The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Blue Moon, Red Fox August 1, 2015

A Blue Moon rose last night over Greenfield, and from my lovely spot here on the hill its rise was gorgeous. It’s been a week that’s run the gamut for me emotionally, and this was a good way to bring the week, and the month, to a close.

There are two red foxes in our neighborhood now, and sadly, late one afternoon, in broad daylight and as I witnessed helplessly from inside the house, a fox grabbed our dear Sussy and ran off with her (Elihu took a rare shot of her that appears at the top of the last post’s photos). I shouted and ran after, but it was too late. It wasn’t til the next day that I realized how hard our dear, chatty hen had worked to evade the predator; there were four distinct spots of struggle which started on one side of the house and concluded out back. A day or two later Elihu, neighbor Zac and I watched as the fox made another pass at the yard, crossing over the creek and through the field without so much as picking up his pace to a trot as I yelled after him. Clearly, this place was easy pickins, and my shouting was no deterrent. This is so frustrating. Last year I did battle with a family of raccoons, and to my chagrin I ended up killing two of them. The humane trap isn’t as straightforward a solution as one might think (and then there was the skunk which I did end up catching – and then releasing – thankfully without getting sprayed). What’s more, foxes do live up to their reputation as being clever creatures. They can figure out all sorts of inventive techniques to reach their prey (and they are notorious for evading traps). This new situation is very distressing – I can never leave our property with confidence, but truthfully, even if I am here, I’m not sure I can do much to stop this visitor from making off with one of our gals. And while there are a good twenty birds I could lose without much regret, there are three of whom Elihu and I are so deeply fond, that to lose them would be a true heartbreak. All I can do is hope that somehow they’ll be spared. (We’ve lost four hens in the past month, and now the loss of eggs is becoming a challenge as our young gals aren’t laying yet and we still have regular egg customers.)

This is our sixth year raising chickens, so we know that unexpected loss goes with the territory. But still. It’s hard to shake a loss, especially when you lose one of those ‘special’ birds that has shown herself to stand out from the flock in any number of endearing ways. I can assure you this: even a simple chicken may possess unique tendencies. Elihu himself will scold me for anthropomorphising these creatures – but nevertheless, it’s sad to lose a hen who added such good cheer to our homestead. Mom is a good lookout and calls us with advance warning; she lives just one property over, and daily she puts out corn for the deer. Just this past week the foxes (this is how we know there are two and not just one) have joined the raccoons, deer and turkeys at mom’s place (between the furry creatures and all the birds, her house looks like Snow White’s cottage!). I just hope the foxes eat their fill there and forget about their taste for chicken. I should think it would be a whole lot easier to eat what’s given to them than to hunt – and tear apart – a bird. At least I hope so. Elihu and I found a fox den in the woods on the side of the hill and covered it with sticks. I’ll return soon to see if they’ve been moved. If so, at least we’ll know where they live. That will give us something to work with. This is an adventure that’s likely only just begun. It’s all so discouraging; just when you think you’re past the rough spots, there’s always some new challenge. But truly, that’s life in the county.

At this writing Elihu is back in Chicago with his father, and will return again in little less than two weeks – coming in on the late night flight that arrives after 1 in the morning. Later that evening we plan to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra, so it’ll be a long day. But no point sweating over that just yet; that may as well be a year off… House guests arrive any day now, and between the Studio, my search for piano jobs, staving off the ever looming panic attacks, teaching a handful of students and life in general (oh yeah, and fox hunting) there will be plenty to keep me occupied.

A few weeks ago I’d tried my hand at another garage sale, in order to get an infusion of summer cash into my pocket – and to once and for all get rid of all this stuff that has remained in my possession all these years. I finally unpacked the one last box from my move here, and at last knew definitively what should stay and what should go. The sale was a lot of work – and a bust too, netting me a mere $47 after two hot and sweaty days, not to mention the many hours spent in prep. And after it all, I was still left with my stuff, plus the trash that had come with the process. Rather than spend more money I hardly even had, I decided to muscle up and get rid of it by myself – the old fashioned way: by going to the dump. I hadn’t been to a dump since I was a kid and my dad would load up the station wagon and back it up to the big, sandy pit here in Greenfield. The place has been closed for years, and thankfully, somehow the forest has reclaimed it. (It’s actually kind of eerie – in driving by you would never know that there’d been a huge, open space there once upon a time. I shiver to think of the stuff that’s hiding just below the roots…) I did have to shell out $25 for the car load, but what a relief to finally have my big trash out. Now I gotta muster the oomph to load up the car again and schlep all that leftover stuff to the Salvation Army store a few exits up the Northway. Believe me, when the last extraneous scented pillar candle and ironically amusing coffee mug is finally out of my garage, I will feel a relief that will, I’m hoping, be something of a spiritual experience.

The one thing that has pained me most about living here – aside from the lack of affordable, good ma and pa restaurants and any true ethnic diversity (those wonderful little joints usually come along with that missing diversity) – is that there’s no water in my world. Yeah, there’s a lake just about a half hour drive in any direction, but that aint the same as living on the shore of one. And ten miles may just as well be a hundred. Anyway, even if I do make it to a shoreline, I have no means of getting out onto the water. I don’t have any boating friends here, so I don’t have an in. This was something I could live with for a few years, but just a few days ago I reached my limit. What was stopping me from at the very least finding my way to the local sailing club? I didn’t even stop to think about it, I grabbed my bag and got in the car.

I’d heard about the sailing club – but no one I’ve asked ever seemed to know where it was exactly, or how you got there. Good Lord, people, are you not all smart phone equipped? I myself had a mere map on paper – and that was all I needed… It was a bit further off the beaten path than I might have guessed, but easy enough to find. I pulled in and discovered an old home on a lovely, tree-shaded lawn that ended at the water’s edge. I parked, got out of the car and crunched up the gravel driveway as a man in front of me, looking up into a tall white pine, said quietly “there’a a bald eagle in that tree” and pointed behind my shoulder. Sure enough – stock still he sat, surveying the water for dinner. I always have a pair of binoculars in the car for appreciating birds and scenic outlooks, so I doubled back to get them. I offered them to the man for a look. He enjoyed them for a minute, then thanked me as he handed them back. I stood there feeling more than well rewarded. I’d finally found this place – and got my first sighting of a wild bald eagle. This had to be a good sign.

I went in and found two high school boys on the porch waiting for their charges in the youth summer program to arrive. We had an enjoyable chat, and I got a better idea of the vibe there. Although there were the requisite high-end cars in the lot, the place didn’t have an overly highbrow feel to it, instead it felt homey and very family-friendly. I passed my card to one of the boys, the one who’d said his own mom might actually like to take me out on the water. I also wrote a note on my card and pinned it to the bulletin board. I hesitated for just a second, but decided to do it. Nothing to lose. I snapped a couple pics of the old-timey, nautical-themed interior, then got on my way after admiring this rare view from the underdeveloped west shore of the lake.

Until the magical day I get on the water again, there’s always much to do around here. Progress is stop-and-go with the Studio, but things are still moving forward. We now have doors that actually lock, and we’re just a day or two away from a kitchen with actual running water. ! Bits and pieces are still annoyingly hard to complete; a strangely-shaped box office needs some desk and counter space, but just how that will work is still not known. A large crack has erupted in the new wall which the carpenter suspects is being caused by a leak in the roof. There’s an enormous pit in front of the place that will need to be back filled after the plumbers finish their work. We still need to order and install an art hanging system, and there are knobs and face plates to go up. Small crap – construction mess and various bits and pieces – still lay about on folding tables and it all needs to go out or back where it belongs. Much of the tedious little stuff I can do myself – and in fact that’ll get to that this next week, but my hands are tied when it comes to addressing perennial leaks and joining pvc pipe. But on the whole, this process has been fascinating, and I’ve learned a lot on the way – it’s been a supreme game of ‘which comes first’, and for me, a person for whom linear thinking is often a great chore, it’s helped me to organize my actions effectively. Sometimes (hell, who are we kidding, make that most times) it feels as if nothing has actually been accomplished – that I’ve been spinning my wheels and getting nearly nowhere, but the photos from our ‘then’ and ‘now’ tell me otherwise. Much as I’d like to think I’m a happy, positive energy in this world, the inner side of me is more of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of gal, and panic and worry are forever tapping me on the shoulder to remind me of the ‘what ifs’. But I’m working on it.

This may be my last solo day for a while, as my friends arrive soon to stay here for the week, and Elihu returns not long after they leave. I feel a mix of that dull, waking awareness that summer is on its way out, and a growing dread for the unknown future of my world. One of the things that does lighten my heart as I plod along on this planet are uncommitted days in perfect weather – just like this one – when my garden comes alive with color and my chickens surround me, purring and chuckling sounds of contentment. So today, this first day of August, I’m not going to do much, and I’m going to do my best not to feel guilty about it either. I’m going to savor my solitude, my birds and my garden, as I enjoy the memory of last night’s Blue Moon. I’ll be back to hunting red foxes soon enough.

IMG_0204This was not actually the true Blue Moon, but the one the night before. Still looks pretty full and sure is beautiful.

IMG_0149Usually I’d scold Austin and shoo him off the bird feeder, but he’s alerted us so well whenever the fox has been here that I feel he deserves this special treat.

IMG_0145This is the trio we love – Thumbs Up, her sister Specks, and our eldest rooster and father of the whole flock – Bald Mountain. He himself has battled a raccoon – losing his comb in the process – and made it out alive. In fact, he’s survived many attacks in his six years here. Elihu loves him like a favorite dog. If too much time passes without hearing him crow, I go searching for him to make sure he’s still with us. He may be old, but he’s still fully loaded.

IMG_0056Went to the movies with mom and Andrew the other night, but it was still light out, so the birds hadn’t roosted yet. Not wanting to risk losing our favorites, I put one gal under each arm and stashed them in our screen porch for safety. I’d left the window to the porch open – and look what these clever girls did for added security! Do ya see em? They let themselves in through an open window.

IMG_0057Smart girls.

IMG_0051Smart boy, too. He parked himself on the table because he’s a big, heavy bird and likely couldn’t get to the top of the fridge.

IMG_0039This business of euphemistically calling a dump a ‘transfer station’ gets me. Can’t we just call this place what it really is?

IMG_0040I got in line to have my full vehicle weighed on the drive in.

IMG_0043We’re headed to the building in the distance.

IMG_0023Inside this hangar-sized structure is a mountain of trash. Ya just back up your car and heave away.

IMG_0021A large claw pushed the incoming mess to the back as folks continued to fling their trash onto the heap. Decades ago, before recycling was hip, I’d taken it upon myself to collect the recycling of my apartment building neighbors and drive it to a recycling center. My friends all knew me as the gal ‘who’d take your stuff’. I even had T shirts made that said “The earth is a finite resource. Recycle.” I sold them in Garbage Magazine (long out of print) and to anyone I could. I was – and still am – profoundly frightened of our long-term prognosis with respect to our cast-offs. I remember feeling very conflicted about even having children because of it. Many times I’ve apologized to my son for bringing him into this mess. Our future is not for the faint of heart.

IMG_0077Ah, but this is what Genesse Cream Ale was made for. To help us forget! Mom brought over a couple of cold ones, including this gem on the right: the very last of the original bottle shapes. They don’t make em anymore, which makes me a little nostalgic. Screw it, let’s drink!

IMG_0080I’ll miss those short, squat bottles. Genny in a long neck just isn’t quite the same.

IMG_0198Finally! It’s a very long, private drive to the shore, but I wasn’t daunted.

IMG_0192Here’s the lovely home of the Saratoga Lake Sailing Club.

IMG_0185A cozy feel just like you’d imagine. Even has that certain smell…

IMG_0186Ah, nautical memorabilia. Gives me a gentle feeling of being home at last. It’s been over a decade since I’ve sailed, and honestly, I couldn’t get underway without help these days, but there’s something about being on water and powered by wind that makes everything finally OK. It erases care and unites one with the world. Really.

IMG_0190Here’s the view from the club.

IMG_0189The bump in the center is Snake Hill, on the lake’s southeast side, and I can see it from my house all year ’round.

IMG_0194And look! A sailboat!! So close, and yet still, so very far…

IMG_0187Love this. Cheat the nursing home. Die on your Laser. !!

IMG_0180How’s this for bird watching? My first ever sighting of a Bald Eagle in the wild. Awesome.

IMG_0047But these are the birds I love most. I love to know they’re living a happy life here. While they enjoy roaming free and foraging in the grass (cutting my feed bill by more than half) they’re safer in the run. Now I let them out only when I can be out with them.

IMG_0036And this, I assume, is a happy frog living in our pond

IMG_0134I also like to think that even our fish are happy.

IMG_0126This time of summer our garden looks lovely – and that, even if it’s only a moment’s distraction from the endless concerns of money, my unknown future and endless to-do lists – makes me happy too.

IMG_0278The Blue Moon rises to the left, and the casino and harness track glow in the distance off to the right.

IMG_0269Burning what’s left of the paper and boxes.

IMG_0068After seeing me ‘standing alone’, the moon retreated behind the clouds and left them glowing around the edges in the dark night sky. Goodbye for now, Blue Moon. Most likely things will be very different around here the next time we see you.


Post Script: I made the decision to let the chickens out today, because they seem so much more content to roam, take dust baths and sit in the shade. As I sat working at my computer Austin began to sound an alarm, and I looked up to see a fox about ten feet away from me, and creeping closer still. I yelled and the fox merely slowed his pace… Unbelievable how brave… Finally I grabbed a couple of rocks and threw them, and he/she did then retreat towards the woods, but it stopped a few times to look back to see if he/she might not be able to get past me and grab just one hen… Now I simply cannot go inside until sunset for fear of an event. Time to wash the car and do a little weeding I guess.

 

 

Raking It In October 14, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bounty September 20, 2013

“This should be worth a short blog post, don’t you think?” Elihu asked me, as we unloaded the take from our garden, my apron full of apples, beans, watermelon and cucumbers. “Just a short paragraph, ya know? Not a big, long post. Just a quick picture and a paragraph.” I agreed, even knowing that ‘just a short post’ – let alone with photographs – would represent almost an hour’s work. But the spirit of our afternoon had been so lovely, that I had to honor his request.

We’d just walked the perimeter of our property, something we do far too infrequently. We were both newly impressed with the variety of views, elevations and features of the place, and once again felt doubly blessed to be here. We really do live on a stunning piece of property here. The change in grade alone makes for a very picturesque walk; from a peek to the distant Saratoga Lake to the image of our house high atop our hill and far above our heads  – it’a an impressive span of micro environments. There are the woods and the pockets of field in between, the apple and pear trees, the garden and even the last tier of lawn below. We concluded our circumnavigation of the place in our garden, and did a thorough inventory and picking while there. Personally, I was fairly disappointed with our success – or lack thereof – however Elihu was just beaming. “I’m proud,” he said, hands on his hips, surveying the garden and wandering flock beyond, “just look at all we’ve done. And tonight, we’re going to eat only food we know.” He paused. “I feel very proud right now.” Although my final inspection of the corn showed some insect infiltration and not exactly the yield I’d anticipated, I thought back on our past summer suppers. I had to agree with him. If nothing else, it just plain felt good to look out on all of it and know that it was something we’d created ourselves.

“You gotta take a picture of this” Elihu said as he spread our take out on the island. So I did. He couldn’t stop raving about the apples – he counted 72! – and how beautiful they all were (the pears were too high for his reach.) I promised that I’d not only bake fresh bread, cook lamb from local friends at “Elihu Farm” as well as serve up our beans and cucumber with dinner, but I’d make some apple pies too. I made dough for two pies and two loaves of bread. As I write, the house is slowly filling with the scent of baking apples and cinnamon. The lamb was delicious beyond our expectation, and right now we’re both feeling pretty good about life.

Here are a couple of pics from the last few days. Such bounty in our lives…

Bounty Sept 2013 030Elihu’s very first bass lesson. He was in heaven!

Bounty Sept 2013 042He must show grandpa and grandma right away…

Bounty Sept 2013 048So into it…

Bounty Sept 2013 014We spent almost an hour watching this Great Blue Heron on a local pond. Had to use both the binoculars and the camera’s zoom to get a pic… Elihu was simply enthralled. He was in love with this bird, this woods, the ducks and fish, this pond…. he was in love with all of the world in that moment. Couldn’t stop telling me so.

Bounty Sept 2013 062We’re announcing to our extended family of egg customers that we need to say good bye for the winter…

Bounty Sept 2013 054And finally… here is the bounty which so inspired Elihu to create this post. Amen.

 

Cooped Up August 11, 2013

As I suspected, this morning things looked a bit brighter. Nothing like chickens to lift your spirits and make you forget any grudges you might be holding onto. Yup, I love my chickens – and my goose too. I might just become the crazy chicken lady in my aged years – hell, I might already be the crazy chicken lady. Cuz I really do love my flock. They have spunk and charm. And while I would completely understand if you didn’t believe me when I said that they each have individual and distinct personalities, I can assure you  that you’d be wrong if you thought so. They are the best entertainment for a weary heart and the gentlest companions. They’re nutty, they’re pushy, they’re maternal and many are a lot smarter than you’d think. And some are horny all day long (boys, eyeroll). They never cease to distract me from whatever thoughts might be consuming me in the moment. They make me smile, and those silly birds make me grateful.

I spent most of the morning in the garden weeding and cleaning up the property as best I could with a meager pair of hand clippers, and then devoted my afternoon to cleaning and repairing the coop. (That cordless 18 volt drill was the best gift I ever got myself. I shouldn’t have waited til the age of 50. If you don’t have one yet, get one. Biggest quality of life upgrade ever.) To the background of the local reggae radio show I measured, drilled, cut, shoveled, and fussed around in the coop, knocking just about every chicken-related ‘to-do’ item off the list. Between my cleaned up run, the new pond, the garden and front walkway I just finished, I am feeling quite satisfied with myself. Just about ready for the year-as-usual to start back up again. Maybe not quite, but almost. Still got a few child-free days left. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.

Garden August 2013 052The nesting boxes. My goal today is to change the position of the top row to discourage overnight roosting (they poop inside the nesting boxes when they spend the nights perched on the edge. Too much mess in with the eggs.) Gotta configure some sort of cover that makes them unable to rest on the sides.

Garden August 2013 061Here’s Madeline. She’s an old-timer. She looked like a sparrow when she was born. She’s the only gal with a tiny rose comb on her head and ‘makeup’ around her eyes. She’s the first to escape an enclosure, the first to get back in. Clever girl.

Garden August 2013 080Here’s Bald Mountain. Must have been in a fight, as he’s lame in one leg and missing a spur. In spite of his limp, he rules this roost, making the other two roosters run the other way when he approaches. He sits much of the day, likely to rest his bad leg.

Garden August 2013 082Ok, now this can look a little strange when you see it in person. This is a hen taking a dust bath. They do it instinctively to protect their skin from mites, but also it gives them relief from the heat. Notice how her nictitating (lower) eyelid is closed as she fluffs and beats her wings into the dirt.  Sometimes I’ll see a dozen girls all laying on the ground, wings splayed out and eyes closed – and they look positively dead! But no. They’re just having a good dust bath. An essential part of being a healthy, happy chicken. She’s enjoying herself to be sure.

Garden August 2013 085Here she is flinging the dust onto her back.

Garden August 2013 096She’s really getting into it now.This is the good life.

Garden August 2013 136Here’s the new river rock I put down to contain the mud. I had thought this would deter the girls from pecking around on the ground – after all, there’s no dirt anymore. They must have memories of tasty bugs here, cuz they were so persistent in their scratching that they actually pushed the rocks to the side and exposed swatches of ground. !! Wow. Naughty but impressive work, girls. !

Garden August 2013 133Max really likes to chew on things. He has some dog toys he likes, but that doesn’t stop him from finding other goodies. He loves brightly colored Crocs and will head right for your toes if you’re wearing em (he likes bright pink the best).

Garden August 2013 002Maximus has discovered our new pond. I have given up trying to prevent him from getting in. Hey, the pond is no less pretty for the little bit of goose poop he might have left behind. Life is for living, and ponds are for swimming.

Garden August 2013 026He’s getting absolutely worked up. I don’t think he’s ever had this much water to move in before. And he is a water bird, after all. This is in his very DNA.

Garden August 2013 025Around and around he went. Joy, joy, joy.

Garden August 2013 022

It’s even deep enough that he can put his whole head and neck straight down.

Garden August 2013 047Happy goose, happy, crazy chicken lady. What a perfect summer day we all had. Think I’m ready for Monday now…

 

Garden Sky Boy July 21, 2013

This summer will mark the longest time I have been apart from my son in his entire ten years. And in my fifty years. And as of tonite, if fellow mothers may believe it, it’s been a week since I’ve heard his voice. As his father went to Chile for a few days (with not more than a couple days’ notice given to mom), Elihu spent the time with grandpa and girlfriend. But now where is he? Finally, after some unsuccessful calls I check Fareed’s site, and see he’s in Indianapolis (which always gives me pause, as that’s where outside baby #2 – the one I quite honestly have to thank for our new life here – was conceived. Ouch.) So, it’s an organ trio thing. Not exactly the forum for an add-on djembe player. So where’s the kid? I remember Elihu telling me a story about a ghost he once saw at this club (others have also seen the same apparition, apparently), and I wonder if he’s summoned his courage and is walking about, actively seeking a re-encounter as dad swings his thing on stage. Hmm. No clue. Or has he been left with the drummer’s girlfriend in a nearby hotel room? Such are the questions that I, as Fareed’s ex, must ask. I don’t panic. Cuz no news is good news. I think. It’s not the landscape of most post-divorce parenting plans, but it’s the one I have to live with. So I try to push it aside, put it out of my mind, and I keep busy. Which is not really difficult. But still….

In my son’s absence things have changed, both good and bad. How to tell him, when my own heart sank to my knees, that the deer have effectively chomped off every single blessed tendril and stem of our promised bounty – that his beloved sunflowers came so close, only to be clipped short of their blooms… I could weep, only I can’t. I suck it up, plan to lay out some serious 9 gauge frames and massive swaths of remay in hopes of one more shot this year… I’ll keep this one to myself for now, don’t need to break his heart too. Might still save something… At least the new pond and perennial garden will be here to take the sting off of the failed (maybe not quite yet!) garden.

Everything I do in the soil is for us; for Elihu and me. I do love to work outside, and as I work, I hold those visions of this magical property that I hope to create one day; I try to imagine how it might look twenty years hence if I can just somehow manage to get it all done…. Yeah, I work for those faraway goals, but also I work for us, for now. For my son and me, that we might live in a place of beauty (and, of course, an excess of vegetables). Cuz I’m lucky to have a child for whom beauty is important. And lovely things are made lovlier still when they can be shared. But for right now it’s just me, the chickens and Maximus. They’re sweet company, but it is kinda quiet. I really do miss my son. But then I think of how thrilled he’ll be to come home at the end of a long summer away to find a pond with fish, frogs and flowers…  My little nature boy, my singer of songs, my aviator…

As I tidy my computer, tuck away files and make long overdue backups to far-away clouds, I stall a bit, and waste a few moments on a photograph of my baby, just a year ago, maybe just two years ago. Where is my tiny boy now? It seems he’s almost a teenager. Still not quite. He’s still a little boy, and I am grateful, grateful. I only wish that I could hold him just once – to ‘check in’ as he and I say in our own language – then send him back to his father again. But we’ve hardly even reached the halfway point of his summer away. So much longer to go. The photographs help, but they also make progress at my desk difficult. I miss him a lot.

Then I find a piece of Elihu’s writing from the Spring, and I smile. Is he taking after me? I flatter myself. This is nature, not nurture. Well, maybe. Either way, in my head I can hear his voice, reading his newest writing aloud, and he seems a bit closer…

The engine starts, and the propellor whirls around. The cockpit of your spitfire slides into place. Gripping the stick tightly you move across the tarmack of the aircraft carrier. A man waves you on, telling you it’s safe to take off. That is just what you do; revving the engine you speed across the runway of the large boat, you feel your front wheels begin to lift off as you pull back on the stick. You pull up quickly as you reach the end of the boat – and you are in the air. Circling around the boat once you slow down to fly right in front of the boat and make sure you are across from the other fighter planes. Checking on the radio to make sure the other fighters are going to do the same thing as you, you speed off into the clouds, ready for whatever adventures the skies hold for you.

 

In Day, Out Day May 13, 2012

While the weather report told us today it would rain, so far it’s been a sunny and very warm spring day. Finally, finally I am without commitments (we’d had mid-day lunch plans that fell through just a few hours ago) and I can address the large patch of soil that will hopefully become our garden. Our very first real garden.

I involved Elihu in the preparations, cutting and winding twine, collecting stakes, poles for our beans and such, but when we began our walk down the hill to the garden he left me and ran for the chickens. I expressed my frustration that he’d already played with the chickens this morning – in fact he’d already had one in the living room – and we really needed to keep our focus and get to the garden. His reaction? Tears. An explosion of tears and sobbing and protests that ‘he just wanted to play with his chickens’ and then he turned and ran back into the house. He flung his shoes off dramatically and landed on his bed, still crying.

When something like this happens I admit my first response – the one that might feel the most organic and give me some feeling of control over the situation – might be to get angry with him, to try and explain to him why his outburst is pointless, his choice of leaving this project is immature, his need to play again with his chickens is silly. But I knew this wouldn’t net me anything. It wouldn’t get him back outside with me, and it wouldn’t make him any happier. So I took a breath, kneeled beside him where he lay on the bed, and I waited. I waited for him to tell me what was going on. “I don’t know why, but I just need to cry”, he told me. “I just want to get my pajamas on again and get into bed”. I guess I can understand. While we’ve had a great time the past two days visiting new friends and spending hours out in the world doing things, that kind of busy-ness, that amount of time away from home can wear on him. I could tell he’d had enough visits, projects, agendas, plans. And that’s just fine. At my age I feel a keen desire to use all the time that I can in the most productive way possible, but I am forty-nine. I didn’t feel like that at one time in my life. I can remember well when all I wanted was just a day to myself to stay in bed and do nothing. Maybe I was fourteen when I felt like that, not nine, but hey, if he just needs a break – then he should be allowed to take one.

I’ve come inside to see how he’s feeling – and to change into shorts. It’s a hot day, more like summer than spring. His father calls, and he jumps up and goes for the phone. An hour ago he didn’t want to talk to his dad either. Now his tone is light, he seems happy. Maybe a break really was just what he needed. I, however, don’t need a break. I need more time. More help. I have this crazy list that never ends, and I wish I had a pair of hands to help me get it all done. I do have an afternoon, and that’s a pretty big deal. Let’s see if we can’t both get what we want. He doesn’t want to be entirely alone, and in fact he’s had his heart set on making a certain paper airplane design for a while now, and it turns out he’s rather upset that the garden has taken precedence. So it looks like I’ll have to split my day. Before I can get to the garden, I’ll have to make a couple fancy paper airplanes at the kitchen table.

I remember it’s mother’s day, and I almost wish I could use that card to buy myself a time-out of mothering duties. But then again, is not what we celebrate today the very thing that I am doing? I am being a mother, and I am always grateful (although sometimes more than exhausted for it) that life has given me this priviledge.

So I’ll spend the next hour with Elihu, and we’ll see if we can’t make some of these pretty-looking planes. I’m not great with this kind of stuff – but I’ll do the best I can. I’m a mom, and it’s my job. I’ll figure it out.

Then after my inside day, I’ll go outside again to the garden. At least that’s what I hope I’ll do. Because that would be a nice mother’s day gift to be sure. But for now it’s off to to make a paper airplane or two… I need to give lil man some quality attention and focus. After all, the garden will still be there tomorrow after he’s back in school.

Inside, outside. Time with my child, time alone. All in its time and place.

 

Easter Morn April 24, 2011

Hallelujah! The Lord has risen, and so has the temperature! Fully expecting to see a figure beginning with 3 or 4 on my kitchen door thermometer, imagine my surprise and joy just now in seeing 60! Really? Wow – gotta let those chickens out, surprised I haven’t hear them crowing yet. (Two days ago I awoke to see snow covering everything, and rather thickly, for a spring snow. I’d thought briefly to post a picture on Facebook, but snow in April hardly warrants surprise for northerners.) It’s a lovely, sunny, warm and still Easter morning here in upstate New York. I look around and imagine all those farmer types who might be just a little miffed that they’ve got to dress up and go to church on such a good day for getting some outside work done. Then I think, well, at least it’s great weather for getting the kids dressed up and loaded in the minivan… That’s better. Should really start this day with a more uplifting sentiment.

Coffee cup in hand, I stand on my front steps and begin to think over all the things I’ve learned so far in my two years here, and then I begin to consider all the lessons yet ahead. I begin a quick inventory of the things that have begun to come into my field of awareness. First off, I’m really glad to have serendipitously come across the author Michael Perry through his latest book “Coop”, which I found directly in my path as I did a final once-over of the local Borders on its last day. Got it for a buck (sorry, Mike). Therein is a nice chunk of not only remembrances that parallel mine in many ways (growing up farming, a late sixties, early seventies childhood, going it alone with a capricious ‘try it and see what’s the worst that could happen’ attitude and more) but a lesson in the end which I would do well to learn from. He comes to the conclusion (bless that man, oh how I wish my ex had felt the same) that it is his wife who really holds down the whole operation as he spends a good deal of time on the road. He credits her for feeding the animals and tending the garden while raising the young children. Then he begins to realize that farming is in itself a job, and that he really cannot both farm and write professionally – at least to the degree he’d thought possible at the outset. My mother expressed her concern recently that this garden/chicken thing is a huge endeavor, and that I should be putting the bulk of my time into The Studio instead. Well, somehow, I’ve managed to juggle things before, and with nice results, so I’ve been thinking I can pull it off. But in the two days since she said this, the reality is beginning to sink in. A 20’x40′ garden. Forty chickens, a new coop and run (which I must build). An eight year old boy. A community arts center with summer camp programs (which I run). A concert hall dedication ceremony and Baroque concert with promo to be done, tickets to be sold. Sheesh. I haven’t even added in my new membership at the Y, my ambitious new ‘women on weights’ class or just general life. Caution rises up in me and a new, more responsible voice begins to emerge, telling me that it’s not about ego, that I have not failed if I can’t pull it all off, that I must remember that everything takes half again as much energy to manifest as one bargains for at the top.

Ok. Today at Easter dinner I will sound out mom and Martha – now the old women at the table – and I will see how crazy my plate looks to them. Just since I awoke about an hour ago I’ve already begun to research tillers and what that labor is about. Hmm. Front tine: cheap, but good for small gardens. Require more effort. Rear tine: expensive, good for big jobs, less grunting. My mom has a small Mantis I can use. That will have to do. I guess before my farmer neighbor came over the other day to offer a kindly consultation on my land, I’d had romantic, Foxfire-ish visions of swinging a hoe in the humid, hot July, laboring down the rows stopping to pluck a potato bug here and there, wiping my brow as I assessed my progress and happy to finally have a good reason to wear my floppy garden hat. Oh dear. I need to slow down and think this over.

I’m just so thrilled to be alive now, to have the tools for self-education right here in this little box. I have become a sponge these past two years. One can investigate virtually anything with google and you tube. That saves one a lot of time and mishap. While there is absolutely no substitute for jumping in and experiencing your own three stooges moments, it behooves one to do a little reconnaissance first. With these tools I add one more; getting out and visiting with those who have gone before. In my search for free lumber on Craigslist, and my forays into the countryside to pick up the stuff, I’ve enjoyed many very educational discussions with folks who’ve been at it for years. Building, fixing, raising, growing. So I’m asking a lot of questions. Man, the information just comes in. And so does the dawning realization that I just might not be able to pull it all off – at least not this year.

In the two decades I spent living with a classical guitarist, the most frustrating thing about it was quite literally, a fingernail. (This is the line that will get all partners of guitarists to smile, the guitarists themselves won’t, and I’ll get into that here.) Fareed was constantly swiping his right hand thumbnail with a teeny fragment of fabric-soft, ultra-fine sandpaper which he ALWAYS carried with him (or almost always – the occasional search for his missing sandpaper was as frantic as the search for the crying baby’s missing pacifier). The right hand thumbnail, to a classical guitarist, is the essence of who he or she is as a player. The very physical condition and shape of the nail combined with the technique (oh dear, to add flesh or not to add flesh? Segovia or Williams?) is what makes the ‘sound’. And by sound I do not simply mean it simply plucks the string; rather it creates the quality of the sound that defines the player. The endless filing of the nail was accompanied by daily and even hourly proclamations that his sound was getting closer. To what? I waited for years to arrive at that destination. My husband was always trying to improve his sound. Improve his thumbnail. Improve the angle at which it reached the string. He was in ceaseless pursuit of that elusive combination of a thousand micro-changes that were apparently ALL of great significance to the end result. He would announce hundreds of times with sincere elation that he’d made a discovery today! And I would try, so hard, and many, many, many times with genuine thrill, joy and love for him at his success, to share in that moment. But I’m sure you can imagine, that at the thousandth such proclamation it was hard to conjure real thrill. It was tiring. This day-to-day emotional roller coaster of the search for the perfect thumbnail shape. I began to get a grouchy about it sometimes. I found it very hard to believe that after years of fussing with it he hadn’t come upon the perfect shape. Or at least perfected some method of getting somewhere in the workable neighborhood.

But indeed, God is in the details. Many times in my new single life in the country I’ve smiled to myself at his unending process with a new light of understanding. I too, am realizing the umpteen million degrees to which one can take any endeavor. And all the different results that manifest from those nearly invisible changes. From growing seeds to monitoring the humidity in my incubator, I’ve seen the effects of subtle changes on the results. I guess I’m now a believer. I wonder how I might give him this gift; how can I tell him, with love, that I am sorry for my exasperation at his tiny triumphs? How can I convey, with humor intended (for it is kinda funny to me now) that I have a better understanding of how much more there is to anything than one can possibly understand at a casual, outsider’s glance? In my heart, I apologize to him many times for this, and I almost always laugh, because I am beginning to be humbled by how many choices go into life.

So on Easter morning, I am taking stock. I am renewed with hope, I am educated by my past. I am going to slow down today. Perhaps I’ll see if the trout lily is up in the woods. Heck, I don’t even know if it grows this far east. There’s so much I don’t know. It’s such an adventure, this life. A pain in the ass to be sure, but humor and gratitude oil the big machine. I’m off to git her started. Nice and slow, Elizabeth, you’ve got a lot ahead.