Some of the fruits of our labors came together this weekend . . .
Finally a honey harvest!!!
Some lovely comb to use for our bottles of chunk honey.
About 4:30, I sent two kids to the pasture on bikes to look for our cow, Anabelle. We were in up to our eyeballs in stacks of unextracted honey, newly extracted honey, pots, pans, machines, and instructions, but no one had seen the cow all day. Her son, Buster, left the farm a week ago and I worried she might have gone off in search of him. The kids returned without success so my husband headed out. Meanwhile, Boy one and I soldiered on in the honey business. We had gone for a lesson on honey extraction the week before, but we still had to keep stopping to look things up.
After a good long search, the cow tracker returned with a grin. Honey had to wait while we went off to see for ourselves what Anabelle had been up to out there in the bush.
Anabelle had been busy getting out someone new for us to meet. Since she did all the work, the first picture features her! (Placenta was still hanging so birth was quite recent.)
Our new calf is a girl! We’re loving the look of the Hereford in her.
Naming the calf took a few days . . . but Almond Joy she is, with promises to Girl two that she will be called Almond Joy as one name, not just Almond, with Joy as a middle name – for reasons unknown, this mattered. The birth of Almond Joy means we’ll have a second cow to breed (very good news, we think).
Presenting her beautifulness. . . Almond Joy
And more beautifulness!
The honey operation that we guessed would be the work of a few hours that night took us almost eight . . . but even morning people need to stay up until midnight once in a while. A few weeks ago, we found the bee mentor I’ve been dreaming of. She is a goddess of reasonable, effective, low key beekeeping. Looking at our hives, goddess says the only thing we’ve really done wrong was use a cheaper kind of frame that the bees don’t like, otherwise things look good. (I held back just barely from throwing my arms around her neck. It helped that we were both dripping sweat like a faucet out there in the bee yard.) Thanks to goddess, Boy one and I are sticking with bees for another season at least.
Sweet to the last drop . . . 70 lbs of top quality honey plus a few lbs of home honey mightily helped to ease the frustrations of a difficult year with the bees. (Knowing we finally have our very own bee goddess in driving distance, who owns a phone, doesn’t hurt either.)
Lawn mowers are my life long love affair. The roaring drone of the engine is ironically all about quiet. Sometimes I sing, or not. What I never do is hear who did what to whom, or what anyone needs, wants, or is looking for. My lawn mower is a portable combination church, library, nature sanctuary, divine telephone line and therapist all rolled into one.
Before this summer, I mowed the fields when the lawn wasn’t big enough. Sincere men tried to explain that this was not what the ride on mower was designed for. They were missing the point. Twice we had to have the blades replaces half way through the summer. The fix it man could not understand how a lawn could be so hard on a mower. But it wasn’t the lawn. I was traversing a field/pasture/premier breeding ground for frogs, snakes, praying mantises and mice, and swerving accordingly for any sighting of small life. The whole farm sits a few inches above bedrock. What can I say? Sometimes it sticks up.
This year we have bush hog, “to do the fields properly.” This is a mostly blessing. But the bush hog has to be officially hooked up in some kind of grand manner and then grandly unhooked and parked just so in order to fit everything in the barn. The bush hog cannot be summoned because I feel the yearning to mow rising to fever pitch. The current lawn mower is slower, coughs, squeals, and after it’s years of service, mows drunkenly uneven swaths . . . but it does not require advance notice to use it. The old girl still gets a go at the open spaces if no one is looking when the lawn is not big enough by half.
Farms can fill you with joy and overwhelm you with discouragement. It was a day of the latter a few weeks ago. Bee hives were not thriving. Ditto for apple trees. Ewe #3 did not get pregnant this year. Small but promising garden was demolished by a hurricane of cows. (When they couldn’t reach to eat any more off the tops of the tomato plants, they knocked down the fence and ate everything except the weeds to the ground.)
I finished the lawn and finished the apple/bee yard. It wasn’t enough so I started in on part of field covered in thistles. Ruining our beautiful, previously pristine field, thistles. I imagined the farm in a few more years. No bees, dead apple trees, and the pasture an unwalkable sanctuary of thistles. We would have to name our farm Thistledown.
I began mowing a hopeless protest through the four foot high sea of thistle. After four or five passes, I stopped for a honey bee. I looked closer and laughed. Honey bees were everywhere, inches apart from each other, buzzing in and out of endless thistle flowers. For the bees, the thistles were a paradise of flowers a short flight from home. The kind of thing a beekeeper would plant on purpose to help them.
I stopped mowing, happy. The thistle looked beautiful. It could stay, even multiply. Grace tickled my heart asking what other thistle things of my knowing might be secretly brimming with the stuff of honey.
The Walk to Work, by Jean-François Millet. 1851
The black flies always drive me out of the woods by June. This is usually the end of my quiet walks for a few months. Not expecting much, but missing the walking time, I tried a route along the road this year. It was different than the woods, but to my surprise, I really liked it. On lucky days the litter and the cars are fewer, but regardless, the sky is always bigger.
My mom was a walker. Often by herself, but almost everywhere we lived, I remember places that we walked together. She probably got it from her parents, who walked twice a day, often for a good two miles, well into their eighties. When I picture my mother or grandmother, I picture them drinking tea or taking a walk.
People who meet us together often consider my husband the quiet one. Depending on the situation, he can be happy to let me do the talking. But when it’s just the two of us, I can be lucky to get a word in edgewise. Without intending to this summer, we’ve made a habit of an after dinner walk together. It’s nice on lots of counts, but the biggest is how much easier it is to feel connected to each other.
There is something about walking that is hard to put your finger on. Cars, dogs, and people intersect our time without intruding on our space together. Curiously, the circle of togetherness feels both small and big. Walking with my husband, I feel connected to my mom, my grandparents . . . and it probably sounds crazy, but people in general. I walk, listening intently of course, to recaps of NPR, ESPN, etc. Meanwhile pictures of people walking amble through my head. Not just my heroes, the pioneers, but escaping people, exploring people, refugees. Mothers with babies on their backs, teenagers holding hands, tired people, laughing people, amazed people. All kinds of people go through my head. I think again of the man beside me. How much he drives me completely out of my mind. What a gift it is to be an us. The mystery of imperfect love. The kindness of slow time. How much simpler, easier it is to listen here on the side of the road.
Humans, I learned, walk about 3 miles an hour. A friend recently walked from Ottawa to Montreal, which took twelve days. Afterwards she was struck by the speed of car rides. She said all she could think sitting there was, “Why would anyone want to go this fast? You can hardly see anything like this.”
She’s right. You see things when you walk. You hear things. Walking alone, there are windows to wholeness and peace that pass my understanding. (Alone walking is where I bring my disordered fragments for realignment.) Walking together, a doorway opens between the separateness of souls. We walk, like breathing, without thinking about it. Unhurried space that is both ordinary and intimate. Gallons of water, misunderstood, assumed, taken for granted, criticized, and frustrated, have gone under the bridge (along with a few cats, some kids, missing tax receipts and a broken lawn mower) by the time we walk each day. It doesn’t all get said but it all gets sorted out. Because baptized in the shared humanity of 3 mph, we hear and see each other as friends.
Fest der Kentauren. Edoardo Ettore Forti. 1880 -1920.
I undertook a small trip this week. The four and a half hour trip down with the kids was almost pleasant. I filled the gaps with pep talk reminders about the joys of project work. Despite a late breaking meltdown ten minutes from our destination, we were happy to be out of the car and got down to business pretty quickly.
The boys were pleased to be cleaning out eaves troughs. Our roof at home is too steep to walk around on,and in seven years we haven’t managed to put up the eaves troughs on our house, so it’s not a job they’ve ever done. The girls and I emptied out a small greenhouse, then set to work with hammers and wrenches to take it apart.
The newness of the tasks made them fun. Milk and cookies from great grandma (who said they needed a break before their mother would have) didn’t hurt. Watching the girls play with toys that I played with as a child made my heart happy.
The way home was a little less fun. All we were doing then was going home, and we weren’t there yet. The movie choice was hotly debated by three. Girl one was the swing vote with the two’s (Boy and Girl) duking it out to win her over. Peaceful resolution required intervention. I chose Boy two’s movie with an option for Girl two to vote it down at the fifteen minute mark if she didn’t like it. She magnanimously said she would add five minutes and make her assessment at the twenty minute mark. I mistakenly thought we were home free.
Girl two lost track of time as planned. After half an hour she wasn’t sure if she liked the movie but it might be okay. In five minute intervals for the next hour she was alternately convinced, distracted, or placated with snack. We then declared it too late to change the movie. For the rest, in between watching intently, she told us every three or four minutes how much she hated Free Willy. It was the second worst movie she had ever seen in her life. She liked the sound of a statement so sweeping and repeated it periodically for the rest of the trip.
We arrived home in one piece, albeit not in one peace. I thanked everyone for their help. The kids said they’d enjoyed the trip excepting the return. A furtive tap on my door brought this counsel:
Mom, my advice is, while we’re still in the working mood, you better work us hard this weekend for as long as you can . . . but don’t let anyone else know I said that or they’ll kill me.
In their own strange ways, they look out for me.
The Captive Robin, by John Anster Fitzgerald, 1864. Public Domain
I started a piece called, “Fairy tales I tell myself.” It was about failed work projects and the fact that the idea of the children pitching in is a fairy tale I tell myself in order to make it feel like a team effort. I wanted to discuss the mounting level of fantasy required to plan a list of jobs (as if there were other creatures intent on their completion).
So a wee bit of cynicism, and “fairy tales” was not supposed to be a compliment. At which point, God laughed and hijacked my train.
Girl one lost another tooth. (A relief for the scales of justice as her sister’s teeth have been raining down like manna from heaven.) I thought a tooth fairy conversation was not far off, but I didn’t see it going the way it did.
I don’t know whether to believe in the tooth fairy, she said. I pretty much know there isn’t one. That’s what my friends all say. . . but I’m . . .I’m not completely sure.
The man in the red suit (who we don’t campaign against, but who’s never really caught on as a tradition for our family) came to my rescue.
Kids want to believe in Santa Claus, I said, because they want to believe that there’s magic in the world. That love does things so amazing we can’t explain it. A kid might find out that Santa isn’t real and worry that miracles aren’t true either. But they are. Someone might have made up the idea of Santa Claus but love really does do things so amazing we can’t explain it. So amazing that it’s magical like flying reindeer.
She didn’t say anything, so I kept brushing her hair.
What would be better? I said. To believe the tooth fairy isn’t real and you don’t feel dumb with your friends or to believe she is real and you don’t have to feel sad that part of what you imagined is pretend?
Girl one took these things and pondered them in her heart. I brushed hair that no longer needed brushing.
Your sister puts her tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy. Your brother doesn’t want to so he brings me all his lost teeth and I hand him some money. It’s okay both ways and the money’s the same either way. Which way do you want it?
I want to believe, she said.
I didn’t know how much I’d wanted her to say that until she said it. She danced downstairs the next morning waving the money that I’d put under her pillow myself. I saw her eyes and found it impossible not to imagine a tooth fairy with wings. Look what I got! she said. Girl two and I gasped with her.
Girl one wasn’t asking about the existence of the tooth fairy. She was asking if it was okay to believe in fairy tales. If it was okay to find in make-believe, things so true it made your heart hurt.
C.S. Lewis’s Narnia is that for me. I don’t expect to walk through a wardrobe in my daily life and find a different world (although I wouldn’t rule it out entirely). Rather, I expect that we may awake one day to the realization that where we are is Narnia. In the wordless places we see in part but are afraid to say, so we make poetry, and art, and music for each other to admit to what we know. That the trees have always talked, we simply haven’t heard them. That Aslan is real and on the move and without understanding why, that is precisely what we have been hoping and whispering so earnestly to each other.
We tell fairy tales to give back to our children what they give to us. That thing we so desperately need. Permission to believe.
Compliments of cooee at morguefile.com
“It came with the wind through the silence of the night, a long, deep mutter, then a rising howl, and then the sad moan in which it died away. Again and again it sounded, the whole air throbbing with it, strident, wild and menacing.”*
“A man’s or a woman’s?”
Dr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered: “Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”*
*From, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
A large something has been dogging me for months. I’ve sensed it in the spaces of the trees. Glimmers, shadows, traces of things, then out of the blue, I catch a look at it: the dogged thing. I’ve looked for answers in stacks of papers, mossy rocks, old friends, long walks and in the silence of the night.
You, I’ve said as bravely as I could, I see you. I name you.
This all sounds very good. Except I no sooner name it as it changes. I name the tallness because it haunts. Shortly thereafter tallness is immaterial. There is an almost missing forearm impossible to avoid, which itself becomes irrelevant because the smell of cheese is so intense. But I cannot worry about cheese too long because I hear the sound of bagpipes not only in my head but in my bones.
It has made for strange conversations.
How is it going, a friend might ask, about the tall thing.
Tall thing? I feel terrible. The forearm is dangling precariously by a sinew. Apologetic for the confusion, I rename the dogged thing from tall to dangling.
Mine is a simple theory: naming things makes them manageable. Having to keep renaming the dogging thing has been a crisis of confidence, especially for my writing aspirations. Writers name things. That’s what they do. If I can’t adequately name the dogged thing, how can I expect to write?
We’ve been in a heat wave drugged by humidity. Thoughts beyond the immediate have not been possible. I kicked in the life skills/coping strategies almost as soon as it started. Hottest jobs for coolest times of day, hydration, hydration, shade, etc. Every afternoon I got the kids to cold water to swim or took them to the library to cool down in the air conditioning. It worked. In fact, it worked so well I decided it wasn’t needed.
Wednesday we did nothing to combat the heat. By the afternoon, sticky grumpy bodies lined the couches. Shrill voices complained loudly. Irritating acts occurred every ten seconds. Violent acts threatened. When night fell, I went outside for some air. Two lone bats flew the skies. The rest knew it was too hot even for the mosquitoes. The fans that had worked splendidly to cool the house on hotter days were pathetic and impotent against our stickiness that night. No one could sleep for hours.
Based on the weather, it could have been the fifth or sixth day of misery, but it wasn’t. Every day I’d taken the heat seriously had been just fine. Lying there, I thought about how sometimes you know more than you give yourself credit for. Then I thought about the dogged thing whose naming had so plagued me. Why had I insisted it was one name or another? That not knowing which name was the actual name was a failure? People can be named Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill and much longer names than that. Cannot dogged things have many names as well?
With that I sighed relief. The dogged thing was named after all. For the rest of the summer, we shall go forth to be sensible on hot days and not. As Mr. Churchill once said:
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
Pink line of “y” in right hand corner is a movable replica of a worm.
Summer brings with it a fierce and lasting deafness to my clarion calls for order. My subjects, I discern, fancy themselves as fellow royals. The concerns of their dominions are too loud to hear me most of the time.
Boy two is responsible for chicks. Food and water are not overly interesting to him. Worms, on the other hand, are. And chicks, he believes, need worms. The girls love to play with the chicks while they’re new. Unbeknownst to me, Boy two forbid them from even seeing the chicks unless they paid admission. Morning admission: one worm. Evening admission: two.
Boy two said instead of explaining himself, we should come to Chicky, Chicky Worm Fest (invitation reminder via a sign on the bathroom door, later moved to the coop before our arrival). The girls agreed. Wearing a wig and a large brimmed hat, Boy two introduced himself as Raul. He held a worm until a chick got hold of it and ran. Mad races then ensued. Chick with worm ran determined to maintain the prize, anyone who saw the dangling worm ran to steal it, the rest of the chicks ran to see what all the running was about. Two chicks with worms meant even more chaos and the possibility of crashes. Raul proudly extolled the excellent exercise opportunities of worm racing, a clear but unspoken defense of his admission policy.
Boy one’s established kingdom is primarily focused on information. For free, he provides all kinds of facts necessary for our betterment. He also asks a lot of questions. The other day he asked me one I didn’t know the answer to and didn’t particularly feel like talking about it.
“I don’t know,” I said. Closing down his bid for further knowledge, I added, “as a wise man once say, when person not tell truth, it not worth asking the story.”
“Wow,” he said in awe. “That’s amazing. I mean, that’s really true. I never thought about it, but it’s true.”
The bequeathing of a minor earldom in my direction is absolutely one of the highlights of my summer. It may in fact turn out to be the last thing I ever say that impresses him. When I told him I’d made it up, he was speechless (briefly).
“I seriously thought it was Chinese or something. It was that good,” he said.
Girl one fights for the shape of her kingdom more quietly. (Girl two keeps us steadily informed on her behalf.) Girl one hates passing on clothes to her sister. We talk about it. We let the outgrown clothes sit around for awhile. Slowly, a few things at a time, we change them over to Girl two’s drawers. Often Girl one see them there and takes them back once or twice before it sticks. For her part, Girl two makes a point of mentioning how good the favorite previously owned items look on her whenever possible. There is a particular pink kilt beloved by both girls. Girl two wore it a few days ago. That night she told me she was giving it back to Girl one.
This had never happened before. “I thought you liked it,” I said.
“I do,” said Girl two, “but she told me if I ever wore it again she was going to put a witch’s curse on it so something bad would happen to me.”
Kingdoms come, kingdoms go. Summer marches on.
Raul luring the next racer (hard to see the worm)
photo by anitapeppers compliments of morguefile.com
Veronica the vicious is a chicken who got unlucky once, lucky twice, unlucky once, and then lucky twice again.
Veroncia was caught pecking open an egg, however, she successfully ran to the chicken witness protection program. Melted into the milieu of other chickens, man and boy couldn’t be positive which one she was so they carried on cleaning out the chicken coop. Veronica being bold, the scenario played out a second time without successful capture.
After the third egg she attacked in broad daylight, my husband leapt, gashed his head on the ceiling, but at last cornered her audacious clucking self. Veronica the vicious was then named, segregated and her tail marked with black spray paint in case she got loose.
Since then, Veronica has been in detention because none of us were in the mood for an execution. This is where she got extremely lucky. Veronica’s execution has been stayed and in fact, she is travelling to a new home today. We are providing a cage, food, and some wood shavings. We may also have stated with confidence that she won’t eat her own eggs, (so an egg a day is bound to follow?) I’m not sure on what authority we speak. In any event, we sincerely hope she doesn’t, and liberties of expression can be taken in capital cases.
Squeaky is not a chicken. Squeaky is a wood chuck. Squeaky’s family took up residence last summer in our barn. We cleaned out their temporary residence, put up no trespassing signs and went inside for the winter where we belonged. This spring, Squeaky and company came back. They took down the no trespassing signs, hung curtains, and began working in earnest at family expansion. My husband said he would trap them. I said it wouldn’t work. In for breakfast he came the next day. One less wood chuck, was all he said.
You caught one? Wow, okay. I guess now we have to decide what to do with it.
Not too much to decide.
You mean you killed it?
The rest of the conversation can be summed up as followed.
Me: surprised. horrified. mad.
Him: proud. surprised. disappointed (at the lack of congratulations).
The eventual new procedure was distant resettlement of future captures by me. Two of Squeaky’s family have already been released in a forest a few kilometers away. Patient and quiet, they exited (the long rectangular cube of white plastic with air holes) almost as soon as we opened the trap and quickly disappeared into green.
Unlike his predecessors, Squeaky was not quiet about the unluckiness of getting caught. I have always assumed wood chucks to be mute. Squeaky laid that myth to rest. He squeaked so loudly when we got near the trap that we jumped. More than once. I expected from his noises a kind of rocket to shoot forth from the trap once we got to the forest. We opened the trap door and Squeaky stayed put. We gave up waiting. I upended it and he slid out onto the ground. Squeaky waddle-ran ten feet and then stopped.
I apologized that the barn was no longer available. I had no defense for our lack of hospitality. Then I reminded him he was lucky he wasn’t the first woodchuck caught in the trap. He thought about it, sniffed the air, looked around some more, and disappeared his lucky self into the brush.
It is summer here and I have boats on the mind. We returned recently from the land of canoes, kayaks, and other water craft. Boy one spent the first day of and a half of vacation making a plug to fill the hole of an old rowboat. He cleaned it out and attached a small motor he found. The row boat’s plug was not perfect but only a little ongoing bailing seemed necessary to keep things ship shape. His triumph culminated in a solo trip with his brother to unknown places. There they discovered a waterfall, a swimming hole, and a burning desire for more adventures of the same.
On a summer evening mid July I was singing. Kids waited for the story to unfold, laughing as another woman and I sang every verse of “There’s a hole in my bucket.” Since then my head has been visited going on weeks now with the recurring choruses. There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza . . . With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza.
I share Henry’s bewilderment. Buckets in need of repair are tricky. Effective possible remedies are difficult to come by.
I picture the rowboat and know that I too am a boat that requires bailing. There is a hole in the boat, I have said quietly now to a few friends.
One night we sang campfire songs in the living room around a pile of red pillows because it was too windy outside for a real fire. This is the song that never ends sang the kids again and again. For the uninitiated, there are three more lines in the song which then circle back to the beginning whereby you sing with increasing gusto, this is the song that never ends! Kids love the song inversely proportional to how much other people hate it. The quickest and most bearable way out (which is still not that quick) is to sing along and pretend to like it.
Recapping, there’s a hole in my bucket, a song that never ends, a rowboat with a homemade plug, and me the boat with a hole. Or two.
Mulling it all over on a walk at home, I remembered another very windy vacation day. With much enthusiasm two kids gathered materials: sticks, hammer, nail, duct tape, pillow case, white garbage bags. Two models of a sail emerged and out into the bay they went. With one sitting on a blow up raft and another on a blow up yellow tube, they held up sails to catch the wind. Over and over they went, changing the angle of the sail, trying new starting points, stopping to take the sails apart and revamp with new materials. Twice, for thirty seconds of so, they were able to sail side by side. The last sail began with a laborious swim to drag sail and raft as far from shore as possible. An impressively long sail followed, steered with great pride to the precise corner of the dock.
We bail our leaking boats at times with a bit of discouragement. Will the bailing never end? Can anything be done about the holes? Seemingly ignoring the questions, the wind blows lightly. Only enough to tickle our ears. We remember that unannounced and arriving on a schedule quite its own, wind also comes with a mighty will across the water. When it does, from almost nothing, sails can be made.
Today the tiniest of breezes, and it is true that for now, we bail. But not without hope of wind and sails.
I had hoped to post more today but alas a houseful of seven happy kids and the need to say, “please shut the door,” six hundred and seventy-five thousand times, left me unable to process too many other thoughts. County Road 21 is taking some down time for the next few weeks with plans to be back for the second week of August. In the mean time we’ll be catching up on farm work, dispensing with farm work, taking walks, canoeing, kayaking, reading, talking, taking naps, and playing endless games of cards.
Blessings on you all.
p.s This just in as I write . . . one of mine to visiting sleepover guest . . . do you know what I call those little poops that are just tiny? Rabbit droppings! I just did a rabbit dropping . . . and on the conversation went to hair, pig tails, and other such important things.