The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Lining Up April 19, 2015

Every time I hear someone refer to the ‘circle of life’ I cringe. Because I don’t think of life a a circle at all. Seasons, migratory and mating patterns might be cyclical in nature, but our tiny private lives are not. To my thinking the circle idea is just plain wrong. If this were a circle we were in, we’d end up at the place where we started, and we’d do it all over again. (For the sake of this conversation, let’s not concern ourselves with the afterlife – I’m just talkin worldly stuff here.) People are fond of explaining away the death of a pet to their little ones by saying that ‘it’s all part of the circle of life’. I think it might be better to tell the child that every living thing in the world dies. Life always comes to an end. Yes, it can be sad, but it happens to all of us. When I hear someone say ‘circle’, I kind of expect things to start all over again. And in a way they do – only the subsequent rounds are played with a new cast in brand-new situations. There may be similarities in old and new events – but still, that doesn’t make the whole play a circle. It’s still just a trajectory of actions moving into the future. The way I see my life here on this mortal coil – it’s a line. You start at the beginning, and you proceed through all sorts of events until you reach the end. And if you’re successful, you make it to old age. Then you die. You travel from point A to point B, making a line. Not a circle.

The eighth graders are doing the Lion King for their class play, and I’m playing piano. One of the most popular songs from the play is, of course, the ‘Circle of Life’. I’ve become a bit more immune to the expression due to the number of times I’ve now heard it, but as I listen I can’t help but reflect more deeply on the transient nature of our brief lives here on the planet. Yesterday Elihu and I attended the funeral of one of Greenfield’s old-timers, and today we’ll go to a birthday party of two wee ones. Life and death side by side like this make me more keenly aware of this finite timeline we’re all living, and how important it is to live with intention and gratitude as we go along. Our sense of time may slow or speed up depending on our age and our circumstances, but at the end of the day, when it’s time to say goodbye forever, it always seems as if life wasn’t quite long enough – even when it was. I’m sure that Olga, at 94, felt it had been long enough. And I never worry about those who’ve died. All those prayers for the dead strike me as just plain useless and beside the point. I’m not worried about them; it’s those of us left behind who need the prayers. Those of us who are left behind to bear the heartache and loss have a much harder job by far than the ones who are dead and gone. Those of us whose lines are still being drawn, those whose ending points are still somewhere over the distant horizon…

IMG_7482Elihu had never been to a funeral before, so I thought it would be a good life experience for him to have. We didn’t know Olga well, but she was our neighbor and it felt good to know she was always there. Her passing truly marks the end of an era here in Greenfield.

IMG_7485As soon as we walked in we saw the Carrico clan… they live across the big field, and a couple houses over from Olga.

IMG_7509Elihu loves little kids, and we’re so glad to have these wonderful girls as neighbors.

IMG_7496Stephanie’s belly is more like a circle than a line for sure! She’s coming along with mystery baby number four!

IMG_7488Inside, Elihu marvels over the changes that happen in a long lifetime.

IMG_7492Olga, young and old.

IMG_7489It’s nice to see smiles on such a say day.

IMG_7519The funeral procession makes a long line up Lake Ave.

IMG_7521After Catholic Mass at the local church, the family brings Olga to her final resting place in the town cemetery. Elihu had also never been to a church service like this – while it was in reality about forty-five minutes, he could’ve sworn it was three hours. ! Talk about experiencing time differently! (I so get it though.)

IMG_7545It was a lovely day, a lovely service, a lovely goodbye.

IMG_7552The line between the cemetery and the field seems to stretch on forever….

 

Win-Win-Win February 2, 2015

Finally got my pantry back again today. Elihu finally gave his belated birthday gifts to Uncle Andrew, Mom and Martha today, plus he Skyped with his sister in England and played some string bass for her as a birthday offering too. Those were all good, winning things. But I suppose the biggest win of all was that of the New England Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks at the 49th Super Bowl.

My kid’s never watched football before tonight, and the whole culture of sports in general has always been something of a mystery to him. (As an achromat, visually tracking a ball is nearly impossible in real life.) He’s wanted to learn more about football in particular these days, as it’s often a topic of conversation among the kids at school. How perfect that we joined the game at the end of the first half, in time to witness two very cool plays – plus of course the half-time spectacle (the Katy Perry medley to which he knew all the words… I mean come on mom, everyone sings this stuff in school…) A winning end to a pretty good day. More adventures (and much more snow too, I hear) to follow…

IMG_0404Playing bass for sister Brigitta, who lives in England. It’s her 12th birthday.

IMG_0410There she is!

IMG_0418I dash across the road to get neighbor Zac’s help with some cleats I need for my new pantry shelves. Between Zac and his dad Phil they’ve got every type of saw one could ever need. Or so it seems to me. I’m sure Zac could point out the deficiency in their collection if pressed…

IMG_0426Hmm, let’s see, there’s ripping, mitering, planing, chopping, jigging (is that a word?) and then plain sawing. I think. Might all of it be correctly called ‘sawing’? Who knows? All I know is that one better watch the fingers. !!

IMG_0431See what I mean?

IMG_0455Back home, lil man picks up the camera and does a little editorializing on my home improvements.

IMG_0457Why did I wait til my 50th to buy myself a nice drill? Friends, don’t wait. If you don’t have an 18 volt cordless drill (preferably with a light at the end, unlike my old-fashioned model) then go out and get one. Today.

IMG_0460He catches me measuring twice, drilling once.

IMG_0463A few minutes later! Hoo-ray!! Thanks to pregnant Stephanie for lending me her handy husband to make these cleats for us – and they’re made from trees harvested from their property too. ! Last night we ate locally grown venison, today we’re using locally grown wood to hold up our shelves. Virtually living off the land, we are. !!

IMG_0466And a few minutes even later! Woo hoo! Been without a pantry for going on three months. Ahh. Life really is about the simple things.

IMG_0472And speaking of simple things, we’re off to the farm now, where Elihu plays for Martha her very favorite song, Simple Gifts, on his new alto recorder. (Her birthday is in July, so this gift is either very late or very early.)

Elihu plays Simple Gifts for Martha.

IMG_0494Elihu presents grandma with a pastel of a landscape. I mistook it for recycling afterwards and folded it – after weeks of delicate handling. I could weep. Thankfully, Elihu and grandma were upbeat about pressing it flat again under some glass. Argh.)

IMG_0514Elihu gives Uncle Andrew a high quality, entry-level rc helicopter with money he’s been saving. He’s been wanting to see his very depressed uncle happy for ages and put a lot of thought into the perfect gift. (Andrew’s birthday was on New Year’s Eve.) I myself can’t remember the last time I saw my brother smile. Success!

IMG_0516Seems a bit unfair that the ladies here seated are tipping back their bourbons in the presence of a not-so-dry alcoholic who’s trying his best to maintain. Ah well. Such is the ever-present dysfunction and denial of my family.

IMG_0481I’ve known this kitchen since I was tiny. It’s more cluttered, yes, but it’s still just as familiar. It still really does feel in my heart like the true epicenter of my life. Always has – no matter where I’ve lived or traveled, this kitchen ultimately feels like true center. Where everything begins and then one day returns.

IMG_0596I was ready for bed after our visit to the farm, but the game was too compelling.

IMG_0566Gotta turn off the kitchen lights – even after adjusting the tv’s brightness levels, it’s still too much light. He takes it in stride, but I’m always mildly saddened by the light-sensitive state in which Elihu lives. Wish it were easier for him.

IMG_0561Holy crap! This game is getting intense!!

IMG_0583The Patriots are down by four and I don’t think they can possibly win any longer, but lil man still does.

IMG_0595I was wrong – things turned! It’s pretty much a done deal here, but nonetheless, here we go…

IMG_0608New England Patriots win Super Bowl XLIV!

IMG_0597One happy dance for a winning day well-ended, and then it’s off to bed…

____________________________________

Post Script: Another win: Snow day! Letting the lil man sleep in, and gonna get into bed with a book within minutes… Score!

IMG_0614

 

Curve Ahead July 31, 2014

Where to start? The cast of characters is growing, from Log Cabin Joe to Hillbilly Al and a handful in between, and the sub-plots are multiplying. A house is being built to the great heartbreak of all who live nearby, another beloved house which we all had hoped might stand is going to be torn down, people will be moving in, and people will be moving away. A ghostly visage was spotted, serendipity threw in a few hard turns, neighbors popped by unannounced and set to framing out a new step in front of my house (because I’d asked to borrow some scrap lumber to do so for myself), and a potential blind date turned into a new and interesting friendship. Neighbor Chad, a former professional speed skater and dad to those cutie boys Ryan and Brandon, faces surgery to repair a torn ligament he got from falling out of a tree while deer hunting last year, my new met-on-an-almost-blind-date-but-not-quite friend must wear a heart monitor for another week and remain in the company of people at all times, lest he pass out while alone, with no one to call for help (hence his staying on as my house guest.) A couple more art classes to go at the Studio, some concrete being poured and set, a wall going up in the basement, the lawn to be cut and a coop door yet to be hung, the various comings-and-goings that all of this activity entails, including the requisite gear; earth movers, spinning concrete trucks, tractors, trimmers, boxes of tile, great, heavy balls of clay, five gallon buckets and rags to clean up… All of this is chugging along, plus a small group of family and friends is planning for an intervention with my brother at the beginning of next week. A few days later, Elihu comes home. Whew!

The past three days have seemed almost like a week with all the chaos and activity. My guest, Ken, erupted in laughter at it all (as I casually pulled a dead mouse out of a drawer, dumped it into the trash and continued to start the morning coffee without missing a beat), just imagining the highly entertaining cable series he absolutely insists my life should be. “I’m just wondering where we should put the camera” he’d said, smiling, shaking his head… I’ts not often that friends get a view from the inside here at the Hillhouse. Yeah, I’ve had guests before, but somehow life here has never been quite as animated and unpredictable as it has of late.

Night before last, as Ken and I sat on the couch enjoying a rather deep, existential discussion, I saw behind him, approaching from the kitchen and through the short hallway, a rather healthy-sized bat. Living in the country as I do, you might think this has happened before. And indeed it has happened in every other place I’ve lived – but not here. Until the other night, that is. I was watching with great concern that the poor beast not knock over some precious breakable as she continued to encircle the room, but soon realized that this creature was deftly missing – with room to spare – every obstacle in her path. I was impressed! My friend, himself a pilot, must surely have been sharing my amazement… maybe…. I glanced over at the couch. Ken was clearly not bearing respectful witness to the miracle of flight taking place right before our eyes… Humor me if you will; picture a black Mr. Clean; tall, built; a take-no-prisoners kind of physique that lends itself well to the military and police work (he’s retired from some twenty years of exactly that) – and now picture that same gentleman covering his face with my over-sized pink velvet throw pillow, ducking down and shrieking like a girl every time the bat made another pass around the room. One had to laugh. Thankfully, he had to laugh too. We both did. I admit, that lil creature was movin fast, and to us it felt like a random, unpredictable flight that might easily have ended up in someone’s face. I was finally able to catch her by trapping her in between two frog nets, but then she hooked her way out, and flew off to the mudroom. The door to the mudroom remained closed, while the backdoor to the outside stayed wide open. My second house guest eventually left and did not return. So far as we know.

And there was the apparition. And the change in my route. Why had I chosen to double-back and take Locust Grove instead of 9N as I’d intended? Having just given Ken a brief history of my folks and the Baroque festival, I figured I’d use my mistake as an opportunity to point out soprano Ruth Lakeway’s empty house. When we crested the hill and I indicated the house, Ken told me he saw a woman in the porch. I gave him a look. “White hair, lavender colored, long sleeved top” he said. “Wait, you’re not shitting me?” I asked, in almost a panic. He insisted that as an officer of the law – not to mention an artist who painted and drew landscapes, people and animals, he was trained in observation. He knew what he’d seen. That was enough for me; I turned around and made my way back to the house.

There were in fact people at the house. They emerged from the garage – on the other side of the house – when we pulled in. Still, none fit the description. It didn’t matter at this point, and it was soon forgotten as I re-acquainted myself with the new owners, who were in the middle of a project. They were removing items from the house, preparing it. I kinda knew what was coming next. It was known that the house had done nothing but take on water since Ruthie’s death eight years ago, and that the mildew and moisture had finally won. Although the woman who now owned it had known and loved Ruth as I had, and had herself dreamed of one day living in the sweet house, it would never come to be. The house now had to be torn down. I looked at Karen to see if this was the truth, and her eyes teared up. She insisted they’d had every manner of professional opinion on the matter. It was coming down. I made no attempt to be stoic… I began to cry. It was clear that she was just as heartbroken as I was. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone in my grief.

In her day Ruthie had created a wide sphere of influence through her loving presence in the community and her unique, gentle demeanor. With no husband or children of her own, she had given her time and energy to her church, her voice students and so many more. This house was for me a sacred place, as it was to many others as well. I marveled over our being there, in that moment. Over the circumstances. Had I not made the ‘mistake’ of driving down her road, had Ken not spotted that visage in the porch – I wouldn’t have known this was happening. I wouldn’t have been able to take the lamp from her back porch so that I might use it in mine, I wouldn’t have been able to remove Ruth’s windchimes and then hang them on my own porch in remembrance of her. Did Ken see Ruth? Yes, I believe so. I believe she was helping as best she could to gather me into this event of closure. As we all stood on the front lawn, talking and comparing stories, Ken told them what he’d seen earlier. The consensus seemed to be that this was all meant to be, we had all found our ways there in order for this to happen. There were tears, hugs, prayers and goodbyes. And for me, there was gratitude.

From the insane to the mundane, the silly to the serious, it’s been a crazy mix of life here lately, and yet the next week may hold still more… Mom has finally come around to understanding that Andrew will never, ever get better on his own (yes, we’ve been here before, but I feel this time it’s different) and she can begin to see that he has only good things to gain by taking part in a detox and rehab program, and he has only potential danger and harm if he doesn’t. Plus this heaven-sent former cop of a friend has brought to our attention how devastating it could be should a civil case ever be made against Andrew in the event of an alcohol-related death. This is some serious shit, and although I’ve been making my case for several years now, it’s taken this financial threat to bring it home. That, and a little magical aligning of the stars. We’ve got a great family drama scene on deck, and I’m eager to finally see it through to its conclusion. Which will in of itself be but a beginning to a whole new chapter…

I checked in with Waldorf today, and it seems I’m just about off the hook. They’ve covered nearly every class except for a day or two of the high school. There’s a slight chance they might need me to cover for a bit, but it doesn’t appear that it’ll pose a conflict with my new work at the Studio. This is beyond my wildest dreams, and the feeling of freedom and possibility has me a little giddy. It’s almost like I have too much oxegyn, too much space, too many options, too much opportunity. My unexpected house guest and the little surprise detours of late have stalled my progress for the time being, but it doesn’t worry me. We’re approaching a Great Change. Middle School for Elihu, and with it all the changes of pre-teen life. A new situation for my mom and brother, a new career for me, a new house in the neighborhood, two new families moving in, one moving out. A parking lot going in the woods for the Studio along with a network of roads into the forest, a new heating system and myriad other upgrades. Networking, meeting people and growing programs, seeing plans become real…. I’m at the cusp of a whole new chapter in my life. I’ve been riding it out on a long, slow straightaway for the past few years, and finally now I see a big curve up ahead.

Breathe in, hands at ten and two… I’ll give it just a little more gas, and we’ll be taking that turn before we know it.

 

 

Done July 27, 2014

Most of the projects on my domestic list have been completed. Some, the ones for which I need an extra pair of hands – and some extra cash – remain on the list, but they don’t bother me too much. Overall, my house looks tidy, my garden is blooming and a neighbor has taken it upon himself to exterminate most of the remaining raccoon population. So really, all is at a nice holding point. I even took a walk – for no good reason – down the road to another neighbor’s place. Had a short visit, then returned through the big field, picking some wild blueberries along my return. It’s humid out again, the kind of heavily scented air that comes after a rain in the dead of summer. Most days here in upstate New York are fairly humid to begin with, but when I smell the woods before I smell the grasses of the field, then I know it’s wetter than usual. But it’s not oppressively hot, which is nice. Walkable.

As I stood chatting with the fellows across the road, Phil asked how it was that I didn’t have anything to do – why wasn’t I working? I had to admit that it was a rare moment, and that I’d come to a lull in the list. But as I answered him I couldn’t help but feel that my response was a little lame. It seemed I needed a better excuse for myself. Or did I? In this culture of go, go, go I was lucky to have window in time like this, unspoken for, unfilled with commitments. But still, I couldn’t shake a vague, nagging sense that I needed a better reason to be doing nothing more than walking down the road to fill my afternoon. I’d heard something on the radio the day before about the benefits of living a minimalistic life, so in remembering that, I cut myself a little bit of slack. I guess I could let myself off the hook for an afternoon. I guessed. After cooing to the baby and smooching the dogs, I headed home, still not entirely convinced that I shouldn’t be doing something more important with my day.

Although my personal to-do list has seen some real progress, there is a whole lot to be done regarding the Studio. It’s a world away from done. In fact, it has barely even begun. After dropping a cool fifteen hundred bucks (thanks to mom, of course) we were able to get the bathrooms back up and running.  We’ve hosted three weeks of art classes in the space by the skin of our teeth really, nailing curtains over the exposed studs in the bathrooms, and covering the bottom two feet of the room in used drop cloths. My partner liked the utilitarian look of the canvas, and I agree it looks funky and fun. But this will not do for the long haul. And the only thing between our present situation and the finished product is me and the time I invest into repairing and restoring. That, and a hefty advance on our timber sales (from a cut to be made this coming winter) which will enable me to make the improvements. I’ve never been good about planning things that involve budgets, so I admit that I’m kinda milking this pause in my schedule, as I put off this new adventure into the unknown.

I rode my bike over to the Studio yesterday and just stood in the space. Something inside was resisting this, and I needed to face it. I had to make myself understand that this was my job now.  And what a privilege! How lucky could a person possibly be to have an opportunity like this? Even after the tremendous shock of our initial loss (the burst pipe back in January that has necessitated all this rebuilding) I still find myself settling back into a state of mild complacency. Perhaps it’s just too much, and I’m shutting down. But this is no time to shut down. And as I stood there, contemplating all that lay before me, I experienced a mild jolt of panic about my previous job; there may be no one to fill my chair at the piano this fall at school – and I can’t manage a rehab project and learn Debussy and be mom, too. Not wanting the school’s entire movement program to come to a stop because of me, I promised I’d play until they found a replacement. But have they? I need to look into that first thing Monday morning. I remember a time when I thought I could do it all; It took me a while to come to the realization that I had to drop something. Why haven’t I been pushing harder on this front? Maybe I haven’t quite committed my spirit to this place yet. Yeah, I can see it, but somehow, I don’t quite seem to get how real this is. I gotta get it through to myself that nothing will get done if I don’t do it myself. I need to make this place my top priority now.

I suppose it’s not so bad that I take a short break from things. That I pass a day without fixing, painting, mending, cleaning, sorting… In fact, in this unexpected bit of project-free time I’ve begun to resurrect an old dream (which derailed when I had a baby!) about putting together a ‘guilty pleasures’ cover thing – solo piano, duo, whatever – for the ‘over 50’ set. The kind of tunes that in my past life would garner taunts and severe mocking from my musical peers – but which nonetheless have people singing along as soon as I start to play…. Screw it, my days working in a cosmopolitan jazz scene are over, my days of being in a young, hip alternative band are history, and I live in a moneyed tourist town with a median age of sixty. If I were to do anything musical again (besides teaching), this seems a realistic option.

But I can’t allow myself to become distracted. The cover thing can wait, but the insulation can’t. Gotta get those minisplit heating units in before winter, gotta get the walls back before I can heat. Got to get some prices, map out a budget. I know what I have to do, and after a moment’s pause, I’ll get back to it. For now I’m finished with things here at home, but I’m still nowhere near done.

IMG_9388My painting of the garage doors started with a good prep job…

IMG_9387I always get messier than I should.

IMG_9473A job well done.

IMG_9396Work on the new house begins in the adjacent field.

IMG_9488A walk through the woods to the little house ‘next door’…

IMG_9425…and I return with Ryan and Brandon.

IMG_9435They remembered to check the trap – what mixed feelings I have. Success, and yet it’s a baby. Ich. I hate this business.


IMG_9440But the mood lightens as they smooch good old Thumbs Up.

IMG_9705What a laid-back chicken. Never had a friendlier hen than she.

IMG_9714At the end of a long day together, the boys and their mom head home. Big sister Ava’s going to take the long way, the others cut across the field.

IMG_9523Saratoga folks will recognize SPAC. Mom took me to see the dance company Momix. What a nice treat! Plus we were driven to our seats in an electric car – woo hoo! Using a cane has its privileges.

IMG_9522A little selfie of mom and me.

IMG_9519The ramps to the balconies. In my teens and twenties I saw a handful of shows here on the lawn. Doesn’t hold quite the appeal it once did.

IMG_9544Haven’t had a seat in the actual theater itself in nearly twenty-five years. !!

IMG_9562The whole night was a visual fantasy – impossible to understand how they could do such feats. The outline seen here is created through glow in the dark costumes… the rest was too fast for my low-tech camera to capture.

IMG_9616Back to the work site next morning. Now the well is going in. Impressive to watch, hard to conceive of 325 feet of pipe going straight down into the ground. I just hope this doesn’t adversely affect the level in our own well. Water tables are all connected, and new construction can sometimes have unforeseen consequences. (They ended up with 5 gallons a minute at 325 feet, the Studio’s new well got 8 gpm at just 85 feet. Plus we dowsed to locate the water. Ha! Feeling kinda smug.)

IMG_9643This job definitely requires finesse and skill.

IMG_9617And pipes must be welded on site as the hole goes down. All in all an impressive job to witness.

IMG_9483Wow, these guys are making fast progress. (The Studio’s dark red sign is visible down the road in the distance, just to the right of the machine.)

IMG_9609Shoot. Poor Azealia died last night. She liked to sit in this corner, and likely ended up sleeping here last night instead of roosting. She’d been moving slow all week. I even wondered if she needed a little extra care. But she had a good, long life. She was of Madeline’s generation. Only Thumbs Up and Specks are left from that era.

IMG_9647At least she died peacefully. She had the tallest comb of all. I buried her under the flowering quince bush along with her cousin, Molly.

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And then there were three…. Only three hens – one white, one red and one black – a rooster and a guinea are left after a flock of fifteen this past Spring. Lost almost all to the raccoons. Phooey.

I left to help neighbors with a move, and came back at 4:30 in the afternoon to find a huge raccoon on top of Bald Mountain – flushed with fear I laid on the car horn and the animal reared up and fled, leaving a dead-looking rooster on the ground. I ran to him, found him just laying there – and I saw tons of feathers everywhere… they marked the path of the struggle. It seems he was being a good and strong defender of his tiny remaining flock, giving the raccoon a good fight for almost two hundred feet. I picked him up, fearing he was dead (he’s Elihu’s very favorite), but saw he was still breathing. I checked him for blood. None. So I held him close, talked to him low, and just waited for a few minutes to help calm him. I returned him to the brooder pen for isolation, water and rest. The next morning his crow was that of a sick bird with laryngitis, so I figured his throat had been quite damaged by the attack. Happily I can report that he is now crowing almost as he had before, and he is bravely undaunted by the recent scare. I’m also happy that my other next door neighbor reported shooting five raccoons yesterday. He didn’t get the big one, so Baldy’s attacker is still out there, but nonetheless it’s a great relief. We just want to clear this particular corner of Greenfield so that our birds may live.

IMG_9672The hero of the day and Miss Thumbs Up beside him.

IMG_9794A portrait of our favorite two. The back end of Baldy’s comb was bitten off by the big male raccoon just a couple of weeks ago, but thankfully has healed well. (Note the silhouette of a hand in the thumbs up shape on our gal’s head. Facebook approved!)

IMG_9739Specks stands on my feet as she eats from my hand. She’s three and a half years old now. She’s a cousin of matriarch Molly, and the last to carry Molly’s gene for white. Hope to get some of her babies next Spring. But that is a long way off.

IMG_9751Love my Specks.

IMG_9663Giving Jemima an ‘enforced smooching’.  You’ve heard of the crazy cat lady. I think I’m on the edge of crazy chicken lady… Or maybe I’ve crossed the line. Not quite sure…

IMG_9604A happy garden with a happy hen.

IMG_9807A happy harvest of blueberries, some from our property, some wild from the field.

IMG_9799A happy home where all is done. At least for now….

 

Setback July 15, 2014

Today I’m just exhausted. Yesterday I found out that my emergency water jugs had been leaking on the floor of my mudroom and required some immediate attention –  the sub floor there is the only floor there and it was getting soft and spongey. I dried it out the best I could, then at midnight began to paint. I’d been moving boxes and crap and dealing with stuff all day long and was fired up to get it done. Shortly before this project began, I got a phone call from Sherry, the one person on the planet with whom I’ve been friends with the longest. She called to tell me that our childhood pal Joey had died. We knew it was coming, I’d seen him this past Christmastime and he looked positively ancient. He suffered from a couple of fast-moving cancers and we knew he wasn’t going to be around much longer. So it didn’t shock me, but it did move me deeply. A heavy, sad weight hung in my gut all night long as I digested the news.

How crazy it is that one moment you can be feeling such joy, hope and new glimmers of healthy progress, and yet a moment later you can be consumed by total loss, total fear, total sorrow? I had driven out earlier that day to find a newly painted orange circle marking the post which described my property’s edge. Unfortunately, it was smack in the middle of my driveway. A silent marker that screamed ‘We’re coming for you’ by the new owners of neighboring lot. Well, maybe that wasn’t the specific message per se, but certainly there was an implied warning: Things are about to change. Don’t say we didn’t tell you so.

I called the town zoning guy again today, and in spite of having had several conversations with local residents who all seemed to agree one ‘needed once full acre’ upon which to build – and in spite of his not having denied that assertion at our meeting last week – he told me that wasn’t the case. That if a lot had been described as such before the current zoning laws – then it was fine. All they needed was to make sure the building was setback far enough from the lines – so of course, the smaller the lot, the greater that challenge. But apparently, they’ve got their setbacks met, as the newly planted stakes and red nylon tape will show.

I lost another hen this week too. Dear old Dinah – plucky gal she was, a beautiful glossy black and the first to peck at anything that moved. Like Madeline and Thumbs Up she had a fully loaded and very discernible personality. I swear I don’t know how I’ll take it if Thumbs Up gets it too. Even after watching three absolutely adorable baby raccoons eat up all the bird food (and enjoy the bird bath too) over at mom’s, I still understood that I had a task before me that I had to commit to, regardless of the conflict it created in me. They were cute, but they were predators. The battle wasn’t over.

In Vietnam-like humidity and heat I re-baited the traps, two humane, one designed to kill. Sweat dripped off of my forehead and deer flies paid no attention to the Deep Woods Off that I’d soaked my clothes in. It was a very unpleasant experience. I’m not a woodswoman, not an overtly outdoorsy person, but this was my job to take care of. Emboldened by my small successes, and now hip to how cleverly those raccoons have evaded my traps, I now came up with a more secure method of setting the traps. I tied food in cheesecloth and secured it deep inside the bumane trap with wire to prevent them from making off with it as they had several times in the past. I staked the cages to the ground, I covered the lethal trap more carefully and dripped the remains of the cat food can into the hole. A quick check this morning showed nothing, and I won’t be able to rest well until I see at least three more gone.

Even though it’s my goal, oh how I dread the squeal in the middle of the night telling me the conibear trap has finally snapped… In an effort to release the second raccoon I caught in this trap from his extended death and suffering, adrenaline and compassion helped me to leave my bed, find my boots and sledgehammer, make my way into a dark and rainy night and finally whack him in the head. I cannot convey how wrong this felt, even when its goal was to help, not hurt. But these are strong creatures, and even after four heavy hits (he uttered the most horrific shriek at each one, God forgive me) he wouldn’t die. Instead, he seemed to regain his composure afterwards and relaxed into a slow, rhythmic breathing, which I matched, breath for breath, waiting for the final one. After some five minutes he was still going, and so I said a prayer, asked his forgiveness, and went back inside.

I’ve killed only two raccoons, and it seems there are still another five out there. How long will this go on? I hate living like this – it’s like I make a small advance, and then there’s another setback. I get my house in order, then discover the floor is failing, my son is having a great vacation with his father, then he calls me last night from the doctor’s office, his third day into a high fever. I was beginning to feel hopeful and lighter recently, now all this. And now I have to steady myself for a possible drama with the new developers. I can neither afford to litigate nor to rebuild a driveway. I am in a strange, dreamlike state at the moment. Kind of a low-grade state of dread, which I’m trying to mitigate as best I can by reminding myself that everything happens as it should.

The other night Andrew got raging drunk again, told mom to ‘fuck off’ at some perceived injustice she’d helped mount against him, and then sped off in his car, absolutely poised to kill himself and easily take someone out with him. Tough love won’t come through here; whenever I call mom and my brother’s in the room with her, her voice is clipped and her words brief. It’s as if she’s being watched, censored, threatened. “Is Andrew there?” I’ll ask. She’ll always answer quietly, “Yes”. Yesterday, as I was meeting with an HVAC guy, Andrew barged in and told me my car was in his way. I moved it, and immediately he got in and screeched away again, clearly showing me once again that I had every benefit in life, and that he suffered in this world all because of me. That’s the story he always tells his few friends, Martha and mom. He won’t tell me as much though – because of course he won’t even speak a word to me – so driving off at top speed is the only way he can convey to me what a bitch he thinks I am. And how privileged my life is. If only.

The Buddha plaque I rescued from the used clothing bin the other day is now clean and painted, mono chromatically the same shade as the wall on which it hangs, and he reminds me that I cannot attach myself to outcomes. I must go with what is. I know this, and sometimes it makes me want to put my goddam fist through a wall in protest, but I know it wouldn’t accomplish much. Not only am I faced with acceptance, but now find my ego must withdraw from its zone of comfort as I begin a conversation with the very people to whom I gave a piece of my mind not four days earlier. I must negotiate with the people with whom I have already expressed my disappointment in hopes that they’ll show mercy on me. Ich. I feel as if I’m going through an accelerated life course on ‘growing up and dealing with shit’ these days.

A couple of health issues have appeared too recently, nothing crazy alarming, but it may require surgical assistance. So ok, universe, what in hell am I supposed to learn from all of this? It’s so tempting to feel sorry for myself, but I remember the potential ahead. The Studio is in week two of classes, and if we can just keep moving forward in baby steps like this, then maybe we’ll get somewhere good and happy in the end.

But again, I must remind myself: there is no end. Never a point of happy conclusion. Two steps forward, one to the side, and then a couple more in an altogether unforseen direction. In truth I know it’s about the journey – not the coveted, illusive ‘destination’. So I try to enjoy the circuitous route. And for the most part I enjoy the trip, even with some of its detours, because I know they all serve some purpose, whether immediately apparent or not. And I also know that progress doesn’t necessarily mean forward movement, or even positive, welcome movement. After all, cancer is progress too. Life doesn’t assign good or bad to the continued movement and change. It simply is what it is. As bitchy as I’m tempted to get with all of this self-administered spiritual assistance, I know it’s all true. Even though it would be so much easier to just get really pissed off about everything (I may yet have a private pity party), it’s helpful to remind myself of this stuff over and over again.

I also have to remind myself that most forward movement usually involves a couple of setbacks along the way.

IMG_8794At mom’s, just one property away, these three young raccoons feel totally safe coming out in daylight. Makes me very nervous. The raccoons have taken hens right out from under my nose in the afternoon. There’s no true ‘safe’ time now.

IMG_8790Apparently, the corn isn’t enough to satisfy them.

IMG_8802Adorable, innocent creatures of God that have as much of a right to live as any other creature – or enemy and thief that must be killed and stopped from making progress? Enigmatically, the answer is: both.

IMG_8749Here it is…

IMG_8750…the eye of the storm.

IMG_8881This guy reminds me to keep my cool even when things begin to heat up… I’m just not sure he’d be down with my killing raccoons. He was a pretty peaceful fellow. Oh the dilemmas that life here on earth presents us with. The duality of it all sure can be exhausting sometimes.

 

 

Cozy Home For Now November 13, 2013

Been a sweet evening here. Elihu, in spite of now talking like Daffy Duck with his newly-installed palate expander, has been giving freely of ‘I love you, Mommy’s and other lovely expressions of affection and warmth all afternoon and into the evening. As I had my hands busy with making our first loaf of true, unbleached whole wheat flour bread, I’d sent him out to collect the eggs and shut in the birds. There was one bird still staying close to Mama’s apron strings: Julius Caesar, while having been returned to the flock in good health after living in our kitchen for eight days (post an accidental eight day fast/prison term underneath an overturned milk crate), has discovered his ranking among roosters dropped from the top to the bottom of the very-real pecking order. A survivor, he stays acres apart from them all day so as to avoid further injury, and likely eats very little. I took him in today, as I heard him pecking at the door for some respite. He was smart enough to know which door offered the warmth and home-made food, and that was enough for me. I was ‘awwwing’ all over him like he was a lil baby. (Elihu wasn’t so sentimental or soft as I.) Made him a protein-laden supper, gave him time to get warm, then had Elihu personally take him out and place him on a safe spot on the roosting bars. Gotta keep him safe, relatively happy – and fattened up a tad more if we’re to do him in next week. !!

After Elihu came back inside, he was clapping his hands together and remarking how bitingly cold it had all of a sudden  become. And after pausing to warm his hands over the electric heater, he turned to me and said, ” you know, I really love our home. Another pause. Some quiet. And then… ‘It really is home, isn’t it? A bit more pause… It’s just such a cozy cottage. And I love living here. ” Then he walked off and left me alone in the kitchen, kneading bread, smiling the smile of a mother content. A bath followed, a making of his bed with fresh sheets, (all of this progress interspersed with short references to Cole Porter’s “What A Nice Municipal Park”, a ‘B’ side if ever there were one) a call to grandma which was lighthearted and full of some promising news (yay! a nurse that mom approves of is coming by to do a little look-see!!! Soon dad will have a little TLC from an honest-to-goodness caregiver!!! Now we may all breathe out….) We recounted a story of our recent visit with a childhood classmate of mine and her family in town for a job interview, we told of our lovely day, and how the boys all enjoyed hanging with each other (in spite of a dramatic and comedic end to our visit), and caught grandma up on a variety of things. While she may not have thought he sounded drunk while talking thru his palate expander, his Grandpa Riaz asked if Scotch or Vodka was his poison….

I look forward to playing piano for a new eurythmist soon and will be slowly adding more music to the binder. Of course there’s the requisite Christmas music to re-acquaint myself with again. All good. No worries. Finally, two months in and I think I have the hang of my routine. Kinda. There’s a lot of coming and going in each day. Lots going on. Out of the driveway, in the driveway, each time with my eyes drinking in the lovely woods and fields around us. The views that will soon change. So when my kid tells me with joy that this is his home, and that it feels comforting to be here… he reminds me of how lucky we are… and I am right there with him. Yeah, we’re lucky.

And true, it won’t always be thus. Daily we’re steeling our hearts for those first, shocking events in the field just beyond. And then I suppose as a result, we’re clinging even more tightly to what it is that we love in our own, very modest home. We’ll soon have a bit less privacy, a bit less nature, a bit less peace, less true darkness at night. But we gotta keep reminding ourselves that we’re still lucky, no matter what. And since we can’t fight it, we may as well go forth in love and happy expectation. One never knows…. do one?