If you build it…

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In her magnificent book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes:

There was a custom in the mid-1800’s of planting twin trees to celebrate a marriage and the starting of a home.  The stance of these two, just ten feet apart, recalls a couple standing together on the porch steps, holding hands.  The reach of their shade links the front porch with the barn across the road, creating a shady path of back and forth for that family.

I realize that those first homesteaders were not the beneficiaries of that shade…they must have meant for their people to stay here…so here again, in practice, is that idea of thinking of one’s family’s future well being even as one does something for personal benefit.

That passage immediately brought to mind the oak trees planted in our front yard, whose shade reaches over every path to every barn.  The Pattersons, who built this house in 1861, left every family who has ever lived here this wonderful gift of cool shade while going about chores, even at the height of summer.

I was reminded of this passage and this idea while setting up the pole barn for my flock today.  In one corner of the barn, just beneath the rafters, sits the most perfect nest:

I don’t know how long it has been there, but I first noticed it when I was cleaning out the barn in preparation for my flock early last Spring.  I noticed fresh droppings from Spring through Fall, although I left the nest undisturbed and did not peek in to see who inhabited it.  Every time I go into the barn, which is a few times each day, the nest never fails to catch my eye, or set me thinking about home: the work and faith and hope it takes to build a home.

I don’t know whether any of our children will claim this house as their home when the time comes.  Still, I do what the Pattersons and every other occupant who called this house their home did: I plant, I care take, I improve.  Thinking of my home, and that nest, I come back to Braiding Sweetgrass:

We are showered every day with gifts, but they are not meant for us to keep.  Their life is in their movement, the inhale and exhale of our shared breath.  Our work and our joy is to pass along the gift and to trust that what we put out into the universe will always come back.

 

 

Winter rain

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All is dull and dreary here, this rainy winter’s day.  Rain clouds hang over the valley, and the Green Mountains are completely obscured in heavy veils every shade of gloomy grey.  The flock refuse to give up their cozy barn, and even Roscoe’s crowing seems half hearted.

At this moment, and against all better judgement, I would give anything for a cold, snowy day; for the muddy ground to harden up and disappear under a cover of sparkling white snow.

Instead, I pull on my rain boots and squelch out to cover ever increasing patches of mud with golden straw, in the hopes of protecting what remains of pathways to the pole barn from my flock’s hooves…and bring some welcome color to this cheerless day.

Poetry Friday: Thanks, Robert Frost by David Ray

Sally Murphy is hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up.

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It’s becoming harder and harder to pick up a newspaper or listen to the news.  NPR was my go to radio station in the car, but not any more.  And I can’t remember the last time I watched a news program on TV.   World news, national news, even state and local news seems to have become relentlessly awful, at times even catastrophic.  I came across this poem in an anthology I had bought at the Strand back when I could walk to it on my lunch hour.  I think it’s one I need to read often in the coming weeks and months…or however long it takes for the people who run this world (and seem bent upon destroying it) to come to their senses.

Thanks, Robert Frost  by David Ray

Do you have hope for the future?
someone asked Robert Frost, toward the end.
Yes, and even for the past, he replied,
that it will turn out to have been all right
for what it was, something we can accept,
mistakes made by the selves we had to be,
not able to be, perhaps, what we wished,
or what looking back half the time it seems
we could so easily have been, or ought…
The future, yes, and even for the past,
that it will become something we can bear.
And I too, and my children, so I hope,
will recall as not too heavy the tug
of those albatrosses I sadly placed
upon their tender necks. Hope for the past,
yes, old Frost, your words provide that courage,
and it brings strange peace that itself passes
into past, easier to bear because
you said it, rather casually, as snow
went on falling in Vermont years ago.

Four gifts from today’s pasture time

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Several times during the day, I make my way to wherever my flock is.  I do this to check on them, of course, but mostly I do this to lead Bowie to them.  I’ve read and heard that this is one way to help a livestock guardian puppy learn to be with the sheep she/he is responsible for – especially if there is no older dog to serve as a mentor.  Bowie will stay sheep side for longer and longer periods, but she will inevitably wander back down to the gate leading to the barn, and find a way to tunnel under so that she can find me.

Pasture time can last anywhere from fifteen minutes to more than an hour, depending as it does on the weather and what else I am up to that day.  It was bitterly cold today, and my fibromyalgia was not coping well with the stiff wind that blew down the valley from the direction of the Green Mountains, but I stayed out longer than intended because:

*Auggie trundled over for a chat and a nuzzle.  He has the most terrible breath, as well as the tendency to burp loudly the closer gets to my face.  But Auggie love is not to be missed, and so I stayed.

*A pair of hawks swooped and screeched in the clear blue sky.  Their steep dives and sudden lifts were marvelous to watch, and so I stayed.

*Upon closer inspection, the lichen covered log upon which I sat looked like a work of art – a study in texture and many shades of sage, so I stayed.

*From time to time, Bowie would circle back to where I was, sit by my side, and lean her body into mine.  Together, we looked over the wide sweep of our pasture, the grazing sheep, the coppery valley now shorn of corn below.  So I stayed.

 

 

One Little Word for 2020: connect

to connect: to have or establish a rapport/to put or bring together so as to form a new and longer whole

  • Merriam Webster

Back in my teaching days, I would end our first week of school by inviting my students to pick their one little word – a word that captured what they wanted to focus on in their sixth grade life in our classroom.  Each student would draw a visual representation of that word, and these would hang in our classroom for the rest of the year, reminders of that early-in-the-year goal.

This practice first began in the virtual teaching community I belonged to – teachers from all over the country and the world, who used Twitter and blogs to stay connected, share ideas, and encourage each other to persevere in our best practices and for our students.  It’s a community I miss in this retired-from-teaching life.

Looking back at the vast network I belonged to and participated in so fully, I am amazed that such a thing came to pass.  It is hard for me to connect; I am  a deeply introverted and solitary person.  I’ll never know whether this is because that was always my natural inclination, or the result of a traumatic childhood and young adulthood.

Living as I do these days, in a remote little village and on a farm where four legged creatures outnumber the two legged kind, it is easy to fall into a life of solitude, to be perfectly happy to be as disconnected as I wish to be.

As chance would have it, I have had the good fortune to meet  lovely  folk who are interested and involved in the work I now do (shepherding) and want to do (supporting sustainable, environmentally ethical small farms).  I have the chance to connect, again.

So, my OLW for 2020 is connect.  This will mean picking up the phone more often to call or even respond (I am ashamed to admit it, but it’s true, I have a phone phobia that farm life has sadly only intensified and provided excuses for), to propose an invitation for every invitation I receive, and to go out on a limb and initiate connections. 

 

 

 

Skirting the Shetland fleece

Malcom, MacDuff, and Pepper, my Shetland three, were sheared late in October.  I was in the midst of house renovations then, and so I stored their fleeces until such time as I could turn to the task with all the expertise of my novice state: i.e. I knew I would have to read up on the how-to’s, and watch videos for visual guidance.  It would take some time to accomplish. Well, time finally came my way last week, after the hustle and bustle of the holidays and a return to my quiet shepherding life.

It was bitterly cold in the barn as I spread out each fleece and got to work on them one at a time.  My husband lent a hand, too, and Bowie took up residence under the skirting table, occupying herself with bits of wool as they floated down.  We had a small space heater set up to warm our fingers, although plunging our hands into the wool itself  was quite sufficient.

It was quiet as we worked, picking away at all that finds its way into a sheep’s fleece: hay, straw, little leaves, and (of course) poop.  In doing this work, I remembered Summer and Fall days out on the pasture,  keeping company with the flock and moving them from pasture to pasture.  I remembered the pleasure of watching them from the farmhouse – just a glimpse through a window as I passed by, or a longer stint of sheep watching from the backyard as I gardened or hung things to dry on the clothesline.

And my first Summer and Fall as a shepherd seem to unfold right there on the skirting table early one winter morning.

Poetry Friday: Everybody Made Soups by Lisa Coffman

Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by Carol’s Corner .

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The holiday season has come to an end, but remnants of the many festive meals prepared remain.  We have a ham hock for split pea soup, chicken carcasses for colds and flu warrior soup, and beef bones for broth to make the dogs in our life happy.  I love the way the kitchen  fills with steam when soup making, and how the  warm aromas of soupy herbs (those gorgeous thyme, rosemary, and sage I harvested over the summer) permeate every corner of the house.

I’ll be thinking of our family at the holiday table as I make these soups: the conversations and laughter, the recounting of memories and the laying out of new plans, and the candles waning as we lingered over empty plates, reluctant to break the mood.

The family has scattered now – each member back to their every day life.  I’ll be thinking of them all while I go about soup making.

Everybody Made Soups by Lisa Coffman

After it all, the events of the holidays,
the dinner tables passing like great ships,
everybody made soups for a while.
Cooked and cooked until the broth kept
the story of the onion, the weeping meat.
It was over, the year was spent, the new one
had yet to make its demands on us,
each day lay in the dark like a folded letter.
Then out of it all we made one final thing
out of the bounty that had not always filled us,
out of the ruined cathedral carcass of the turkey,
the limp celery chopped back into plenty,
the fish head, the spine. Out of the rejected,
the passed over, never the object of love.
It was as if all the pageantry had been for this:
the quiet after, the simmered light,
the soothing shapes our mouths made as we tasted.