The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Defeat, Distraction and Divots July 12, 2014

These days I tend to think of my life as being empty. Void of the things that made it fulfilling and enjoyable a decade ago. And certainly, in some ways it’s true. The nature of my life now is completely different; back in the day I lived in a bustling metropolitan area and was always involved with several creative projects at any one time. I enjoyed the great privilege of producing and hosting my own radio show, of performing in all the great venues on a regular basis, and most nights of the week were concluded in the company of friends at a restaurant eating great food. I shared my world with people who also lived their lives inside a whirlwind of creative endeavors. Yeah, it was an incredibly enjoyable time in my life. And while this chapter might not be as thrilling, it’s really no less busy, no less full. I have to remind myself it’s just different. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing, it’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m constantly faced with new challenges, both physical and emotional, and I learn from every one of them. It might not be as flat-out fun as the way I seem to remember my old life as being, but if I take a step back and observe things as objectively as I can, it appears I am not living an empty life at all.

Actually, my life in the country is chock-full of tiny events, and I am still a busy woman, only it’s a different kind of busy. In fact, I sometimes wonder how many years it will take me to find myself moving again with more regularity and less urgency. How long til I reach a point of equilibrium? Of balance, of true contentment, of peace and ease? When will the need to put out small fires cease? I suppose my feelings of discontent are partly due to the Studio and my apprehensions about all the unknowns before me, and I suppose things will only get more demanding on that front. But that’s ok, I have a suspicion that that sort of work is likely to bring more contentment than trying to trap raccoons, finding ways to keep the water out of my basement or dealing with less-than-forthright neighbors in sketchy real estate deals.

I am grateful that my partner, artist and teacher Ceres Zabel, has just successfully concluded her first week’s class at the Studio. All the kids had a great time, they learned a lot and came home with beautiful pieces to show for it. This weekend we have more work before us as we tidy the main room and turn what is currently a construction zone into a tamer, cleaner version of a workspace. More elbow grease. But that kind of work feels better than any other. I can’t wait til the classes are done for the summer and I can begin to get the insulation in and the sheet rock cut and back up – with my own hands. Until this whole experience I never would have considered doing some of the labor myself, but I’m discovering that it doesn’t hurt to try and learn how to do things yourself (plus a lack of funds kinda motivates as well. !). There hasn’t been a husband or partner around for the past six years, so I’ve had to suck it up and figure things out for myself when shit’s hit the fan. And this Studio experience is like more of the same – only on a larger scale. I have learned so much in this adventure, and it’s barely begun. So much yet to learn.

Actually, learning things is was makes things interesting. I can thank a recent heartbreaking and shady sale of the adjacent property for a quest which turned into a day-long hunt for maps, deeds and property descriptions and had me driving all over the county to collect information. I learned some interesting things along the way, some of which had absolutely nothing to do with the business at hand, but hey, isn’t that what makes life more fun? It wasn’t an errand of joy necessarily, but it turned out to be a joyful day of sorts. If nothing else, a nice diversion from the stay-at-home grind of chasing chipmunks and chickens and comparing quotes from contractors.

And then there were the lovely, impromptu visits over the past few days with neighbors, and the moments of pause they provided in my busy life. My house is cleaned out, now only the organizing remains. The field at the end of the driveway (thank God not Crow Field – the big one where the Woodcocks return each spring) will likely see the building of a too-big-for-the-lot house by fall. After penning letters giving both the seller and the buyer a piece of my mind, all that’s left to do now is to get back to building my own life and business. A couple of diversions have taken my mind off of the changes – both welcome and unwelcome – that are appearing on the horizon, and now it’s time to get my eyes back on the path directly ahead.

Diversions keep it all possible, they prevent the reality of life from becoming too daunting and dark. Thank goodness for kids and frogs, unexpected visits from neighbors and tiny, impromtu outings. Oh, and thank goodness for calls from your own child who tells you that he’s driving ‘right now’ down the strip in Las Vegas and then says ‘oh my God I have to go now Mommy cuz there’s too much to see…”. I am happy, happy, happy to know my son is enjoying himself and seeing the places I can’t afford to show him myself. I’ve already seen them, now it’s his turn. He’s in the middle of a great summer, and my heart lifts to know it. Knowing that makes whatever hardships I might be feeling in the moment so much easier to take. I miss my son, but  I know that he’s living a summer he’ll never forget. And in my own way, I guess I am too.

IMG_7961Less than an acre, but soon there’ll be a four bedroom house squeezed onto one of the few remaining fields in Greenfield.

IMG_7960What saddens me is that this field is next to my driveway. What angers me is that the owners asked that I pay to have my driveway moved so that they could sell their lot. (My ancient right-of-way makes the lot too small to develop – legally. That doesn’t seem to have stopped them in the end.)

IMG_7964Here is the tiny bit of disputed land – make a triangle from the rock on the right, the white plastic jug in the driveway, and the right rear tire of my car. But hey, if this is what it takes to prevent a house from going up, so be it. It’s the law, but the law doesn’t seem to be working. As long as I don’t have to move my driveway (more like a road really), than I’ll just have to accept the unwelcome change.

IMG_7981Neighbor Ryan stopped by for a little frog catching. Just when poor Stanley (the frog) and his family thought they could relax. Ha!

IMG_7993Mom Boat Tailed Grackle gets ready to feed her ‘baby’. (Big baby, huh?)

IMG_7995I’ve got a primitive and slow camera, but look at this! Love it.


IMG_8004The juvenile is gray with dull, gray and brown eyes. Adults are black with iridescent greenish-blue plumage and have strikingly contrasting yellow and black eyes.

IMG_8146Elihu will be bummed he missed the annual blooms of our rare Canada lily.

IMG_8148Time for art camp at the Studio!

IMG_8324Ceres has been running her Odyssey School of Fine Arts for over twenty years – its new home is now in the Studio.

IMG_8326After a short lesson, the kids get down to work.

IMG_8307Today they were given magnifying glasses to help inspect the details on the blooms and leaves they were to draw.

IMG_8329Here’s Mason’s final product!

IMG_8351Miakota’s had a great time this week.

IMG_8306Tom gets started…

IMG_8331…and here’s his final drawing.  Nice shading!

IMG_8344Much trickier than it looks.

IMG_8023Now to peel back the many layers of  the property line mystery…

IMG_8032We may live in a virtual culture, but there’s still plenty of paper hidden away in the vaults.

IMG_8039It’s details like this that I’ve come to the department of Public Works to see for myself.

IMG_8030Ah, the crazy language of property description.

IMG_8046Course I’m a bit of a map freak, so this was very exciting. Here’s a local map from over a hundred and fifty years ago.

IMG_8052Here’s a town that doesn’t even exist anymore – it was built around an old glass factory, just north of Lake Desolation. (I love the way each building has its owner’s name written beside it.)  It’s kind of like the East’s version of a ghost town. You can find bits of glass and pottery in the woods on the site but not much more as humidity eventually claims everything. When the industry collapsed and the town was no longer needed, some of the houses themselves were moved down the mountain on rollers and re-constructed in Saratoga Springs – a good ten miles away. Impressive and amazing to me.

IMG_8073I’m a great fan of all things modern and mid-century, and I’ve always loved this lobby of the county building, complete with lamps made of the same granite as the table upon which they sit, and dig those original (and sadly kinda shabby) metallic gold lampshades!

IMG_8066Now onto a title insurance company. Bit of trivia for Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford fans: this is the site of some interior restaurant scenes from The Way We Were.

IMG_8063Disappointingly, there’s not one single detail left that would even give you and idea for the soda fountain it once was. (Also a disappointment was finding no deed or title description to be found that mentioned my driveway and thereby proved, on paper, of its existence before we bought the place.)

IMG_8067More movie fun facts: the scene in which Bob ties Barbra’s shoes in the moonlight was filmed here at the historic Medbery Inn in downtown Ballston Spa, New York in 1972.

IMG_8374I stopped by Zac and Stephanie’s and before I knew it, I’d tagged along with them to the local Polo grounds to see my first game. Saratoga Springs is a horse town, and this famous Polo field is a mere three miles from my home, yet I’ve never been. (Maybe cuz it’s $30 a car, and I’m usually traveling solo.)

IMG_8441The ground rumbles when the action gets close. All that prevents the ball from flying out into the onlookers is an 8″ tall board on the perimeter of the field, and the incredible skill of the players.

IMG_8443There they go!

A short bit of live action on the field (which is I hear is the size of nine football fields).

IMG_8449Wow! One of the kids in our group actually got a ball!

IMG_8437The half time tradition of ‘stomping the divots’. The horse’s hooves leave footprints, some of which are pieces of sod that can be stamped back into place. One must be careful to tell chunks of dirt apart from other, similar-looking mounds before stomping. !

IMG_8368I haven’t tailgated in decades – this was a multi-generational party with lots of kids. Grandpa Phil (in blue) chats with son Zac (in yellow). These guys are my saviors – they helped fix the Studio up so we could open, they’ve helped me catch varmints, close up my chickens, fix water pumps and more. This is Annabelle in the pink sunglasses, she’s the big sister of three.

IMG_8208At the end of a full couple of days, I head back home down my beautiful and peaceful driveway. I’ve never taken this rural landscape for granted, but there’s never a good time to see it go. I’ll miss this field terribly. But on we march, into the unknown of the future, grateful for what still remains.

 

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?

 

Here, Not Here November 10, 2013

There’s this nagging feeling I can’t get rid of in my stomach. I’m lying in bed, trying to sleep without help from a pill. It’s just not working. So I try to go into the dread just a bit to see what’s at the core of it. Maybe if I can name it I can quiet it down – at least for now – and finally get some sleep. What is it? I wonder… Is it dad? Yes, that’s part of it. Is it the neighbors we ran into tonight? Her girls were just the tiniest things when we moved here, now the eldest daughter talks with confidence about certain far away colleges, and a career in marine biology… Is it my own son, with his feet growing big and his legs getting hairier? Yes, it’s all of these. Each one stirs a familiar tugging inside, but I know that there is one that looms larger than the others tonight. And finally I can’t stand it. I forsake that perfect toasty nest I’d at last made in the covers, I rise up to my knees, and I look out of the window above my bed. I see a serene picture of our garage and chicken coop, lit gently from within by one red heating bulb. Beyond it, I see only blackness. The sort of scene that reminds one of a tomten fairy tale; a quiet, timeless farm carved out of the endless woods, a small homestead made cozy by its simplicity and isolation. On nights when the moon is full, it casts a deeper charm on the outbuildings, and they seem to glow in contrast to the forest beyond. But this nightscape is not to be much longer, I may not even see it like this for another full moon. Like my disappearing father, like my own tiny child who lives only in memory now, and like all the other inevitable changes of my private universe, a silent transition is already underway. Soon the darkness will be gone forever. Before long the lights of a house will pierce our dark and quiet corner of the world. Nothing, it appears, is sacred. Nor is anything forever. And I just can’t get used to it.

Once, at the home of a piano student, I happened on a simple children’s book that was laying out. In a few minutes I’d read the whole thing, and by the last line I found myself in tears. I’d thought this same thing many time, but had never dared to give expression to it. It was about all the ‘last times’ of childhood. How one never knows if this time will be the last. The last time a mother can ever pick up her child, the last time he’ll call her mommy, the last time she’ll read her child a bedtime story… there are a myriad of lasts, and yet one can never know for certain which moments they are. I think now of my father. Tonight mom told me that he hasn’t been downstairs since my visit a couple of days ago. We’d had a bit of a heated exchange on the phone the other night as I continued to lobby for some in-home nursing help. She’d hung up on me. Although she still believes that dad will manage to march downstairs again tomorrow for breakfast, business as usual, I myself don’t think so. Instead, the very real possibility occurs to me that we have finally experienced a last time here. The last time dad ever came downstairs. The last time. I arrive at that final, looming idea: this may well be where the true last time will happen. Right there, in the bedroom which looks out into the same woods as mine, in the bedroom with years of cat hair embedded in every upholstered surface, in the bedroom with photos of Andrew and me as babies still sit displayed on the bureau after five decades, there, on the right side of the bed – on my father’s side of the bed – that is where he will experience his own last time. That is, very likely, where my father will die.

I’m a sentimental person, and that sort of leaning will of course give this awareness of finality even more charge. I know that I’m probably dwelling more deeply on these passages than some folks would. (At the same time, I think any human can easily understand ambivalence around change.) But that’s the only way I can live through it all. I need to name it, to face it and to savor it before I can let it go. I need to bear active witness, I need to engrave that memory into my system, I need to take it with me as best I can. To preserve the essence of what this thing that I loved felt like. It’s a challenge for me to be simply pragmatic about it, and in fact, I really can’t. I can’t understand change without feeling a burning nostalgia. Sometimes in order to lend perspective and maybe take some of the sting out of it, I try to imagine a time just a couple of hundred years earlier, and I picture the change that’s taken place long before the world came to look as it does now. I imagine the Native Americans of Saratoga Lake, watching as their sacred sites were defiled and built-up by these white people from somewhere else… then I imagine the large parcels of unbuilt land throughout town, the disappointment of certain homeowners when the space around them appeared to shrink as investors continued to build upon the remaining vacant quadrants of land. I imagine all of the tiny disappointments, all of the hearts that had to acquiesce with deep regret the bittersweet changes around them.

I see the business people making these visible and profound changes in our physical environment. And I understand their detachment around such things too. They are merely dealing with a product and a service. (Be damned the wake left behind in its many forms, all of us must simply learn to live with resulting change!) “You can’t stop progress” people like to say. The implication is that progress is good. That progress is desired. Yeah, well, cancer is progress. Nuff said.

I feel a little better now, at least a little more sleepy. All I can do is be as zen as I can about the changes coming; I will savor these final nights of our deep, black forest, I will drink in all the tiny familiarities of my dad while they’re here, I’ll enjoy this magical time of a ten year old boy’s life, and I’ll be present and grateful for every last bit of it all. So that by the time today becomes yesterday, while it won’t be here to look upon anymore in my physical world, it will still exist somewhere. It will be here, cherished and alive, forever in my heart.