Monthly Archiv: May, 2014
“Impression, Sunrise,” by Claude Monet, 1873.
This time last year I was mustering the energy to make dinner and take the dog for a slow walk. I hated running into people because they always asked what I was doing. I don’t do anything, I told my husband, I just be. No one wants to hear that. Or maybe I don’t want to say it. Whatever it was, there was something to it. Learning how to be. To have only a little bit more than that to offer the world.
This year I can answer the question about what I am doing. But in between all that doing is an unsettledness. I believe in balance but I’ve lost hold of it.
(Which is why I wish someone would ask me for a sermon about it. The next best thing to doing something right yourself is telling someone else how to do it.)
I found a partridge brooding over two light brown speckled eggs the other day. She scared me half to death and then she thrilled me. I wanted to see if I could get show the kids the next day without disturbing her. She was hard to see, but she was there. I should have walked back delighted. Instead I felt frustrated. The lawn not mowed, the house not vacuumed, the floor not mopped. I was tired.
For the last little while I have fallen to bed exhausted and overwhelmed, having poured myself into the doing only to arrive at my pillow feeling further behind than when I awoke. I try harder the next day with the same results. The need to be has worked itself into a roar within my ears. And still I’m not sure. What about the list?
In high school, I sang hymns by the hour. I didn’t know about the physiological benefits of singing, I just knew I left the hymns different than I came to them. In a world where there was nothing I could do to affect change, I wanted to survive. The hymns were my early lesson in being. Along the way, they embedded themselves into the fabric of me. Dear friends, they come to me while I’m mowing, doing dishes, or wanting to kill my offspring, it really doesn’t matter. A line here, a line there.
My hope is built on nothing less – Oh Love, that wilt not let me go -Come Thou, fount of every blessing – Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s wild restless seas…
Drunk with doing, the ache from which I run remains. From the noise of May’s drive to accomplish, I begin to hear –
Be Thou my vision…
I sit with it and let it sing, and then another comes.
Be still my soul…
I stop. I breathe deep and I don’t sing it. The first line is enough.
be. still. my soul, mind and body.
Weary, by Winslow Homer. Watercolor, 1878.
Some pain we can justify. (I am dysfunctional at the moment because X has occurred.) In these cases, fallout from X is universally understood, even expected. Other times we are broken by things we cannot name. Prayers taste like cardboard in our mouths. Silent tears choke in our throats . What we can name seems small and pathetic. And then to be brought down by such insignificant troubles is itself a trial.
Six or so months ago, Girl one was on our porch weeping madly. Control long gone, she gasped for air. I wasn’t sure whether to get a paper bag and treat for hyperventilation, or just to wait. I ran my fingers through her hair, wiped her tears, held her, and wished that I believed in sedatives enough to have some on hand.
For what seemed like a very long time, she was unable to tell me what was wrong. Either she was crying too hard to speak or she was insistent that she couldn’t say it. Any tiny attempts to explain the problem restarted the cascade of emotion, air shortage and tears.
My mind raced trying to figure it out. Was it sibling conflict, friends at school, or something with mom or dad? She shook her head no. Darker worries began to cloud me. I had never seen her so distraught.
Eventually, she began to talk. She didn’t want to get married (she was 7). Ok, I said. She didn’t want her sister or brothers to get married. I suggested that it might be hard for us to decide something like that for the rest of the family was met with five minutes of hysteria. In a weak moment, I backed down and agreed that none of the other children would get married either.
At last we came to the source of her sorrows. Boy one was changing. He was growing up. In a few years he would be a grown up and move away. She was heartbroken. She didn’t want him to go to University. She wanted the family to stay together. She didn’t want to have any more birthdays or have anyone grow up anymore.
Logic didn’t prove very useful that day. We got through it by being together and holding hands while she cried. Maybe it’s strange, but I take comfort from that day. Granted, I smiled when she revealed the source of her grief, but I didn’t think she was foolish or contemptible. I loved her heart. Given my perspective and life experience, her response was overblown, but given hers it wasn’t.
I want to have the courage to be like that. Not all pulled together and fine thanks (unless I’ve got notarized wounds to show). Just as I am. So, a nod to Girl one for showing me how it’s done.
Some sort of arthritis of the soul is at my bones, settled in to a dull ache these days. I was going to say it was ridiculous, as there have been no amputations of late, but maybe I’ll just say that’s the way it is and let it be.
One of my favorites (a girl from the four batch)
Checking out the kids to see if they smell right or if they’re somebody else’s and need a good shove to the ground
The boys . . .Filippo and Georgie
Style is not my thing. I’ve got it, obviously. But I hide it. I think it’s my mother’s fault. Once upon a time, cheered on by friends convinced that fabric shapes brought one closer to God, she required me to wear skirts to school daily. This, from age 11 on. When it started, it was like shock therapy. It hurt. I hated it. I had to do it anyway. Her concession was gradual implementation. I started off one skirt per week in grade six (up from previous zero per year) and worked up to every day in time for grade eight. Surely without this, a more visible approach to style would have found me. My mother would roll her eyes at this, but I’ve got the floor.
The proof is in the pudding so to speak, and the pudding in question is my daughter and my younger self. My daughter was born knowing what she wanted to wear. By age two, if she didn’t like what I picked, she tore it off when I left and played naked.
Until recently, she begged for skirts and dresses for almost everything. I felt as mystified as my mother did when I came out standard equipped with distaste for hair combing and frills. I liked denim, corduroy, and navy blue. I deemed underwear an excess that extended getting dressed a few seconds too many. My mother was fit to be tied when she discovered I’d been to grade one many times without them. I was a bit relieved to see her in so much distress. It gave me a chance to back down for compassionate reasons – not just because the seams on those pants were so extremely uncomfortable. Anyway, if that kind of independent notion is not a start towards style, I don’t know what it is.
Meanwhile, I’m stunted. When we’re late to school every day, we pass a lady getting her kids on the bus. Last week she was wearing a short flowered skirt with black pants underneath. She looked odd, but that didn’t separate her from most things I’m told are fashionable. Her combo being new to me only meant that it hadn’t been the style for longer than three or four years. The rest of the drive, I tried picturing myself in the outfit. I don’t wear short skirts normally on account of my vice presidency in the Covered Skin Sisterhood (I’m one of only three non-Muslim members so there’s pressure to do my part). . . but she was covered! Maybe this was my chance to look like everyone else?
Before I could decide, she pattered out in 3/4 length camouflage pants and a frilly blouse. I can’t describe how terrible it was because I never know the words that describe clothes. I wouldn’t have cared what she was wearing except for her almost making me wear something terrible. I am resolved again now to be me, my style nicely tucked in my pocket.
I have always liked math. In my younger days, I did well. In grade 11, I ended up in Calculus class with Mr. Riley.
Mr. Riley taught computers and senior math. He enjoyed talking about the stock market. On his head, he sported a carefully maintained comb over. He was in his fifties, I think. The problem was that my interest in math only went so far. I liked Algebra, Geometry and Trigonometry. I liked parts of Calculus, but some parts I did not. Discussions of imaginary numbers did not interest me even a little bit. I like imagination in my words, but not my numbers. What I like about numbers is how unimaginative they are.
My math teacher before Mr. Riley (not the top of the line for role models and appropriate conversationalists, but a decent math teacher) thought I was something great. My plans to become a social worker he dismissed as a ridiculous waste. Teachers talk. I think Mr. Riley saw me coming and thought I was someone I was not. At least that is my best guess at our troubles.
That and I was not that into school the year Calculus rolled around. My heart was heavy and my head was elsewhere. My lack of fascination for numbers real and imagined can’t really be blamed on Mr. Riley. A few weeks in and Mr. Riley was annoyed. A few months in and I was a source of great irritation. He seemed less than blessed by my, “yeah, so what’s the actual point,” approach to Calculus. One day in exasperation, Mr. Riley attempted a prophecy.
Jones, he said, so I looked up. You know what you’re going to be when you grow up? I was all over rhetorical questions, so I waited. I can just see it now. You’re going to be one of those women that live in a trailer park. That answers the door at 3:00 in the afternoon. Soap operas blaring in the background. Can of beer in your hand. Kids screaming in the background behind you.
I laughed. But part of me wasn’t laughing, it was staring through him thinking, wait and see, buddy. You don’t know a thing about me. Driving down the road the other day, I thought of Mr. Riley. Instead of a “Just you wait, Henry Higgins,” moment, an entirely new conversation occurred to me. As a result, I’m organizing an all points bulletin to all the nursing homes in America until I find him. I’ve got some questions that need answers, like where?
Where, Mr. Riley? Where is that trailer park? If the soaps fail to suit, might I read instead? Iced tea perhaps for my hand. Does the bathrobe come with the trailer, and if so, in what colors is it available? I’m finally getting the vision and the sooner I get there the better.
It is no small thing to be born. We all got to do it once. Being born means coming very close to dying. It’s not always sunshine and beautiful. It hurts. And things die. People, lambs, chicks. Spring on a farm is a mini maternity ward. It’s new life, but there’s death in the air too.
Every day, it’s true that we could die. So could our children, our husbands, or our best friends, but we don’t like that in our air. We die when we have to, but otherwise we avoid remembering it exists. Mourning periods with different clothing, visible signs of grief are a thing of the past or a thing for other cultures. We don’t prepare dead bodies in their homes. As soon as people die, they’re whisked away to the funeral home until it’s time to bury them. I don’t think we are trying to be disrespectful, we’re trying to forget that life is fragile and death inevitable.
I watched some lambs be born with Girl two beside me. I didn’t know if the lamb, whose foot we saw go in and out and in and out before it finally came out, would be alive. Sometimes they are not. My daughter cheered when at last it emerged alive. But I think I found it more beautiful than she did when the lambs sputtered and cried, because I knew more about the thin line that separates survival from death. And the miracle that happens when something steps across it.
Death as destruction is rightfully abhorred. Death as cessation of life is a gift we do not comprehend. This also makes birth beautiful. Perhaps I am speaking for myself; I glimpse that death is merely the end of what we know, but most of the time, I fail to understand it. Yet birth, the gift of life, this I can comprehend. There was nothing. Now there is something. Breathing, moving, living.
In every birth, we celebrate our own. A tiny vision, fresh and new as the day we were born. Not yet resigned to anything. Happy to be who we are. Curious to see who we might become. A furious hope still clinging to our skin, we are a little bit born again.
Until further notice, I see these in my dreams.
Current status: run off my feet with lambs. I’m not sure yet how many will need me for the long haul. I’m feeding one and half from the four batch, and the littlest lamb from the three batch. He was getting lethargic and falling behind. One of the kids asked if we could try feeding him. I assured them that it wouldn’t work. It takes a day or two for the new ones to get the hang of the bottle and after a week with just mom, most won’t touch it unless they’ve been hungry for a long time. First try, Jr. was sucking back on the baby bottle like a pro. Now he’s the first to come crooked happy leaping when he sees me.
None of the five batch have taken to the bottle yet. One does ok. I’m trying everybody on little nibbles and swallows so nobody gets dehydrated and Lily gets help with the milk supply. Overfeeding means scours (diarrhea) which means dead if it isn’t fixed. It’s a juggling act with bottle fed lambs to give enough nourishment, but not too much.
Milk is mixed, measured, and delivered at mom milk temperatures. Amounts are tracked according to when each lamb was born. The finicky five group, still deciding who is going to give in and who refuses to budge for sub par, takes extra time to cajole. From preparing through to clean up, each feeding takes about 30 minutes. Times five feedings a day means a lot of time and a short leash for being away from the farm.
Lily with five lambs stresses me. Lambs always do best with the mother. Mothers do not always do best with so many lambs. My sheep advisor (200 plus ewes and 700ish lambs) recommends removing any lambs past three, period. Only the very exceptional ewe can take four, he says. He has a separate barn for all the bottle fed lambs. They can bleat their hearts out until they settle in at the orphanage and grow slowly.
In years past we tried lambs in plastic tubs in the house, the garage, tiny pens in the yard. It is just soooo much work and away from the mom, they don’t thrive. You kill yourself for scrawny, weak, and barely, maybe. When you finally put them in the pasture with everyone else, they run to their mother, and she knocks them down and refuses to have anything to do with them. As is already clear to real farmers everywhere, I am not psychologically designed for farming.
But what if we are asking too much of Lily to raise all those little lambs? She doesn’t seem stressed but am I missing something? Decision still pending. Sleep still disturbed. Lambs fill and empty me both. Meanwhile I am stretched. Tough teachers those little four pound weaklings.
This past weekend we took the plunge. I took the boys to a bee keeping class an hour away. It was scheduled to be three hours long. It went longer. At the two hour mark, I offered to leave early and get the rest of the information to review at home. There were no other children there. At ten, Boy two was deemed the youngest student the classes had seen. I don’t think they were flush with a history of thirteen year olds either.
I wondered if the boys would be intimidated by the six or so other adults. In things like getting cookies or choosing seats, they were. The minute things turned to bees, they didn’t even remember the other people were in the room. Boy two was raising his hand, asking questions, and offering his own ideas. I tried to kick him quiet with my toe, but before my foot touched him, it turns out he was saying the right answer.
When our delightful fourth generation, all organic bee keeper and teacher, took us out to open up a hive and look at the bees, Boy two was actually dancing. Boy one was motionless, watching every move she made.
If you want to go now, we can, said Boy one when I asked.
No way, said Boy two. I’m not missing anything. This is awesome.
Which probably makes you think there were bells and whistles instead of an off the cuff, slightly meandering, but very experienced beekeeper in her sixties. Boy two jiggled his foot and fiddled with knick knacks. Whenever there was a chance to walk around, both were up and moving. We went to the class with my provisos about not a done deal. If the bees seemed too complicated, the class too long, the whole thing too much work, anything, we could go home and call it a day.
We were the last to leave. We left with a book, equipment, and two hives to paint and set up in preparation for our bees which will arrive mid-June. For the way home, Boy two was squished in the back seat with hive parts beside him, at his feet, and on his lap. Boy one was in similar straights in the front. The car was peaceful; the boys content.
I know I don’t show it like Boy two, said Boy one. But I’m really, really excited about this. Thanks for taking us to the class today.
I smiled relieved that I was right. It was his intent look, I’d been watching all afternoon, not his polite one.
The bees are a win-win in my mind. In the best case scenario, the kids love it, we get honey, they get money, and my apple trees get pollinated. In the worst case scenario, we try it, the bees don’t work for us to upkeep, so we stop with the hope that in a small way, we added to the honey bee population on the farm.
I’ve already started looking at recipes if we make it until the honey comes.
Canadian etiquette requires that Victoria Day weekend be spent in outdoor pursuits: camping, cottaging, gardening – anything outside. This somehow brings honor to Queen Victoria, who passed from this life in 1901. I wasn’t raised with Kings and Queens. Twenty plus years into this Canadian experiment, I’m warming up to them quite nicely. The holiday Monday that the monarchy extends to me each May is always well received. I don’t mind doing my part to hail to the Queen.
This year in Victoria’s honor, my husband got a new fence up and we moved some manure piles and spread them on the fields using our handy, dandy pitchforks. Boy two graduated to tractor driver so Boy one and I could throw brown treasure off the wagon. Extended family offered help, so the wood splitter got some action and a kitchen garden went in for me! Girl one began her lawn mowing career. Steering is an issue. Girl two put herself to bed at the end of the day but woke up to ask when work days were going to be over, because they were really, really long days.
I’m sure the Queen appreciated all that, although I don’t know which Queen. I’m guessing that Queen Elizabeth appreciates it in Victoria’s place, on account of the 1901 departure. but it might be that a whole group of them sits down around 3:00 to feel grateful to Canada. (*This just in: the holiday now includes celebration of the reigning monarch’s birthday.)
So in tribute to Victoria, with birthday wishes to HRH Queen Elizabeth, the best (and most daunting) part of the day was Lily, herself of royal blood, who finally had her lambs. The best part of the gift was the timing. Right smack in the middle of the morning in broad daylight. Kids got to see lambs born. (That tiny little sentence really doesn’t do the experience justice. It might deserve it’s own post on miracles, only I can’t write it yet due to the daunting.) The daunting part, was that Lily kept going past three lambs, right on to five. So far, they are all alive. The next few weeks involve a lot of frequent bottle feedings with lambs at different stages. Although fewer lambs would mean less work, for some reason the instinct for life is stronger in all of us than practicalities. My heart sinks every time I think one of them has died, and soars if they wiggle up and start stumbling around again. It will be unusual if they all make it, but since you never know which ones will make it, you knock yourself out for everybody, say a prayer, hold your breath, and wait.
One things is certain. Each of the five will receive a royal name. Since we name all the girls we keep by flower names, we must certainly dub someone from the group, Queen Anne’s Lace.
I find it hard to love freely. Sad people are ok. People in crisis that I read about are easy. It’s the aggressive, overbearing, opinionated, in your face people that get to me. The stuck in their ways, plodders, who would smile if they had the energy, but it’s not their job to and Lord knows they’re busy enough as it is, also get to me. Which brings me to our dog.
Molly is almost twelve. She is a mutt, bought at the wrong time (the same week we moved into a new house with an almost two year old, a lot of years ago). She has been raised by people who are largely not dog people. We love her, but we find it strange when people visit who want to touch her for hours and roll around on the floor with her. At first, Molly and Boy one were at the same maturity/intelligence level. Luckily, Boy one moved on. Since then, we’ve had three more children and moved to a farm. Molly is great with everybody. She killed a few chickens when we first moved to the farm, but she wasn’t angry, they were just too interesting not to shake by the neck.
For the month of April, Molly shared our house with visiting dog, Jasmine. A few weeks ago, we got kittens. These days I run out the door many times a day to check on chicks and lambs. With the end of school coming into view, the kids lives are filling up with extra concerts, games and end of year projects. Molly’s routine is definitely disrupted.
Misty, the pony, Michelle, the human, we’ll let you know if people start setting us off to the side for good causes or other. (It’s not complaining, it’s advocating. Think life skill.) If you forget who I am and what kind of homage I deserve in this house, you can most definitely plan on hearing me advocate as loudly as needed until a change is made.
Molly isn’t like that. She’s her affectionate self regardless. In just about every way, things are best for both of us when Molly and I get to the woods each day. – But when it’s not best and hasn’t been best for a few days, and I call her for a walk, or stop to talk to her, there’s no payback for not coming sooner. She’s happy to see me, always. Happy to be together now, despite what was or wasn’t before.
I love to walk with her, but I don’t like being licked. I don’t talk dog. It’s not that I don’t try, but on gung ho dog loving, I don’t think I do it right. It doesn’t seem to matter. Molly doesn’t have charts of my pros and cons, she just loves me. There is no bitterness for who I am not, only joy, somehow unbounded, for who I am.
I’m starting to wonder, excepting the chicken part, what if God is like Molly?