Orchard Mowing

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The rain eases long enough
to allow blades of grass to stand back up
expectant, refreshed
yet unsuspecting,
primed for the mower’s cutting swath.

Clusters of pink tinged blossoms
sway in response to my mower’s pass,
apple buds bulge on ancient branches
in promise of fruit
stroked by the honeybees’ tickling legs.

Bowing low beneath the swollen blooms,
caught by snagging branches
that shower from hidden raindrop reservoirs
held in the clasp of blushing petal cups,
my face anointed in perfumed apple tears.

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Giving Ground

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The air was soft, the ground still cold.
In the dull pasture where I strolled
Was something I could not believe.
Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,
Though still too frozen-flat to stir,
And rocks to twitch and all to blur.
What was this rippling of the land?
Was matter getting out of hand
And making free with natural law,
I stopped and blinked, and then I saw
A fact as eerie as a dream.
There was a subtle flood of steam
Moving upon the face of things.
It came from standing pools and springs
And what of snow was still around;
It came of winter’s giving ground
So that the freeze was coming out,
As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,
Relaxes into mother-wit.
Flowers, I said, will come of it.
~Richard Wilbur “April 5, 1974″

 

As the ground softens, so do I.
Somehow winter freeze was comforting
as nothing appeared to change,
so neither did I,
staying stolid and fixed.
But now the fixed is flexing,
steaming in its labor,
and so must I,
giving ground
and birth
to blooms.

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This To Come Back To

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He saw clearly how plain and simple – how narrow, even – it all was;
but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him,
and the special value of some such anchorage in one’s existence.
He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid space
s,
to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him
and creep home and stay there;
the upper world was all too strong,
it called to him still, even down there,
and he knew he must return to the larger stage.
But it was good to think he had this to come back to,
this place which was all his own,
these things which were so glad to see him again
and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.
~Kenneth Grahame, from Wind in the Willows about the Mole and his home at Mole End

 

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Expecting Catastrophe

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photo by Nate Gibson

photo by Nate Gibson

(originally published in Country Magazine in 2007)

Chores at our farm are rarely routine since our batch of four male kittens were born 6 months ago. They were delivered unceremoniously in the corner of one of the horse stalls by their young mother whose spontaneous adoption we accepted a mere four weeks before, not realizing we were accepting five kitties, not just one.

They were born under a Haflinger’s nose, and amazingly survived the ordeal and managed to stay safe until the next day when we came in to clean and discovered them nicely warmed near a nice fresh pile of poop. What a birthing spot this mama had chosen. Thankfully Haflingers are tolerant about sharing their space as long as you don’t ask for a share of their food too…

We moved them and mama to a safer spot in the barn, away from big Haflinger feet, and they thrived, getting more adventuresome by the week, until they are now in full adolescent glory, mock fighting with each other, scrambling up and down the hay bales, using the shavings as their personal litter box, doing rodent patrol, and most of all, strolling along the shelves that line the stalls, breathing in the Haflinger smell, and rubbing their fur up against Haflinger noses through the wire. They are best of friends with these ponies in the light of day, as after all they were born right in a Haflinger bed.

But at night it’s another story. Each evening as I come out to do chores after returning home from work, it is pitch dark and the Haflingers, out in their winter paddocks, must walk with me one by one back to their box stalls for the night. Only this is now far more of an adventure thanks to four cats who glory in stealth attacks in the dark, like mountain lions in the shadows, waiting for their prey to pass by.

These rascals are two gray tabbies, one black and one gray, all four perfectly suited to be camouflaged in the northwest dim misty fall evenings along a barely lit pathway between paddocks and barn. They flatten themselves tight on the ground, just inches from where our feet will pass, and suddenly, they spring into the air as we approach, just looking for a reaction from either the horse or myself. It never fails to unnerve me, as I’m always anticipating and fearing the horse’s response to a surprise cat attack. Interestingly, the Haflingers, used to kitten antics all night long in the barn, are completely bored by the whole show, but when the tension from me as I tighten on the lead rope comes through to them, their head goes up and they sense there must be something to fear. Then the dancing on the lead rope begins, only because I’m the one with the fear transmitted like an electric current to the Haflinger. We do this four times along the path to the barn as four kittens lay in wait, one after another, just to torment me. By the end of bringing in eight horses, I’m done in by my own case of nerves.

You’d think I’d learn to stop fearing, and start laughing at these pranksters. They are hilarious in their hiding places, their attempts to “guard” the barn door from intruders, their occasional miscalculations that land them right in front of a hoof about to hit the ground. Why I haven’t had at least one squished kitten by now is beyond my comprehension. Yet they survive to torment me and delight me yet another night. I cuddle them after the horses are all put away, flopping them on their backs in my arms, and tickling their tummies and scolding them for their contribution to my increasing gray hair.

I’m a slow learner. These are like so many of my little daily fears, which seem to hide, blended in to the surroundings of my daily life, ready to spring at me without warning, looking like much bigger scarier things than they really are. I’m a highly skilled catastrophizer in the best of circumstances, and if I have a kitten sized worry, it becomes a mountain lion sized melodrama in no time. Only because I allow it to become so.

Stepping back, taking a deep breath, if I learn to laugh at the small stuff, then it won’t become a “cat”astrophe, now will it? If I can grab those fears, turn them over on their back and tickle their tummies until they purr, then I’m the one enjoying a good time.

I’ll try that the next time I feel that old familiar sensation of “what if?” making my muscles tense and my step quicken. I just might tolerate that walk in the dark a little better, whether it is the scary plane flight, the worry over a loved one’s health, the state of the economy, where the next terrorist will strike, or the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring.

I’ll know that behind that mountain lion is a soft loving purring fur ball, granting me relief from the mundane, for which I’m extremely grateful. Life is always an adventure, even if it is just a stroll down a barn lane in the dark wondering what might come at me next on the path.

photo by Nate Gibson

photo by Nate Gibson

 

An Olfactory Journey

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“The smell of that buttered toast simply spoke to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cozy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender; of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I’m not a practitioner of the ancient art of aromatherapy for medicinal purposes but I do know how effectively smells can transport me than any other mode of travel.  One whiff of a familiar scent can instantly take me back years to another decade and place, almost in time traveling mode.  I am so suspended in the moment, both present and past, my brain sees, hears, tastes, feels everything as it was before.

The most vivid are kitchen smells, to be sure.  Cinnamon takes me back to my Grandma’s farm house, roasting turkey to my mother’s early morning labors on Thanksgiving Day, fresh baked bread to the years I needed to knead as tactile therapy during medical school training.

Today it is the smell of oatmeal on the stove that reminds me of those frosty winter mornings rushing to get out the door in time to catch the bus for the long ride to school.

It’s not just food smells.  When I have the privilege of babysitting infants, I drink in their smell of baby shampoo and powder, so like the soft velvety smell of my own children a quarter century ago.   Out in the barn, the newly born wet fur of my foals carries the sweet and sour amnion that was part of every birth I’ve been part of: delivering others and delivering my own.  My heart races at the memory of the drama of those first breaths.

My garden yields its own treasures: tea roses, sweet peas, heliotrope, lemon blossom take me back to lazy breezes past blossoms planted along the house, wafting through open bedroom windows.  The fragrance of the earth after a long awaited rain– petrichor — reminds me of dusty dry summers crying for relief.

I doubt any aromatherapy kit would include my most favorite–the farm smells: newly mown hay, fresh fir shavings for stall bedding,  the mustiness of the manure pile, the green sweetness of a horses’ breath.

Someday I’ll figure out how to bottle all these up to keep on hand forever.   Years from now my rambles will be over, when I’m too feeble to walk to the barn or be part of the hay harvest crew any longer,  I can sit by my fireplace with a purring contented cat, listening to the soft rolling twitter of my sleepy canary, then close my eyes, open this bottle of memories and take a whiff now and then.

What a journey I will take, back to a day like today, a day that speaks to me with no uncertain voice.

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So Gruntled

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I was introduced to the word gruntled  a few years ago and instantly knew what it was meant to describe– that unsurpassed feeling of contentment.

 

the rumbling vibration of a cat’s purr,
flannel sheets warmed when wind and snow blur,

a filling meal of fresh home grown food
a cow chewing cud, eyes closed in serene mood,

the slow wakening after a full night’s sleep,
a pig’s wallow in cool mud so deep,

the low-throated nicker of a mare to her foal,
a tub of warm water when muscles exert a toll,

the sucking hungry baby in rocking chair bliss,
a cuddle in jammies before bed with a book not to miss.
~Emily Gibson

 

And so every day, I seek the momentary and fleeting bliss of gruntlement.  So simple, so honest, so true, so gruntled.

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An Extra Effort

One of the joys of living on a farm is the ability to walk out the back door and harvest what is needed for a meal right out of the ground, or the orchard, or the berry patch, or from within the hen house. “Eat local” can’t begin to compare with “Eat from the Backyard”.

So over the years on the farm, we’ve raised chickens–starting with the chicks under a hot lamp, watching the growing pullets start laying dainty small eggs which, over several months of hen development, become full size oval jumbo AA eggs, discovered warm in a cozy nest under a hen’s breast. There is distinct satisfaction of a “eureka!” moment anytime a new egg is gathered. It is even more gratifying when the egg is broken in the pan and two yolks pour out instead of one, a symbol of that hen’s extra effort that day.

When our hens were free range, the finding of the nest and gathering of the eggs was definitely a greater challenge than simply opening a chicken coop door. It required investment of time and ingenuity to think like a hen trying to hide her brood. I would remind myself that a hen’s brain is smaller than a walnut and mine is, well…. bigger, so this should not have been such a difficult task.

Our chicken raising days ended abruptly a few years ago when a marauder of some sort dug its way under the wire into the coop in a stealth operation in the dark of night and, leaving only feathers behind, took and stole off with every hen from the roost while she slept. We didn’t have the heart to replace them given the possibility of that happening again, no matter what precautions we took.

So these days our fresh eggs arrive weekly with my husband’s uncle, who graciously shares his plentiful egg crop with us when he comes for Sunday dinner. I do miss the daily egg hunt, the cackle of a hen as she is about to lay, the musical hum she makes when she is happily brooding on the nest, and the feel of her plump fluffiness as I reach underneath her to wrap my hand around that warm smooth oval surface.

It all comes back to me when I break one of those fresh eggs into the pan and it is a double yolker.

Some hen made a special effort, just for me.

Buttercup Bantams bred by Benjamin Janicki at Janicki Buttercups

Buttercup Bantams bred by Benjamin Janicki at Janicki Buttercups