It Is What It Is

When something doesn’t work for me, I assume that it doesn’t work for a lot of people.  Like, if I try to put a dollar into a vending machine and my dollar keeps getting spit out, and I try a bunch of other dollars and so forth, I assume the machine is broken.  I’ll call maintenance and report that the machine is down.  When the electricity goes out, I don’t assume it’s just my house that has suddenly lost current.  I assume that all the people around me also don’t have electricity.  I call the electrical company.  Similarly, if the Town run summer camp doesn’t work for me because it has odd hours and shuts down randomly on inclement weather days and I work out of town and need a camp that is reliable, I assume that all the other families who work out of town have the same problem.  And I try to do something about it.

This is where my assumptions prove false.  It’s a thin, invisible boundary, to be sure, but it is undeniably there, because I have run into it time, and time, and time again.   Here, anyway.  Here, in Washington, NH, if you have a problem, you solve your problem yourself.  Even if other people do have the same problem, they do not want your help in solving it.  They like it that way.  It is what it is.  We all will make our own way.  Things do not have to change.

The town library does not have to be open on the weekends when most of us are actually around.  Or move its book drop to a more convenient place like the parking lot.  Or stock books based on specific book lists.  That’s silly. Haven’t you ever heard of a bookstore?  The school shouldn’t bring back its middle school or offer school choice like all the other surrounding towns, or offer different enrichment programs rather than the same tired repeat every year.   We all went through it and it worked for us.   The General Store should never be anything more than a run-down dusty Budweiser haven.  What do you think we are?  What’s your problem?  Why can’t you be like us?  We’re fine!

Get over yourselves, LLARCS!  If you don’t like it, leave!

We finally did get the message.  We’re solving our own problems, our house is on the market, and we’re looking the other way, as much as we can, when other people are obviously having their own issues.We can’t help it though; we keep looking up, out, and past the box.  We see what other towns do to solve their educational issues.  We see thriving Farmer’s Markets.  We see after school programs and sports teams.  We enroll in enriching summer programs.  We know it’s possible.

So, every once in a while, I get sucked back in.  I repeatedly offered to help babysit two kids who had suddenly shown up at their grandmother’s house, since I was home most evenings and they got off the bus at our house.  I complained repeatedly of the poor quality of the artist-in-residence program that continued to come back every single year, and succeeded in getting a survey sent out.  But my offer to babysit was rebuffed, and the survey came back claiming overwhelming support for the residency in question, and I was left, once again, wondering if I really did live in an entirely differently world than these people.  I see a thorn bush and I want to cut it down so no one has to get hurt.  But everyone else just trudges right through.  Why eradicate the thorn bush when you’ve got band-aids?  I mean, yes, there are other people thrashing their way through, too, and they do look like they don’t really enjoy it but, surely, no pain, no gain.  And no gain is what we want.

Admittedly, neither I nor Lionel have the personality needed to gather and retain the sizable force of like-minded people needed for the changes we feel would solve the problems we see.  My local Facebook friends have stopped commenting on my posts and presumably don’t even see them anymore.  They don’t get me and my seemingly unending supply of issues and solutions.   Even on the rare occasions when I do manage to spearhead something– a petition to the school board, or an Open Gym Night during the winter, no one follows up with me after the fact or offers to support the effort.  I’m not a natural community organizer, and there isn’t any community.  It’s a double whammy for the likes of me.  And for the most part, the citizens of Washington, NH like it the way it is.  They like where they are and what they’ve got.  They’ve got their own work-arounds that work fine for them.  They’ve accepted the situation like good Washington citizens.  They even genuinely love it.  They work hard and when they come home they just want to have fun.

The other day I came home to horse shoe prints in my driveway.  Perplexed, I followed the prints down to the end of the driveway and then back up, coming to the conclusion that someone had ridden their horse to our house to see if we were home and then gone on their way.  I went into the house, and it wasn’t until the kids had come home with Lionel that we realized that, actually, the neighbor’s horses had gotten loose and were in our yard.  I came out and saw what I should have seen all along, two huge, unharnessed horses eating up my lawn.  Then, as we discussed what we should do, the neighbor, who had also apparently just noticed their horses, came over the stone wall with harnesses.   We offered our help.  The neighbor mentioned, off-handedly, that she had just been in a car accident, which was why she had just gotten home.  This was her way of telling us why the horses had been left unattended for so long, and not, as we had originally assumed, a veiled request for assistance.  We offered our help again, but the neighbor just kept apologizing about her horses, while they stayed a good distance away from her.  Finally, we shrugged, wished her luck, and went into the house.  We could no longer see the horses in our yard.

And if you can’t see a problem, you won’t have a problem.  Right?

It is what it is.

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Little Tiny Paper Hearts

Bundle II was hoarding the glitter glue.  Bundle I was gluing one paper heart onto a bigger paper heart.  Strips of construction paper lay dying on the floor where they had been dropped.  Both kids had managed to inscribe their foreheads with marker.  There was paint, glitter and glue on the carpet.  Epic negotiations resulted in scissors being passed around.  Arguments over markers ensued.  Finally the whole project was done.  It had taken at least five days.

Bundle I had taken some real effort to personalize hers; drawing a car on the one for her race-car obsessed school mate, drawing a picture of herself and another child playing on another.  Bundle II put her focus in carefully spelling out everyone’s names and then her own in nice neat block letters.  My role was to pass the scissors, offer advice, and moderate disputes over the rapidly dwindling resources.

Earlier in the week we had gone hunting for supplies, but had been disappointed to find that there were no paper doilies, no glittery hearts or stickers; nothing really, in the spirit of making your own, except if you were planning on making cupcakes or heart shaped fudge.  Boxes and boxes of pre-mades were stocked up though…and candy.  Always, the candy.

But the results were pretty well thought out and they were certainly original, so the kids proudly brought their school Valentines in and, well, there wasn’t much more to the story.  Because they came home with some valentines and a whole lot of sugar, but there were no handmade, badly cut hearts amongst the lot, there were no personalized messages of affection.  There was Barbie, Monsters Inc, Shrek, Batman, Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Dora, Cars.  And candy.  Always the candy.

At least most of Bundle I’s class had taken the time to write their classmates’ names on the cards themselves.  Bundle II’s grab bag of assorted Disney characters were mostly all written in clear, tired adult handwriting.  One, done, get it over with.  Here, have a lollipop in the shape of Olaf.  And neither of my kids showed any interest in looking at the actual cards themselves.  They’ve all ended up in various piles on the floor, the candy long since separated and stored for later consumption.    For a holiday they’d spent a good week preparing for, the end result was severely anti-climactic.

I’m not suggesting that all these kids get out some scissors and do some old-fashioned handiwork.  And I know that just taking time out of busy schedules to select a box of pre-made Valentines is a stretch for some people.  But if that is all that we’re doing on this day which is supposed to be about affection for each other and connecting, shouldn’t we just stop?  If my kids are the only ones being duped into the idea that their classmates are thinking anything about them as they hurry through a box of Barbie so they can get on with their iPads or their TV or whatever they actually wanted to do,  why bother?  Why bother at all?

I myself had earlier asked both kids if they wanted to make their own, or if they wanted to buy their Valentines.  I knew it was going to be a lot of work and heartache on their part, and a gigantic crazy gluey mess on my part.  They were both eager to put effort into the holiday of Love.  But I wonder how long their connection to their schoolmates will last.  I wonder how many times they’ll ask me to call someone’s parent to have someone’s child come over for a playdate: a call which frequently goes unreturned.  I wonder how much longer they’ll see themselves as part of a community that doesn’t exist, before they finally retreat into themselves like all their peers have done.  I wonder when the tiny paper hearts will stay uncut from the paper, longing for freedom but knowing it won’t come from here.  I dread that day but I also long for it. At least we won’t be different anymore.

Tongariro Crossing

(Originally published on swampyankeewannabes in Janurary, 2005)

We’ve just climbed Mt. Doom, otherwise known as Mt. Ngauruhoe, and it’s worth it. . We’re not in Hobbit country, that was further back in Waipua and sheep country. This is Middle Earth, pure, imposing, volcanic, beginning. There’s an outer edge with active vents where Lionel posed over the vent with his wedding ring, poised to throw the One Ring into the fire. He decided against it though, and so we made our way up to the crater. Red rock surrounds the very top of the cone.

The way up was ferocious. It’s an almost vertical climb in mostly sifting ash, impossible to get good footing or any good handholds, also death to anyone with a fear of falling, which I have. I’ve gotten over it though in recent years, self defense really, since Lionel keeps taking me on walks with less than secure footing along sheer drops. It takes two and a half hours to reach the top. It takes half an hour tops to get down.

We got up at five again this morning, and this time the guide didn’t even bother to explain the weather, it was obvious that it was going to be a gorgeous day. On good days like this, 500 people will cross this track, a good deal of them will run it, for some reason known only to them. It takes 7-8 hours on the crossing alone, not counting the scramble up Mt. Ngauruhoe. At first it was cold, chilly air and no sun, and the valley was well graded and at times boardwalked for easy walking. We got to the Devil’s Staircase and the royal treatment stopped; up this long and steep track over boulders and drops, then up to what you thought was the top only to discover that you’re not done yet. It’s all lava rock and pumiced and black, odd shapes pushing up out of the ground. Up we go and the sun finally comes out at possibly the worst time—while we’re working up a sweat trying to get up the Staircase. Then it evens out and there is Ngauruhoe, classic cone shaped volcanic mountain.

So here we are up on top of it and it is time to go down. Going down, it turns out, is easy. First you slide down the snow top between the crater and the outer ridge, then you pick a good spot with mostly ash and not too many large rocks and you ski your way down on your boots. Sometimes you’ll knock a rock out of its slumber and it will start to tumble down the mountainside. “Rock!” you’ll yell, and hope that the others downhill from you will take up the call. I dislodged such a rock from the very beginning and it fell, gaining speed, bouncing over a snow field, finally stopping a thousand feet below. You could get seriously hurt on this mountain. But how often do you get to climb a volcano? So we swish our way down in record speed, conveniently forgetting that it took so long to get up here. It’s almost like skiing only I only have boots and no snow, and we reach the bottom 3 and ½ hours from when we started. 3 1/2 ! We must have spent some time up on the cone itself, getting distracted. Anyway we’re now going to be late for the bus, but there’s no help for it, we go on.

We cross over an impossibly flat area in a valley, which looks like an old crater but apparently was formed by glacier. Then we head back up towards the Emerald and Blue lakes and Red Crater, up another steep incline with loose soil. It isn’t as bad as before but it’s no picnic after Ngauruhoe, and our thighs are cramping a little bit in protest. It soon passes though, and we’re at the Red Crater. It’s certainly red, and eerie, with an eroded lava dyke coming out of its side. The dyke is gray inside and red outside, an eerie contrast. We start down again, through more of the sifting ashy stuff, slowly, since Mom has the same fear of falling that I do. She’s not enjoying this part at all but I am – there’s craters and lava flows, vents and green lakes surrounding us. No vegetation graces this area, sometimes an odd flower or grass stuck under the rocks out of the wind, but nothing more. The side of the trail steams and sulfur fills the air again, then we pass by the green lakes and head through another thankfully flat area until we start to go up again. A lava flow once stopped in its tracks halfway in its journey across this valley, and it looks as though it were yesterday, since the lake that it stops at it steaming at the edges, as if it were trying hard to cool off the rock.

The weather has changed a bit with fog rolling in fast from up the mountainside, and the view gets restricted. We’re back in alpine shrub country and the track has ceased to be so steep. There’s another whiff of sulfur but I can’t see anywhere it would be coming from, so we move on.

We wind our way across the mountain in this fashion for sometime, hitting boardwalk finally which means we’re close to other infrastructure, mainly the hut where we’ll get more water, and it becomes quite clear where the sulfur smell is coming from. A place identified as the Kehutia Hot Springs, Private Property, forbids entry to trampers. It’s steaming furiously and I’m not sure I want to get too close to it anyway.

After the hut we make our way down, getting quite close to the steaming vent which apparently outputs a stream, or maybe the stream just runs through it. It’s not hot water, but it’s certainly not cold, and it’s soft to the touch. Moving through this area we see more vents, more sulfur pits, and then we’re out of volcano country, probably for good.

By this time we’re exhausted and I start counting to myself as a way to keep pace. We leave the alpine shrub and enter the forest, which smells sweet and cool and surely signals that we’re getting close to our destination. But it’s another half an hour until we emerge to the other side, where our concerned bus driver awaits us. We’re an 1 ½ late, the fault of Mt Ngauruhoe, and we’re mostly unrepentant. It was a twelve hour hike for us, and we spent it well. We’re exhausted though, so it’s a good thing tomorrow we’re doing nothing but driving.

It’s All About the Deere

(originally posted on swampyankeewannabes in February of 2005)

I’m a speed demon, I admit it. I’ve been pulled over so many times I don’t even make any excuses anymore, just hand the license and the registration over and wait for the inevitable. I’ve definitely learned my lesson.

I got a radar detector.

Now I’ve got other problems, mostly pertaining to the fact that the radar detector stays on while the car is off and slowly drains its lifeblood away. While we were gone the monster sucked my car dry and I didn’t even have my digital clock — yesterday morning, at least, I could stare at its fading display and know just how late I was going to be for work.

My brain doesn’t work so well in the morning. Since Lionel had already left for work that meant I had no other vehicle to jump start the car with. I really hate calling AAA for a stupid battery, but I couldn’t think of any neighbors that would be around (and awake) at 8am. On the other hand, it’s hard to jump a car if you don’t have another one. So:

“I know!” I said to myself. “I can roll-start it!”

“How are you going to do that, dumbass? You’re in the garage.”

“Okay, well, I’ll push the car out, until I get it to just where the driveway starts to go down. Then I’ll jump in, roll-start it, and be on my way.”

So, I got out of the car and started pushing. It’s a light car but I’m a light person, so I got it about half-way out of the garage when I came to the conclusion that this was stupid. Naturally, my mind drifted to the next inane idea.

“The tractor! I can pull the car out of the garage with the tractor!”

So I get the tractor out of her hiding place, and I attach a chain to my car, and I begin to tow my car out of the garage. I realize, at last, that if I do succeed in getting the car out onto the incline as I’d planned, there wouldn’t be much stopping the car except the tractor in front of it. It seems I’d reached an impasse.

Until it finally dawned on me that the vehicle I was sitting on had a perfectly good battery.

Now I could claim that I pulled the car out of the garage because naturally I had the intention of jump starting my car with my tractor all the while, especially since the tractor doesn’t fit in the garage. But then I’d be lying. In fact, it took me half an hour to remember I had a tractor, let alone that it had a battery. So call me stupid. But hey, fess up. How many of you would have just called AAA? What kind of story is that?

Economy Size

In contrast to last year’s abrupt change from no winter at all to high summer heat, this year’s transition from winter to spring has been nicely gradual, allowing our sugaring operation some time to flourish.  The winter’s weather was still erratic and fairly warm and didn’t even start, really, until about mid February, but no one remembers that.  All they care about is getting on with the next season so they can show off their new pretty sandals.  Or plant their flower gardens.  Or ride their bikes.  Or whatever their “I’m off work now” passion of the moment is.  People have notoriously bad short term memories, but I’ve come to understand that they are even worse when it comes to the environment they live in.  Someone recently asked me how sugaring was this year, and I replied that at least we weren’t having a heat wave like we did last year.

“What heat wave?” they asked, truly puzzled.

You know, that freaky, 10 day, summer-like weather pattern which kicked off a whole year of drought?

What drought?

Okay, never mind.  Sugaring is great, thanks for asking!

Given this weird blindness to the near term and long term environmental past, it doesn’t really surprise me at all that people still haven’t figured out that the environment they live in actually directly impacts their economic bliss or bust.  A recent Gallup poll shows a majority of people think economic growth should be given priority over environmental protection, presumably because they believe that “environmental protection” is something that doesn’t directly affect them, like polar bears.  They don’t live in “the environment” for the most part, unless they live in “the country,” and then I guess it’s all idyllic and pretty and campfires in July.  The town provides them with clean water, so why should they care about that?  The air they breathe has been filtered and air conditioned so who cares about what’s in it?

We are probably going to raise our per pound chicken price this year, due to the rising cost of feed, especially organic feed.  The rising cost of feed is a direct result of the corn shortage due to the extended, ongoing drought, but our price increase will only cause short term grumbling.  It may not cause any grumbling at all.  Everyone’s food costs are going up, so naturally ours would rise with inflation too, right?  That’s all this really is, anyway, an artificial balloon effect caused by the rapidly shrinking value of the US Dollar.  It can’t possibly have any ties back to “the environment” and whatever it is doing in that wild and free mythical garden with endangered species those environmental activists are always going on about.

Here’s the thing, though; we’re talking about resources.  Resources, like money, food, land, minerals, water, oil… these are the things that fill our bellies and our wallets, right?  Ultimately, we’re all relying on the abundance or the rarity of these resources to provide us with jobs so that we can have money so that we can pay for food, water, oil…and, ultimately, these resources come from that environment thing, otherwise known as Earth, you know, that big globe thing we live on.

Right?

Right?

I haven’t lost you, have I?

“The environment” makes us those resources that we dig up and that we pay for.  If “the environment” becomes sour, if the resources that we dig up become rare or dirty or disappear completely, then the jobs that depend on them will no longer pay us the money for the resources that are too expensive to pay for.  In other words, the quality of our environment directly impacts the quality of our economy.

“Wait…. are you still talking about polar bears?  I’m all for polar bears, you know, but they don’t pay my water bill.  Which has gone up, for some reason.”

Okay.  Never mind.  I’m fine.  How are you?

 

See what’s become of me

My mother just turned 69 two days ago.

That means I’ll be 39 in April, with one year to go before the big Four Oh.  When I was growing up, the big family history was that my grandmother was 30 when she had my mother, and my mother was 30 when she had me; so naturally, being my contrary, I’ll-show-you self, I waited a few more years after my thirtieth birthday to contemplate the idea of replicating  my genes.  Consequently, Bundle I will be a mere 7 when I am 40; Bundle II a mere 4.  Lionel, who is 12 years older than me, has already passed the half century mark and is every day feeling the effervescent and inexorable effects of gravity.

Most days, I work, do dishes, work, do laundry, watch kids and then fall into an exhausted sleep.  In the summers I add to the usual household drudgery by going outside and growing various vegetables, meats and fruits which the average consumer may feel are out of reach of both their pocketbooks and ability to adequately cook– what does one do with a rutabaga, a swiss chard, a beet, anyway?  How do I manage to fillet an entire chicken?  What do you mean  you slaughtered them by yourself?  I still observe the world but can’t express it in more sentences than it might take in a Facebook update; who has the time? 

Frustrated? Old?  Possibly, I just need to break out a little.

Just now I went to a clothing store and bought this weird sweatshirt/dress thing.  Very comfortable, kind of bizarre, I instantly fell in love with it and after buying it proudly took it out of the store thinking that I’d finally managed to look out of my little box.  But just now I realized that the thing is standard black/gray, the same color combination I always gravitate towards.  So much for orginality.  So much for age bringing wisdom or clarity.

Naturally since I have two girls and, being a tomboy myself, I try to balance my need to dress both kids in Carhartts and boots with their need to play Princess and discover the world of fairies, and I’ve found I’ve become a lot more open minded about what feminism might mean in the long run.  I find myself wondering if I’d have been so militant in the opposite direction with a son– would I have insisted that he have access to dresses and dolls so that he could choose his own gender?  Or would I have just gravitated towards the trucks and legos because that’s where I myself had always gone?  Without a doubt my daughters are both richer for the wider world they have access to.  But it’s made my world both narrower and wider as well.  Nothing is quite as black and white anymore as it used to be.  Maybe that just comes with my great old age.

So it is December 28, 2012 and we have survived the Mayan Apocalypse but we’re heading into the great climate cliff for which we are neither prepared for nor entirely even believe.  Nonetheless, we’re heading into a future of many tragedies, many triumphs, many challenges, many unknowns, and hopefully for all of us; many, many years.  Possibly, amongst all the varying peoples, varying attitudes and opinions, maybe the one abiding thing we all share is time. 

Time, time, time.

As Many Years as I Have Fingers

One decade. 
Two kids.
Three houses.
One orchard.  One sugarhouse.  One crazy ass farm business.
Lots of cucumbers, beans, swiss chard, and beets. Cords and cords of wood.  Miles and miles of sap tubing.  Many, many chicken feathers. Some turkeys.  Blueberries, apples and cranberries.
An icestorm, two floods and a hurricane.
Scotland. England. Quebec. Nova Scotia. Newfoundland. Hawaii. New Zealand.
New friends made, old friends lost.
Parties, concerts, movies, plays, and long, long discussions.

Here’s to many more adventures on this journey we chose, and as many more years as I have toes, my love.  Happy 10th Anniversary.  I love you.

August 17, 2002

Three days before, we were having a heat wave, but the night of the rehearsal a storm blew in.  We rehearsed in the tent and, since we were kind of making up the whole thing as we went along, we went through several iterations before we settled on a script.  Also, I was coming by boat, which was a complete unknown.

The next day, I completely underestimated the time it would take to get dressed and ended up delaying the whole shebang by probably thirty minutes.  But in the end, the wedding went off without a hitch.  Or rather, with a hitch.  We ended the evening with a totally cool party.  We went to Hawaii for our honeymoon.

There weren’t any Bundles, but there was an idea of an orchard in our heads and a small cleared plot for a little garden.  We still worried a great deal about the flower gardens we inherited and tried to keep them up, but eventually we realized that we didn’t have to do everything the same as the last generation and let them go.   We kept clearing away trees and rocks and detritus and marched along and now, here we are.

Nine years later, my love, here we are.  You and I morphed into Us, a 4 person family unit with all its chaos and peace and joy.  Our private enterprise has turned into an actual business, with permits to submit and taxes to do and an open sign fluttering in the breeze on specified hours.  Bundle I takes violin lessons and Bundle II will start playgroup in the fall, and there’s nothing all that extraordinary about today except that it happens to be our anniversary.    Nine years ago I wore a wedding dress and got onto a barge, and you wore a tuxedo and tramped through the woods, and we met under the sword you gave me for our engagement, which hangs on our wall and reminds us that we are, still, after all, homophrosune.

Birds of a feather

Yesterday I was standing in the hot, sweltering sun slitting chicken throats and had one of those sudden, it’s time to process the chickens already?  thoughts that sometimes pass through my brain once we’ve done something consistently for a few years, almost like Christmas.

It seems like we’ve been doing this forever but actually it is only our third year of growing our own chicken, and our second year selling to the public, and our first year attempting it entirely on our own, without the guiding eye and arm of our old friend Rich Cook, who died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident almost exactly 1 year ago.

But maybe it seems routine because we’ve learned a few things along the way.  Like how to keep ravens from eating your flock, or how to brood 60 chicks destined for pasture so they know what grass looks like, or how to keep your  broilers alive in a heat wave which predictably arrives just as your birds are obese, huge and two days away from being made into meat.  Or how to shame competing Agways into giving you the best price for grain.  Or how to slit the jugular of a chicken without also cutting the trachea and then to reliably remove all feathers, internal organs and extraneous bits in a timely fashion so that you can  process all of your brood in one day. 

There are some things we haven’t figured out, like refrigeration, which is why we still carted our birds over to Bifrost Farm to do the deed, but we’re thinking that part through.  All operations can stand to improve their process.  But even so, our two (newbie) volunteer helpers broke out a video camera to film us as we did our respective tasks, and as I was explaining my technique for reliably bleeding out a chicken I suddenly realized I was being viewed as an expert.

As the day progressed we got more and more sure of ourselves and by the end of the day we looked at all the meat packaged in the cooler and remembered why we’re doing all this in the first place.  There are vague and varied philosophical and ethical reasons to raise and butcher your own protein source, but it really all comes down to how you feel about it at the end of the process.  And we felt good.  We felt achy, tired, hot, and entirely at peace.  We ate late and the Bundles were cranky but it didn’t really matter.  Not at that moment.  We had just made real food for an entire year.  What else do humans live for?

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