Monthly Archives: January 2018

3 posts

PERSPECTIVE

I watched the lunar eclipse this morning. The start of it anyway. The moon set within minutes of the shadowing but still, what silent beauty. How awesome a thing, the planets’ dance, and I am left wondering, can the feminine of the moon counter the patriarchy of us? For millennia, Homo sapiens have dominated and crushed, rather than stewarded and nurtured. The human species opposing microbials and the planetary energies flying about? What hubris to think we rule as a species when put into the setting of life writ large.

But still there remains us. What of us as individuals and in the context of the minutiae of daily life? The earth rotates round, and I go about my white, privileged life while others live in fear, deported, arrested and incarcerated for being black, for being different. And still, the earth turns, creating the illusion that the sun is rising, the moon is setting when, in fact, it is the earth ever turning as it rockets through space.

How live an authentic life, a moral life, when one’s own actions seem so paltry, the big picture so devastating, and the biggest picture so humbling?

Tonight Carl and I are hosting a Fossil Fuel Free Future event under the auspices of 350.org and other organizations that are working for change and a better future for the human species. Will it make a difference? Is it too late to make the necessary changes to combat climate change? Once this current administration is finished—and it will be. Whether by election or, in the course of time, by death—how ever will we go back or forward when such damage has been done to our democracy and our world?

It’s all about one’s perspective and attitude, right? Because the fact is, we have little control over most things that fall under the category of life except how we each go about our own lives. We can foment and march, keen for all that has been lost, or work for and celebrate what has been gained. Option three, we can do nothing, frozen and overwhelmed.

Life is not black and white. Moods and energy ebb and flow. And it’s how we live our own lives and what we stand for, or don’t.

Shall I look with horror at the world, or put on PollyAnna glasses and take on an “ain’t this grand” attitude?

It is rather grand from where I sit. Nature’s beauty is simply breathtaking. I am no photographer and yet look at the colors, the sparkle and shy beauty of her that surrounds us. She is divine and it is us who can watch her, appreciate her with gratitude.

At least that’s what I hope to do. Try to do. Every day as I look to the moon, softer than the sun but her pull is underestimated.

The Egg & I by Betty MacDonald

Within days of Betty and Bob MacDonald’s marriage, while still on their honeymoon, Bob announced that what he wanted, really wanted, was to be a chicken farmer. Shortly after their return from their honeymoon, he found a farm off in the hinterlands of Washington State. Betty MacDonald’s book The Egg & I is a memoir of the author’s trial by fire life on that farm.

“When you make a complete change in your mode of living, as I did, you learn that, along with the strange aspects of the new life which seep in and become part of you, will come others to which you never become accustomed.” (p. 94)

I found the initial pages delightful. The broad similarities of the MacDonalds’ relationship and experience with Carl’s and mine that imbued the book kept me happily reading. The humorous recounting of her childhood, and her 1950s conditioning on how-to-be-a-good-wife, lay the groundwork for her lack of rebellion at Bob’s turn-on-a-dime announcement. Their move out to the hinterlands to rebuild derelict chicken coops and outhouses, reclaim the forested landscape to create gardens, all while lacking 20th century conveniences like electricity, running water, a radio and telephone . . . and then the creepy nighttime visits to the outhouse? It was humbling to read. I whinge on if I can’t have an espresso in the morning. My comfort zone might be rather small but—full disclosure—we are very, very comfortable here in our now-large, off-grid home. I might have to clean the chicken coop, refill the water buckets and food bins, shovel snow and toss hay bales with my arm in a cast and in negative wind chill weather, but the chores here are manageable with only ten chickens . .  and Carl.

Too, we have hot showers. I cannot imagine facing the manure and kerfuffle of two thousand hens without running water or a backup propane tank.

Betty and I do share a special something: a lack of organizational skills. Her high hopes and fantasies regarding seeds are mine. She, too, would dream, as she ordered seeds for fancy-ass plants that grow in zone 8 rather than her zone of 3, of a stunning garden full of burgeoning flowers and herbs and bushes. Her attempts flailed and failed as have so many of mine. Carl’s and my greenhouse, for instance, resembles our barren hens, in its failure to provide us with our winter greens and I would suggest that failure is not the greenhouse’s but mine. Even in a greenhouse, for example, one must plant seeds in the dirt and water them. It’s ever so much like gardening. At times, I wonder if, as was suggested to Ms. MacDonald once upon a time, someone ought to say to me, “You ought to get you another hobby, there is some folks who just don’t have the feeling. Yep, you should get you another hobby.” (p. 155)

I would reject such a notion. I only lack intention. Or maybe it’s attention, a skill I am currently honing with the help of meditation and Carl, which brings me to the topic of husbands.

Bob MacDonald and Carl, too, share interests and tendencies. For instance, both love manual labor’s satisfactions. Bob, though, is more enamored of the financial benefits of that work, also known as chicken care. Carl has a more architectural interest, being on coop ten or eleven for our motley flock. And Carl labors more to satisfy my assessment of the coops, rather than the bookkeeping of the final egg count. Clearly, egg count and finances don’t rate up here at Darwin’s View. If ever we get another egg, it will be equal to gold.  If Betty and Bob had had our hens, our girls would have been cooked and plated back in September when they all gave up entirely on providing us with eggs. As she writes “if a hen is lazy or uncooperative or disagreeable you can chop off her head and relieve the situation once and for all.” (p. 39) She further pounded the stake in my heart when she wrote,  “I got so I actually enjoyed watching Bob stick his killing knife deep into the palates of fity cockerels and hang them up to bleed. My only feeling was pride to see how firm and fat they were as we dressed them for market.” (p. 147)

Needless to say, when she wrote “dressed”, it wasn’t in a suit and tie.

To enjoy taking a sentient life isn’t something I ever hope to feel. Which brings me to another point of divergence:

The abundance of nature is throughout her book. Her descriptions of the fauna outside of their door, and on their plates exhibit a flourishing of life’s variety. And its intrusion into their life. In the chapter “Who Bothers Whom”, she describes her scary walk through the woods being followed by some unknown beast. To allay her worries, Bob goes out for a walk with the dogs and a gun. Shots and silence. Upon his return, Bob proudly announces he has killed a She bear. A mother bear. Leaving two cubs. Knowing what I know, to kill a She bear when her babies are cubs equates to killing the cubs, too. They don’t yet know how to survive in the wilds. True or false?

She read my mind when she wrote, “Now, were we bothering that bear? Of course, some people will say that the woods were the bears’s natural domain and just by being there Bob was bothering her. But those woods were our property!” (p.173)

In that same chapter, a cougar “that measured eleven feet from head to tail tip” was killed as well and it just begs the question, for me, on property ownership. I get it. Were a bear to stroll up to our porch and take out a bird feeder, I would freak, too. And when our local bobcat showed up at our coop’s door a few years ago, I ran out with a broom. And then ran back in. But I didn’t call around to find someone with a gun.

“In every case the wild animal bothered us first and it was merely luck for our side that Bob was nerveless in emergencies and a crack shot.” p. 181

That is one possible interpretation of facts. My interpretation is that humans are the one’s trespassing. Certainly, we take all the toys and leave nothing for the other creatures. Given the fast dwindling species, I think it’s about time to consider coexistence rather than destruction. There is a way to coexist. Our chipmunks might be obnoxious, how they take one bite out of every, single strawberry rather than focusing on a few and leaving us the rest. But think how plump they got for that happy kestrel? I would argue that if the chipmunk had not been there, neither would the kestrel. By destroying other creatures’ habitat, leaving them no room to exist, we remove the web that supports life, not least, ours.

Betty is aware of this, I think, in her description of the logging companies working in the forests around her farm.

“The only ugliness we saw was the devastation left by logging companies. Whole mountains left naked and embrrassed, their every scar visible for miles. Lovely mountain lakes turned into plain ponds beside a dusty road, their crystal water muddy brown with slashings and rubbish.” (p. 91) … The small companies were careless and wasteful in their logging, but their attempts at destruction were feeble and unimportant compared to the wholesale devastation this company left in its wake. (p. 227) I counted twenty-seven red flags on the way home. Some of them may have been old, some may have belonged to pole cutters, but even ten were too many.(p. 231)

Red flags on a road side show where a logging company is, was, or would be working.

MacDonald is a product of her time. She notes the destruction and killing but seems to accept it as the way of the world. Humans dominate. We kill other animals for food. We wreak havoc on nature for wood and sustenance. We do what we do to survive. For her, the chickens are more important than the cougars and bears. An understandable attitude.

Less understandable is her insulting descriptions of Native American Indians, whom her husband befriended but she did not. Take this breathtaking example: “Little red brothers or not, I didn’t like Indians, and the more I saw of them the more I thought what an excellent thing it was to take that beautiful country away from them. They had come a long way from Hiawatha.” page 220

And so. Although I found the book amusing initially, it is dated with its prejudices, and casually exhibits the thoughtless waste of nature, and the hubristic, callous, too-often inhumane treatment of our fellow creatures. I, too, am a product of my time. I believe that when a single person or class or race or species claims dominance, the balance of life and nature tips and the world wobbles. The wind picks up. The chaos grows. Hell arrives at our doorstep until nature provides balance again. Because she will find balance, with or without us.

Thus, I recommend this book. The Egg & I is a time capsule, showing a perspective on a past world, one that still burgeoned with the diversity of life, so much of which is now extinct. It provides myriad subject matter for discussion, not least for those who are considering a “return to the land”. And it left me, anyway, contemplating this question: how will our generations be viewed fifty years from now, assuming there is life on earth.

 

One Way to Jumpstart a New Year

Yesterday began 2018. Some people hold the belief that, however you spend that first day of the year portends how the rest of the year will go. Which is only to say, mine was not an entirely auspicious beginning, given my hope for a calmer, more intentional time going forward.

5:15AM on January 1, 2018. Very cozy in bed with Carl asleep next to me, Nick and Nora, too,  at my feet and on my head, respectively. After a few minutes of convincing myself that it was a good idea, I got myself up. The first day of the rest of my life and I was going to write, to draw, to meditate in the dark of the calm of the slow lighting of the sun of the vast beauty of Darwin’s View. Glimmers and outlines of the environment around me. Schtude’s crows from the greenhouse . . ..

I should preface this by saying that it was cold out on New Year’s Eve. Very cold and, being me, I worried about the chickens becoming icicles. And so the wonderful Carl, ever tolerant of my obsessive worrying, had build a simple wall in the attached-to-the-house greenhouse, thereby creating a 4’ by 6’ space, directly next to the door that goes outside. I had put down newspaper and then hay and used two milk crates to serve as nesting boxes and a 2’ by 4’ for a roost. And then I, eventually joined by Carl, carried the girls and Schtude in, one by one, placing them into the house, directly from the outside, into the greenhouse new coop, as the sun had set, concluding the damned year of 2017.

Was it damned? Unspeakable things happened in 2017. Evil. Cruelty. Heralding the demise of democracy and human decency. Maybe of humanity. And yet! Look around and one can see a fomenting, the solidifying of a movement, of involvement and determination.

Who was it who said of the war to save nature “All our wins are temporary, all our losses are forever?”

The clock ticked. It ticks to midnight. And the chickens were, for all intents and purposes, inside the house. Though there is a door between the living room and greenhouse. And then one must walk the 8 or so feet over to Carl’s new wall and door into the 4’ by 6’ area where the ten chickens nestled and kerfuffled. Schtude fomented against the limited area he had to spread his mighty wings and flap. His crows were remarkably closer than when the birds are ensconced in the coop.

He began crowing at 4AM. I was up at 5:30AM. The wood stove fire had burned down to embers. I shuffled them around and filled the stove with wood and left the side and top vents open in hopes of creating a fire, a.k.a. warmth, thereby proving to myself that I am capable of maintaining the wood stove, even with one arm casted and without Carl’s help. And then up into my office. A deep breath. I settled down to my journal, assorted colored pencils, pastels and paint. Peace and quiet as I contemplated the difference of expression between words and forms. Six. Six-fifteen. Six twenty-five. Yes, it was around six twenty-five that all hell broke loss and the fire alarms began to sound. Every one of them.

I jumped up and ran downstairs. Carl was coming out of the bedroom. My mother’s caretaker (Did I mention that my mother is visiting us for three weeks? Advanced Parkinson’s and we have twenty-four hour caretakers which merits a whole other post, if not a book) Tammy joined us as we attempted to figure out where the smell of plastic or candles was coming from. A faint fog but no smoke, per se. No hot walls. The wood stove was blazing merrily but the fire was safely inside of it, not out. Carl shut down the flues. I ran outside. No flames coming out of the chimney.

“Do we call 911?” I asked. Carl hedged briefly. We decided to call. We could, at least, assure them that everything was okay, right? They didn’t need to come, did they?

They came. Long story short, five SUVs and a fire engine made it up our half mile driveway and we got to know our wonderful local firemen, who informed us that two houses have burned to the ground in the past week because the fire alarms had gone off and the people hadn’t called 911; thereby the Chief reassured me that I hadn’t been an alarmist by calling.  He said, please call.

In 2013, I declared war against climate change on my blog. The last month of 2013, I wrote five posts, building on what I had learned and where it had brought me. Years have passed. We, as a nation and as individuals, debate whether to call the professionals. And the alarm bells are ringing.

Schtude crowed. Having people in one’s house and realizing what it must look like, having one’s chickens . . . . I trusted that the firemen had other things to worry about. Once they left, however, I suggested to Carl that, though it was still damned cold, yet, maybe we should get the chickens out of the house because the greenhouse was heating up—a balmy 50 degrees by 8 am, and the change in temperature wouldn’t be good for the girls. It was only 0 degrees out. It would shock their little bodies.

I put on my boots and went into the 4’ by 6’ area with the chickens who complained that there was little enough room to walk about without a human in the mix. I tried to unlock the door. The door to the outside was frozen. An eighth of an inch of frost bedecked it. Not even Carl could open the door and so we had to take the chickens, one by one, out through the house to the coop. First Swallow. Then the Suffragettes, Susan B and Cady. Schtude. Ping. Chickadee. CooLots. Apricot. Brownie and Squeaky were the last two. I headed out of the greenhouse into the living room with Brownie, who is, by the way, the only one who seems more content inside than out, and Carl was in the greenhouse chasing Squeaky. An uh-oh and crash. A curse. Squeaky was free and squawking in the greenhouse. Carl lunged. She arrived into the living room. I stopped to assess the situation. Carl got onto his hands and knees to follow Squeaky under the dining room table. She darted beneath, betwixt and between the dining room chairs. I told Carl to hold on as I struggled to get my cell phone’s video camera up without losing hold of Brownie all with one arm in a cast; I ever have my priorities straight.

Finally, I suggested to Carl that he take Brownie as I might be a bit more able, even one armed, to chase the chicken. He stood up. He stared at me. No comment as he took Brownie and marched out of the house. I chased the chicken from the dining room into the kitchen where she skidded and shat, and into my arms, feathers flying. As I passed Carl coming back in, I warned him of the liquid bomb on the floor.

At last calm? Not quite. Nora was missing. I spent the next two hours wondering out loud, to little effect, where the cat might be. High and low I looked. Carl, as ever, kicked in. While looking in the crawl space in the attic, he fixed the broken lightbulb. In the basement, I hung the winter coats that had been on the floor since December 21. Trying to de-clutter and fix even as we sought the cat who Carl found, of course, in a box, purring and sleepy and safe.

The most part of the rest of the day was spent with a new friend who suggested, as has been suggested by others in the past but we haven’t made the time, that we write up a mission statement. Clarify what our passions are, what we want to do here.

I have been trying to write about our times here. A memoir of our life at Darwin’s View. The end keeps getting pushed back. I keep learning and the fact is, to conclude a book, one must know what one is aiming for, what one is trying to say, one’s mission.

The book will be the backstory to this blog which, in turn, is a step into the future. My point being, I know if I slow down, all the muck that gets raised in the hurly burly of our life will settle. The muck will become the soil in which we grow our selves, our hopes and intentions.

2017 exposed hate, fear and—for all the aspersions cast about fake news—truth. This nation is imperfect.  But it is a union. We are all connected and therefore we cannot stand on the sidelines anymore. We have only to determine, each of us individually, how we are going to act and thereby expose who we are, truly, as human beings.

Apparently, creosote forms much faster when there is an extreme difference between the heat of the stove pipe in the house and outside. We will need to maintain the heat of the stove in order to prevent the build up. Balance in extremes. How apt.

I believe 2018 will be a year for bravery. Daring. Uncomfortable places. Thus, this morning, I sat still. My drawings were full of zigs and zags, of bright reds, oranges, pinks, yellows. Surrounded by dark blues, blacks. And, in the center, because there she was this morning, so plump and shining, the moon setting over Mount Monadnock. Purity, hope, and balance in words and forms.

Happy New Year.