February 8, 2018
I’ve come to think of February as a trickster. Nearly every year since we’ve lived at Fernwood, February has presented us with a false spring. The weather warms, the trees bud out, our hopes rise with the green leaves of my daffodil bulbs. I have to keep reminding myself it’s all a farce, that the cold is returning, the rains are coming back, we still have all of dreary March and then April before we can plant and grow and be sure the sun is returning. Hard to do when even the trees and plants are fooled. It seems everything is eager to push towards the light.
In our woods, the miniature world rules. Mosses are greening up, tiny mushrooms emerge from under decades of pine needles, the wild ginger rolls out a carpet of hearts, the first of the flowering currants are suspending their small bouquets from thin branches. I spend most of my time in the woods kneeling over one tiny miracle after another.
The ground is very soft still in February and yesterday I followed a set of clearly marked deer tracks for awhile. They follow the same path we do, it seems, along the road that someone used once to haul away the old growth trees, then up along a ridge and into the bracken below the younger forest. When the kids were little the trail there was worn smooth by constant travel. Now it’s grown over again, cluttered with wind-fall branches and the new plants sprung up since our neighbor logged the woods behind us and let more sunshine in. A blessing, and a curse, for now we have the tiny wild roses and false solomon’s seal as a carpet, but we also have to watch for poison oak, which slips in fast and persistent. Every year I tell myself I will walk these woods every single day and clear this trail again, but I never have yet. Even now as I write this I am making the vow again.
Today we are waiting for the birth of our third grandchild. He was expected already, but he is taking his time arriving, so we have shifted our plans, canceled our Air B&B reservation for this weekend and made another for later in the month. Now we have an unplanned weekend ahead and I’m already filling it up with work – namely fencing in the rogue geese who have taken to standing at the back door and honking into the kitchen while I cook as if *I* were the one who was trespassing. Unlike the silly, happy ducks who are happiest when left alone with their plastic wading pool and a few slugs, the geese need a firm hand and some clear boundaries. Fencing it is, then. When we first started having this issue with the geese I felt frustrated with myself and a little helpless, as if I was going to have to spend the next twenty years shooing them away from doors and cleaning up their messes and despairing that I’d brought them home in the first place. Then I realized I am the boss here and I can solve this problem and when I stopped feeling overwhelmed, the solution made itself obvious. It surprises me how often I have to remind myself that I have agency in my own life. Many women were raised not to change things, but to endure them – and taught that this was our spiritual work – and we have to constantly remind ourselves that we do have choice and power, even in such small things.
I am in the mood to conquer my demons this year. I decided to give running a try again after many, many failures and this time, it’s working. Running in February means cold mornings and often, rain, but it’s wonderful when your body begins to warm itself and you come home feeling strong and alive and proud of yourself for pushing beyond what you thought you could do. My children, who are both runners, taught me to go just beyond the point where I want to quit and do a little more. “The mind wants to quit before the body does,” and, “Meet your edge,” says Adriene Mischler, who also teaches me yoga every morning. I am beginning to understand a kind of body language I didn’t understand before. When the body learns a truth, the mind and spirit can learn it too.
I’m writing pretty regularly now as well. One of the keys to this, I find, is holding everything loosely. I don’t know what to tell people who ask where the writing is going to go and what I’m going to do with it. For now it’s about showing up and working and sharing bits of it as I go. I’m working on bigger projects as well and I am hoping the path for those projects reveals itself eventually because I’d love to share them too. But for now I hope you enjoy the short stories as much as I enjoy writing them for you.
I remember hearing years ago that we should live with an open hand, and I like this image for orienting a life. There is room for reception and room for releasing and there is the possibility of emptiness as well. Last week in my journal I wrote, “cultivate empty space within,” and “you don’t need to always be full.” I was writing about food – *sheepish grin* – but it struck me as I wrote it how it applies to so many other things. For instance, it’s okay not to have some grand life plan that you are pushing toward. We needn’t be always stuffed to the limit with knowing and trying and working ever harder. Chances are I’ll get to the end of my life and never have accomplished anything worth marking down. I’ll just be a nice old lady with an armful of grandkids, some stories in the attic, a pair of bossy geese, and a library of well-loved books. And what a privileged life that would be. We get so muddled up with ambition we forget what real success is.
The demon of having to prove your worth – that’s one I’d like to crush for good.
Well, the morning has gone and soon Jacob will be here for the rest of the afternoon. We’ll take advantage of our false spring and walk down by the river. The Canada geese are there in flocks now. I never know if they are coming or going or if they even leave for the winter at all. They are forever flying one direction and then another and hunkering down in farmer’s fields. I know when I see them flying over in great, long V’s I feel happy and glad to live in a world populated by creatures above and below and all around. When they pass over I think of the great flocks of birds that Lewis and Clark saw on their journey and think of a world of such abundance the pioneers thought they would never come to the end of it. They did of course, and those birds and beavers and other creatures are long gone now, but I hope that one day we all might come to our senses and live less like occupiers and more like fellow neighbors, each working for the other’s welfare as nature designs her ecosystems to do. I’m an optimist like that, and besides, nothing bad ever came by hoping.
Take care of yourselves, friends.
Love your people.
Peace keep you,
“We seem to have forgotten that there might be, or that there ever were, mutually sustaining relationships between resident humans and their home places in the world of Nature. We seem to have no idea that the absence of such relationships, almost everywhere in our country and the world, might be the cause of our trouble…”
~ Wendell Berry, The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation