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.

 

Poetry Friday: Happiness by Jane Kenyon

Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by Kat Apel 

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Today begins like every other day: up and first light, let the dog out, let the cat in, coffee, feed said cat and dog, head out to the barn to tend to its assorted inhabitants.  Except that it’s my birthday, and a significant one at that.

So, I pause longer to relish that first light, with all its subtle color changes.  I give a bit of extra love to the dog and cat; add a dash more cream to my coffee…and pause to read, again, a favorite poem by a favorite poet:

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Wool!

Picking up my flock’s wool from Battenkill Fibers for the first time is an experience I will never forget.  I had handed over three bags of skirted Shetland wool, which I had labelled: Malcolm, MacDuff, and Pepper, a little fact that mattered only to me.  Even in its raw form, I thought the fleeces were beautiful, a rich and creamy color with flecks of beige and grey.  But the spun wool was a sight to behold, soft to the touch with a whiff of sheepy delightfulness that I have grown to love.

I’ve procrastinated the washing of this wool, which is needed to remove any vestige of the spinning oil added during processing to help address static, because I was terrified of doing something to ruin it.  Last night, I finally accepted the fact that it was ruination NOT to continue with the process of making the most of the gifts of my sheep – the whole point of having a fiber farm.

So I followed Mary Jeanne’s instructions carefully: filling the sink with hot, soapy water, squishing and squeezing the skeins, then rolling them up in towels, and hanging them to drip dry in the downstairs bathroom.  All the while I was doing this, I thought about Malcolm, MacDuff, and Pepper.

Pepper was one of three sheep that came to me from Wing and a Prayer farm, a very special place with a most special shepherdess, Tammy White.  He is a feisty fella, the smallest of my flock but with the biggest personality next to Auggie, who is truly one of a kind.  Pepper has a way of knowing when I’m having a difficult day, and he makes sure to look me right in the eyes as he asks for chin scratches, as though to let me know he has faith in me, even if I feel such faith in myself faltering.

Malcolm was one of Tammy’s flock who came to our farm last summer for sheep camp.  He is a noble looking fella, with a touch of haughtiness about him.  Even so, he was the first of Tammy’s crew to wander over in my direction and lift his chin for a friendly scratch.  We bonded, you might say.  When it was time for the flock to leave, Tammy kindly gifted him to me, along with his brother MacDuff.

The Shetland three are much loved here at the farm.  In addition to their wool duties, they keep young Bowie in line.  Should she get too playful, they have only to step forward and cock their horns in a certain way for Bowie to get the message: back off, girlie!

I’ve come to this fiber business ass backwards, it seems: I’m not (yet) a knitter, I am still learning about the fiber world and all the intricacies of types and gauges of wool.  I am an animal lover, I love the idea of caring for the animals that grow such a lovely product, and I love being part of a community which believes so passionately in humane and sustainable farming.

As I sit writing this now, I can see the rack of wool drying.  It’s a glorious sight.

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.