time comes, he goes peacefully in his sleep. It would be a hugely bitter pill for us to swallow if he should lose his life to the fox. But we know it’s a possibility, and so every day we proceed with guarded hearts, hoping for the best but on the ready for anything.

So much has happened since my last post that the prospect of catching friends and readers up has felt like an impossible task. Our lives have been jam-packed with deep conversations, medical emergencies, end of year concerts and exams, gigs, gear malfunctions, car drama, epiphanies, mounting electric bills and overflowing septic tanks. But along the way we’ve experienced the incredible and sometimes completely surprising generosity of friends and neighbors that have offered critical relief and support just when we needed it most. And we’ve enjoyed tiny little revelations and gifts that have kept our spirits up while other events threatened to drag us into despair. (Perhaps I should really be saying “I” here instead of “we” to be more truthful; Elihu is far more even-keeled in the face of sudden challenges than I am.)

There are moments when I know that our life is magical and that we are lucky, and there are moments when I just wish that it were fucking over already, cuz I’m tired. And sometimes I just don’t know how much more of this crap I can take. But then I remind myself that I still have work to do here on this earth. I remind myself that Elihu’s tiny years are over, and that the years he’ll remain here at home will be short and I will want to savor them as best I can. And certainly, it will be easier from here on in. As a friend and father of six children had noted to me when I told him that my son was now 14: “the heavy lifting is over”. Yes, it is. And I have a capable child – and more important, he is a child who is willing and eager to assist me in any way he can. Finally he understands how much work it is to keep a house, a menagerie of animals and a plot of land. How much work it is to make sure that food is made, that laundry is done, that the house is kept clean. That the tuba lessons cost a dear chunk of my income. That his mother doesn’t have quite the energy that she did when we started this whole adventure in the country nine years ago. Yeah, my kid gets all of this, and he’s helping out more and more, which is something that I doubly treasure when I hear tales of the disengaged, screen-addicted children with whom parents can hardly make a connection. There’s no doubt that I’m fortunate.

Today I took Elihu to a gig with me. A few times a month I host a karaoke singalong at a nursing home, and I’d promised to bring him along to sing and perform a couple of songs on his recorders. When he’d finished his short set, he sat down at the resident train table and began to tinker with the unworking engines and track while I entertained the crowd. Before I had finished, he had the N scale train running again around the table, through the tiny mountain and switching successfully in the tiny model downtown. Trains were Elihu’s very first love, and his time with this train set put him in a very happy mood. We said our goodbyes and then, as we’d planned, we made our way to a small airfield just a few miles up the road so he could look at the planes there.

It was a tidy, well-kept place, the main road in lined with blooming dwarf lilac bushes and neatly cut grass all around. We could see a handful of small high wing planes (most of which Elihu readily named for me) and after we’d walked the perimeter, we found a man fueling his own small craft. We began to chat, and he lead us around the sheds where we took a closer look at the handful of planes. This fellow and Elihu became engaged in the usual shop talk, and it was soon apparent to this man that the kid really knew aviation. So while I chatted with Joe, another very personable fellow there who had been doing some work on his vintage Cessna (the only other person at the airport) he and I watched as pilot Doug and Elihu taxied away on the grassy runway for an impromptu flight. Within minutes of arriving at an unfamiliar airfield here I was sending my one and only child into the air with a man whom I’d only just met moments before. And whose last name I didn’t know. But this is how Elizabeth and Elihu live. Magically guided are we.

Doug was a sweetie and let Elihu fly the plane. Doug told him to pay attention to the horizon and not the gauges. To look at his relationship to the land… Then Doug turned his attention to his phone, letting Elihu savor that rare moment, that longed-for experience. They were up for fifteen minutes or so, and as they made a pass to the west, silhouetted against the expanse of cumulous clouds behind, all I could think was  “There he is. My boy. My boy, up there in the sky!”

On the way home we stopped to visit a friend from Chicago who’s in town to assess the health and living situation of her older parents. Not a happy, easy occasion. My son was hopped up on his recent flying ‘high’ and wished for us to get home, but the detour was necessary. After a little pow-pow with my friend and her parents’ neighbor, Elihu and I had my out-of-town friend follow us to the retirement home that was on our route home. Linda leaned into the car window and kissed me goodbye. When we pulled away Elihu said “Yeah, I can feel how she’s thinking about other things.” He had been anxious to get home, but he understood the seriousness of the situation and was patient with the extra time the errand had added to our day.

The waning sun cast a yellowish glow on the treetops and created a olive green tone to the shadows. The countryside on our short drive home looked like a painting, like a dramatic exaggeration of its own beauty. Lovely as it was though, this short drive was feeling much too long for both of us. But finally the golden trees alongside the road were ours.  After such a long day away, we were deeply relieved to finally be returning home.

Like the old days, when Bald Mountain’s own son Alden would beat him up and leave him bloody, stumbling, hurting and missing a good portion of his feathers, the old rooster had suffered a violent night in the coop, and we’d taken him back into the kitchen for some TLC and recuperation time (it was the drake who had attacked him this time). He greeted us with a loud crow, made even louder in the natural amplifier of our tiny kitchen. Yup, this was home. A rooster in the corner, poison dart frogs and tree frogs in the kid’s room, a half dozen week old chicks in the basement, and some overgrown goldfish who desperately need to be moved to the outside pond before they grow too big to turn around inside their tank.

I like to think I have a tidy, organized house. And if you visit our living room or bedrooms, it does look pretty peaceful and orderly. But add some critters, and things change. The animals, they’re just messy. And stinky. There’s no denying the stink. Most of them don’t always live here, though. Only when they can’t live outside. And for the moment, that’s the situation. The tiny chicks that our mama duck hatched out (to our complete surprise) still live in the damp, ever-flooding basement. It won’t always be thus, but for now, it’s the reality. I tell ya, one day you’re living like a proper lady from town, enjoying the finer things in life and making plans to go to the ballet, and the next your in your nightgown, offing a raccoon in the pouring rain with a sledgehammer. Yeah, things tend to swing from one extreme to the next around here.

We just never know. Gut wrenching emergencies and stunning, irreversible changes threaten our hopes for a happy future, and then certain other little events which we have long dreamed of and hoped for suddenly drop into our lives, and we find some problems solved and new opportunities opening up…. Lean years, rich years, sick years, healthy years, dismal years, hopeful years… so much of it all mixes together in even shorter, smaller nuggets that it’s hard to organize it all. Does life suck and is it unfair? Yes! Does life thrill you and even let you win every now and then in the most exciting way? Yes!

I am convinced most folks in this privileged, Western world can experience an incredibly full, expansive life. I might even go so far as to say that it might just be possible for a person to have it all. However, I don’t believe it is ever possible to have it all at the same time. !

So – savor what you have, deal with what needs dealing with. Avoid the stuff that the God voice warns against, and do the stuff that the God voice recommends. Enjoy the free and unstructured moments in between all the rest. Cuz life sucks. Cuz life rocks. Cuz life does all the other stuff too. And aren’t we glad of it? Imagine how boring life would be without these little surprises and challenges.

Life is what it is. It’s a little of everything. Highs, lows. It’s a little bit airplane, it’s a little bit sky… A perfect mix.

My boy Elihu, piloting his way through the clouds…

_______________________________________________________

Elihu and I want to thank Paul, Elinor, Priscilla, Heather and Doug.

Thanks for your kindness, it’s made all the difference.

_________________________________________________________

 

Post Script: Photographs from the past several weeks may appear soon in an all-image offering…

 

Highs, Lows and Loss April 2, 2016

We’ve had a lot of fun mini adventures here lately. However, tempering the moments of fun and light come the inevitable moments of drudgery, the tasks fundamental to the maintenance of physical life here on this planet. There are very few idle moments around here, and while generally I’m thankful for the brisk pace and new experiences that we’re fortunate to enjoy, it’s the other crap that often puts me in a crabby mood. Taxes must be filed, applications for summer programs must be filled out, applications for tuition assistance, for heating assistance, for food stamps, for teaching proposals, for class descriptions, email addresses must be entered into the database, old ones culled, websites must be maintained, chickens, frogs and fish must be fed and cleaned up after. And a twelve-year-old boy always seems to be hungry. And don’t get me started about dust bunnies or laundry or leaf-filled gutters. Yeah, there is never an end to it all. And yeah, I’m grateful for all we have, but still…

It was my Uncle Paul’s birthday on March 31st, and in that my mother doesn’t keep up with her only sibling and family, I thought it might be a good idea to check in. My Uncle Paul had a stroke a few years back, and so his speech is slow – combine that with Aunt Sandy’s proclivity for endless small-talk and chatter, and poor Paul is relegated to a virtually speech-free existence. Thankfully, it being his birthday, Sandy passed the phone over to him and I had a brief exchange with my only living uncle. I heard him speak long enough to understand a certain gentle humor, as well as a fatigued sense of surrender. This was understandable, as I’d learned (this is a good example of how little my family members communicate with each other) that his daughter, my cousin Janice, had finally lost her battle with colon cancer last summer.

Summer before last I’d insisted that mom, Elihu and I visit the Jackson family, and now I was especially glad that we did. In spite of having virtually nothing in common with my newly re-met cousin, I’d liked her. She’d battled cancer for six years, ever-smiling, ever sweet of demeanor. I’d admired her for that alone. She’d even demonstrated her kindness to me in a thoughtful, hand-written letter at Christmastime. To learn she’d died was, although distantly sad, no deep heartbreak for me. Instead I felt relief for her – because she’d been through the wringer over the past few years, with six-hour commutes once a week for chemo treatments to the daily indignity of living with a permanent colostomy bag. But more than all of this, her death left me wondering once again at the deep level of chronic heartbreak with which so many of my fellow humans must live out their time here on earth. It should just not be that a man should lose his physical faculties, live until old age, and then witness the slow death of his only daughter. Fuck that. No matter whether one believes in destiny, the wisdom of God’s choices or the necessity of working out karmic debt, seriously, how in hell does one make sense of this?

Recently, a local man went out for his nightly walk, suffered a fall, and subsequently died, alone, on the trail in the woods behind his house. His wife had gone to bed just as he had gone out for this routine stroll, and he had likely laid there on the ground, in the cold of night, long before he finally succumbed to his fate. A former president of local Skidmore College, mom told me that he once played harpsichord as part of an event at dad’s Baroque Festival in which five harpsichordists all performed… This morning, as I awoke fresh to a new day of possibility, my greatest challenges being tidying my home and feeding a growing boy, I remembered the news of this man’s death, and thought immediately of his wife. How must she be feeling on this very morning? She had laid sleeping in her bed as her husband, mere yards away, laid on the cold ground, dying. Man. It’s stuff like this that tempers my frustration with the toil of the everyday and helps to quiet my bitchy outbursts as I get back to this precious business of everyday life.

The other morning, on the way to school and in the absence of the usual polka soundtrack, Elihu began some intense existential rumination. He’d recently noted that every physical thing – outside the natural world, that is – had first existed in a person’s mind before it came to take form in physical reality. While I’d offered this concept to him in the past, apparently the corresponding light bulb moment had only just arrived. “So literally, we are living in other people’s minds. We live in the creations of other people’s thoughts!” He laughed, he shook his head in amazement. He had a half-dozen other threads of thought beginning to germinate too and he struggled to identify them. He’d begun to express his new ideas just recently on the long drive to Schenectady for a flying meet, and clearly in the five minutes of commute that remained there was little time to make headway with any of them. “Yeah, it’s true.” I summed up. “Every structure you see out the window existed first in someone’s imagination.” I paused for a moment, wondering how to bring the conversation to a tidy close. “It does take a while to get things physically manifested here on this physical plane, but in time, and with tenacity,” I said, as much to remind myself as to inspire my child, “just about anything can be realized.” He sat there, quiet, looking out of the window. He was clearly deep in thought, because he didn’t ask for me to turn on any polka music before we arrived at school.

The past few weeks have been a tangled flurry of life, death, simple pleasures and challenging tasks. So far, real heartbreak and tragedy are not ours personally, and for this we’re both appreciative. Elihu has recently met a gentleman that we readily refer to as his new flying mentor, and in the short time we’ve known him he’s already opened up a whole new world to us. So this particular adventure has begun, if you’ll pardon the pun, to take flight. ! From the lowest notes on Elihu’s C tuba to the ceiling of the Schenectady Armory, we’ve had some truly exhilarating experiences lately. And since one never knows when the whole affair may come crashing to a close, we’re savoring the whole shebang –  we’re flying along on the current of our life, learning from the highs, the lows and all that stuff that fits somewhere in between.

IMG_4985Our weeks end on Sunday, which is tuba lesson day. Can you imagine that Elihu’s tuba teacher not only lives in our town, but he has chickens? (And goats and horses, and he built his own house, and he has six children – including a set of quadruplets – and he’s one of the best low brass players and teachers in the region. And he’s a super nice guy. Say what??)

IMG_4993Imagine a tuba lesson that starts like this. !!

IMG_4997Yup, Elihu is a lucky, happy boy.

IMG_5018Finally Elihu’s reading has gotten to the point where it’s not the focus of the lesson – but technique and sound are.

IMG_5078We went to the high school’s performance of Bye Bye Birdie, where, as our usual serendipitous good luck would have it, we enjoyed front row seats, in spite of our having arrived late. ! Elihu’s tuba teacher’s eldest daughter played trombone in the pit orchestra, as did an old friend. The fellow conducting and playing keyboards is the music teacher here; I use his classroom to teach my adult ed class entitled “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher”. Oh – and one of my piano students did the lighting. An extremely impressive production, as always. Truly, more than top-notch all the way around.

IMG_5028Later on we Skyped with some dear friends in France. Regular readers may remember young Lilas and her mother, Mary. Mary’s the daughter of old family friends from Greenfield – Mary’s mother was an actor and performed at my father’s Baroque Fest ages ago – so it’s nice to keep this connection. Mary also teaches at the Waldorf School there – so we’ve got that in common too.

IMG_5177I have new friends who’ve moved here from Sicily – and they kindly gave us this Easter treat. There’s a boiled egg baked inside! Apparently this is traditional in many European cultures, but for us it was a first.

IMG_5544It seems the Easter Bunny is still visiting the Hillhouse…

IMG_5549Which made one big kid very happy.

IMG_5560Since Elihu sees no color whatsoever, eggs need high-contrast decorations to stand out. Why the blue? you ask. To add some depth, I suppose. Also cuz I thought it was pretty.

IMG_5673A tradition for many years now (and which we skipped last year as he was with his father), we visited what we call “the lightning tree”. Every year Elihu adds a bit to the primitive stone structure at the base of the charred-out tree. I was happy to see the ‘mom and son’ cairns from three years ago had survived the wind and weather. We passed two hours there as if it were ten minutes. So much fun.

IMG_5681A closer look at the rocks… A winding hillside road is off to the left, the woods directly ahead and to the South, our house a bit off to Southwest, and the big field is just out of the frame to the right.

IMG_5692This tree hangs precipitously over the edge of a good fifteen foot drop to the road; you can see the pavement through the roots where the tree has been burned away.

IMG_5734During our fort-making we found several surprises…

IMG_5742Remainders of a time when this was all cow pasture and farm. We also found a garden rake and remnants of a small shack.

IMG_5800Heading home. There’s a break in the stone wall (which divides our property from the field) where the birch tree leans out. Just out of frame (sigh) and to the right is the new construction house, the sight of which still depresses us both.

IMG_5825Elihu regaled mom and me with some pretty funny new jokes during Easter supper.

IMG_5987While out and about I saw this license plate. !!

IMG_5429Got myself my biannual hair cut. Old friends have chided me for maintaining something of an ’80s’ hairstyle, but I argue that it’s best to work with what one has. Me, I’ve got curl. This is my perennial, scrunch-n-go favorite. Think what you will. It works.

IMG_5536Ah, the endless battle against the hardest water known to man. This stain was created in less than two weeks’ time. Yup. Many times it’s been posited that we should bottle the stuff and sell it. Saratoga Water – meh! How about some Greenfield Gold?

IMG_5514My favorite visitor to the platform feeder, our beloved guinea fowl, Austin. He is a real goofburger.

IMG_5205Elihu has a loaner C concert tuba at home (Ed, we can never, ever thank you enough!) and what we affectionately call a “B flat beater” tuba, which we own, and which is kept at school in order to prolong mom’s back health. !! My kid must play in two different tunings – me, I’m immensely impressed by that. Btw – musician joke digest: Guy hears the breaking of glass… Runs to his car…. Finds TWO tubas in the back seat…

IMG_5301We’re at the Schenectady Armory – the huge and gorgeous room where local model aircraft enthusiasts meet weekly to enjoy windless, indoor flying.

IMG_5233And this is Jesse. It’s safe to say that this man has forever changed Elihu’s life.

IMG_5225Jesse’s old school; he’s got a rubber band winder with a 1:15 ratio. That loads a lot of power onto the band. His crafts in flight are something rare to witness; as one circled gently around the room high over our heads on a nearly one minute-long flight, there was simply not a work spoken by anyone present. It is a thing of such magic and beauty that no comment can accurately express the delight one feels to watch as it soars…

IMG_5360Jesse even let Elihu fly some of his RC planes. A gentleman and a wonderful teacher, the trust he put in Elihu was a real gift. It enabled my son to finally get the feel of flying a plane.

IMG_5356Hanging with the new posse. Click here to watch Elihu’s first walkalong glider experience, and click here to watch mom give it a try the following week.

IMG_5376Ok, this almost made my head explode. Elihu loves, loves, loves the German language, and of all things – there’s a German restaurant on the way home… So we stop in for a bite of bratwurst…

IMG_5378…and wait, you’re kidding me, right? There’s a friggin tuba player arriving just at the same time as us!!

IMG_5379 This is what lil man has to look forward to… (Let me tell you – a soft case is a walk in the park compared to the hard case I move every Sunday!)

IMG_5399OMG – the charts are even in German. !!

IMG_5406An afternoon of flying followed by live polka music with a tuba player in a German restaurant?!?! WHAT? (Oh – and we learned later that Elihu and Jeremy the tuba player both study with Mike Meidenbauer!)

IMG_5996Recently The Studio was host to an event. A success I suppose, in spite of the fact that the host’s car got stuck in the mud and she needed a tow truck to get her out and now I gotta figure out how to fix the lawn. Sigh. Two steps forward, one step back… Overhead’s still killing me at the moment, but all in due time, I suppose…

IMG_5999Elihu donned his Grandpa Robert’s madras bow tie for his school Spring Assembly for the Waldorf School.

IMG_6038How I wish I had a better picture, but from way in the back this was the best I could do. Elihu and pal Drake performed a tongue-twister sketch which they wrote, the last line of which was “Fancy froggy fanciers feed my farmed, frivolous, furry, frightened, fluttering, flightless fruit flies to phyllobates frogs from Florida forests.” !

IMG_6125A bow-tied man is a man of good character, no matter the age. (The fellow on the left even plays tuba. !) A fine performance, and a fine conclusion to a fun and full couple of weeks.

 

Paperchase February 23, 2015

Paper has followed me closely throughout my life. Of course it started for me as it does for all my brothers and sisters here on the planet; there were the requisite forms my parents filled out on my behalf shortly after I arrived, and the stamp of my inky footprints in lieu of a signature to kick things off… And before I knew it, my relationship with paper had begun.

In my earliest years the collection took the form of preschool art gems. Over-sized pieces of thick, fuzzy paper frozen into stiff waves by watercolor paint… Next came the phonetically spelled messages that immediately preceded my learning to read, and shortly after that I was in school and churning out a respectable daily output of used paper. In high school I filled my paper with far less academic focus; endless doodles lined the margins of my Latin notes, I drew floor plans on any remaining space in which I didn’t doodle, and I wrote the name of a certain cute senior boy (who played bass) – both forward and mirrored backwards, too – across every page of my notebook during sophomore year. I was a doodler. Later came sheets of classical music, lead sheets, chord charts, string arrangements, production notes and set lists. More paper, much of which is now deeply infused with the memories of those projects and the time in my life which they represent. I find it impossible to simply toss the stuff. And so instead, I file it away. I can totally understand hoarders. It’s a safe feeling to have tangible evidence of your life’s favorite moments within easy reach. For the most part, it’s not a drag. What to me is a drag are those piles. The ‘to-do’ piles all over your office that don’t ever get done.

But that’s only one kind of paper battle. There’s the other sort that most folks deal with daily. The better part of my mother’s life these days is spent just keeping up with the shit that she finds stuffed in her mailbox each day. Unlike me, she takes her mail up to the house and goes through each and every piece, whether it’s a solicitation for money (free dream catcher inside!), another outside agency offering to provide electricity at discount prices (never a deal) or life insurance offers (for just pennies a day and no medical questions to answer!), she gives each its moment of consideration. Piles of envelopes wait patiently on the desk for her attention, while correspondence of a similar sort over at my place gets unceremoniously dumped into the recycling bin on the way back to the car. More than enough crap has made it past my front door – I have no desire to give myself yet more things to purge. If I ever become flush with cash, I’ll give some to my friend who digs wells around the world. That’s it. Real results, no waste. If I ever need a discount on my electric, I’ll consider going solar. And as for insurance, they can keep their brochures. If I die, my kid gets all my stuff and then goes to live with his dad. Nuff said.

Having finally put ‘like with like’ over this past, kid-free week (Elihu’s been in Chicago with his dad for winter break), I am finally able – after living here over six years – to know where everything is. Got my old files down low, new ones up high. Seriously old stuff – as in those doodles from the early years (along with Elihu’s thousands of bird drawings) are sealed away in labeled boxes. I know where they are, but they’re tidily out of sight. Finally I have a handle on it. And the relief is almost physical.

Between the logging, the random life adventures and all the organizing I’ve been doing this week, I’ve been going nonstop. Elihu returns tomorrow, and I’m finished with the office just in time. (I have spent several hours trying to get my computer to see my piano keyboard to no avail, and am also having some deep frustration with my new computer and it’s ‘non relationship’ with my printer. So in truth, nothing’s truly resolved and over. I’ve just reached a nice, temporary hiatus of sorts.) Elihu will return this time with his new tuba in tow, so of course we’ll be off into a whole new adventure as soon as he steps off the train.

The logs from our property are ending up going in all directions and will be put to many uses. A local school will be burning the chipped tops in their furnace, some nice looking butternut made its way to a local clock maker, and some of the fine, long hardwood will even find its way across the globe to far-away furniture makers in the not too distant future. And some of the haul will even be made into – you guessed it – paper! Let the chase continue…

IMG_2192My little aviator, ready to fly.

IMG_2204How is it that this never grows old? A plane is always an exciting, enticing sight.

IMG_2222There goes my baby…

IMG_2241Lost in the snow.

For me, this never grows old either.

IMG_2265Leaving the airport I saw hundreds of puffy sparrows hunkered down in the trees, just waiting out the brutal, sub-zero weather as best as they possibly could. Poor creatures!

IMG_2308I had planned to have a mammogram one morning, but found I was driving on a totally flat tire and ended up cancelling. I suspected the loggers might have some compressed air to get me to the garage…

IMG_2320Easier said than done. Their equipment is always breaking down. Steven did a good job of nursing the compressor pump motor along. It took some real patience in the frigid weather. And see – he’s not even wearing gloves. But given the finesse he had to use in getting the engine going, I can understand why. Even I took off my gloves to unscrew some nuts on the tire. Sometimes you gotta feel what you’re doing.

IMG_2342My tire was truly busted. No repairs to be made there. Time to use that spare. So unbelievably cold in spite of the sun, and again, no gloves! These guys were so kind and helpful, and I am extremely grateful for their help. I’ve changed tires myself before, but I was a lot younger then – and it was a whole lot warmer out too! I think I’ve finally reached the age where I can comfortably allow younger people to do things for me.

IMG_2370Now I’m heading out into the woods with forester Dick, so he can show me how the cut looks. (The hat I’m wearing was knit by Lydia, my maternal grandmother. I like that I have something functional – and quite attractive – that she made. She’s been gone since I was twelve, but this makes me feel connected to her.)

IMG_2376Here comes the skidder. Sometimes you can hear the engine but can’t see it for all the trees – until it’s right up on ya.

IMG_2354They cut and drop em in a line…

IMG_2358…then grab em with that giant claw and drag them back to the landing where they’ll be sorted and stacked.

IMG_2383A load slips by while Dick checks out the cut.

IMG_2395It’s the fellow manning the claw who makes all the decisions about what trees should go to what vendors. He stacks them, cuts them to size and then either feeds them to the chipper or loads them on a truck as logs. One full 40′ semi trailer holds 30 tons of chips. Think 15 elephants. !

IMG_2411The dark center is called the heart. While this looks pretty here, this soft red Maple (which is a hard wood – go figure) is not worth as much because the ratio of heart to light wood will make the resulting cut wood irregularly colored. Apparently people want uniformly colored wood.

IMG_2409Now these guys look pretty good. The smaller the heart, the more value to the log.

Love listening to these guys talk.

IMG_2405Dick goes over the pile to see if he agrees with the head logger.

IMG_2423I head home to assess my mess.

IMG_2420Gotta keep at it. Put in over 30 hours just filing. Whew.

IMG_2427Ahh.

IMG_2428Three ring binders are this girl’s best friend.

IMG_2480And finally… at week’s end! Not once in my six years here has my office ever been so organized. Maybe I’ve finally chased the bump under the rug into the next county. Maybe. At least my paperchase is done for now.

 

Grounded January 23, 2015

IMG_5897

Because Elihu missed four days of school from having the flu lately, he’d been a bit behind in his homework. He was staying on track, and we’d talked to his teacher, so I wasn’t worried. But he was. Poor kid’s been having a hell of a time getting to sleep over the past few months, and now, what with this school thing, it’s worse. Part of the reason is that in addition to school, there are a few other things weighing on his mind.

A few days ago he pulled his two oldest helicopters off the shelf and began an online quest for replacement parts. He misses seeing the giant one fly – it was his first, and we both have nice memories with it. “It isn’t right that it costs more to replace the broken parts than to buy a whole new one. It’s just a waste. It’s not right” he had lamented to me earlier that night. He’d admitted to me that he felt a deep sentiment towards this one particular heli – the big orange one he’d had since he was himself tiny – like the kind of feelings someone usually reserves for favorite stuffed animals. And I’d agreed. This machine was our friend, and we owed it to him to get him back in the air.

But it didn’t seem likely, from what we were learning. In fact, if we wanted to fly this one again, it just made economic sense to get a new one and use it for parts. Elihu resigned himself to this, but I could tell it disappointed him deeply. This was just another mild defeat which added to his sinking mood. I knew there was another piece too – one which he’d been keeping to himself because it was just too heartbreaking to speak aloud, and that was the absence of an old school chum from his life. The boy whose mother felt I made “bad parenting choices” by way of removing feathers from a dead owl or using a cuss word within earshot of my kid… She removed her son from the Waldorf School last year (no, I was not the reason for the change, although I’m sure it relieved her to be rid of me), and Elihu’s had a huge hole in his heart ever since. I emailed her recently about getting the boys together – completely on her terms, on her turf, whatever could work – but heard nothing back. That’s the way she handled the situation last time, and apparently it was still her method. Last year it took me three emails plus an intervention by the class teacher to get her to admit the reason she wouldn’t agree to our sons playing together. (Ironically she’s a psychologist and her job is to help people through communication. !) Plus the blog. She finds that to be the most dangerous of my bad parenting choices. Even after I removed every last image or mention of her son – and apologized profusely – even then it wasn’t enough to pacify her (when I apologized in person she had literally said “no worries”). And so my kid suffers. Many tears have fallen over this lost friendship, and we’ve spent hours parsing over the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might yets’. Elihu has learned to stuff it down, to forget it for now. But tonight, feeling the stress of being behind in his work, unable to fly his favorite toy and long out of touch with his old best friend, he succumbs.

He’s curled up into such a tight ball on his bed that I can’t lean in to kiss his forehead. Instead I kneel beside his bed and put my arms around him. “Mama, I’m really scared. I really am.” I hate to hear this from my brave, spirited and wise boy. But I can’t indulge in my own feelings of fear and uncertainty; I need to provide comfort. “What are you afraid of, sweetie?” I ask. “I’m just afraid,” he answers me. “Of everything.” I tell him that I am too, and that sometimes we just need to break things down and tackle them one at a time. He was behind, but still keeping to a schedule, so that was good. We’d found a website that sells his old helicopter, and that was good. And we’d sent an email to his friend, so we’d done all we could on that front. Until his friend was a teenager with his own ability to communicate with us, sadly that one would have to wait. But besides, wasn’t life sometimes magical for us? Didn’t the possibility exist that we might see him sometime when we were out and about in the world? After all, didn’t crazier, more serendipitous things happen to us from time to time? Elihu nodded his head a bit. I stroked his back and sat with him in silence for a moment. When he gradually straightened up, I could feel the bed was wet with tears where his head had been. I leaned in and kissed him. “It will be ok. It will.”

After our talk I’d left him to sleep, but even after two hours had passed he hadn’t been able to turn off his mind, to forget all that troubled him. Finally, he stormed into my room with Lenny, his favorite stuffed parrot, and harumphed as he dove into my bed. I didn’t say anything, I just turned off my computer and joined him. I understand so well the challenges of sleeping at night; my own thoughts race through the never-ending to-do lists and possible future scenarios, both hopeful – and frightening. Always just a couple steps ahead of a dire economic state, I live with a constant, low-level of stress which I’m afraid has somehow bled over into my son’s consciousness. I know our household is full of humor, music and nature. I know unquestionably that I have given Elihu the very best home life possible within my means. But I also know that he, like me, feels the edge on which we live. And he, like me, is physiologically prone to anxiety and panic. And he, like me, has no social life to distract or entertain him. He has but one friend with whom he meets outside of school, and those dates are too few, I know. He, like me, is for all intents and purposes, a loner. And that’s not a bad thing; for the most part we both enjoy living a quiet, isolated life in the country. Being a loner truly isn’t the same thing as being lonely, but tonight it really does feel just as bad as it sounds.

I realize that this will pass. Elihu’s an insightful kid, and so he knows this too. Things won’t always be thus. And no matter who or what it is that’s doing the flying – even his old favorite aviator, the tireless Wandering Albatross – not a one of them can keep on flying forever. Eventually everything must spend a little time on the ground.

 

Summer Flies August 31, 2014

If a picture says a thousand words, then this might just be my longest post ever. So much has happened in the past few weeks, I can hardly recount it all but to look back over my photos. These are our final days of summer, and we’re savoring them to be sure. This photo barrage may try the patience of some, and if that happens to be you, please skip on ahead and we’ll see you next time…

IMG_2394We’ve reached a first here at the Hillhouse… Not enough eggs for breakfast (all but three of our older gals have all died, and the new pullets aren’t laying yet). This is our first store-bought egg in a long, long time. Confirms for me the benefits of happy, free-range hens. Our gal’s egg is on the right. Could ya tell?

IMG_2128That crazy guinea fowl of ours, Austin, has just learned a new trick. I know it’s ‘bird’ seed, but we meant it for another kind of bird here…

IMG_2153Thumbs Up and me.

IMG_2175The ALS bucket challenge comes to Greenfield… Ken, right, videos his old pal Walter. Now retired, as state troopers they were once partners and shared some amazing stories together on the job.

IMG_2178Mid-ice bucket dump. The Greenfield Mamas are next, whenever our schedules will finally permit (my donation’s been made, so the challenge is additional, I realize, but still important.) We’re having a backhoe dump its massive bucket of ice water on us. No doubt we’ll need to plan it carefully for safety’s sake. The goal is to amplify our challenge by reaching a broader audience. Stay tuned.

IMG_2195Elihu enjoys a little RC heli time. What’s significant here is that it is the last photo ever to mark the driveway sans house at the end. Sigh.

IMG_2204Friend Ken’s also a pilot, and here he’s showing Elihu what the controls look like on a plane preparing to land.

IMG_1137 Hopefully, after we log the property this winter, we’ll restore a panoramic view closer to this than the one we currently enjoy (this spot is another hilltop property in Greenfield). When our house was built in 1970 it looked like this, now we see the horizon mostly in between the trees.)

IMG_1082This is our old family friend Ruth Lakeway’s house. She was a soprano who sang regularly in dad’s Baroque music festival, and she died some seven years ago now, but no one’s lived in the place since. As a child, I had many happy memories in that home. (I even had visions of living here when or if I returned to Greenfield one day.) As of this writing, only the barn and garage remain. We Conants speculate that the house may have been built atop a spring; it suffered from constant water in the cellar, a problem no professional could rectify. This spot will always be special to us, house or no house.

IMG_1984On to happier things…  Ah, the county fair. Pure America.

IMG_2081Ready, aim…

IMG_2085…and for the second year in a row, Elihu wins a goldfish!

IMG_1991Elihu and friend Roger have the swings all to themselves.

IMG_2078A word of caution…

IMG_2076…which neither one of us heeded. !

IMG_2074We know this Emu hen – she is twelve years old and in the pen with her mate of many years. See that white membrane over her eye? It’s her nictitating eyelid, and her closing it like that is an expression of trust and pure enjoyment. I’m smooching her neck and she’s actually leaning in to me. We love her so. For me, this is one of the highlights of my entire summer. Elihu’s too.

IMG_20140823_172017 Okay. It’s official. I am the crazy bird lady.

IMG_2019Elihu gets to hold a blue ribbon-winning hen. He’s kinda crazy for birds, too.

IMG_2064Talk about a sub-culture. So much to know. A bird can easily be disqualified for a poor comb. !

IMG_2007This guy looks well-qualified to me. IMHO.

IMG_2026I miss having homing pigeons. It’s on my list for future adventures.

IMG_1968Yes, Ken’s an equine artist, but ironically he’s very allergic to horses. This brief up-close visit resulted in tearing eyes all afternoon.

horsesHere’s a sample of Ken’s work. And yes, his art is for sale – plus he does commissions. If you want to immortalize your pet, Ken’s your man!

IMG_1136Here we’re passing the farm on which our old goose, Maximus lives. He’s one of the white dots just to the right of the two yaks and horse. Really. See for yourself.

IMG_1891We received a little emergency septic attention. When you live on your own – with no city sewer system – it’s your job to get rid of your waste. As the old saying goes, ‘out of sight, out of mind’… It’s easy to forget to keep on top of such mundane business. (The guy who pumped the tank was thrilled to have me as an audience as 7:30 am and he gave me all his best material. He assured me that when it came to his job, he knew “his shit”.)

IMG_1959Look – that’s my foot! I’m actually making this thing move!

IMG_1962Al, our friendly local excavator (pilot, nature-lover and bicyclist), gave me a little lesson at the controls.

IMG_1912The Studio’s last summer program. (Mom’s house is on the right – she’s just up the driveway.)

IMG_1919They’re wrapping things up…

IMG_1936…and taking home their work.

IMG_1927So beautiful.

IMG_1926This one too.

IMG_2242After Al did some work on our septic system (I accidentally deleted the cute shot of Al and Elihu standing over the open septic tank and holding their noses – but I think you get the picture without, well, getting the actual picture) he let Elihu ride on the tractor down the long driveway and back to the road.

IMG_2276Look what awaits us at the driveway’s end. Ich.

IMG_2230The guy building the spec house has kindly agreed to give us some leftover cement for our front step. Getting the huge cement truck back here without hurting our great maple tree was a feat. The driver was good about taking care not to break any tree limbs.

IMG_2231Nick helps skooch the cement into the frame. Afterwards, we two screed it (yes, ‘scree’ is a verb; a ‘scree’ is a tool one uses to settle the cement into place), and then I put a broom’s brush finish on it. Always more stuff to learn how to do. Nothing is as simple as it seems. !

IMG_2287Now we visit the sight and take a look at the plans. I’m relieved to know the house will be finished in dark, natural tones.

IMG_2289A view down the old farmer’s road on our property…

IMG_2295..and a gorgeous study in light and dark. So much beauty in our little corner.

IMG_2357We visited grandma’s house (the Studio’s on the same property), just a driveway down the road to the west. See the house taking shape down the road? My heart positively sinks.

IMG_2387Ich. It’s getting taller.

IMG_2334But at least we have a nice new front step.

IMG_2417Elihu has a friend over. They’re happy to sit, side-by-side in a virtual culture. (Don’t worry, I got em outside too.)

IMG_2306We’ve brought out the country in our city friend!

IMG_0852Elihu loves those amphibians. This is a particularly robust specimen. Cute, too.

IMG_1000Neighbor Chad gives Elihu a spin on the zero turn. All that RC piloting has given him a usable skill!

IMG_0515We brought mom to the animal auction. This is where our avian adventures all start.

IMG_0547 A donkey was up for bidding when we arrived. Sold for $25. No kidding.

IMG_0521Next up, a Llama.

IMG_0538One of the regulars.

IMG_0582“Backstage”, mom talks with another regular at the auction house. He’s a nice guy, always helpful, and very knowledgeable about the animals.

IMG_0585At these bargain-basement prices, it’s easy to talk yourself into taking home a new friend. It’s the morning after when the real adventure ensues.

IMG_1068A little inside fun…

IMG_2438…a little American Gothic humor…

IMG_0813…and finally, a new view on things. This is the first photo ever of Elihu outside with his eyes wide open, no sunglasses. He’s wearing his new, tinted contacts here. But the story’s not over… He got home, put them in for the first time, and they RIPPED! He was so good about it, and even though I wanted to cry, I didn’t. If he can be strong, then so can I. The new contacts will be in soon…

To finish, here’s a little video of Elihu’s first moments in our home with his new contacts…

There will be more to come, no doubt, on Elihu’s new life with contacts as our adventures continue…


 

Coasting January 24, 2014

What comfort can I take from life right now? I have woken up in a bit of a sad mood. I visited some photos of my father on the blog (it’s served us personally as our only real photographic record of the past two years) and now I sit, vaguely depressed, putting off the starting of my day. I don’t want to go into the dark, cold kitchen and find it rank with the smell of a convalescing bird. I don’t want to make breakfast, lunches. I don’t want to get dressed, to drive into town again. I just want to sit here in my bad mood and work my way out of it on my own time. I do need to check on my son however; just minutes ago I was fully present in a dream in which I’d let him go flying in a small plane and they needed assistance coasting to the ground as they’d had a fuel line problem. The dream was as vivid as is my now-real bedroom, and I can’t help but want to see my young son for myself just to make sure that the other time line has come to a close.

Strange moments, those upon waking. Dreams – whether anxious or hopeful – disintegrate like steam in the sky and all of a sudden you’re here again, in the middle of a just-so sort of life with many just-so sorts of details before you. Ich. Fuck the daily crap. Just fuck it. I feel a little bipolar here; just yesterday I was in a pretty good mood I suppose. I’d even had a couple of really good moments. “Bubbles of happiness” my son and I call them. Every now and then, when a tiny bit of joy springs up – for no apparent reason other than it’s just a very delightful moment – he or I will announce to the other out loud “I’m having a bubble of happiness right now”. The other will acknowledge it and we’ll continue on our way. Think we each had several last night. It was a nice night – complete with a phone call from a ninety-four year German woman whom I’d known in Evanston years ago – through Alice Angermann, the Vienna-schooled piano teacher of my high school and college years. Our conversation was an unexpected treat and it added even more magic to our day.

But magic and bubbles of happiness don’t last – in fact they’re very short, which is why we take the care to announce them – they need all the witness and appreciation they can get! In my same-old, same-old chair, in the dark of morning with the day’s events all just around the corner, waiting for my attention, I am not feeling very close to the mood of last night. Yeah, somehow I’ll come around. Just being with my beloved son usually does that on its own. But still, I’m looking off more towards the horizon of my existence this morning, and I’m not sure what it is that I have to look forward to there. I need more for sure. A quest, a purpose. I try to bring joy to everyone I see during my day, I try to be kind, cheerful when I can. All that sort of stuff. And that helps the world, I’m sure. And it helps me too. But today I feel like I could use a little extra bit of something. Not sure what. Just something. It’s probably the time of year that’s making me feel like this. Smack in the middle of the calendar year, the relentless cold, and tired, matted-down snow don’t do much to enliven the spirit. But isolated as I might feel here in my tiny country house in the middle of a sky-wide winter, I’m pretty sure that I am by no means the only person feeling mid-winter doldrums. Certainly not. So… breath in, chest out, foot forward. Buck we up, and on we go…

Lest I forget, tonight is the Waldorf School’s open mic night (in support of the 11th grades’ upcoming annual trip to Ethiopia) and I’ll bet you can guess who’s playing piano for a bunch of folks. ! And it’ll be a hoot, I know. Right now it’s got me grousing about having to leave the house again and drive back into town – but I know once we get there it’ll be fun. Plus Elihu will play drums with me too. Not sure folks at school are aware of how good he is. They will be soon. So he’ll have a little moment to shine too. Guess I gotta just take these little moments and count em as precious. Cuz it’s those little gems that keep me coasting through life until the next big adventure comes along….

Post Script: My father died four weeks ago tonight. I recently added the story of his final moments as an addendum to the post entitled “Vigil” (12/27/13). It was written a few hours before he passed, and it seemed to me that the post was incomplete without the full story. Dad left us crying… and laughing too. If you’re gonna go, this is the best way I could ever imagine….

 

Departure February 1, 2013

My heart sunk down to my knees and my body went cold. The kiosk where our Turkish friends sold helicopters at the mall was gone. Gone. In its place a wide expanse of hallway. As if it had never even been there at all. For almost the past two years this place had been mecca for my son. His young life has revolved around his chickens and his helicopters. This is the place he learned to fly. This is the place where he’d test pilot a variety of machines for hours on end while I waited nearby, reading. The two young men who ran the stand always showed Elihu such kindness. At Christmas one even gave him his choice of helicopter – just like that. “Which one do you like?” the man asked. Elihu showed him, and the man handed it over with a smile. No doubt Elihu had probably been responsible for a handful of sales – even so, this was truly an unexpected and sweet gesture. The men would share snacks with Elihu, they’d even leave the stand for a few minutes, trusting Elihu to keep watch in their absence. Truly, this had become an important part of our lives. The kind of place we kinda always thought would be there. And now, it wasn’t.

Thankfully, we’d been there just a few days before. We knew they were concluding their seven year business and moving on. The mall overall wasn’t doing well, their numbers were declining – plus they were getting burnt out on it. We understood. And yet somehow, we couldn’t really believe it. “Come back Friday” they told us, as they’d been working on getting one of Elihu’s helicopters fixed. Not sure why I gave them our info the last time we saw them, but I’m glad I did. It gives us both hope that they might stay in touch… Still, there’s no real closure here, and it’s upsetting. Elihu was so excited about getting his old helicopter back fixed too. Each morning the past two weeks he would count down the days until he picked it up. (I myself was never so confident that they’d been able to help – it seemed to me they were stalling because they didn’t want to disappoint him!) But it wasn’t the loss of his toy that saddened him. It was the loss of his friends, of this joyful oasis in his life for which there was no substitute. But they were just one day short… why? We couldn’t understand it, so I began to search for the story. 

We visited a shopkeeper across the way who I knew to be a fan of Elihu’s. He would stand outside his store, watching Elihu fly, smiling the whole time. He knew us by sight, and thankfully, he was able to fill us in. It seems he’d been witness to their final moments there. Turns out they’d planned on being here Friday. We were not stood up (I didn’t think so, but it was still nice to hear.) There’d been a fight with the mall manager. They’d asked for three extra days, but the manager wouldn’t let them pay a prorated rent, and instead challenged them to pay him half a month’s rent for three more days. Our friends had no choice but to leave. I can imagine they were disappointed to know that Elihu would be let down, that they would not be here for him – either to return his toy or to say goodbye. It wasn’t the ending either party would have chosen. But little we could do. 

I’m proud of Elihu. He didn’t cry, even though it would have been entirely understandable. (Hell, I wanted to!) But he did keep staring at the space, walking back and forth over the spot again and again and repeating “I just can’t believe it…” In the end, we ended up making friends with the store owner, and he said he thought he had the Turkish fellows’ number at home – that he’d bring it in for us. So that made us feel a little better. And we both reminded ourselves that we never know what’s ahead. That sometimes big – and often sad – changes have to happen before something new and different and good can happen. Yeah, we both know that stuff. But it didn’t really make it any less sad. Just a bit more tolerable. 

Time will take the edge off our loss. We’ve both learned a lot from this chapter in our lives, we’re grateful for it, and now it’s reached its conclusion. Some new chapter will begin soon and we’ll learn new things and meet new friends. In time it’ll all sort itself out. After all we both know it’s true; every arrival depends upon a departure…