The Perfect Sliver

The Perfect Sliver

Nose to the ground
Bob eats his way down the hill
A stocky white-faced Hereford
With a one track mind
The girls lounge beneath the apple tree
On a patch of dirt warmed by the sun
The chipmunk takes advantage
Of this distraction
He scurries in and out of the hutch
Smuggling cheekfuls of grain
For the winter ahead
It’s that perfect sliver between summer and autumn
When the smell of freshly mowed grass
Meets a chill in the morning air
And mustard and rust colored leaves scatter the ground
Wobbly-legged Elloise, the youngest
Bounces down the hill after Bob
She’s a shiny chestnut brown
With a white and black tipped tail
The oldest cow, Selina, switches hers back and forth
Shooing the last black flies of summer

Countdown to a Quarter Century

Countdown to a Quarter Century

This June, I turn 24.

An insignificant milestone alone, but it’s a year before I turn 25, or rather, a quarter century old. Eek. Just typing that out is strange. And this blog post with illustrations of how many weeks, winters, and visits to see his parents the author has left if he lives to be 90 didn’t help me feel better (but it was a good piece and made me think a lot.)

I’ve also been listening to a lot of podcasts recently, one of my favorites being ‘Happier’ with Gretchen Rubin, which also got me hooked on her book ‘The Happiness Project.’ I loved that she devoted an entire year to keeping these resolutions she made up in an effort to bring more joy into her life, and to her family.

I want to do something similar myself in advance of turning 25. 

I want to develop good habits that will follow me into adulthood. I want to be more comfortable in my own skin. I want to become more connected to the people I care about. I want to make cheese, hike and write. I want to make time for things that are important to me – not just professionally – but to my whole being. I want to become unapologetically myself.

To be clear, I’m already “adulting” in many ways. I have a pretty good credit score. I live independently with a roommate and pay all my own bills. I take my car to get its oil changed. I enjoy podcasts and public radio. I’m in a committed relationship. But I’m not looking at this project from the lens of “needing to grow up and get my shit together.” I’m looking at it like, “Shit, is this me, for the rest of my life?” And if it is, it’s not all that bad. But there are things that I had hoped I would be doing in my twenties, and I’m almost halfway through them. This journey is more about identifying those things, and making them happen. It’s about experimenting with myself, testing my comfort zone. And most of all, documenting it. Because even if I don’t accomplish a dozen amazing things in the next year, at least I’ll have plenty of material for a book, or a therapist.

I’m still mulling over the specific resolutions I’m giving myself and I’ll share those soon, but I wanted to post this now for accountability because June 13th (my birthday, holla!) is coming up mighty fast. I’ll kick things off officially then and share the journey right here on the blog.

Stay tuned!

Forever Farmland

Forever Farmland

Phone calls with Dad generally start like this:

“How’s it going Dad?”

“Well, the pick-up broke down again.”

“Ground’s been too wet to start planting.”

“One of the cows has milk fever.”

I’ve grown to expect bad news. Farming is hard. But you don’t do it if you don’t love it. And my dad, he definitely loves it.

Without any brothers or sisters, I still had a great childhood because of the farm. I grew up with friends that mooed and brayed, running through corridors of corn stalks and waiting anxiously for barn kitten season. I did have a couple of people friends. But I only kept them if they loved the farm too. One little girl who came over was afraid of the milking parlor. She wouldn’t even go inside to look at the newborn calves. Needless to say, that was the last invite she received. No, I needed friends who would help me brush my donkeys and chase them down the road when they got loose. Friends who would wade through deep shit with me, literally. I inherited his nose and blue eyes, but most importantly, I inherited my dad’s love for the farm.

As a teen I started branching out, reading magazines and thinking I was going to be some big-time editor. I had watched 13 Going on 30, what can I say? Plus, I knew there was no money to be made in farming, I had learned that much. But I kept feeding the calves when I was home, I continued to stack hay every summer and looked forward to tapping maple trees on the tail-end of winter. And I even recruited an eager young boy named Tom to start helping on the farm throughout high school. Spoiler: I fell in love with him.

Over the years the farm has been a continual source of joy and concern for me. There are many small, happy moments like watching the cows return to lush pastures after the winter, or smelling the maple wafting from the old red sap house. But there have been hard times, like Dad breaking his ankle, making him unable to milk for weeks on end, and in rough shape for months to follow. Fortunately, when that happened Tom stepped in and saved the day for many days. I picked a good one. But we have had a good share of crises, and I’m sure more will come our way. Whenever one does, I always worry what may happen to the farm. What will happen if we can’t pay the bills. Will we lose it all?

Recently, we’ve been given some very good news. Our farm is being awarded an agricultural conservation easement. Basically, we will sell the development rights on the farm, meaning it can never be subdivided into housing lots and it will be protected as farmland forever. In doing so, we receive the cost difference of its value as agricultural land vs. real estate, and we get to use those funds to eliminate debt, invest in new facilities and equipment, plan for retirement and transition, or really spend it however we please. I have a few ideas brewing, though ;).

The Viewing

The Viewing

I didn’t want to see the body. They called it a “viewing” and it made my stomach queasy. I had viewed Grandma too, but that was many years ago. I didn’t understand it as well back then. I didn’t want to view Grandpa, I wanted to remember him as he was when we left back in November, waving to us from the café table as Mom and I headed to the car and back to New York. I didn’t want to remember him dead. But these were his wishes, and I respected him, so I respected them.

I saw the casket in the corner and it made my heart race. I distracted myself with the little table of old photographs, and looking at flowers sent from friends and family. I could see him lying there, stiff, out of the corner of my eye. Mom and Uncle Paul were right up close, while I lagged nervously behind. I finally approached him, my eyes flooding. Nothing confirms death like a body.

But it also calmed me. He looked peaceful and composed, perhaps several years younger. He didn’t have that pained look that I saw when we visited, the look he had when he struggled with his walker or had to gargle saliva as he spoke. No, he looked dignified, suited with his army cap and medals. A flag folded meticulously over the casket. He was a man of honor.

In the casket lid was a large photo of his prized possession, a green Oliver tractor. When guests came later, my mom often joked to the old farmers not to steal it. It was good to see her laugh. People I didn’t know hugged me, and somehow, it still felt good. I think because they knew him, and that was enough. His life-long friend, a beautician, cut his hair before the viewing, as it had grown a bit long. I thought that was beautiful.

None of it got to me quite like the Color Guard, though. The next morning at the funeral, the uniformed old veterans stood in formation at the front of the room. One by one, they solemnly marched to the casket to offer a parting salute. I was sitting close enough to see a number of them fighting back tears, as mine streamed down my face and neck. He was their old friend and comrade. He had been so much more than just my grandfather. I had known this, but it was entirely different to see it.

The one that broke my heart the most was old Hugh. I met him at the viewing, where he shyly approached my mom and me, apologizing for our loss and asking if mom would like his 1940 Annual. He used a walker to get around, and gingerly pulled the old book from a pouch he had fastened to the front of it. He had graduated in 1942, but he happened to have grandpa’s year. “I have nobody else to give it to,” he explained, and thought someone in our family would like to have it.

After the service, we saw Hugh again as we followed the hearse to the cemetery. He was outside on the street, standing propped against a car so he could give one final salute.

Rainy Season

Rainy Season

The rainy season had started in Ecuador, just as they said it would.

We emerged from our tents to a sopping wet beach.

I was glad I didn’t sleep in the hammock.

After drinking our breakfast of ‘leche caliente’, we trekked off in jean shorts, raincoats and boots, sliding along the muddy trail to our base a mile away.

The sun peeked out at us now, but the damage was done.

Tree limbs slashed across our path as if to say “Just turn around already.”

My boots became caked with mud. I stopped expelling the effort to lift my feet.

I could use a pair of ski poles. But instead I carried a machete.

One that threatened to slice my shins in one bad step.

Such was the nature of things here; clearing the brush that bristled back at us.

We were trying to make room for baby trees.

But Mother Nature was pro-choice.

 

Setting Intentions

Setting Intentions

I’ve been meaning to write more. Several times since my blogging heyday in high school I’ve attempted to return to the words. To corral them like a herd of kittens into the text editor, to tell a witty and comprehensive story of “what the hell I’ve been up to since X months ago when I posted the last blog.” It didn’t go so well.

They behaved like most kittens do. They yawned and flopped onto their backs, kicking their furry legs in the air. They demanded belly-rubs and warm milk and did a whole lot of nothing. They were tired. I had them jumping through hoops called critical analyses and required reading for four years. I bored them close to death. Okay, I don’t want to kill kittens so I think I’ll abandon this analogy. Anyways, the point is that I’ve always loved to blog, but I put my personal writing on the back-burner over the years for school and work and I’ve started to worry that I’m losing my voice. Laryngitis of the keyboard, or something like that.

I’ve learned a lot from writing professionally — and I’m still learning. But one of the most important things I’ve figured out so far is the value of an authentic voice and a good story. Then it clicked. Writing for fun can actually help me be a better writer at work. That should be obvious, but I’ve kept the two separated for so long the idea smacked me in the face. Creativity is good for productivity.

For the record, I’ve never felt like my creativity has been stifled by anyone, except for myself. It’s always been me who’s said I have nothing interesting to blog about. It’s me who’s chosen to scroll through Facebook instead of sitting down to write. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be creative, but I haven’t been taking full advantage of them.

I have written for myself, from time to time, in a notebook or random Word docs, but it’s time to bring the words back to life, and shake the dust off. Blogging is what got me into writing to begin with, so it makes sense to me to return to it here with a clean page. If you’re interested in the old stuff, though, you can find it here.

So this is me, setting intentions to write for myself again. To write without worrying too much if it’s shitty, because my writing represents me. And sometimes I feel shitty, and it comes out in my writing. That’s okay.

I also have to give credit to the writing class I’m taking this month with Cara Benson for helping the creative juices to flow. We literally can write whatever we want (prompts are given) and we can choose to share it, or not. It’s delightful. The class name itself  avoids pressure, “Writing Without Worrying About What To Call It.” It’s been exactly what I needed.

I’ll end this with something I wrote back in November, that had been sitting idly in a file on my laptop for months. Breathe little poem, breathe!

I Lost the Words

I lost the words somewhere.

I left them in essays and analyses

Scattered in old notes and unanswered letters

Scribbled on bathroom walls and paper napkins

Filed in manila icons with obscure names

I abandoned them there, to face the world alone

While I kept on – quietly

Leaving them where they got heavy

Where I couldn’t fit them back in my mouth

Where my pen bled dry and my hand said no more

Where my fingers ached to type

And eyes strained against the screen

I lost the words somewhere

Will they find their way back home?