Poetry Friday: The Props assist the House – Emily Dickinson

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We first saw the inside of our 1861 farmhouse on a bleak mid-winter day.  The dirt road leading up the hill to it was icy in parts, and the driveway to the house itself was a challenge to maneuver without slipping and skidding all over the place.  Our broker led us to a side door, the window pane to which was broken.  The storms had fallen off a few windows, and screens hung askew off others.  It was not a promising start, and I could see that our broker was puzzled about why we would want to see even see this house, given that she had just shown us one that was “all done and move in ready”.

The farmhouse had been unoccupied for some time, and we could see our breath in the pale sunlight that filtered through the windows as we went from room to room.  At some point, I think it was when I stepped onto the front porch and saw the view of the Black Creek Valley, I stopped listening to the litany of wrongs that our broker was pointing out at every turn.  By the time we’d toured the barns and walked around the property as best we could, I knew that this was home.  And that this home would require a lot of work.

That work began in earnest this year, my first of living at the farm full time.  Bit by bit, we are addressing that “litany of wrongs” I had found listening to so aggravating and beside the point that first day.  You love a house for inexplicable reasons, especially if it is an old house which speaks to you.  Our broker, lovely person though she was, seemed not to understand this.

The biggest project, we knew, was the kitchen.  Having renovated a kitchen once before, I know what we are in for: weeks of camp style life, untidiness, chaos.  But a part of me looked forward to making new discoveries about the history of the house – which part was added when, and perhaps what this part of the house looked like when originally constructed all those years ago.   And, I have not been disappointed.

For instance, the house was built with a back porch which was later enclosed to enlarge the kitchen, here’s the original clapboard:

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and the many wall paper iterations of the kitchen that followed:

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and the way the original wood stove was taken out to make way for a range:

Slowly, in my minds eye, I am getting closer to envisioning what this house looked like before it became my home.  I feel closer to understanding its soul.

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Poetry Friday: Cherry Tomatoes by Anne Higgins

Join the  Poetry Friday Roundup with Molly at Nix the Comfort Zone.

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We had a very wet Spring which seemed to last well into what should have been Summer.  All that rain delayed the planting of everything from corn to (my summer favorite) tomatoes.  All of the farm stands around us have been bursting with zucchini for weeks now with nary the sight of a single tomato…until today.

Today I came upon a farm stand with a glorious pile of fat fire-engine red tomatoes, sitting next to pint boxes of cherry tomatoes.  I scraped together all the change I had to buy a box (all the change available between the seats and under the mats of the car), which I placed carefully on the seat next to me.

My first thought was to save them for a lovely salad at lunch tomorrow.

But, those tomatoes kept calling to me.

The road home was banked by cornfields on one side, green gold under a perfectly blue summer sky.  Great bales of hay sat basking in the sun on the other side, their just-cut scent still wafting through the air.

So, I had a second thought, the best thought of the day, really.  One by one, I ate each all the way home.

Cherry Tomatoes

 

Suddenly it is August again, so hot,
breathless heat.
I sit on the ground
in the garden of Carmel,
picking ripe cherry tomatoes
and eating them.
They are so ripe that the skin is split,
so warm and sweet
from the attentions of the sun,
the juice bursts in my mouth,
an ecstatic taste,
and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer,
sloshing in the saliva of August.
Hummingbirds halo me there,
in the great green silence,
and my own bursting heart
splits me with life.

 

 

A morning walk with Toni Morrison

 

Author Toni MorrisonI took the dogs out for their usual walk in the woods early this morning, listening to the tail end of a podcast in honor of Toni Morrison.   In it were readings from her works and passages from her Nobel Prize lecture, as well as reflections about her contributions to literature and the power of the written (and in her case, spoken) word.  Ever since I had heard about her passing, I’ve been reading and listening to many such podcasts, although it’s been many years since I’ve read any of Morison’s works themselves.  I cannot bring myself to read Beloved or The Bluest Eye again, books which shook me to my core.  And I cannot find the notebooks in which I’ve copied down quotes from the books I love – there is a box of them somewhere amidst the boxes I have yet to pack when I moved up to live permanently at the farm last summer.  That being the case, podcasts and recordings of her interviews will have to do as a way to personally honor a writer I so revere.

We had reached our half way point when the podcast ended.  There is a gate leading to someone’s hunting cabin at this juncture, and the moss covered remnants of a long stone wall flanking the gate and rambling through the woods until it ends in a mound of rocks and fallen trees.  Early morning sunlight filtered through the treetops and fell gently on a swath of dew laden ferns.  I immediately reached for my iphone, wanting to capture the sight with photograph or two.

Something Morrison had said over the course of one of the podcasts I’d been listening to, came to mind:

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint, or even remember it. It is enough.” 

I put my phone away, and just stood as still as I could, savoring the feeling of enough.

Learning with Bowie…

The most challenging aspect of life here on Hebron Hills Farm (apart from the winter, that is) has been our Bowie.

She is now five months old, and rapidly growing into her gigantic paws.  Already, she dwarfs our 14-year-old dog Sophie, and is taller than me when she places her paws on my shoulder (which is is learning not to do).  She has given up on Sophie as a dog companion, and become best pals with Lewis our barn cat instead.  Lewis, in turn, has given up on ever being let into the farmhouse, and has settled into a barn partnership with Bowie.  This entails all sorts of playful rough housing with Bowie, which Lewis tolerates for the most part. Of course, he is perfectly capable of swatting Bowie away with his fearsome claws when the occasion calls for this…which happens with some regularity.

Bowie’s purpose on the farm, ostensibly, is to grow into the work of her breed: to guard our sheep.  As a puppy, though, she is too rambunctious to leave alone with the sheep.  Her playfulness can hurt the lambs, and the yearling sheep are large enough to hurt her.  So, she spends part of each day in a paddock adjacent to the sheep for now, with daily visits to the sheep while on a leash and with me.  Added to all of this is the need to train her to obey commands and be a well mannered member of our farm family.

It’s all been quite a daunting task for me, I have to say, one I must admit to being less than adequate at.  I’ve read one book too many offering conflicting advice and tips, I needed someone knowledgable about dogs and sheep to come to the farm and observe us in action.  Luckily, just the right person happened to live less than 15 minutes away,  Sarah Todd, of Dog Days Farm.

And so both Bowie and I have begun training.  I am learning to be direct and consistent in commands, and Bowie is learning…well, I hope she’s learning…to do as commanded.  She’s smart as a whip, crafty, and utterly charming, and I am learning to resist those charms and stick to my guns.  This means more barn and sheep time and less farmhouse and porch time.  This means guiding her through the paces of  learning how to restrain her natural puppy instincts to play, chase, jump all over people, and teeth on whatever is available – especially my arm and every stick of furniture we own.  This means keeping my wits about me and responding with calm directions when I really want to scream and shout…also, cry.

Time will tell if Bowie is cut out to be an LGD (a livestock guardian dog).  She seems to love the sheep and be drawn to them, which is a great sign.  I need to remind myself about why I acquired her in the first place, and help her to become the best LGD she can be.  This, I am discovering, is easier said than done.

 

Poetry Friday: Still Water by Patricia Fargnoli

Poetry Friday  is hosted by  A Year of Reading

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Still Water by Patricia Fargnoli
Here at the farm, there is an abundance of  “cathedral quiet”.  The skirmishes of the world seem very far away, absorbed as I am with ministering to the four legged occupants of the farmhouse and barn.  I am no longer on Twitter or Facebook, and I am ashamed to say this since I have always believed that staying current with the events of the world is a civic duty, but I no longer listen to or watch the news.
I hear the “palaver of leaves” and watch for the corn in the valley to grow.  I sit with sheep and try to learn their sheepy ways.  I chase around an irrepressible puppy and aim to master the commands that will make her the dog she is meant to be.
Disengaging from the world does not mean one can ever leave behind “old bodies of grief” (they have an insistent palaver of their own, after all).  But even those are more bearable here in this space of beauty and peace.
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Bowie

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Meet Bowie, part Maremma and part livestock guardian dog.  All of eight weeks old, she came to us from a farm in New Jersey and has been alternating between been utterly adorable and quite a handful.  She is curious about everything, confident, loving, smart as a whip, and open to every new situation.  She is unrelenting in her efforts to charm and play with our Sophie, who is completely baffled and outraged by the  entrance of this new creature into our midst.  Why???? Sophie seems to be asking me, Am I not enough???!!!

Until she has all her shots, especially the one for rabies which is administered at 12 weeks, Bowie sleeps in the house (in a well appointed crate) rather than in the barn.  She will really not begin her true guarding duties until she is two, per the advice of the experts I’ve read and talked to.  So, she is very much an LGD in training.  And I’m an LGD mom in training, too.  We are getting to know each other and our new roles on this farm, every day brings some new lesson learned the hard way.  And Sophie?  Well, Sophie is tolerating this interloper with forbearance and dignity…for now…

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After a year of planning and plotting…

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Last year, as I turned my focus from being a sixth grade teacher to being a shepherd and fiber farming, I began  setting into motion what will come to fruition today: a flock of sheep.

Last night, as I made the end of the day rounds at twilight, I paused by the big barn with its indoor silo lit up as it usually is by this time of the evening, and took measure of what lies ahead: a new adventure, a learning process, a time of nurturing a whole new menagerie of farm life.  Bowie, our Livestock Guardian dog, arrived on Saturday.  Thelma and Louis, our barn cats, arrived on Sunday.  And today brings the arrival of four lambs from Foster Sheep Farm.

I have not had much time to sit down and write anything worthwhile on this blog for a while, but I think it’s important to start doing so.  After all, it’s not every day that brings such a dramatic shift in one’s life.  I’ve been thinking sheep for so long that I can’t remember exactly when my thoughts turned in this direction, but…here we go, the shepherding life begins.

For some reason, I thought of my beloved sixth graders this morning.  Specifically, the way in which I (metaphorically) shepherded them through their year with me, and then did what I could to continue that work in the years after.  My teaching life, my shepherding life – they are connected in so many lovely ways.  The sun is just beginning to rise here, it looks to be a beautiful day in which to begin a new life journey.