Sunday, November 23, 2014

in this space

I am going to take a break from this space for the next week.  I plan to be in this spot, where I spent much of the afternoon, as often as I can.  Reading, playing cribbage, being together.  As close to the fire as is possible.  With something warm and delicious in my hands.  I hope you all have a wonderful week. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

river bank antics and palette

A thin layer of ice formed on the surface of the river this week.  

The colors are fading, and with the exception of a few stragglers, the leaves are mostly down.

Several mornings we have woken to a dusting of snow.  There is much that should be done before the ground freezes.  

Things to be tidied and put away.

I had plans to insulate and shore up the chicken coop before the cold set in, wanting to be less dependent on a heat lamp on the coldest of days this year.  

But just as I likely missed my chance to put some of my bulbs in the ground, I may have missed my chance to get all the winter preparations complete.  

Our firewood still needs to be stacked.  

I have a bit more work to do in the beeyard to get them ready for winter.

And still, as I head around the property each day doing what needs to be done and worrying a bit about whether it is going to warm up just a bit, just enough for me to do some of this work, there are still glimpses of color out there.  Patches of green.  Trickles of water as the sun warms the snow and ice enough to run down the bank to the river.

The other night, I was in the garden at dusk, which happens now around 4:30.  Really.  I was looking for carrots by headlamp.  You know, a typical evening here.   And I heard rustling and looked over at the coop and saw the feeder swinging as though something had just been eating from it, though I knew the chickens had already roosted up above for the night.  

Without really thinking, I headed over to see what was going on, entered the fenced area, heard a bit of scrambling, looked in the direction of the noise, and saw eyes.  Eyes glowing, in the tree above my head, looking down at me.  I stared back at them.  They were about three feet from my face.

I have come a long way here.  Well, first, I now use a headlamp.  To free up my hands. To carry things.  And perhaps defend myself.  Or catch myself when I trip.  And also, I no longer scream and run in the face of nocturnal sounds and unidentified eyes in the headlamp light.  

Slowly, the eyes turned away from me and I saw slow movement down the tree trunk on the other side of the fence.  Three raccoons, two small and one larger turned and stared at me once they reached the ground.  Eventually, they turned and walked away into the dark of the river bank.

The next morning, I went looking.  I found two things I might not otherwise have seen if these raccoons hadn't also been making preparations for the coming cold. 

One of our pumpkins.  Just beyond the chicken coop.

Clawed open.  And devoured.

And nearby, the leaves all down from a patch of trees, I saw this.

Invisible during the summer when the leaves shielded it, it was a rather sizable wasp nest.  I took down the branch it was on.  And investigated.  All the wasps that remained were dead, likely during the cold snap.

I was struck by its coloring, grey, with streaks of green in the paper.  

Orange leaves were worked into it.

And you could see into the comb within.  I thought about the similarities to our honeybees' designs.

These browns and greys and greens, with lingering pops of orange hues.  There is, once you give up your longing for the bright and showy colors of summer, something gorgeous about this color palette as the world freezes over.

I brought the colors inside.  As we gradually move ourselves inside these days more and more, these muted tones, of a world becoming more quiet, slower, and heading into sleep...

...are the colors inside as well as out.

I asked Elliott if he wanted to dissect the wasp nest with me and see what it looked like inside.  

No!  It's too pretty to take apart.  Let's save it.  I feel the same way about our tray of eggs right now, too.  Instead, we are taking inspiration from their palette.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

back in eggs

We have gone without our own eggs here for some time.  Ever since a creature of the night started making off with one of our laying hens one by one.  Leaving only Raspberry as the sole survivor of our original flock.  Raspberry is a trooper.  And likely she survived these attacks because she is rather unfriendly, somewhat aggressive, and unafraid to defend herself.  We did not raise Raspberry from a chick, and her behavior shows it.  She is, in Elliott's best description, not a nice chicken.  Despite this, I am rather fond of her.  She follows me everywhere.  And for awhile, in her solitude she had the run of the place, alone and on the prowl.  And I have seen her take on a golden eagle. And win.  True story.

She has been quite a challenge to introduce to the new flock that we raised from chicks this summer and there were several moments that we whispered about whether it might be time for Raspberry to head to the farm along with roosters that kept outing themselves as the chicks came of age.  

But Raspberry seemed to know her tenuous position with us.  And despite the fact that she is rather elderly in chicken years, she continues to lay us one egg a day.  Every day.  It is hard to give that up when those eggs are the only eggs you are getting.  She is a smart lady.  And each day I have headed down to the coop and collected her egg, and checked in with the growing new hens.  

Raspberry has eventually made peace with them.  She has even begun roosting with them.  And she squawks and carries on when there is trouble in the coop at night, and has saved many a hen from being taken by a predator.  

Then, one day last week, there was another egg with hers.  Then two other eggs the next day.  And so on.  Our new flock is now laying.  And we are back in eggs.  Strangely timed, with the cold snap we are having and the days becoming short.  This is usually when hens stop laying for the winter.  But no.  My egg tray is full again.  And the eggs, the gorgeous, varied, unique eggs from our heritage breed hens are here.  After months of chick care inside then out.  Handling and feeding and bedding and tending.  We raised these hens ourselves.  And they are sweet and socialized and healthy.  

This process has taught us a great deal.  And has made these new eggs all the more beautiful and made each egg we have used taste better.  Feel better.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

walking in the first snow

It was the same walk I had taken just a few days before, but this day, we had woken to Elliott running through our room in the early morning on his way to throw on his boots and make a quick snow person before school.

Before it all melted I headed out to enjoy the snow on gold myself.

By the end of the walk, the gold was falling on the snow, and not the other way around.

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost

Friday, November 14, 2014

bubble boots

Sometimes I feel as though heading into adolescence with our growing children is like heading off into a turbulent sea without a map.  There are fewer books devoted to parenting older children, and parents seem to talk about their parenting struggles less.  I hear friends start to reveal something, then stop themselves mid-thought, and I listen to them backtrack and brush the sand back over whatever it was they had almost uncovered.  

I wonder about this sometimes.  It is as though our focus on protecting our children seems to have moved from protecting them bodily to protecting their privacy and their internal life.  Though we used to discuss openly their potty training, their tantrums, and their fears of the unexpected, we no longer discuss their body functions, their emotionality, and their current fears. This feels right.  But it is interesting since all of these struggles are still going on, but now in more sophisticated and complicated ways. What discussion there is, both written, and between people, friends who use to sit on playground benches together, is guarded.  And respectful of the people our children are becoming.

I am now in that stage of parenting when the terrain has shifted, where I have entered a new place with different demands and goals, and I am not sure when this happened.  But I look around and know it is different here.  Within the world of their younger years we had the role of keeping them safe, protecting and spending time together, filtering out what felt as though it was intrusive to their very childhood, and relishing the moments we created together.  On this side of the imaginary border where we stand now, I'm helping them to move outward, preparing them for leaving, helping them to open themselves to the opportunities, different perspectives, and the wonders of the world.  Of course, no such line actually exists, it is all the same landscape, the same work actually.  But doing what is best for them now feels like it pulls against different parts of my heart now than it did years ago.  For me, that struggle feels sometimes like loss.  But I do think that, for them, it is just more of them doing that thing they do: growing.

It's funny to me that so much of what people write about during this age is about their enormous bodies.  One would think, from reading, that we have given birth to some kind of super race, our children eventually becoming 150% larger than us, and that perhaps, two or three generations from now, humans will have doubled in size, adults being eight to ten feet tall. Houses will need to be torn down to increase ceiling height.  Canoes will be repurposed into shoes, perhaps.

But there is something there, that makes us all speak about it, their growing bodies.  Maybe there is safety in talking about their feet, much as a quiet child finds safety in looking at people's feet in difficult social situations.  As our children spurt and plunge toward adulthood, and we begin to feel the need to protect the growth and thoughts and struggles that are going on internally, we focus on their extremities, perhaps.  My own children are poster children for this phenomenon, and their feet are becoming alarmingly big.  The phrase feet like flippers tumbles around my head daily.

And just how do we adorn these growing extremities?  And more importantly, how do we make sense of, celebrate, and protect the internal growth their physical growth belies?

I am confident that this nonsense is not the answer.

I am certain that messages about their "sass" in hot neon pink on their bottoms is not the message we want to be sending about our children as they walk about their life, on the brink of attracting the attention of others, less for their sweet chubby baby cheeks and more for, your know, their intelligent and creative minds.

But man, their feet.  I now have two of three children who wear shoe sizes bigger than my own.  Another physical representation of what growth means at this age is that just because one part of their body is growing does not mean their mind, their cognitive sophistication, or even their calves, are keeping up with it.

Really.  Some clothing designer needs to make a clothing line called big feet/scrawny legs. Or something a little more catchy.  Julia's feet are a half size bigger than mine now, but the proportions between foot length, foot to knee distance, and width of calf?  It's all off.  It's all in transition.  She's just flopping around in her appropriately lengthed -- but oddly tall and wide -- boots.

I spent more time than I should have trying to figure out this footwear conundrum recently.  I laughed at myself, knowing that this wasn't really about the boots.  Just like it was never about the stroller, or the perfect bag to carry the diapers, sippy cup, and phone in.  That I was working through this newest challenge for our same child, same mind, now in a new gangly size.

It is a tricky place, in this age of strangers trying to stamp their messages on our daughters behinds, or that when one enters adult shoe sizes one is immediately ready to start wearing go-go boots.  As Julia tried on boot after boot, we laughed at some, teetered in others, and rolled our eyes at more.  Julia put words to this struggle, better than I can.  Remember those purple boots I had in 2nd grade?  I want those.  They were perfect.  They were flat, with a rubber sole.  I could run in them and they felt like I was wearing sneakers.  And they fit right up against my leg.  So they didn't slow me down when I ran, or fall off when I was swinging.  I miss those boots.

I miss those perfect purple boots too.  And I miss that Julia as well, the Julia of second grade.  But I know, like all nostalgia, that what was perfect then would not be perfect now.  Parenting this age, clothing these beasts with minds more capable of all manner of comparisons and self awareness and connection, the purple boots would likely receive an eye roll now if seen on the clearance rack.

I have decided, in efforts to try to continue the discussion of adolescence, to make it feel as though it is a continuation of all that came before, that I will continue to show the goodness of where we are now.  That second grade Julia is now Julia, still wanting to run fast, be a part of a group and not get left behind.  The amazing awesome that spills out of their mouths when we least expect it.  The ways in which they continue to force us to grow ourselves as they burst and spill and extend themselves.  They are still those creatures we prepared for, worried over, and could not pull our eyes away from even when they were sleeping.  They are just larger, of body and mind.

That's why I am loving this series: this is adolescence.  It is parents.  Writing parents.  Speaking honestly and lovingly of their children, transitioning from balls of flesh to young adults.  It is gut wrenching, exciting, heart breaking, and good.  This age forces us to stretch ourselves in ways that are exactly the most difficult ways to stretch ourselves.  I am trying to remind myself that they are now, in fact, the best version of what we hoped for each of them as we stared at the chubby big eyed versions of them, sleeping in that crib now dismantled and in the attic.
In many ways, I feel like I might be stepping gingerly into the hardest part of parenting: the actively letting go, the small glimpses of independence and shows of faith that will soon lead to driver’s licenses and Saturday nights out and college applications and internships and summers abroad and goodbyes that aren’t temporary. It’s not easy to manage the care and keeping of little people; the physical and emotional components of parenting are overwhelming when our children are young. But as thrilling as it is – and it is thrilling – to see my child grow up, healthy and ready to take on the world, my heart is heavy with the knowledge that being a good parent to him now is increasingly harder stuff than diaper changes or first grade homework. Bubble wrapping him would be easier, but it would be wrong.
This is Twelve, by Allison Tater Slate  

Indeed, bubble wrapping would be wrong.  That's why I am looking for the perfect footwear, my eyes on their feet.  Averting my eyes from direct contact, speaking of the private from a protective distance, giving our children their weather appropriate galoshes to allow them to continue to get out in it and splash.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

the art of sauntering

Fall Song
Mary Oliver

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.


Home improvements are good.  Truly, they are.  But when you work from home and there are men in your basement for weeks, wrenching old piping out and cutting and welding in new and connecting with blow torches to the new heating system, it can be a bit noisy.  And it is really hard to get your flow going when someone might appear in the room with you at any moment.  I do work best in solitude.

And so, when I drove into the driveway yesterday morning, opened my car door and heard the jolting sound of the nail gun as the woodshed received its roof shingles and saw two trucks on the lawn with the bulkhead door open and could hear the clangs and slicing and loud voices coming from within, I made a quick and firm decision.

I was going for a walk.  I ran about and did the things that needed to be done, compost, chicken care, breakfast cleanup.  And then I grabbed my mellowest, more disturbed by strangers in the house dog, Sirius, and went for a walk.


Portland Trails is a network of 70 miles of trails here in the Portland area.  We are fortunate to be able to walk to several of the trails from our house.  One runs along the opposite bank of our river, and this is where Sirius and I headed.

It is that time of year that can be overlooked, the time between the bright colors of the fall foliage and the coming snow.  But it is not to be missed.  The light, the colors, the quiet, the solitude.  It is all a bit softer, gentler.  A time when the textures are in focus, the brightness of light dimmed just enough that you feel what you see.  Bark, seen, brings a sensorial tingling to your fingers.  Much like this time is in our family.  School transitions slowly easing, routines establishing.  The brightness, the anxiety, perhaps, is shed.  I even notice it in the easing of their voices, lower, less strained, more true.  And always, always, the reminders that time is passing, shifting.  There is so much that is quiet, subtle and yet still so very important, that could be missed, so much to notice these days.  

I watched Wet Side Story unfold between two separate flocks of ducks.  

We spent an hour walking that trail, and I returned more open, better exercised, and ready to jump into my work for the day, several thoughts worked through and better developed as I walked the trail.  I could even hear the nail gun thwacking out its nails from across the river.  But returning home, thoughts flowing, head clearer, practiced in noticing, what felt like cacophony when I left felt more like the music of our home.  The sound of things moving along, and I jumped back in and did my best dance amongst the chaos.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understand the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering.
Henry David Thoreau