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
Putting the “Modern” Back in “Mid-century,” and other tales.
With my sisters’ blessing and my oversight (and work), changes are coming to the house we grew up in from its construction in 1960. My parents took out a $50,000 loan from my father’s brother to build the house. Presumably there was money from the sale of the house we lived in on the south bay of Puget Sound in Olympia, but the loan is all I know for sure. We called it “the house that Donald’s jack built,” and he came from Michigan for the celebration when the loan was paid off not too many years later. The times they have changed.
The house has gotten tired in the almost six decades since then. My mom wasn’t crazy about change, and she couldn’t see—or didn’t notice—the dinge, so nothing much happened after my dad died in 1995. The kitchen got an update a few years ago when the pipe under the sink burst and Rebecca was in charge of repairs. Somehow she talked our mom into new counter tops and color on the yellow walls, along with the floor that had to be replaced.
I repainted the master bedroom some months ago, but over the past several weeks, some major work has been happening in the ceiling. The four skylights in the kitchen and hall have been opened up from the drop ceiling to reveal the sky, removing the cracked and stained opaque plexiglass panels that have covered them for 58 years (some having been replaced by even cheaper material in the “they don’t make it like they used to” vein). Matching cracked and duct-taped panels also covered florescent lights in the kitchen where there was no skylight and have been closed in and recessed lighting installed.
Ceiling before, sans the one cracked and warped panel that shattered during yellow jacket nest removal.
Opening the sky.
Rebuilding the newly exposed orifices. Plaster and plaster dust everywhere.
And the florescent lights in the bathroom are gone, gone, gone. A new and smaller glass panel now filters the natural light there, where a support beam bisects the skylight making opening it up untenable. I found my dad’s notes up there, penciled onto a “tubafore” when he changed the bulbs so he could monitor their promised guarantee, dating from 1966. I’ve painted the bathroom (no more lavender) to go with the new bathroom floor (an earlier project) and replaced hardware on the bathroom cabinets. Next up is major work on the outdated leaky tub and shower fixtures. Alas, I think the pink tile will have to go.
The bathroom skylight was completed today! And dimmers put on the eleven recessed lights; cuz you know, I don’t like overhead lights. And new under-counter lights in the kitchen too. Battery operated. No more cords and florescent bulbs. Yehaw!
As soon as the messy part of the project was complete, I was there with my paint roller covering the dirty beige walls in the hall, additionally dinged by my mother’s walker the last few months she lived in the house. The floors and trim are next! Huge thanks to H&S Custom Interiors, who are the absolute best, always willingly (or they fake it well) doing additional little tasks for me. You know, as long as they’re here. I love this small town family of independent business owners I have fallen into.
In other news, the garden has been put to bed, leaving the mole-destroyed brick walk and gate and fence repairs for spring. I picked (and ate) the last of the chard last night. Or maybe not, that stuff has staying power.
I wish she and her family (five of the them) would eat the spent daisies and black-eyed Susans so I wouldn’t have to get out there and chop them down, which I should be doing right now. I caught her dining on a large fungus.
In the occasional serendipity ofoperating an Airbnb (Three of Earth Farm, Centralia, Washington) last week my guest came to my door to meet me and asked if I knew who he was. No. He hadn’t known who I was either when he made the reservation—Airbnb doesn’t reveal the last names of hosts. He lives in California, but grew up in Centralia, his family and mine attending the same church. He was in town for the memorial service of his brother-in-law; whom, it turns out, was the retired owner of the mechanic shop (Ernie’s Rapid Lube) I take my car to. A beautiful person who created a great business; one that made my transition back to my hometown with an elderly car a bit easier, I was planning to (and did) attend the service as well. I was unaware of the connection between the two families. Small world.
The Women’s Writing Circle series I facilitated this autumn—in the midst of the renovations, which are being completed today as I write this—met for the final session yesterday. As my 60-year-childhood home was exploring new life, we nine women explored some of the themes of our past lives and looked to whatever is still to come. Writing, reading, laughing, crying. They all want to come back for another series. I am bursting with gratitude for these beautiful women and our extraordinary stories.
And this morning the sky danced.
And now I’ve got to either get back to the garden or make muffins for tonight’s guests. Or both.
I can’t even say how much I wanted it to be raining today when I got home from yoga. I’m about to be gone for the better part of three weeks, and, after mostly putting off yard work for the past month (or three), there are things that need to be done. I don’t want to do them.
Like my garden. It’s a train wreck. And it will stay that way for now.
Like putting away the hoses that I did at least gather up a week or three ago and left semi-coiled in the wheelbarrow that I need to clean out aforementioned train wreck. I needed a new place for the hoses because I need to clean out the shed where they sprawl on the floor all winter like so many vipers in takeover mode. I despise hoses. Can they not make one that ordinary humans can wind into a factory coil?And then there are the two I can’t get apart.
And maybe someday I will finish getting the 55-year-old junk out from under the shed. Though to be fair to myself, there is far less driftwood, beach rocks, and sea shells than there once was.
But what about the pot of Mt. St. Helens’ ash? Why oh why oh?
Like clean the skylights that the yet-to-be-finished house renovation has opened up. Whoa! That’s an improvement. I can see clearly now.
But once on the roof, of course, I noticed it needed to be cleaned off. Again. There are seven downspouts that get blocked. A couple of weeks ago—or three—it was maple tree debris; now the shedding fir trees. The fallout lines nearly the entire perimeter of the roof, leaving standing water along same when it rains. And surely it will. Rain. Again. Someday.
The good news is between the monthly roof cleaning and frequent hiking in high places, I have conquered my aeroachrophobia.
Like turn off the sprinkler system for winter. I found one of the shutoff valves buried under eight inches of dirt that had to be dug out, thanks to the friggin’ mole. There’s a hole in the side at the bottom. I put in some plastic mesh in hopes that next spring it won’t be filled up again.
Four jobs done. Not even a rain drop in the proverbial bucket. It’s too much. I want someone else to do it. I miss my dad. I don’t know how he did it all.
In more interesting news, the women’s legacy writing series I am facilitating started this week. It was great! This is what I want to be doing at Three of Earth Farm. I want it to be a retreat center. But if someone doesn’t prune trees and rebuild rotting steps and take care of the gardens and clean out 58 years worth of s*** , it’s not going to happen. And right now that someone is me. And I’m too old.
There’s a new muffin at Three of Earth Farm Airbnb in Centralia, Washington! There are openings in August. It’s a great time to visit the Pacific Northwest and take a day trip or two to mountains or ocean or one of many great hikes (including right beyond your door). Pass the word!
Plum-Walnut Streusel muffin with handpicked plums from the neighbor’s tree.
It was one of those mornings when you’re just glad to be alive: cool and fragrant, birds singing, flicker pecking, doves waking up, owl calling goodnight. With the promise of way too much heat, the last two days I have left my chair in the living room corner early after my 5:00 (or so) bed-leaving, staying only long enough for coffee.
Yesterday I took the second cup of coffee to the barn door in the just-risen sun. I haven’t done that for a long time. Of course then I noticed the blackberry vines still cruising into the barn, and the bramble around my sitting log, and the trail on each side of the barn I still haven’t cleaned out.
I tossed out the rest of my now-cooled coffee—the second cup is never as good anyway—and went down to the mailbox in the garden to get my leather gloves. I pulled the native blackberry vines out from in and around the barn, my mother would be appalled, and cleared enough of one trail at least enough to walk through, and the other one more thoroughly. Not done yet, there is still the pile to haul off, but I’m checking it off my list.
Off course, by then, the sun was shining on the house gardens and I had to do the planned activity in the sun after all. Also not finished. Need to get the St. John’s wort beaten back. Maybe after it sheds its sunny little personal fireworks display that are just beginning to pop.
Today, up early again, I did not ignore the voice telling me I would be so happy if I cleaned the Airbnb suite for tonight’s guests before I went out to work. I should have ignored it. The target was the garden my sister created when she moved back to the homestead sixteen years ago. By the time I got out there it was already too hot for pulling run-rapant thyme, euphorbia, and creeping Jenny; and wandering sweet peas and more blackberry vines that will take over the house if not beaten back. I persevered and reached my goal of cleaning out and mulching half of it.
Rebecca and I have each had our gardens to create, while letting our mother be in charge of her pet area. My garden, dubbed “the garden where nothing will grow,” because that’s what my mother said would happen if I wasted my money trying, is looking good. It could have used a few more plants from this year’s Master Gardeners’ sale. Next year.
Now I’m having to care for hers too and she would not, I think, be happy with what I have done—or, in truth, not done. I tried, finally, on Sunday, to get it under control after ignoring it all spring—pulling out all the ^@#* lemon balm and buttercups I could get my hands on, and of course, the blackberries—but quickly discovered I can’t fix it this year. It needs a professional, and a make-over. Maybe I’ll just let it go rogue.
As I finished for today, I had one of those moments while hauling the wheelbarrow full of detritus to the dumping ground: my mother is gone. Forever gone. What about the questions I hadn’t asked? The ones I don’t know yet I wanted to ask? She’s gone—two months on Thursday. My father is gone—23 years on Thursday. I can’t ever ask them anything. Never ever again. The answers died with them.
It’s inconceivable to me.
I can only guess, and watch for clues on this property they poured their heart and soul into for half a century. It will also ask the questions.
One of the questions I did ask my mother, just a few weeks before she left, was if my father did all this work himself, even as his body began to betray him. “Yes,” she said.
That is also inconceivable to me.
Tomorrow I’m taking the day off from work to celebrate my birthday on a hike in the Gifford Pinchot NF. A short one, with minimal elevation gain (Flutterby will do the bulk of it). My body is tired.
And now the sun is setting on my favorite garden and I’m heading toward my last sleep before my 66th anniversary.
The sun has set on my mother too, and some moments I am overcome with, not grief exactly, but disbelief. And nostalgia. Nostalgia for the halcyon days of my childhood, heightened by caring for this place where I set down roots, pulled them up, transplanted them, and brought them back to their native beginnings.
It was on my list; has been for a year at least. Just not for today. Today was trail clean out day. But all of sudden, there it was, calling to be done. I dropped my sickle and loppers and got the ladder and the wire cutter.
We didn’t have a television until I was in junior high. Well, for a while in fourth grade we had my grandmother’s black and white, I don’t know why. Then we got our own TV when I was in seventh grade and went back to watching Lawrence Welk and the Lennon Sisters when we visited our granny.
I suppose we had rabbit ears back then. I don’t think the antennae showed up until I had left home and my parents went high tech. It was mounted on a tower at the highest place on the property, some distance from the house, in what was then the edge of the horse pasture. Now it’s a grove of trees and there is a satellite dish below the house, but mostly I watch Netflix.
Pieces of the aluminum antennae blew down over the years, bits every winter I suppose. I collected them a couple years ago, from where they’d lain dormant in the underbrush, spray painted them, and put them in the garden. They are practically buried now because I haven’t cleaned out the bed this year. Yeah, it’s on my list too. The sweet peas are in takeover mode.
When I had 40 dead trees cut in the grove that used to be a pasture a few years back, I had the woodsmen take down the precipitously leaning tower too. But the cable remained tacked, disconnected and useless, onto the side of house, stretched across the yard, up over the trail to the meadow, threaded through trees, tacked high on a pole midway through (it’s still tacked to the pole; I didn’t want to drag the ladder up there). Yards more lay on the ground after the antennae was removed.
Today I hauled out the ladder, leaned it up, and cut ‘er down. Another vestige of my past, gone. How is it that the removal of such a slender thread seems to have opened up the sky?
Meanwhile, the rhodies continue their best of show performance. I cleaned out the gravel path by the front door—another task not on the list—after deciding not to prune the ancient rhododendron overgrowth, the blooms are too pretty and still coming. I hope they last until my mother’s service in two weeks.
The bathroom floor got redone last week—it’s beautiful—and the 1960 chrome towel rods have been replaced with polished nickel. Best of all, when I took out the horrid towel tree by the tub in preparation for the work, I realized I didn’t have to put it back! Now there’s a nice nickel rod in its place.
And this week the sagging corner of the deck got a new beam and an additional post, replacing the rotten beam. I can have a dance party on the deck now. And have added painting to my to do list.
I’m following in my mother’s footsteps, getting stuff done; but only one path got cleared today, the one that goes through the woods that didn’t used to be woods. Only one of my mother’s beloved wild tiger lilies lost its life in the process. I’m mourning that one though.
I did finish up the service guide for my mother’s memorial service, and cut a few words from my eulogy. So there’s that. As my sisters and I plan for the last hurrah, life goes on here on the hill. This blog post wasn’t on my list either.