Sophie…our farm dog

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When we first brought Sophie home to our suburban New Jersey home, we knew only this about her: she was about 3 years old, she had been rescued from a high-kill shelter in West Virginia, and she was rather shy and anxious.  In time, she settled into a life of being the center of our family’s attention and over-the-top affection.  She lost her shyness, and was only anxious when in the car.  Although she deigned to be friendly to two-legged people who were not mail carriers, she was less so with the four-legged kind. Perhaps that had something to do with the two cats who also lived in our house at the time: Hope, who didn’t like anyone, and Toby, who could never seem to stay still enough to make friends.  Sophie came to understand the suburban rule of never being off-leash when walked, although she much preferred being allowed to race ahead when we went hiking  where she could be set free.  Sophie was a happy dog.  Little did we know that she secretly pined to be something else…a farm dog.

Her wish came true four years ago, when we bought our farm.  Sophie seemed to know exactly what to do from the moment we opened the car door.  She bounded out without hesitation and spent the rest of the day racing up and down our pastures and through our woods, stopping every now and then to sniff around and get her bearings.  By the end of that first day, she had settled in and established her favorite positions from where to survey her domain: the front porch, the stone wall behind the farmhouse, and the porch overlooking the lower pasture:

And, she had set in gear the twice a day ritual that was to mark every farm day, a long walk in the woods:

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Sophie has been my shadow every farm day, whether I’m gardening or hanging up the laundry to dry or writing on the porch or sitting on the front steps listening to the coyotes on a full mooned summer night.

This past year, however, has been a steep decline for Sophie.  She has lost most of her vision and some of her hearing, arthritis has set in and movement has become painfully difficult.  Her appetite is not what it used to be, and her preferred activity now is to sleep by the wood stove.  Squirrels no longer interest her, moonlight walks no longer entice her.  She still loves her farm, though she is learning to enjoy it in a different way.  This is something I am having a rather difficult time adjusting to…

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With Cat, frienemy and nap time pal.
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The April Progressive Poem is here!

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April brings even more reasons to celebrate the wonder that is poetry, one of which is participating in Irene Latham‘s annual Progressive Poem the chance to create a poem, writer by writer and line by line, over the course of the month.  Matt challenged us to use only found lines, and started our journey with ones from two iconic summer songs, which led to straight to my most favorite summer song of all time: Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning”.

The backstory here is that my parents live in Chelsea (the London one), and for all the summers when my children were children (i.e. not the Brooklyn living adults they are today), we would spend three weeks where we woke up to yet another memorable Chelsea morning, and a whole day of summer adventure ahead.

Here is The Progressive Poem thus far…

Endless summer; I can see for miles…

Fun, fun, fun – and the whole world smiles

No time for school- just time to play

we swim the laughin’ sea each and every day

You had only to rise, lean from your window,

the curtain opens on a portrait of today

 

 

Found Lines:

L1 The Who, ‘I Can See for Miles’ / The Beach Boys, ‘Endles Summer’

L2 The Beach Boys, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’ / Dean Martin, ‘When You’re Smiling’

L3 The Jamies, ‘Summertime, Summertime’

L4 The Doors ‘Summer’s Almost Gone’/ Led Zeppelin ‘Good Times, Bad Times’

L5 Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine “You had only to rise, lean from your window,”

L6 Joni Mitchell, “Chelsea Morning”

For our next line, visit Ruth @ thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown

Lamb viewing @ Foster Sheep Farm

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Sheep, lambs, and Leopold the llama.

As a newbie shepherd, I am ever so happy that I turned to Tammy White at Wing and a Prayer Farm to help me put together a small flock of sheep.  Three of her chosen-for-me yearlings will be coming to the farm early this summer.  I hoped to add three more, and so I dropped by Carole Foster’s farm for some guidance yesterday.

Carole has been shepherding for many years, and there’s nothing about sheep that she either does not know or has not experienced.  And she is also kind and patient.  In other words, the perfect person to turn to in order to ask all the questions I have about expanding my flock in a small way.

Her barns were exploding with mamas and their babies, mamas to be, a few rams looking rather pleased with themselves, and two llamas who regarded me with haughty suspicion.  Every lamb seemed impossibly adorable, I wanted to take them all home…but for the fact that my barn is not quite ready and they are not yet weaned.  I had initially thought that I would need yearlings (born last Spring) to complement those coming my way from Tammy, but Carole thought lambs would be a better idea: I would be able to bond with them early, and also enjoy the daily dose of cuteness overload that is living with lambs.  I mean, just look at them!

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I also had the chance to wander through Carole’s store of fleece (her sheep had just been sheared) to get a sense of the variations of color, luster, and crimp – those winter months of research came in handy because I was able to understand some of Carole’s points about those terms!

I had a lot to think about as I crossed over the slowly thawing Hudson River and made my way back into the rolling hills of Washington County, a lot to be grateful for, and a lot to look forward to, as well:

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What’s in a name?

When my children were very young, they insisted on naming things.  Anything that the three of them deemed important had to have a name, one chosen after debate, evaluation, and then agreement.  Perhaps that was why Cynthia Rylant’s charming book, The Old Woman Who Named Things , was such a favorite of theirs.

So, it was not unexpected that the naming of our farm was going to be a big deal. A. Very. Big. Deal.  Though they are now far away in Brooklyn, leading very un-farmlike lives, there has been much back and forth between all of us about what to name the farm, even though there was never any question that it had to have a name.  

Of course, since the farm was built in 1861, it’s probably had more than a few iterations of naming, depending on who lived here, what they farmed, and whether they were at all inclined to the practice of assigning names.  We bought the farm from the author Jon Katz, who had not only named the farm (and memorably so), but continues to use that name for the place to which he moved.  So, scratch that name…

At any rate, after much backing and forthing between the Smith family five, current stewards of this lovely piece of earthly heaven, we have settled on Hebron Hills Farm, living as we do in the village of West Hebron, N.Y., and surrounded as we are by hills in every direction, and occupying the slopes of one.   Our son’s friend had crafted a picture for his latest album, which he kindly shared with us as our very own logo, as well.  Having a farm name and logo feels pretty special…momentous, even:

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And now that we have a farm with a name, and a logo with sheep, it only follows that there will be sheep…but that is another blog post altogether.

Poetry Friday:”Become Becoming” by Li-Young Lee

Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted by Heidi at My Juicy Little Universe.

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Winter seems to be loosening its grip here in the North Country.  The thermometer by the back door has begun to register in double digits both when I take Sophie out for her early morning walk as well as that last one before bed.  We take this as a sure sign of Spring.  Bit by bit, the pastures and cornfields all around us are beginning to lose their winter coats of ice and snow.  We take this as another sure sign of Spring.  And, daylight no longer ends at 4:00 p.m. and raising cups of evening tea to the setting sun.  We take this as the surest, and best, sign of Spring.

Today, the Ides of March as it turns out, marks the eighth month of the day when I left New Jersey for good and took up residence at the farm on a permanent basis.  Eight months.  A good time to take stock of what I’ve been up to.

The Fall was devoted to traveling to London and spending a long stretch of time with my parents, assessing their health and needs, and doing what I could to keep them company and make them comfortable.

From November on, it was all about Winter: preparing for it, coping with it, trying to get ahead of it.  February, with its ice and lack of sunlight, was the most challenging.  Living on a hillside allows for spectacular views…and also spectacularly icy terrain.  I fell at least once a day until I discovered cramp-ons, one of the most useful inventions known to man, IMHO.

Winter was also all about reading – sometimes a book a day.  I read all through my many years of teaching, of course, but I read only books abut teaching, or books I wanted to purchase for my sixth graders and our classroom library.  I had no idea how much my brain was craving memoirs, biographies, history, and fiction intended for those above the age of  thirteen!

Then there was all the reading I needed to do to prepare for the flocks of sheep and chickens arriving this summer: books covering the A to Z of sheeping and chicken coop-ing.   The more I read in this department, the more I felt I needed to read.

And, Winter was also about thinking.  All the years of raising three children and teaching left very little time for being still, for meditative thinking, for reflecting, for assessing.  These past few months of winter solitude and periods of intense isolation allowed for all four.  Today, as sunshine pours through all our windows and I can venture outdoors coatless, I feel as though I’ve gone through the process of another becoming.

“Become Becoming” by Li-Young Lee

Wait for evening.
Then you’ll be alone.

Wait for the playground to empty.
Then call out those companions from childhood:

The one who closed his eyes
and pretended to be invisible.
The one to whom you told every secret.
The one who made a world of any hiding place.

And don’t forget the one who listened in silence
while you wondered out loud:

Is the universe an empty mirror? A flowering tree?
Is the universe the sleep of a woman?

Wait for the sky’s last blue
(the color of your homesickness).
Then you’ll know the answer.

Wait for the air’s first gold (that color of Amen).
Then you’ll spy the wind’s barefoot steps.

Then you’ll recall that story beginning
with a child who strays in the woods.

The search for him goes on in the growing
shadow of the clock.

And the face behind the clock’s face
is not his father’s face.

And the hands behind the clock’s hands
are not his mother’s hands.

All of Time began when you first answered
to the names your mother and father gave you.

Soon, those names will travel with the leaves.
Then, you can trade places with the wind.

Then you’ll remember your life
as a book of candles,
each page read by the light of its own burning.

Poetry Friday: “December Moon” by May Sarton

Visit Linda at Teacher Dance for the Poetry Friday Roundup.

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Winter nights at the farm are eerily quiet.  Save for the occasional wind or ice storm, the farmhouse is a cocoon of silence; the pitter pat of Cat on his nightly prowl, or of Sophie as she pads around the wood stoves in search of the coziest spot, is just about the extent of what constitutes “noise” once evening falls.

You’d think that the creatures whose presence we had felt when our windows were open had simply packed their things and moved away for the winter, as  many of our neighbors have.

Morning, however, reveals all sorts of activity: raccoon tracks all the way up to the back door, deer prints crisscrossing the pastures, cat prints hinting at a new resident in the big barn.  Sophie tears around taking inventory,  outraged at these interlopers on her watch, the “worlds of play” in Sarton’s poem:

“December Moon” by May Sarton

Snow silence fills my head
After I leave the window.

Hours later near dawn
When I look down again
The whole landscape has changed
The perfect surface gone
Criss-crossed and written on
Where the wild creatures ranged
While the moon rose and shone.

Why did my dog not bark?
Why did I hear no sound
There on the snow-locked ground
In the tumultuous dark?

How much can come, how much can go
When the December moon is bright,
What worlds of play we’ll never know
Sleeping away the cold white night
After a fall of snow.

From Coming into Eighty (W.W. Norton & Company).

 

 

Poetry Friday:Patricia Fargnoli: “Winter Grace”

 Laura Purdie Salas is hosting the roundup at Writing the World for Kids. 

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It’s been a winter of solitude, self reflection, and discovery.  Our pastures and woods may have filled up with snow and ice, but I discovered new pathways to skirt around the impassable and that there was a particular satisfaction in trudging through the snow just to be able to see the frozen creek glint and glimmer as it meandered down the valley.  Daylight may have been reduced to a few precious hours, if we were lucky to have been graced with the sun in the first place, but there was a delightful satisfaction in being able to allow early darkness as an invitation to longer hours of reading by the roaring woodstove.

This lovely poem captures  my winter thoughts perfectly:

Patricia Fargnoli: “Winter Grace”

If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed-down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.