Once upon a time two womyn moved to the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. They dreamed of growing things, wandering woods, and ending their days rocking side-by-side as the sun set over those same mountains....
We awakened to a world draped in white again this morning. We've been spared the staggering accumulations to be found 20 minutes west or an hour south of us, and the 'epic storm' left us with a mere 8" Wednesday, quickly reduced by drenching rains. But another 2" overnight has restored the fantasy world....once more it looks like a world created in black and white, almost too pretty to be real. I've decided to share some photos taken Wednesday morning....
grape arbor flanked by blueberries
two yr. old apple trees near strawberry bed
the path beckons...
prime sunset-over-the-mountains viewing
the house seems to just nestle into the snowy hill
Sometimes we come face to face with some ugly truths about ourselves. I like to imagine myself as a 'rustic-living', rugged (okay, semi-rugged), adaptable creature who can roll with the punches; I imagine I can look adversity in the face and offer it an Altoid. And then we lost electricity for 24 hours thanks to 8" of wet, heavy snow. I sat in our cold, dark livingroom and the truth glaring at me was this: I love roughing it...on my terms. I can be happy as a clam (once and for all, why are we so convinced clams are happy?) lighting my steps with cute little lanterns while the Full Moon brightens the night and stars are scattered across the sky. I can savor the deep, dark aroma of coffee percolated on the camp stove when it's Dean's Beans' organic fair trade Ring of Fire blend, ground specifically for percolating the day before, and sipped beside an early morning camp fire, accompanied by sharp-as-a-ginsu-knife cheddar cheese and my own spicy cranberry-pumpkin bread. I can grin and bear using a campground restroom as long as the toilets flush....because hey, it's a campground we chose to be at, on a trip we planned and prepared for. But an unexpected power outage? (Please note: by unexpected, I mean that the neighbors told me today it's the first time in EIGHT years that they've lost power for more than five minutes). I discovered that I'm no pioneer womon. In fact, I'm a comfort-loving weenie womon. Give me heat and hot water on demand--although I'd settle for just RUNNING water; no one ever explained to me that having a well means there's no pump from the well if the power goes out! Oh, there were neat little Laura Ingalls Wilder moments, like Linda figuring out that we should use bags filled with snow to keep the freezer cold, and me realizing that we could catch roof runoff in buckets in order to have water to flush the toilets (granted, Laura didn't have flush toilets; Pa just dug 'em an outhouse every so often). There was a cozy game of candlelight Scrabble (Linda won again, damn that late-in-the-game 'Y'), and two can definitely stay warmer than one! But the words 'your power has been restored' were magical, and it immediately felt as if MY power had been restored! I could once again leap tall buildings, cook a meal, flush the toilet! In two hours' time the camp stove was packed up, lanterns and flashlights retired, the dishwasher was miraculously filling with HOT water and scrubbing away, coffee was brewing, and the pellet stove was working its magic, giving those bright, hot, yellow-white flames a good workout (pellet stoves require electricity to run, in case you were wondering). I'll admit to maybe turning on an extra light or two because...well...I could.
But from this experience, there's renewed gratitude for those things so often taken for granted, so please indulge me as I offer thanks to:
The Cuisinart coffeemaker who exists to serve me rich, fabulous, fragrant, steaming coffee exactly when I want it.
The St. Croix Prescott EXL pellet stove with its sweet little Queen Anne legs and dancing fire that warms us to our very bones.
The well pump, to whom I've never been formally introduced but nonetheless showers us with...um...showers, not to mention freely running water from every sink tap, never asking anything in return.
(okay, I have no idea what OUR well pump actually looks like.....)
And let me not forget the computer & internet!!! I can live without TV or radio, but pleeeasssseee don't take away my internet connection! Thank you, Al Gore, for inventing the internet, thank you to Bill Gates and all those geeks (said with utmost respect and gratitude) who have given me the world at my fingertips!
Hey, I'm grateful for all those things that the Universe offers so freely and lovingly--Earth to hold us close, Air to give us wings, Fire to warm and inspire us, Water to sustain and carry us. But let's give a round of applause to the little things that make daily life so much easier and allow us the time and space to be pioneers on the frontiers of mind and spirit.
Wallowing in decadent relaxation, that is. I've been reading--Faint Praise by Ellen Hart, Martha Stewart Living, This Old House, Cooking Light; knitting--my forest green and black knit-stitch-only shawl is about 2/3rds done; and doing just a wee bit of cleaning & cooking. At the moment, the house is tantalizingly fragrant from Curried Carrot and Parsnip Soup, a long time favorite from Moosewood Restaurant's Low-Fat Favorites. The sweetness of carrots and parsnips dances with the bite of fresh ginger, onions and garlic, and the warmth of cumin and cinnamon. This, along with grilled-cheese-and-tomato sandwiches will be a perfect winter dinner, if I do say so myself. I always double the soup to stock the freezer; today there's a bit of sadness knowing this is the last batch that will grace the kitchen until September or October.
It snowed yesterday! It was the perfect snowfall....light and fluffy, the type of snow that lays light as a feather boa on tree branches, a lazy, picture postcard 5" snowfall that was easily cleared away before dark. There are moments of perfection that bless us if we allow ourselves to notice, and despite the threatened return of a cold (Linda & I believe in sharing; I shared my cold with her and she's now returning the favor), being curled up on the couch as the snow fell, watching the birds--totally unperturbed by weather--at the feeders, basking in the warmth of the fire in the pellet stove with 4 feet of alpaca shawl bundled in my lap and lemon-ginger tea beside me, was absolutely one of those moments.
Giddy--that's me today. Laid out, glistening like dewdrops on a sun-kissed Spring morning, are seven--count 'em, 7--days off!! Decided to add a few days to either end of the upcoming three day weekend, and have an entire week off, and today is day one. I haven't made 'big' plans....but am looking forward to the small ones! Today I'll pop in at Country Wool to check out a shawl that Linda saw there and loved, in hopes that the pattern will be easy enough for this novice (we are taking a field trip to Wonderful Things on Sunday and I'd like to have a project or two in mind before exploring the five rooms of yarn), have the great pleasure of lunching with a friend I haven't seen in two years (we met in an herbal medicine class a decade ago and it was an instant meeting of the minds), and run some errands. The rest of the time off will include little niceties like cleaning--let's call it pre-Spring cleaning, but the truth is more like the Fall cleaning that never got done--and true joys like getting together with my older son; I can't remember the last time he and I spent time together when it was just us. There will be many decadent hours spent with my paramour--soft, secret, seductive hours knitting and practicing with the drop spindle. I plan to savor every moment of this week, soak them in, hold each in my hands and give thanks for it....
I've had lovely things whispered in my ear. My heart has filled to bursting at the sound of my sons laughing. Ode to Joy is exactly that. But is there any sound sweeter, any words more seductive than "snow day"? Okay, maybe so, but uttered together, they are definitely way up there! A snow day is a pocket of time outside of ordinary time, a mythical creature--as real in the moment as your own being--to play and hang out with that vanishes by nightfall (this is why snow day calories don't count, so go ahead and have that extra cup of hot chocolate). It's an 'extra' day, a handful or two of hours tucked in a box, tied with a gaudy bow....a gift you couldn't count on but can now run through your fingers, fondle, taste and savor (I'll grant you this is said by someone whose children are grown up and needn't be shuttled to hills for sledding, or snow day playdates).
Like a little kid myself, I woke up at 4:30, checked the window--nothing. At 5:30 the TV station announced that the local school district was closed; Linda is training this week for a temporary job and they said if the local district closed her training would be rescheduled (alas, for Saturday). I kept dialing into work,waiting to hear the magic words....at 6:10, the message changed and it was music to my ears!!! So as I write, sipping my strong dark coffee, I can see snow falling steadily, already covering the porch and road. We watched a pair of chipmunks racing back & forth between our black walnut and the neighbors' stone wall, their tails straight up as they busily gathered something. We had breakfast by the fire watching the birds at the feeders. My plans for the day ? Soft, fleecy clothes, favorite snowy day lunch (okay, it's a dubious sounding thing, a casserole of elbow macaroni, tomato juice and cheddar cheese...but trust me; it's delicious if most decidely not 'heart-healthy', which is why it's relegated to snowy day fare, and enjoyed only a couple of times a year), knitting (by next weekend I may just have a shawl!), reading, writing, Stash Lemon-Ginger tea, a nap with Linda by the fire later since we were awake so early. Come on...say it with me, soft and slow...."snow day".
Despite a workday that ended with me so aggravated I actually slammed my office door (a thing I might do at home in a temper but never, ever at work), this evening was so calming there could be a picture of it next to the word serenity in the dictionary: dancing fire in our cozy living room, a bottle of ginger beer beside me, fuzzy red socks, Antiques Roadshow on TV, and rows upon rows of soft, warm, embracing forest green & black shawl taking shape in my lap as I knit for over two hours. I feel restored.
Our first Winter here, before we built the fence and the girls were all confined indoors, we had birdfeeders in the 'back' yard. There was such pleasure in watching the chickadees and cardinals swoop from quince bush to feeder and back again. We even fed a wild turkey once or twice!
When we let the gang-o'-five outside (okay, 4 of the 5; Cootie stays put, poor thing), a backyard feeder seemed a poor choice; "Look everyone, a birdie buffet; I'll take mine rare!!". So last year we were birdless. This Winter we realized that the girls are a comfort-loving bunch; they may jump the fence in Summer just to aggravate and worry us, but in the Winter they want their fleece-lined beds in a sunbathed room. Ms. Mot in particular has to be pried out of her bed! So we used some planter hooks to hang three suet cages and three feeders right outside the livingroom windows. While no turkeys have appeared, we have three species of woodpeckers, and assorted chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, juncos, doves, sparrows--and finally!--a pair of cardinals. Have you ever watched a male cardinal feeding the female cardinal? It's a sweet, sweet sight. The downside of this particular location is that every time we open the front door they all fly off in a tizzy...the doves get particularly hysterical; they're highstrung little buggers! I stand there aggravated; "Hey, who do you think is feeding you? Ya think it's manna miraculously appearing from the heavens?" which of course does nothing to ease the situation. I wander outside and it's an instant bird ghost town, Thistle Seed Gulch. You can almost see the tumbleweeds rolling down the driveway. If there were tumbleweeds in the foothills of the Catskills, anyway.
Well, yesterday, under cloudy skies that taunted us that a mere 5 hours south they were counting the snow in feet, not inches, I refilled the feeders. The morning was hushed, no neighbors' dogs barking or roosters crowing, a breeze rustling dead, dry leaves. I heard an odd sound, a rapid beat and then a rustle....turned around and there was a chickadee landing on the feeder not two feet away. Barely breathing, I watched and listened....a downy woodpecker swooped down to a suet basket, and suddenly the tree above me was a bustling foodcourt, a dozen birds chattering about where they should have brunch. For a few heartbeats I was privy to--even a part of--this otherwise closed society, a social club and family that shuns outsiders. How silly is it that I felt so accepted?
My honey is going to bee a beekeeper. The honeybee order has been placed for May 1st pick-up. Does anyone know how many bees are in 3 lbs of bees? I don't--and ignorance is truly bliss! This is totally a Linda project; although I've already learned many fascinating tidbits that she's so generously sharing as she does her extensive research (when you start a hive the queen stays in a box for several days; honeybees are not aggressive; they eat the honey to survive the winter; skunks love to eat bees), and while I look forward to truly homegrown honey, there's some, well, fear involved. I'm not a bug person. Oh, I can be mildly amused by a ladybug or two, love butterflies, and was fascinated by the first walking stick I ever saw 'in the wild', and despite a rabid fear of spiders, will ignore a harvestman or daddy longlegs spider in the house as long as it's tucked away in a corner--not the bedroom!...but basically, at the root of it all, I'm terrified of spiders and horrified by other bugs. Last Spring and Summer the endless rain brought millipedes into the house...dozens every day. I'm still traumatized. So the honeybee hive thing is a challenge. That said, I encouraged her to try this. There's a pattern swirling about in our lives, ever-strengthening ties to the natural world at large and roots sinking ever deeper into the thick Catskill clay and rocky soil of this place we call home. The life we're creating--and the direction that life needs to take--is becoming ever clearer and stronger, and welcoming honeybees into it seems the natural and right thing to do. Linda's enthusiasm, the almost-spiritual tone as she plans, the way she's already immersed herself in the research and planning are the exclamation points to the pattern. They'll take up residence on the second tier, at least for this year settling into the future home of the labyrinth; when we're ready to build the labyrinth, a project that we keep pushing back, we'll discuss potential relocation with the bees. The heretofore wasteful expanse of grass up there that requires weekly mowing will become a wildflower meadow, and the bees will provide an excellent excuse to indulge our growing passion for coneflowers!
So we'll see what happens....perhaps this time next year we'll be sitting by the fire, snuggled under a blanket knitted from yarn I spun, oohing and ahhing over the seed and plant catalogs as the snow falls, sipping tea sweetened with our own honey. And how sweet will that bee?