Shearing day

Saturday dawned bright and clear and dry – perfect for the task at hand: shearing the flock. It’s been such a rainy summer, that every one of them has a dirty fleece, even the little Romneys with their coats of chocolate and caramel.

Colin, the sheep whispering magician that he is, enticed and cajoled each reluctant sheep out of the pen and onto the shearing space without much ado. Afterwards, there was the usual “who the hell are you?” reacquainting out in the pasture; much head butting and shoving as each came to terms with their fleece-less appearance.

I’ve sold the last three shearings to Tammy White at Wing & A Prayer farm, mostly because I haven’t had the time or the dedicated space to devote to processing the wool myself. This time, I intend to hang on to a few and try my hand at this myself: washing, carding, and even spinning a few skeins for hand dyeing.

It is a most satisfying thing to watch as each fleece is sheared off to fall into a luxurious pile of crimp and curl. As I gather, label, and bag these gifts of the season, I can’t help but marvel at their beauty and reminisce over moments spent tending to each one of my flock as Spring became Summer, which has now edged towards Fall.

There was a seasonal routine to my past life as a teacher, too – a somewhat predictable structure around which to organize my new farming life. I’ve learned that structure and predictability are to be much appreciated in these uncertain and chaotic times.

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale by Dan Albergotti

Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale by Dan Albergotti

Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.

September is here and with it arrive the harbingers of Fall. All my summer blooms have given up the ghost, and their drooping, wilted presence is all I have to remember their summer glory. It’s cool enough in the mornings and late evenings to reach for a layer of flannel before heading out for farm chores. Sunset arrives earlier and earlier, which is always disorienting – there is so much more to pack into daylight hours. The shearer messaged me this morning, reminding me that tomorrow is shearing day. And the last a hundred and fifty bales of hay are due to be brought in for winter’s putting up today.

Having been “in the belly of the beast” this past summer, I feel myself emerging back into the rhythm of my life here at the farm. July’s journey to care for my mother, while her caregiver took a much needed break, was much more difficult than I’d imagined. It is hard to be unfailingly kind, patient, and forgiving with someone who has never shown those characteristics in return. Old wounds, ones which I thought fully healed, gaped open once more, and new one appeared. All of which goes to prove, I suppose, that no healing is ever complete when the wound cuts deep into one’s soul.

But, now the season begins to shift, and with it so do my spirits. A box filled with daffodils, tulips, and irises is due to arrive this afternoon. And the barn will be filled with sweet smelling hay by sunset. The days ahead will be filled with all the good work I love in the garden and among my flock. I listen to the sound of my heart, swallowed with all hope, and thankful that I am here.

“The Carrying” by Ada Limón

It has felt like summer this past week – temperatures in the high 80’s, and a humidity that is oppressive. Bowie and the sheep lie very still in the shadiest spots they can find, and gardening tasks require frequent breaks to hydrate and allow one’s shirt to dry. Weeds seem to spring up the moment the beds have been cleared, and all the tulips and daffodils droop, their brilliant colors faded and tired out. The air is heavy with the scent of sweet lilacs, but even they look to be on the verge of glory spent.

But the green is as green as can be, it is lush and varied, intense and soothing. It seems hard to believe that just a few weeks ago all was brown and grey; and, just a few weeks before that, snow was still on the ground. Grey rainclouds are scudding up our valley as I sit here on the porch, taking in the hills and pastures. The cornfield below our bottom pasture has just been plowed and seeded; before long that, too, will be green with growth.

The Carrying by Ada Limón 

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.

What Vita said…

“The more one gardens, the more one learns; And the more one learns, the more one realizes how little one knows.” ~ Vita Sackville West

I feel as though I need to have the above tattooed across the inside of my arm, visible every time I head out with my gardening bucket of supplies, my head filled with grand ideas about what to plant and how.

This year, all the tomato plants and half the flowers I tried to grow from seed were non starters – not even the the tiniest of green shoots have emerged. The kale seems rather listless compared to what had grown by this time last Spring, and so are the radishes and beets. True, Spring was late to come, but I am disappointed. I had counted on my experiences from last year to guarantee a better outcome; surely I had learned all I needed to know in order to ensure success this year? Apparently not, going by what Vita said…


“The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied…No gardener would be a gardener if he did not live in hope.” ~ Vita Sackville West

And so this morning I will stop by various garden centers in search of optimism and hope; seedlings grown elsewhere (i.e. by more practiced gardeners) will take the place of my sorry lot. I will humble myself by sharing my unhappy experience with the aim of learning what went wrong, then file away that knowledge for the Spring to come.

Once home, I will clear away the disasters in the greenhouse. I’ll add more compost, re-aerate the soil, plant, and water. Then, I can return to the rest of the garden, to water, weed, and plot my next move. After all, as Vita said:

‘There is always something else to do. A gardener should have nine times as many lives as a cat.” ~ Vita Sackville West

Poetry: Where We Are Headed ~ Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

The CDC has lifted mask requirements, and here in rural upstate New York, Trump country, we’ve started noticing lots of folks now happily doing just that: happily wandering around in public spaces, mask free. This, after it took all kinds of mandates and very visible notices to get folks to wear masks (properly) in the first place. We’ve been vaccinated, as has every person in our little social circle. But, surprise surprise, most of the people who live in these parts do not believe in the Covid vaccine. So…here we are, back to square one again.

On a recent episode of The New Yorker Radio Hour, Drs. Atul Gawande and Siddhartha Mukherjee discussed this state of affairs, and were distressed about what the effects of this proportion of non-vaccine inclined Americans would have on the eventual desired outcome for all of us: a Covid free nation. They, along with host David Remnink, circled back to the idea of public service and patriotism: why couldn’t a country that puts so much weight on the idea of patriotism and flag waving, get behind the idea of vaccination as a patriotic duty of every American citizen?

Mulling over the issues raised in the podcast, I thought about the larger community in which I live, where the prevailing notion is very much us vs. them: liberal vs. redneck (Trumpian) conservative, recently moved here from cities vs. always been here. That kind of compartmentalization makes us destined to move around always worried about who has been vaccinated and who has not. And, in that spirit I offer this poem for Poetry Friday:

Where We Are Headed ~ Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

At first we just say flower. How
thrilling it is to name. Then it’s
aster. Begonia. Chrysanthemum.

We spend our childhood learning
to separate one thing from another.
Daffodil. Edelweiss. Fern. We learn

which have five petals, which have six.
We say, “This is a gladiolus, this hyacinth.”
And we fracture the world into separate

identities. Iris. Jasmine. Lavender.
Divorcing the world into singular bits.
And then, when we know how to tell

one thing from another, perhaps
at last we feel the tug to see not
what makes things different, but

what makes things the same. Perhaps
we feel the pleasure that comes
when we start to blur the lines—

and once again everything
is flower, and by everything,
I mean everything.

Meeting my storm…


I’ve joined my friend Ruth’s Sharing Our Stories’ writing call – this week’s challenge is to reflect upon this:

Everyone you meet, everyone you scroll past on social media, everyone who is walking on this big rock of a planet has a storm brewing, a storm raging, or a storm calming around them. It is true for you. It is true for me.

There were many new traditions to learn when I first moved to America: the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Super Bowl Sunday…and days devoted to celebrating one’s mother and father. Among these, I found Mother’s Day to be the most awkward, the day an inner storm was guaranteed to rage. I had yet to be reunited with my mother at that stage in my life, and the step-mother at hand was far from worthy of celebrating. My friends would make cards or write notes to their moms, and shop for this earring or that plant to present as a token of their love and gratitude. And I would be consumed with feelings of jealousy, loss, and longing.

When I eventually did come to know my mother, Mother’s Day continued to be awkward. I had already graduated from college and met the man I would later marry, when my mother and I met for the first time since she’d left our family. We were strangers; and in many ways, we would remain strangers over the decades that followed. I think it’s fair to say that neither of us was what we’d hoped for or even expected, and it’s taken years for either of us to reconcile reality with what we had imagined. And I would be, once again, consumed by feelings of loss, longing, and resentment.

I’m not sure when my attitudes towards this particular day began to shift, but I think that process began when my own children began selecting gifts and presenting Mother’s Day cards to me. Powerful feelings don’t subside all at once, or even quickly, but over the years that day became one I no longer dreaded.

Last Sunday, Mother’s Day here in the States, my children journeyed up from Brooklyn to celebrate their mother, me. We shared memories, laughter, and news. We took long walks and cooked together. There were, as always, fierce games of Scrabble and Monopoly.

I was sad to see their little blue winding it’s way down the ribbon of country road that would take them to the highway, back to their lives and loves in Brooklyn. But storms no longer raged within on this Mother’s Day.

I had become the mother I’d wanted in being the mother my children needed.

Poetry Friday: Albert Garcia, “Offering”

Our local indie bookstore shared this book of poems on its website a few weeks ago, and I just had to have it. First, because I love the work of James Crews, the poet who put together this collection; next, because I love the work of Ross Gay, who wrote the foreword; and finally, because you can never really have too many books of poetry.

These days, I seem to have some sort of senior citizen version of ADD, and poetry is the perfect reading solution. I can open a book of poetry, read and focus on just one poem, and then mull over it as I go about farm chores. Yesterday, I opened up to this poem in between weeding and untangling a gnarly pile of movable fencing: Albert Garcia’s “Offering”.

I loved the way the line “but we’ve often said our needs are simple…” as an entrance into such simplicity. The visual of that “palmful of raspberries” stayed with me, as did the rest of each sensory detail the poem reveals. And I loved the idea of gifts being “small, bright, honest”… what else could one really need?

A call to SOS might just be my personal SOS…

My blogging world used to be very active in my teaching days. That blog, now made private, led me to a collection of amazing friends. Some of these friends I met in person at this teaching conference or that teacher’s workshop, some I connected with through the magic of virtual conversations and shared social media. These friendships kept me going in my teaching life, and truly enriched all areas of my life.

Once I retired, and took up shepherding and all those pursuits I never seemed to have the time for before (gardening, making preserves, reading for pleasure, napping any old time I felt like it), blogging took a backseat. I created a new blog, and I did post from time to time, but my new identity seem to create a vacuum in my writing life, and made me question what the point of my blogging was in the first place. Sometimes I wrote about the farm and my sheep, sometimes I opened my writing space to include what was deeply personal, sometimes I wrote about nothing more than a farm moment. It felt good to write, but I wondered about the why of writing – especially on a platform like this, which is so very public. More than once, when I opened up my laptop and clicked onto my WordPress site, I heard Emily Dickinson’s words rattling around in my brain: “This is my letter to the world/
That never wrote to me,–“.

Clearly, I have issues with overthinking everything, including the “need” for a blog.

In any case, I happened upon my friend Elsie’s blog today, and read her latest post, which led to my friend Ruth’s blog and reading her post, which was an invitation:

All of the above made me realize something that related to the blogging/writing quandary I seem to have been floundering in: I miss the friends my blogging life led me to, and I want to write to be part of that community again. And for that, I am grateful. Thank you, Elsie and Ruth…it’s good to be part of our blogiverse again.

When you get lemons…

When we first arrived at the farm, there were two gnarly old trees behind the house – an old apple tree, and an even older black walnut tree. Neither looked to be long for this world, but there was so much to tend to (the grass was waist high in places, and so much was overgrown and needed immediate attention), that I found use for it as a clothesline, and that was that…

…until a storm came through and brought down many of their remaining branches. One sunny afternoon, our arborist showed up with his team and took both trees down. This proved to be a wise move, since we discovered that both trees had rotted away inside, and were on the verge of collapsing anyway. Since this was the best place for a clothesline, I sent off an order for a new one from a Vermont wood craftsmen, and soon we had his handiwork supporting our laundry.

We chose not to have the stumps ground down, mainly because it was expensive to do so. For a while, these stumps sat, two mouths gaping in sorrow and shock (or so they appeared to me). Last summer, I filled them with potting soil and filled them with cosmos and zinnia:

And, in the Fall, I planted hyacinths which have just begun to bloom:

So, there she is…Mother Nature, finding ways to create beauty every chance she gets.