The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Crossroads October 2, 2019

Elihu’s big brown eyes looked at me from across the tiny kitchen table. His eyes don’t meet mine much; having limited vision and a ticky disposition, his eyes often dart around, glancing low and to the side, seldom directly at me. “I’m at a crossroads”, he said. I waited for more; sometimes he just says something as a setup with a punchline to follow. I saw no smile beginning on his face, and he said nothing. “You’re at a crossroads?” I asked. He waited another moment. “Yes. And it just hit me tonight”.

It was already past eleven on a school night, and we’d just returned from his weekly rehearsal with the Empire State Youth Orchestra, the highlight of his week. It was a place where he’d finally found his brethren, a place where he had finally found his joy – one that other peers could share with him. A solitary child, this was a revelation and a relief –  for both of us. Last night he’d had a sectional rehearsal with the other low brass players. Elihu had never worked with anyone like this coach before. The session was less about playing, and more about discussing the conceptual aspects of being a musician. Elihu revealed his mathematician’s mind in his answers to the coach’s questions. When no other kids spoke up, Elihu would proffer a response. He was a year younger than the others there, and he was the only one who wasn’t planning on pursuing a career in music, and yet he was more engaged in the conversation than the rest. Elihu said that he could see the thought passing through the coach’s mind: Why wasn’t this kid going to study music? Elihu said that all of a sudden he sort of popped out of his body and viewed the scene from a third person’s perspective. “And the question became obvious to me too: Why wasn’t I going to study music?”

When I’d arrived to pick Elihu up after rehearsal, the teacher who’d led the sectional slowed as he passed me in the parking lot. He turned to me, his horn cases hanging there at his side, and he seemed to be forming a thought. He seemed to want to say something to me, but then after a beat he turned and walked on. I’d noticed this, and had wondered if there hadn’t been some observation he’d wanted to share with the kid’s mom. Perhaps.

Elihu and I began to talk about this idea. Sometimes, when one has a talent or an affinity for something, one feels an obligation to honor it formally. And this was why, I reiterated to my son, I was adamant about finding him a school with a strong music program. He didn’t have to major in music, he just had to keep playing. At the end of the day, we knew where his passion lay. Aviation consumes his thoughts (when he’s not thinking about tuba!) and it has since day one. Ok, so he has picked up the french horn in the past month, yes he can play any recorder extremely well, he can get some sound on a trumpet now too, but that is all stuff that he can continue to do on his own. He’s so naturally talented that it creates in each of us the temptation to just go for it. To take it and excel. But at some point one has to choose. And so we sat together at that tiny island in the kitchen, the silence heavy around us, reviewing the case in our thoughts. Music was important, but aviation was more important. “I think I feel a little sad”, he said. “Yeah, I know what you mean”. But what can one do? Only so much.

This morning when we were talking in the car about his last two years in high school, mapping out the landmark events and making mental notes, we came to realize that next year, his senior year, he won’t have the time to play in the symphony. There will be no concerto audition next year; this year was it. “This is my music year” he said quietly, but confidently. “Yup, this is your music year sweetie. So enjoy the hell out of it.” We turned on the classical station and listened with running commentary until we arrived at school.

It has been months since I’ve written about our lives. A half a year, more specifically. And this mystifies me – how is it that I can’t cull a few hours from my schedule to write a silly post? Partly it’s due to a lack of time and a full life, but it’s more than that. It’s that phenomenon of having so much to do, not doing it, and then falling even further behind. So much has happened that it becomes more and more daunting to try and catch up. Where oh where could I even begin?

This past spring we had Leevi living with us, the exchange student with whom Elihu lived last year at this time in the south of Germany. He became a part of our family, and we had a crazy-full life. His room became a recording studio, and I took on double the mom taxi duties. Feeding another body was a challenge too; I ended up putting groceries on my credit cards, something I’m still feeling the weight of. But this was an experience I could not refuse. The past year was about language and travel, and debt be damned, we won’t remember the bill, but we’ll always remember the experiences.

On the heels of Leevi’s departure, I had Elihu begin private French lessons. My thinking is this: Elihu’s schedule will never be as open as it is now, and his brain will never be as plastic and adept at taking in new skills as it is now. I noted to him that I made the most pronounced advances in my musical skills – learning techniques that continue to serve me now – between the ages of 14 and 18. He concured, and so, taking this to heart, he threw himself into the language lessons and he is now comfortably trilingual. For many other folks from around the world this is nothing to write home about, but for an American kid, I think it’s a tidy achievement.

On the last Saturday of summer this year, we finally buried the old rooster Bald Mountain and Austin, our goofy guinea fowl. We’d spent the sunny hot day harvesting grapes on the vineyard that now lives on Martha’s farm. When we returned home, we collected the frozen bodies from the chest freezer where they’d lain for almost two years now. It was a perfect day; warm, sunny, the air full of tiny flighted creatures buzzing off in all directions. Elihu carried Austin, and I carried Baldie. We set them down, side by side, in the hole that was dug beneath the flowering quince bush, where the old flock used to rest in the afternoons. We stepped back, but it wasn’t quite right. I kneeled down and scooched them together, so that they were spooning. “That feels better, doesn’t it?” I asked Elihu. “Yes, it does feel better”. We stood there, saying nothing, looking at our beloveds. This was to us like saying goodbye to a dog or cat. “We had them both for eight years”, Elihu said, looking down at the two birds. I said nothing, as I wanted to leave space. And then, Elihu started to cry. At first the edges of his mouth curved down in an alarming way, and soon he was sobbing. My son so seldom cries. This was hard to see, but necessary for him. I had already had my cry, but he hadn’t. I touched his arm to offer some comfort – knowing how he disdains physical contact – but what else could I do? He continued to cry, and I waited. And then he turned, and he put his arms around me.

“This is the end”, he said through tears. The late afternoon sun was still warm, but it seemed that a chill was waiting to take its place. “It’s over. My childhood is over. It just came to me. These guys were my childhood. And now, they’re really gone. And so is my childhood”. I could not disagree. Truly, this was the end of that chapter. I’d often felt ridiculous for not having buried them sooner – but life just never presented a window. Now I could see that it was perfectly timed. In the time since the fellows had left us – two years this coming December – we took a small comfort in knowing their familiar bodies still resided with us. Seeing them again after all these months was also somehow comforting – it presented us with a sweet opportunity for closure. We stroked their beautiful feathers one last time, we marveled over Baldie’s enormous spur, over Austin’s helmet. After a few moments more, looking down onto our old friends, we each threw a fist of dirt to begin the farewell.

And then the young man took the shovel and filled the hole.

 

 

 

Breaking Ground July 19, 2014

It started quietly. I’d heard some large machinery moving about down the driveway, and then silence. I waited. Then I took a walk to see for myself. It was an eery sight. A small piece of earth moving equipment had been deposited in the empty field. It had begun. I tried to savor the light of the open field, tried to memorize everything about the space as it still was, tried to get over my sadness. I would never be ready for this. I reminded myself that there was once a barn in this field, and that too was gone. That there were once cattle grazing here, and they were also long gone, and that before the cattle fields there was nothing here but forest; even the stone walls that run through the woods were not ancient, as they seemed from 2014’s perspective, but at a mere two hundred years old, they were relatively new installations. I tried to convince myself not to lament the change so deeply; this land had been undergoing constant change over the past two centuries. And before the area had been settled by Europeans (and subsequently that development mourned by local Native Americans), very little had changed so dramatically in millions of years. But it didn’t stop me from grieving the loss of another hard-won field though. Yeah, change is part of life, but I can still miss what was. Thankfully it’s not quite here yet, and I can still enjoy the spot of green at the end of my long driveway. From where I stand today, it’s still unimaginable to me that in that space will soon stand the silhouette of a two-story house. As I’ve said before, I’m not good with change.

Martha turned 88 on Thursday, and I think it was probably the first such birthday in all her life that it was not sweltering. The Conants and the Spiaks joined Martha at The Farm in her kitchen, the only room in which she has ever entertained, and we enjoyed a fine summer supper of hamburgers and hot dogs, mom’s potato salad (one of my top ten favorite foods on the planet – it’s understated and so damn good) and some cold cocktails. Jesse and Sam, the young girls close to Elihu’s age were there representing the next generation. I showed them the markings on the closet door where I’d been measured when I was their age, they in turn showed me around the winery that their father was building on the property. We visited the resident horses and I told the story of the enormous barn that burned down, on this very day (some birthday present!) when I was their age, years ago. How it took out one of the great Maple trees, how it changed the place forever. Martha recounted to us that the first thing she did after ringing the dinner bell and calling husband Frank in from the fields was to move the harpsichord out of the house to prevent it from burning, should the house catch fire. (She and Frank were musicians-turned-farmers and gave me a great experience of animal husbandry and old-time farm life as a child. Martha also taught me how to read music and later gave me a few very practical tips on accompanying that I still use today.). This place, simply called by all of us “The Farm”, has been my heart’s epicenter since I was a tiny child. Even now, as Martha hangs on, doing barely more than living from day to day (she suffered a stroke thirty years ago and can only move the right side of her body), knowing that she’s still here gives me a feeling of anchor. Of place, of center. In spite of many trips to the hospital and nursing home after small heart-related episodes, Martha always manages to come home. This time, though, she seems slower, a bit more tired. No less spirited, no less intimidating than she’s ever been (no one still dares to counter her on any thing), she still strikes me as a bit closer to the end. At least I can kinda see it now. I guess I’m just getting ready, because aside from the death of my mother, this will be the biggest change I can imagine.

I’m still puttering away, trying to beat the clock and restore order to my home. I’ve sunk a good hundred hours of hard labor into this place over the past couple of weeks, and am making milestones that have even gone beyond my initial to-do list. After living here almost six years, I have only just yesterday unpacked the last of the boxes from the move from Chicago. Can you believe that? And that last box will remain packed, I’m afraid, as I simply have not the use nor the space for my fine wedding stemware. A few more paining projects (garage doors, cellar wall) remain, and there’s Elihu’s room to do a deep-cleaning and inventory of (that’ll be a bigger job than I think now) but I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, which is a great relief.

The Studio is cruising along now too, with our second complete week of art camp behind us, and a great number of ideas for the future being born. There’s big change here too; the place seems to be taking on its own forward trajectory as new uses for the room come to mind, leaving the memory of fine Baroque concerts on July afternoons far behind, and breaking my heart in tiny ways as the new course becomes more clear… I am only now coming to terms with the idea that this is a place undergoing a real transformation, and in order to do this well I’ll need to invest myself fully in the new direction. I won’t sabotage my progress in the name of nostalgia, but like the field at the end of my driveway, I will grieve its loss.

My garden projects have reached a nice point of completion, I finally figured out the coop door opener (which has been broken for almost 2 years now), I’ve finally rid my house of every last unused item – books to boots – and I can now say I know where everything is. Ha! How many people can say that of the contents of their home? My office, however, is altogether another situation, and it waits for my attention soon. I need to check in with the Waldorf School too; if they haven’t found a replacement candidate for my post, I may have to get back to the piano soon. That is not a detour I relish. I’ve hit a nice forward stride, and hope to continue with added momentum.

Oh, and today is the second anniversary of my divorce. It took over four years to accomplish, and I didn’t even learn I’d been legally divorced until many months later. My ex has been married to his new wife for over a year now too. Strange as it may seem, it’s only just about now that I’m truly feeling I live here, and that this is my life – and that I really am a single person in the world. Being totally honest, I do miss the man I once lived with, but I also know he’s no longer the person he was, so I can’t lament not being with him now. He’s different. Guess I am too. In going thru old photographs this past week I found myself still very wistful about the old days, and I still missed aspects of those lives very much, but I’ve come to the point where I can’t imagine my life without this chapter. I’ve been resisting this new time of my life just about the whole time I’ve been living it because I missed things that I felt were taken from me without my consent. I moved because I had to, not because I wanted to. And I still think of those places as my home, but now, finally, in my heart this place has joined them. Having the time in which to properly inventory the place, rid myself of old baggage and apply some tender loving care has helped elevate it to the status of a sacred place in my life.

Things are changing in so many ways here at the Hillhouse. For the past six years here it’s seemed that life, for the most part, has moved at a steady pace, and change has come in manageable doses; now it seems that the tide is coming in all at once and things are beginning to change in rapid and dramatic ways. Not to say that the change won’t be manageable, because in the end I believe it’ll all be fine. In the words of Martha Carver, “Things always work out“. I’m learning to accept that life requires change, growth requires entropy. Nothing is static. And in order to have wonderful new experiences, we must first break new ground.

IMG_9191The very first cut.

IMG_9187The neighbor boys are excited to see the machines working so close to home. I can’t help but dread the whole in my driveway filling up with the profile of a two-story house.

IMG_9170Here are the plans…

IMG_9214Ryan and Brandon enjoy being outdoors with all that’s going on…

IMG_9180They spotted a snake which I just managed to get – hence the fuzzy pic – and then it wriggled away. All muscle, they are. And stinky too! I’d caught tons of em as a girl and had forgotten that stinky ooze they poop out when frightened. Ich.

IMG_9218I’m breaking ground too. Putting in my final garden bed next to the house.

IMG_9219I’m not ever strong enough to drill a screw without first pounding out a little pilot hole. What a wimp. Takes more time this way too. Oh well.

IMG_9223After some painting and pounding, I’ve got my relatively cheap, DIY garden edging in. (Painted 2x4s with shims nailed perpendicular to em to act as stakes to hold them upright. A couple of L brackets to keep corners square.)

IMG_9232My requisite tools. Heard of Saratoga water? Bottled right here in town.

IMG_9243I’ve brought an end-of-week surprise for the kids at art camp…

IMG_9246It’s Bald Mountain! A couple of years ago I brought a rooster in for the drawing class. These clay students wanted to see him even though he wouldn’t be modeling for them.

IMG_9263He’s getting smooched whether he likes it or not. !

IMG_9299He lets out a loud crow in a small room.

IMG_9285Kestrel shows off her bas relief tile from the class.

IMG_9291Ceres says goodbye to campers and moms.

IMG_9332At my mom’s place, just up the driveway from The Studio, a turkey makes a visit (hummingbird at right by feeder).

IMG_9337Here he is up close. What plumage!

IMG_9311And here’s my guy Baldy on the short ride home. My house is about 1/8th of a mile past the sign, same side of the road.

IMG_9321Ah, the bee balm is out and the butterflies are back.

IMG_9351And my new chickens, now 3 months old, are right at home here. (Last year at this time I put in this pond.)

IMG_6581About a month ago Elihu, Mom, Andrew and I went to visit Martha in the hospital. She spent several weeks in a nursing home, and finally made it home again.

IMG_6587Martha’s always on. Aside from some hearing loss, she doesn’t miss a thing. No exaggeration.

IMG_7861Here’s Martha, eighty-six years ago at age two, in Deposit, New York. (Note how her haircut hasn’t changed!)

IMG_9124Here she is some sixty years ago…

IMG_9126Note the ashtray, ubiquitous in her generation.

IMG_9142Sometime in the ’70s, cigarette in hand (husband Frank to the left, he died in 2000) standing in the kitchen, which looks pretty much the same now.

IMG_9077The same place, forty years later.

IMG_8937As I’d driven in, I was greeted by a turkey vulture in the driveway.

IMG_8935Wish it were a clearer pic – but you can certainly see that wild red head. I made Elihu a turkey vulture costume for Halloween one year. What a crazy looking bird, and big, too!

IMG_9030Martha’s spot is no longer at the table, but behind the island, as it puts all she needs within reach. Also never far away is dog Masie, the sweetest black hound dog who lets no one near the house without great fanfare. Good watch dog.

IMG_9075Martha, holding court. Mike, Kelly, Mom and Andrew in attendance.

IMG_9088Another view… only difference through the years is the clutter. !!

IMG_9037Upstairs in this historic farm house it’s another story; quiet, still and spare. My mom and dad stayed in this room when we first began to spend our summers in Greenfield, before we bought the Old House (where Andrew lives now).

IMG_9040This is the adjacent room in which Andrew and I stayed; I vividly remember us both walking through this missing panel in the door and thinking it quite a fun game. The panel is still missing after four decades! I’m too anal to let something like this go unattended. Frank and Martha had a farm to run, however, and this was likely not even on the to-do list.

IMG_7868Here’s how tall I was in 1972! The very height of the door latch was decided on because it was as high as I could reach. All the kids in the area flocked to Martha and her famous kitchen, and many of us can follow our growth on the inside of this closet door.

IMG_8963American Gothic, tailgate style. Jessie and Sam are Elihu’s age – they’re in the same 4H group. Mike’s put in a vineyard in the fields we once hayed as children. Martha has given her place to this hard-working family. They’ll have a lot on their plate when that time comes.

IMG_8965Mike built this almost all himself. Next pic of this the siding will be up.

IMG_8983Impossible to count the man hours involved in planting and tending these vines

IMG_8989Fruit’s looking good now; it’s taken several years to reach this point.

IMG_8998The new barn, much of which Mike did too – the white house can be seen to its left, under the trees.

IMG_9015I learned to ride here when I was little.

IMG_9010It’s become so grown up with vegetation over the years that it’s only possible to see the whole place from the barnyard. Even then it’s almost swallowed up by greenery. I remember this as a thriving barnyard with sheep, cows and horses when I was a child, and the house, yard and gardens were much better groomed then too.

IMG_7867An old photo of the front of the house, which was built by Prince Wing in 1805 (Prince’s son’s name was Elihu).

IMG_9096After a great 88th birthday party for Martha Ward Carver, Jessie sounds me off on the shofar which her sister and I uncovered in the music room. Good thing she’s taking up trombone in the fall, I have known very few people to ever get a true sound on this thing. She can.

IMG_9103Later that night, as I sat reading on the couch, I heard a strange commotion down the hill. Soon there was a glow of flashing lights through the woods, so I had to investigate. Some poor fellow had veered to miss a deer and accidentally plummeted down the incredibly steep hill towards the marsh. Here the truck is finally towed to the road level. Trees and boulders ironically saved the driver. Talk about breaking ground! May my adventures be a little less harrowing.

 

Coasting January 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bad Bird January 22, 2014

It has been a long day. Started early and cold. When I went to let the birds out I found Bald Mountain, our three year old resident rooster, upside down and wedged in between a milk crate and the wall, his back end almost bare of feathers and covered in blood. It took a good struggle to free him without hurting him further. Shit. The goose had done it again. Maximus had recently led the flock in pecking two hens – one to death, one to the point of a mercy killing – and this time he’d taken Baldy on all by himself. I’d seen him tugging at the remaining feathers when I arrived, and while I really yearned to give him a good scolding whack, I knew it wouldn’t fix anything. Remorse is not something a goose can feel, and lessons are short-lived. Besides, I was on chicken medic duty once again. My heart sank to see several frozen trickles of blood hanging from the crate. I wasn’t even sure the rooster’d make it to the house alive. But he did, so I began my now-familiar poultry-saving regimen.

The first order of business was to get the poor fellow in the kitchen by the radiator. Next, I provided him with some water and a bowl of my custom mash of high protein feed, nutritional supplements and crushed baby aspirin. Then I waited, hoping he had enough steam left to eat and drink. It took him a while to adjust – he even had a hard time standing at first. All I could think of was my son and how much he loved this stupid bird – we’d done in dozens of gals we’d named, we’d eaten em too, but above all, Baldy meant the most to him. He’d fathered the whole flock, he himself was born of two of our very first chickens. I myself don’t hold a lot of sentiment for boy birds on the whole; they are so fundamentally motivated by the need to procreate that they become a nasty pain in the ass at some point in their lives. That goes for geese too. That damned gander leaves me alone cuz he thinks I’m his gal. (Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. He has tried to ‘get busy’ with me many times, but I won’t put up with that sort of behavior. I just swat him away and tell him ‘no’. I feel bad for the guy; he’s just frustrated and lonely, but I do have my limits!) I’m spared his wrath, but no one else is. The poor UPS guy always honks his arrival before daring to exit his truck. Piano students run from the goose, and the rooster too… Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the boys. But we need Baldy around if we’re to keep the flock going in the spring, and he means a lot to Elihu. So I wait around for the injured bird to make a move. Thankfully, within a few minutes he’s going at the bowl of mash and shortly after he’s drinking. Hope that helps. He sure looks bad. But he’s a fighter. I think he’ll make it. But the question then becomes, what do we do with him after he’s better?

Yeah, this throws a monkey wrench into things. Can’t return him to the coop cuz Max will lay into him again. So we need to quarantine him until the warm months return. Crap. That means one more chore on mama’s list. Gotta put the rooster in the brooding pen in the garage. Get him good and strong. Then, when spring comes, we can try him in the flock again. Either Max will have forgotten, or his cabin fever will have abated (I strongly believe that his behavior is a result of close quarters and cold weather). I consider the additional work load. I’m not thrilled with it, but I see no options. I make a note to discuss this with the kid later on.

Meanwhile, I have an appointment with the family attorney to go over mom and dad’s affairs, I have recess to monitor, an annual physical appointment with my doc, a chorus to accompany and a string bass to pick up. All these things go relatively smoothly but for the fact that I left something behind at the doctor’s office and had to return the twenty-some miles round trip to pick it up, plus Elihu admitted rather apologetically to me (as we were leaving school) that he had ‘a project on Egypt due tomorrow’. Really? I’d seen the email at the beginning of the month telling us of the project but had myself forgotten the due date. Half my bad too I guess. So then were were off to Walmart to buy some clay and paint. Also stopped in at mom’s to rehearse a couple of tunes for Friday’s open mic night at school (he has a set of congas there that grandma got him for Christmas). Still had to make dinner, clean up and begin the sculpture of Horus, which yet needed to be baked, cooled and painted. Time was escaping us, and it wasn’t until nine that Elihu was finally in bed. Not bad, really, when you consider all that we got done. I’d pushed the cooking temp up a bit, and then super-cooled the bust in the freezer. The whole thing was a bit on the sketchy side – Elihu’s own words – but hell, at least it was done.

As we lay in bed recapping our day, we came to the dilemma of the birds. I pitched the idea of butchering Max. While Elihu was an enthusiastic consumer of all the hens we’d done in, he told me that he would never consider eating Max. Ok, fair enough. A new home? Only if it was a good one – a humane one. No bird auctions, no unknown destinations. Ok. Then what? Elihu agreed that keeping the rooster apart til the weather warmed was about our only option. He agreed to share the duties, and we left it at that. I’m not looking forward to keeping up two bird camps, and I must admit that while I’ve shared some very special moments with Maximus, I’m quite a bit less thrilled with our goose at the moment. I’ve had enough bad birds in my life and I’m not keen on keeping company with yet another. But for the time being, Max is lucky. Our goose isn’t cooked quite yet.

Post Script: You can see Baldy in one of the three photos on the lower right of our home page here. This pic was taken almost two years ago. Elihu’s affection for his roo is easy to see. I can report that three days later Baldy is doing quite well – crowing loudly in our tiny kitchen, strutting and scratching in the manner of a chicken on the mend. His back end is mostly bare, and in near-zero temps we just can’t put him outside quite yet. As he is a fouler smelling fowl than any others I’ve ever had inside my house before, we’re going to move his digs to the basement this weekend. Out of sight, out of smell, but definitely not out of earshot. ! No alarm clocks needed here!

 

Comfort December 31, 2013

Yesterday was a false start. Or a false ending, rather, as dad didn’t make it to the crematorium. Like any other business, it too has its busy days, and I guess, as the old joke goes, yesterday, folks were ‘just dying to get in’. So I took the opportunity to arrange for the obituaries, making sure his name was correct, the date of death as we wanted (and not as it must legally be forever recorded), and of course, making sure everything was paid for. Amazing the costs involved. A small fortune just to run the obits. “This is a long piece” one woman at a paper warned me. Yeah, and dad had a long, full life. Can’t skimp now. Gotta share as much as I can. With the papers taken care of and other tiny distractions we made it through our day, but the phone call never came. That last call from the undertaker, the siren of that final trip, it never came. So I find myself here, on the morning of New Year’s Eve, my brother’s birthday, and the final day of the year, awaiting the news. It’s still something I dread, and if I think too much about it find my heart beginning to beat faster and harder. Still his beautiful hands lie folded on his chest, still he looks as he did. By tonight, by the time I’m on the train platform welcoming my young son back into my arms, my father’s body will have been transformed…

This blog feels to be getting a bit tedious by now; just how much pondering of one subject, no matter how important to me personally, is too much? It kinda feels like I’m pushing things here. But since I mean to document my adventure through life accurately, and since I am still living through this event, I’ll continue, in hopes that it doesn’t put people off. And if it does, skip it. I’m writing more for my own healing than for anyone’s amusement at this point. But if you’ll stay with me for one more paragraph, you may be uplifted to read what follows shortly….

As I was checking the stats this morning, I saw that an old post – a writing that even predates this blog – had been read. I remember that night, that journal entry. I remember Elihu singing to Mr. Roosevelt, his giant red rooster, downstairs in the office. He’d been trying to draw him, and was coaxing him to relax, to stay put, to allow Elihu a moment of stillness. Luckily, I’d had pen and paper and was able to scribble down what Elihu had been saying to his bird. My son often speaks like this. He is a thoughtful, loving and reverential boy. But it’s not often that I’m equipped to take down his wisdom as I was that evening. I feel lucky. And, in reading my young son’s words (he was six when he spoke them) I take comfort from them. His words speak to me, to my father, to the feeling of love and peace that must await us in that next world… Somehow, it almost feels as if my father has gently directed me to re-discover these innocent, healing words.

Elihu, age six, speaking to his rooster…

I come in peace, I come in peace, you can relax, I am coming to be with you in peace

To know your soul, I’m coming in peace. I come to warm your soul and to warm the soul of the earth

I come to warm the face of planet earth, I come in peace, sit and relax and do not worry

I come in peace, I mean no harm. I really don’t. Sit and relax by my side.

As soon as I’d entered the last line above, the phone rang. The funeral director told me that dad had left, and was now on his was to Bennington. And at noon, he said, we should be ready with that glass of wine… Here we go. Here goes dad, and here comes the conclusion to one part of the journey. And hopefully with it, comfort and peace.

 

Found! November 3, 2013

Julius 1

If we hadn’t seen it for ourselves, we never would have believed it. Our glorious white rooster, Julius Caesar (our first born chick this year whom we named Julie… until ‘she’ began to crow) was found. Alive. After missing for over a week! We have to thank our friend Rory, a fellow Waldorf kid and big sister of Elihu’s classmate Fiona, for finding him. Poor thing had become trapped underneath an overturned milk crate in the run and had somehow survived – since October 25th – on nothing but what he could eat and drink within his tiny confines. This miserable creature suffered torrential rains, our first frost and all-out starvation. That he lived through such prolonged hardship is beyond my understanding. But I will say that from chickhood he quickly rose to near-alpha male status and made his presence known in the flock. He was on the edge of annoying; leaving the poor girls no peace, crowing twice as frequently as any other roo, and actively challenging the other males to fights all day long. (Finding his male counterpart name was easy!) But for as bothersome as he was, it was precisely this fighting attitude which I believe carried him through his prison term. I do not think another chicken would have made it.

He weighs far less than he did – it seems he’s lost nearly half his weight this past week – but he ate ravenously when we fed him, and in just twenty-four hours he’s come a long way. He is recuperating in the bathtub on a cozy towel, with food and water near and the room made nice and toasty for him. He is still weak, and has fallen over a few times, plus he seems to have a head cold. But I’m ready for all of that – over the past couple of years I’ve assembled a tidy little first aid kit for ailing birds. Since he’s eating so well I’m relieved not to have to inject medicines down his gullet. Instead, I mix it all together in a high-protein mash. I know he’s getting what he needs, so now it’s just a matter of time before he’s out chasing the girls again.

I realize it might seem kinda strange to know that we’re essentially just restoring him to health and fattening him up in order to kill him. Cuz that is what’s gonna happen. But the more important thing here is that we offer him comfort. Our goal is to give the animals we eat happy, healthy lives – and a swift, humane dispatch. And it warms our hearts to know that he’s better, that he’s safe. Strange as it may seem, we’re not conflicted about it. We’ll treat Julius Caesar like the royalty he is until the very end. And for now, the end isn’t upon him quite yet.

Julius 2

 

R.I.P. Felix February 29, 2012

I’m so sad, but I can’t cry. We’ve lost so many animals here at the Hillhouse, and now we’ve just lost another. It’s part and parcel of life here with the wilderness just steps beyond our door. Elihu takes it in stride, but this morning my heart is unusually heavy with the loss of our dear little Bantam Silkie Rooster, Felix. I suppose when we finally do lose our beloved Molly one day, then I will cry, but for now I’m merely beset with yet another loss of a creature I’d grown to know and love, yet another irretrievable event out of my control here on our small farm, yet another inevitable tiny heartache.

I think back on a summer morning last year when we awoke to find all sixteen of our young chicks – finally on the doorstep of adulthood – mangled and dead on the floor of their brooder pen. My fault, I knew. I’d not secured the wire over the window very well, and it was an easy entrance for some creature. A creature who did not even eat his spoils. That broke Elihu’s heart more than the deaths themselves. It’s much easier to accept a death when you know it served to feed another needy stomach on the planet. But to see death for no gain – that’s a true heartbreaker.

I’m wrestling with myself this morning. Did I in fact secure the barrier plank against the coop last night?? Did I? It had been knocked over this morning, and that was my first warning something was amiss. Felix, as he’d been rather picked on by the bigger birds, had taken to spending nights under the coop rather than in it, and so I’d made sure to close the perimeter of it, leaving but one entrance point which he used like clockwork to let himself in each evening. In the morning, my routine was to kick his plank down, opening up his ‘door’ and wait for him to emerge, thereby giving him a head start over his larger cousins upstairs. But did I close him in last night? Had I perhaps forgotten? Or was there a highly motivated creature here last night who’d simply knocked the plank down himself? I’m pretty sure it was the latter, but since I can’t be sure my mind goes tormentingly round and round.

In the end, there is nothing I can do so I must let it go. I make one more hopeful look around the property, waiting for that familiar lift my heart always feels when I first see the strutting of his poofy little legs and goofy little silhouette. He is here, he is there, he has always been somewhere about, and to come upon him all at once is always a joy – a tiny bright spot in one’s day. One cannot look upon a silkie and not smile. But his was a lonely life – the only one of his miniature kind, always skirting the edges of the main flock lest his tail feathers be plucked to bleeding by the other birds as they had been many times before. And as his feathers are fluffy rather than tightly zipped up as most birds’ are, he’s unable to fly, making him an easier target still. The irony to me is blunt: Elihu and I had only yesterday decided we’d set out to find him two hens this week, and they were to be Gretchen and Gertrude. It gave us peace to know that soon our dearest little Felix would not be alone, and his way in the world might be lighter.

Well, Felix is no longer in this world, and I’m sure his way is indeed much lighter today. Some other forest creature has satisfied a long empty belly, and Felix’s cares are all ceased. Rest in peace, little rooster. Thanks for the joy you brought us. We’ll miss you.

Post Script: A “bantam” is a miniature breed of chicken, standing about eight inches tall. Silkies have fluffy white feathers – even on their feet! – and dark purple skin with blue combs. They really are pretty adorable. And they’re very soft to the touch. Here is what our Felix looked like:

http://liselfwench.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/800px-silky_bantam.jpg