I don’t know why I resent the change of season that forces me outside to work. When I get out there I love it. The intoxicating woodsy smell, the warmth in the air, the budding, well, everything. I come alive.
Until I start the work part. Then it’s hot. I’m sweaty. I’m quickly overwhelmed by all that needs to be done. I want to crawl back into the deep winter cave.
So I do some, enough to feel the satisfaction of accomplishment, then stop. Today my goal was to finally get the meadow cleared of winter blow down so my friend who mows for me can get the job done. When it dries out enough. He doesn’t like to wait until it gets as long as it is now. We’ve had so much rain the past couple of weeks, the grass has gone crazy. But he couldn’t mow because there has been so much rain the past couple of weeks.
I quickly abandoned my three-years-running idea to mow a labyrinth in one corner of the meadow. Nearly impossible with my non-motorized mower. I don’t need one more hard thing to keep up with. But I did finally give it a shot instead of just thinking about it.
After I unloaded three heaping barrows full of branches, including some from the edges that weren’t in the way of the mower but that would soon be covered with the creeping blackberry vines I did not pull out pinning the branches to the ground, I moved on to my garden. It needs way too much for the time and interest I had today. Focus, I told myself. Do one thing.
I got the buttercup out of the strawberry bed. I hate buttercup so, so, so much. Yeah, cheerful little yellow flowers (later), makes you want to bust into song. Right. Not so much. It takes over wherever it goes, which is everywhere. It is impossible to pull out. It grows too tall to just let it be ground cover. Did I mention I hate it?
It comes up wherever there is a crack. Such a bloody opportunist. Note my peas coming on!
Fortunately, it came out of the fertile soil in the strawberry patch amazingly easily. I didn’t even try to get it out of the native soil flower bed or the cracks around the raised beds. Another day. Last time I took a hoe to a bed of weeds, I tore my trapezius muscle and was out of commission for a month, which didn’t really break my heart. Summer before last I put black plastic over a whole strip to kill the buttercup, where I wanted to continue the brick walk above ground in a bed of wood chips. Then last summer the moles destroyed much of the walk that is already in the garden and I’m feeling defeated.
I don’t really hate that chives are coming up in my tiny patio. But there’s the buttercup too. I took a shortcut and didn’t put plastic under the bricks. Now I have to take them all out and put down plastic. There are no wise shortcuts in the garden.
And what is this stuff anyway? I pulled it out of the root vegetable bed (there beyond the one where carrots, beets, and parsnips have poked through), but have still to pull it out for the green beans. Fortunately it comes up easily.
Rhubarb. And I’ve just remembered you aren’t supposed to let it flower. Oh well. Whatever.
I pulled a few more weeds, then called it a day and spent the next 30 minutes wandering the property and reminding myself why I love it here. Seems like the smart way to finish off any period of work. Like meditating: note what is going through your mind (so much to do), then dismiss it. Or to quote Scarlett: Tomorrow is another day.
The rhodies are coming. And the one I feared wouldn’t survive the tree limbs that fell into it is full of bud.
My apple trees, that once again didn’t get pruned this year.
My mother’s old-fashioned bleeding heart.
The lilac is about to burst.
Euphorbia. I just let it have its way. It’s all that will grow in the crappy soil and it doesn’t care if it gets no sun or bakes.
I did my favorite (not) task yesterday: cleaned out the Himalayan blackberry thicket. I call it “freeing Sleeping Beauty.” While other locations I have occupied space in (i.e. the Southeast) have poison ivy, copperheads, and kudzu, the HB (Rubus armeniacus) is arguably the most challenging wild thing I deal with here. (Well, and the dastardly moles; getting rid of them is another hopeless cause.) It is an aggressive noxious weed with stout canes and wicked thorns that form an impenetrable thicket (think Prince Charming) and have a significant impact on native vegetation and wildlife. And there is almost no chance of eradicating it. And did I mention the dead canes are even nastier than the live ones?
This particular thicket is mostly only a problem for the magnificent man who mows the meadow, but it has gotten out of control. It has gotten out of control because I always wait to tackle it until it’s too hot to wear heavy clothes, and it can’t be done without donning heavy clothes. And so I only cut away at the edge and leave the rest to grow—40 feet up into the trees and out into the meadow to grab the hapless passerby.
It was not my intention to dive in yesterday. I cleared a trailhead from storm blowdown then headed to the corner of the thicket to remove another impediment to mower and trail access, and was going to call it a day. Then, there were the blackberries. I had on the right clothes (though I could have used face armor, I snagged my nose twice, lip, and cheek), the wheelbarrow, and the loppers. Might as well just do it.
Once I started, I was determined to finish; I did not want to come back to it. I filled the wheelbarrow twice and was ready to call it done. Until I realized I could now access the farther back vines and get all of it out of the trees. Ugh. I filled the wheelbarrow again. And now it is done. Next year it won’t be so hard. Maybe. It grows more than 25 feet in a season.
Despite last week’s surprise snow, things seem well on the way toward a season change now. Other people have crocuses and daffodils. I don’t know where mine are; maybe the moles ate the bulbs. My Lenten rose is MIA too. Weather Underground boasts 71º next Monday and Tuesday and I will have to decide if one of them is an adventure day or if they are both work days.
All the spring flowers I have. The deck pot of narcissus my mother always asked about is oddly empty.
Monday is definitely a work day. My far away sister will be in town and it’s my in-town sister’s day off (this month anyway) and I’m putting them to work on the “farm,” pre-installation painting of 450 feet of trim for baseboard and door frames. But there’s still Tuesday. Perhaps next week’s blog will be an Adventure Log.
After the Friday snow, Sunday was a spectacular day and I pulled on my boots and headed outside while my cute floor installer and his weekends-only side-kick finished putting in the beautiful hardwood floors that didn’t quite get finished while I was away.
(Paneling removed, to be drywalled and painted. Stay tuned.)
There were maaaaannnnny tasks to choose from and there is no point in prioritizing them because they all have to be done. Maybe I should have chosen preparation of the raised beds in my vegetable garden, but I haven’t even ordered seeds yet, so pffft. I could have repaired the fence and gates, or pulled out the bricks in the walkway the moles destroyed last autumn. (I’m considering inhumane measures for those fiends this year.)
I could have picked up winter blowdown in the woodlot that used to be meadow that I didn’t pick up the last two springs, which was a big mistake. Or maybe the fir branches in the meadow that have to be gone before the first mowing. Or cleared trails from overgrowth and downed limbs. Or returned to my mother’s garden (read that story here), or any of the other flower beds that need to be weeded and mulched. I could have cut up the small tree that collapsed into the far corner of the meadow and is in the way of the mower, and is where this year I hope finally to follow through with my idea to mow a labyrinth.
But I arbitrarily chose to scrape the fir needles and silt from the edges of the driveway before it started growing. It was a task I knew I could finish and that wouldn’t take all day. I gained a foot of pavement on each side and hauled three wheelbarrow loads of the rich loam down to a long abandoned strip of vegetation where the soil washes down the hill. I will probably never try to make it beautiful, but I will show it what love I can. Maybe the daisies and euphorbia will be happier. I can hear my mother saying, “Nothing will grow there. It’s not worth your money.” It’s almost enough to make me want to try.
As I continue to read stories my father and his siblings wrote about life on the Michigan farm where they grew up, I ran across one about how my grandfather eased the plow-pulling horses into spring work after the relative ease of their winter workload—mostly just pulling the wagon of milk to market or the sleigh for Sunday family excursions. He took care of his horses so they could take care of the farm, and hence the family.
My grandfather and my father. c. 1918
I’m taking a page out of his playbook and easing my aging body into the work of spring. There was much more to do, the weather was perfect for more, I still had energy, and there was an extra hour of late day light. But I stopped. I had done three hours of heavy work, it was enough for early season.
As I put away the wheelbarrow, shovel, and blower, and straightened my spine, I was both pleased with having finished the task and overcome with the heaviness of all there is to do. For one thing, I had ignored the blackberry vines along the driveway that need to be pulled out before they cross to the other side. I shook it off. I did one good task, there will be other days.
Before I went inside, I sent a message to a local Facebook friend who works with the local Girl Scout council, asking her if she knew of a troop earning money for opportunities. She responded immediately that she does. Many hands make light work. I will hire out the winter blow down…and maybe the blackberry vines too.
I returned to the house as Chris and Corey were loading their tools. Corey, who had been there alone on the weekend, told me a story. He had left the sliding glass deck door open and a hummingbird flitted inside. He followed it around with a broom trying to coax it toward the door. The hummer was having nothing of it. Finally, exhausted, it lit on the corner of a windowsill and sat trembling with fear. Corey scooped it up and held the tiny quivering being in his cupped hands as he went outside to release it. “It was so soft,” he said in wonder, “but it was lighter than air.”
It reminded me that I have a choice as I care for my family’s beautiful property. I can choose to see it as a burden that has been dumped on me and weighs me down. Or I can choose to see it as a privilege lighter than air. Either way, I am the guardian for now, and I reap both the responsibility and the good fortune.
I’m immersed in the past living in this house, even as I continue to update it. I’ve moved more stuff to the storage room permanently as I empty rooms temporarily for the installation of new flooring. I hold in my hands a pink and white crocheted hot pad, that perhaps my grandmother made, from the dining room buffet drawer and wonder what I’m to do with it.
I find three small plates in the back corner of the buffet cupboard and read the note my mother wrote eight years and eleven days before she died in her strong script that held no hint of what was to come. Of course she included instructions. The plates don’t bring me joy, but they are heirlooms. Sigh. Three plates, three daughters. At least I only need put one back in the cupboard.
Knowing they would eventually come down to paint the wall, I removed the award plaques and certificates from my father’s study several weeks ago and crammed them into a cupboard in the basement. I talk to my friend Elizabeth who has been my caregiving pen pal for years as we cared for our mothers on opposite coasts and tried to stay in touch with our sanity. Her mother just died. Finally. She’s cleaning out her mother’s apartment, bringing boxes to her house. She also cleaned out her childhood home when she moved her parents closer to her a few years back, and took boxes to her house.
“Think of all the wood and metal award plaques in this country,” she says. “What are children to do with them in the end times? They mean nothing to anyone but the recipient. [Even that, only at the moment of the handshake.] We’re filling up landfills with things that will last thousands of years!” I hadn’t thought of that. The cheap trophies every child who plays t-ball gets at the end of the season… “They should be banned,” Elizabeth says.
I am proud to say I haven’t a single plaque or trophy to my name. My children can thank me later for being so unremarkable. The tiny plaster of Paris busts of dead musicians I got as a piano student were long ago sent to the landfill, before I knew to worry about that. I did not inherit the Depression era saver gene—or my parents unknowingly drove it from me.
The margarine containers our mothers didn’t throw out so as not to fill landfills are left to us to discard. (Hopefully when they are put in recycling bins, they actually do turn into something new.) The military uniforms. (The local museum has all they need.) Eleven 3-inch binders of letters written between 1942 and 1946. (I’m told there is a national museum in Louisiana that might take them when I’m finished with them.) All! This! Stuff! Multiplied by hundreds of thousands of parents who came of age at the confluence of the Great Depression and the beginning of WWII who have or are leaving it all behind at the speed of light.
This is sounding remarkably similar to my post at the beginning of the month. (Read it here if you missed it.) It’s my life right now, and some day my sisters and I really will have to figure out what to do with the pink hot pad and all the rest. But that is not today.
I spent a rare full day Sunday working on my new writing project. Not actually writing, mind you, but preparing. I’m still revising my memoir of years of elder care and accompaniment too. 138,000 words is down to 113,000. It needs to be fewer than 100,000 before I can even hire an editor.
I’m itching to move on to my epic undertaking involving the 11 binders of letters and a collection of stories my father and his siblings wrote about their childhood on the farm if I have any hope of finishing it before I die. And I need full days to immerse myself. But there’s this old house and its stuff and the roof needs to be cleaned off again and there is a blocked trail and at least three large branches down to saw into firewood and spring weeds and blackberry vines are coming soon to the overgrown property and someone needs to be hired to rebuild rotting steps and paint the deck.
I’m reading my aunt’s letters now, and it’s throwing me back in time to the departed generation of my family long before I knew them. She’s in Africa, Italy, and France in 1943 and 1944, washing clothes in cold water in an army helmet, trying to breathe on frigid days when the wind blows through the pipe of the coal stove and fills the room with smoke and soot, and the hospital unit has moved again and she’s back in a tent with dirt floors. She falls in love, twice. I’m wondering with her what happened to her navy man Roy when letters are returned “whereabouts unknown.”
I unfold a letter to her little brother and a photograph of Bill, her second love, falls out. “The next addition to the Staebler family” is written on the back. I read that they applied for a wedding license, but she doesn’t know if they will still be in the same country when, or if, it comes—or if he will even be alive. I know there is drama to come; he was not my uncle.
I’m there with my grandmother as she provides shelter for my mother while my father provides weather forecasts for bombardiers in England; imagining her writing hundreds of letters and reading those from her far away children, making notes on envelopes to remind her of what they have asked her to send them: film (if she can find it), popcorn, chocolate, pajamas.
I have a lively communication with two of my cousins who accompany me on this journey through the Staebler archives. David, bless his heart, is executor of our uncle’s estate, which included cleaning out the farm house the family lived in for a century. At least there are no 30-year-old jars of canned tomatoes in my house. His sister Linda sorted through my aunt’s and uncle’s letters to their mother and put them in five of the binders to go with those my father wrote to his young wife and his mother. She’s downsizing her living space soon and is sending me our aunt’s scrapbooks, photographs, and account of her service. (Insert wide-eyed emoticon.) David has found photographs our grandmother took of life on the farm and is scanning them for me. I’m thrilled to receive it all; and…more stuff.
I sit here at my desk now and wonder how I’m going to pull all this together and get it between book covers. And will anybody care? Which reminds me, I still have my mother’s tapes of her life story to transcribe. I care. Maybe all that matters is to know that I honored their living. And that I remember them.
H opeful is the way I am choosing to begin this new year. It’s so much lighter than despair. A new year is a good place to take a break to look to the future, to set goals and intentions, to peek around corners. P erhaps there are frightening things there, monsters in the closet and such, P erhaps, though, the monsters are really just wanting to be friends. You get to decide, I get to decide, we each get to choose how we see the world, how we see ourselves.
N ew year’s eve I sat in candle light, wrote down what I wanted to let go of, and burned it in the fire place. Bye, bye “not good enough.” E ven as I did it the words “you are an imposter” lurked in my head. W hat I said was, “Go away. You get in the way of wonder and wow and I don’t want you here.”
Y ou never know what’s going to present itself in coming days and months, you just meet it head on. E very dawn is a new opportunity to turn your world on its ear. A m I good enough? Yes, I am! Go on, R abble rouse in your own life. Dream big. Then go for it!
I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I saw my neighbor and one of these days I needed to go knock on his door with muffins or homemade soup. At 91, he has had some heart health issues this fall. I’ve been concerned, I check in with his daughter now and then, but I’ve not rung his doorbell for a while. You know how it is, best intentions.
I’ve been thinking for some time it’s been too long since I walked in the woods. How many times have I promised myself to get in there at least once a week? You know how it is, best intentions.
After Thanksgiving weekend with the Littles and their moms here at Three of Earth Farm, I didn’t go to Seattle for my weekly 30 hour gig away from home―including five hours driving time―and by Tuesday it already felt like I had an expanse of time not usually available. When the rain stopped and the sun unexpectedly came out, I went out in my orange rain boots to check on the supply of firewood left to lie in the woods near the house when the man I hired to cut and split a fallen tree just stopped working on it.
After seeing there is indeed still a lot of wood scattered about that’s small enough for burning if I pull it out from under branches and blackberry vines and wheelbarrow it down the trail to the rack where the supply is rapidly diminishing, I spontaneously head across the meadow to the trail by the barn to walk in my mother’s playground. She didn’t hike in the mountains like I do, but hour for hour, she spent far more time on the trail than I.
Reaching the main trail, I see Robert coming toward me. He has walked the trails most every day for years, but for the past several months I was thinking he wasn’t able to. I’m ecstatic to see him out and about again. His dog Gracie trots down the trail toward me. I’m not a dog lover, but I am very fond of Gracie. I put my arms around her broad neck and pull her in close; then give Robert a hug when he reaches us.
We stand on the trail and talk. I have no where else to be and nothing else I need to be doing that is more important than this. Robert had emailed me a month or two ago that he had discovered an apple tree on the trail he’d never noticed before; spotted it because it bore a single apple. I haven’t figured out where it is and I ask him now. Turns out we are standing under it. It’s spindly and unformed, imitating the miles of vine maple in these woods. No wonder no one noticed it. It’s near where there were remnants of a rotting ancient puncheon road when I was a child, the boards that kept the wagon wheels from sinking into mud on alleged cattle drives through here, returned to soil now.
Robert muses that a wagon driver—or maybe a child sitting on the back, legs dangling—threw an apple core out and a seed took hold. The single apple was good, he says, maybe a Gravenstein.
We go on to reminisce about our former neighbors. The Holits were a German couple, still with thick accents even after decades in the States. I told Robert I remembered making fudge with Margaret at Christmas, standing on a stool in front of her stove stirring the bubbling chocolate. When their house was cleaned out, after they moved to California to live near their son, I happened to be home and acquired the spoon we used to stir the fudge, it’s end worn down from years of scraping the bottom of the hot pot. He tells me, when the home sat empty for a time, he found a box of silverware overlooked on top of a beam in the basement; and later a box of sample awards ribbons from, presumably, Gene’s father’s family business in Germany before WWI in a dark corner, and something (I’ve forgotten what) with the Kaiser’s picture on it.
Robert remembers helping Gene cross the steeply sloping road to get his mail out of the box. Paying it forward, as it turns out, he says, as now the Holit’s niece, who raised her children in her aunt and uncle’s house, brings Robert his mail. (I really need to get my newly purchased mailbox painted and back in its rightful place between theirs.) We’re silent for a moment then, remembering times and people who are gone.
He tells me another maple tree fell recently behind his house. These damp woods that were my childhood playground are so old. The big leaf maples are nearing the end of their long lives, their grey crowns broken and leafless. They are host to mosses and licorice fern, adding to the rain forest feel of these woods. Lichen clings to everything, making the forest look like a host of hoary old men.
I go on to Staebler Point, and Robert and Gracie continue their trek home. I turn back toward the house as the clouds drop into the trees, rendering the forest mysterious and a little spooky in the mist. As I walk back through the now empty arching vine maples where we had stood talking, I realize that, like my mother and father and the Holits and Robert’s wife Sandy, someday Robert will no longer grace these woods with his presence. Like the maples, we all come to the end.
I’m hanging up my coat as the earlier rains return, pouring onto the roof I need to clean off again. Just a pocket of time, snatched for a rendezvous in the woods with a neighbor. I vow—again—to stop by more often, and hope I run into Robert and Gracie.
I found this poem when I Googled big leaf maple (acer macrophyllum). Overlooking the exclusive language, it seems a serendipitous find.
A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love. – Basil