Sunset

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“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality…”
― Henri Cartier-Bresson

I feel as though I hold my breath every evening as I watch the sun descend behind Bunker Hill.  Sometimes, I am happy just to be a part of the experience, at others I feel compelled to photograph it.  These images are from last evening, when peach transformed into pink and then a dull violet.  I found the shifts in color to be unexpected, and that violet to be more muted than I thought it would be.

The sheep are all back in the barn by this time of evening, and so it’s usually just Bowie and me who are graced by Nature’s last light show of the day.  I am all about the visual, while Bowie is intent upon what she hears: deer making their way through the woods, bats circling silently, the village dogs calling out their evening messages.  Darkness takes me indoors to the farmhouse, while Bowie lopes off into the pastures to make her perimeter checks – a white wolf against the inky black sky.

Poetry Friday: Christmas Sparrow, by Billy Collins

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by  Library Matters

A terrific commotion brought me downstairs last week to find a Cooper’s Hawk trapped inside the screened in area of our front porch.  He had flown right through the screened door, tearing the netting into two equal half which were now flapping sadly in the wind.  Hawks of every variety are a common sight here, they love swooping up and down the valley, scanning for prey.

They are just as wary of me as I am of them, so seeing one this close was an amazing experience.  For quite some time, he attempted to fly through various parts of the porch, throwing the weight of his body against the screens in the hopes of getting back out.  Growing increasingly frustrated with each failed attempt, he perched at last on the wood rack, looking about with great agitation.  To  my surprise, I could see that he was panting from all the exertion, much like a dog does – tongue out, mouth wide open, a fierce panic in his eyes.

By this time, my dog Sophie had arrived to inspect the situation, and had begun barking loudly.  Thinking that it was best to leave the poor fellow to figure his way out in quiet peace, Sophie and I retreated to another part of the house.   When we returned to check a few hours later, I was thrilled to see that he had managed to escape, leaving behind just a few rents in the screens, and a giant blob of poop.

The Christmas sparrow in Collins’ poem below came to mind when I remembered what it felt like to watch that trapped hawk, to imagine what it must have felt confined in a space where he could feel the wind and yet not fly away.

Christmas Sparrow –  by Billy Collins

The first thing I heard this morning
was a soft, insistent rustle,
the rapid flapping of wings
against glass as it turned out,

a small bird rioting
in the frame of a high window,
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of transparency into the spacious light.

A noise in the throat of the cat
hunkered on the rug
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in the cold night
through the flap in a basement door,
and later released from the soft clench of teeth.

Up on a chair, I trapped its pulsations
in a small towel and carried it to the door,
so weightless it seemed
to have vanished into the nest of cloth.

But outside, it burst
from my uncupped hands into its element,
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
and disappearing over a tall row of hemlocks.

Still, for the rest of the day,
I could feel its wild thrumming
against my palms whenever I thought
about the hours the bird must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spiky branches
of our decorated tree, breathing there
among metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,

its eyes open, like mine as I lie here tonight
picturing this rare, lucky sparrow
tucked into a holly bush now,
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.

Poetry Friday: Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier

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It’s been sleeting here all the night before and into this afternoon. Snow and wind are predicted for later this evening and into the night.  Every tree and branch is coated with a layer of glass, and the barnyard gate needs a mug of hot water before the latch is willing to yield.   I managed to get the sheep out of the big barn and up to the shelter of the pole barn for the day, and I can see them now, sitting all lined up in front of their now-empty hayrack, gazing out at the valley in serene rumination.  Even Bowie, immune to bad weather in her bear-like coat, is staying in the barn for a change.

Other than the steady thrum of sleet against windowpanes, and the occasional whoosh as snow slides off the roof, it is quiet.  I have not seen a single car make its way up or down the valley, or the hill where the farm sits.  I have books, embroidery, and knitting by my side, and no other plans than to stay by the fire while the storm does what it must do.  Being snowbound has its gifts.

Snow-Bound by John Greenleaf Whittier
All day the gusty north-wind bore
The loosening drift its breath before;
Low circling round its southern zone,
The sun through dazzling snow-mist shone.
No church-bell lent its Christian tone
To the savage air, no social smoke
Curled over woods of snow-hung oak.
A solitude made more intense
By dreary voiced elements,
The shrieking of the mindless wind,
The moaning tree-boughs swaying blind,
And on the glass the unmeaning beat
Of ghostly finger-tips of sleet.
Beyond the circle of our hearth
No welcome sound of toil or mirth
Unbound the spell, and testified
Of human life and thought outside.
We minded that the sharpest ear
The buried brooklet could not hear,
The music of whose liquid lip
Had been to us companionship,
And, in our lonely life, had grown
To have an almost human tone.

What democracy looks like

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Ever since the last election, I have sealed myself off in a news free bubble.  The outright corruption, misogynistic arrogance, and open racism of the current Administration makes keeping up with the news bad for my mental health.  Hence the bubble.

Yesterday, however, I ventured out of it in order to meet Tedra Cobb.  She is running for Congress against the despicable Trumpette,  Elise Stefanik; an uphill battle in a district that is very Republican.

The drive to the library in Glens Falls,  through towns such as Fort Edward and Hudson Falls, is depressing. The North Country is stunningly beautiful, and yet poverty and all its struggles are very much in evidence in these old towns, and in pockets everywhere.  The economic and social needs of NY-21 are many, clearly.

By the time we arrived, the room set aside for the town hall was standing room only, but room was made and a large crowd of people gathered outside the open door when there was no more room to stand.  It was an informed and respectful crowd, and she was informed and respectful candidate.

I was most moved by the central concern in the room: the crushing cost of health care for the elderly, and how so many of the people in the audience were coping with caring for partners with dementia and Alzheimer’s at great financial and emotional cost.  There was a quiet desperation to their carefully worded questions, and one could sense a struggle between their need to maintain their dignity even as they articulated their concerns.  There was compassion in response – from others in the room and from Tedra herself – which these questioners seemed to take comfort in.  At the close of the meeting, this sense of comfort lingered in the room as people talked, shared notes, commiserated, before getting into their cars and soldiering on.

I’m glad I stepped out of my bubble to attend.  It felt good to be reminded about the essence of democracy: concerned and informed citizens, organizing on the behalf of the community and for the community.  It was a relief, actually, to be a part of activism once again.

 

Grey days…

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We’ve had a long stretch of slate grey skies and a bedraggled looking landscape.  I think I last saw the sun for all of ten minutes yesterday, just as it was getting ready to set.  Growing up in India and subject to the annual monsoon season, I am not unfamiliar with sunless skies for days on end.  So, the bleak mood that starts to permeate my being as a result of North Country grey skies has been somewhat of a puzzlement to me.

I was thinking about all of this during morning chores today, when it was quite clear that jolly old Mr. Sun would not be making any sort of appearance.  With the exception of a few barks from Bowie, and Roscoe’s intermittent crows to let the world know that day had come, the valley was utterly quiet.  It occurred to me that part of what makes endless grey days  so difficult to cope with, is the fact that winter in our valley is so quiet.

Grey monsoon days came with a soundtrack: pelting rain, the rumble of thunder, the crack of lightning,  water gushing down the drainpipes and through the streets.  Monsoons had sound, and that sound made up for a lack of sunshine – which sounds odd, but seems to have been my experience.   The monsoons of my childhood also had drama, sometimes it would rain so hard that I could not see beyond the tip of my nose.  And, Indian monsoons always had color – the hot pink slash of a turban, or turmeric gold of a sari was visible no matter how hard it rained.

I guess one way for me to get through these grey days is to call up those monsoon memories of old; reminisces of a long ago childhood in a faraway country, where color and drama were part of every season.

 

Office space…

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It’s been another weird winter. Last winter, my first here on the farm, we had more ice than snow.  Since I didn’t have sheep last winter, I could afford to stay in and pay no attention to conditions in the pasture.  This winter, we’ve had more rain than snow, and the flock certainly keeps me ever mindful of conditions by the barn and in the pastures.

But, no matter what the weather, we trek out from the barn to the pole barn early every morning and back in just as  evening begins.  Being a novice at this shepherding thing, I understood that it would not be good for the health of my sheep to keep them cooped up in the barn all winter long, and I imagined that the pole barn (covered on three sides but open to the elements on one, would therefore be the place they spent their days.

Well, my sheep, with their lovely fleece, had plans of their own.  They do make their way to the pole barn for their morning hay, but then they meander all over the pasture, finding this or that spot to settle down for a good period of serious rumination.  But, soggy conditions have now led them to have to consider another option: a wedge of rocky land at the far reaches of the pasture; their new “office”.

Here, they gather for most of the day, coming down occasionally for a drink of water, a quick snack of hay, a lick or two of their mineral block.  That’s where I found them this sunny afternoon, when we were all determined to be out under blue skies and sunshine, no matter how cold it may be.  It’s the perfect spot for their office, and they were very kind about letting me in to share their space, and their view.

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Farm gifts

 

 

Winter has been hard on the ladies of the coop.  Their prodigious output of Summer and Fall, a glorious half dozen brown, blue and olive green eggs daily, has dwindled to one or two per week.  Granted, it’s been bitterly cold. And granted, they had to move quarters just as Winter began in earnest to a shed much better equipped to keep them warmer and safer.  Still, I was beginning to get rather resentful of all the work they  required for absolutely no output.

Roscoe, our very vocal rooster, is up before the sun even hints at rising (another source of petty resentment, normal roosters crow at sunrise I believe).  So, by the time I had made my way over to the coop at six forty five yesterday morning, he had been up and crowing for a good long time.  Perhaps this is why he looked so ornery when I first stepped into the coop:

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Then, I spied these two beauties on the windowsill:

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TWO eggs, before the day has even really begun!  Gone were all my resentments, replaced instead with forgiveness and hope.  We are a third of the way through winter, and my girls seem ready to be bountiful again.