Sunday, July 29, 2012

Am I a Crone?

Judy's backyard flowers October 2009.  Cosmos going strong now.
Zinnias catching up.  Maybe by October like this?


The Telling that Changes Everything XXIV. July 29, 2012

We may
stagger in our darkness,
but if we move confidently
forward, we’ll see the gray light
of Dawn, then the yellow saffron
of her mantle, the rosy fingers 
with which she lights our day,
and what, then, will steamrollers
matter to such tough-spirited,
joyous, individual grains of sand?
–The Telling That Changes Everything II.


What do I name this time in my life?
Am I a crone but not withered?  Old,
but not yet ancient?  From the way
people look at me, they must see
Death around the corner.  I know Death
lurks near everyone, but I’m not afraid.
He’s not my boogey-man.  Maybe I’ll
call it the Grain of Sand stage.  My body
experiences aging in small ways: some
grey hair, more wrinkles, bent fingers
and toes; knees I need to exercise.
I rest more.  Sleep harder, come to 
waking as if to a whole new life.
It is a new life.  I love easily, have
no patience with fools; take more risks
in my speech and published writings.
I have to remind myself that I’m still
quite canny and capable, when I see
the doubt in people’s eyes.  I think this
stage was as intended as a fully ripe
tomato or a perfect firm, prickly
cucumber.  Alive and well; fit and
free; bold and risky.  If sometimes
I get lonely or forget how well I cope
with marauding critters, rampaging
weeds, or insincerity and manipulation
in other people, let me remind myself
that these years are a gift I did earn
and provide for myself.  I never focused
on money except to buy this farm and
pay for fences and a chicken coop.
I took care of my health; I kept writing
no matter how full my days, how 
short my nights.  I did what I
passionately wanted to do.  I still do.
I learned how to see into souls and 
nourish my own.  Nonna said twenty
years ago that I had an old Russian soul.  
That soul now has a body to match,
still lively, cells still renewing
themselves, Memory still the Muse’s
mother.  The sign that makes an old
Russian soul unmistakable?  Her love
of life, of other people, of the earth
and its creatures and vegetation.  It’s
hard not to admire morning glory
vines that sprawl over the sweet
potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes,
or give a raiding possum credit for
making off with three hundred pears,
or begrudge the cardinals a few figs.
I defend my farm, my crops, my
quiet time in order to live well and
write this old soul onto paper and
scatter the leaves abroad for the
whole world to know what one grain
of sand’s life was like, but I respect
the forces of competition and intrusion,
my animal, vegetable, human opponents,
and then, ultimately, Death.  I hold it
at the edge.  I side with Life.  Call me
a crone if you like, or an old woman.
But consider: I may know things you
need to learn.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Working in Paradise

Judy's figs August 2011.


The Telling that Changes Everything XXII.
July 22, 2012

And Paradise?  And what is Paradise?
... A Paradise without work?  No,
in this Paradise we’re all working, 
And sometimes we wish life were easier.
–From Sun 15, Kostroma, Russia, fall 1995

We choose the
reality we trust, the bonds of affection
that best pull us up to our full height,
egg us on to do our most outstanding
work, give our gifts whole and unclouded
by doubt or dismay.  It’s called an act
of faith.  It doesn’t make you rich, 
but it does make you happy. 
–The Telling that Changes Everything XV.

I designed my own Paradise:
an island of sanity and love.
As I labor to uproot the high
grass weeds, shovel compost
from the hen house, feed and
water chicks six times a day;
as I brainstorm to outwit possums,
squirrels, birds, voles, which
peck, bite, and steal my peaches,
pears, tomatoes, I think: “This
is too hard."  The morning glory
vines that are swarming over
the sweet potatoes and bell
peppers are winning.  I’m losing.
The garden at its peak is
attracting all the thirsty, hungry
wildlife.  Yet I do harvest 
apples, figs, blueberries, tomatoes,
raspberries, cucumbers, and
peppers.  I make applesauce, 
pickles, vichysoisse, and 
minestrone.  I eat like a queen:
raspberries and milk for breakfast, 
cucumber and tomato with my 
cheese sandwich; eggplant
Parmesan or an omelet of fresh
eggs and herbs for supper.  I
drink lemon balm-peppermint tea.
I sleep like one dead, but every
morning is a resurrection.  Insects
bite me; my lower back aches; 
I fall asleep at the computer.  This
year’s hottest summer on record 
keeps me safe inside.  Yet I rise
early and spend the dusk with
the mosquitoes to fertilize, dig,
plant, and water more beans and
okra; pick the unharmed tomatoes
to save for spaghetti sauce.  The
freezer fills for the winter.  I write
and type my books.  The chicks
grow large and feisty.  My creatures
are all alive.  Of course, it’s Paradise.
I wanted this.  My aches and itches,
my exhaustion each night are
worth it to be here in this very
place, yes, working in Paradise.
You better believe it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Man is the Tree that Walks

Four-week old chicks, learning to roost.

The Telling that Changes Everything XXI.
July 15, 2012

Man is the tree that walks.–Light Food 27 (1989)

For Gene, whose mosaic blue tree fed this poem.


It is my hands that feed: the chicks and hens,
my children and grandchildren, my friends,
myself; my hands that loosen the new raspberries
and hunt the last of the blueberries.  My hands
wash the dishes, scrub the kitchen floor,
shovel pine shavings into the chicks’ room;
dig, plant, grab the huge grass clumps and
jerk them free, then pound them against the
ground to loosen the earth caught in their
roots.  My hand moves this pen across
the page.  Once my hands held babies,
fed, stroked, changed diapers, rocked,
burped, tickled.  My hands tell the story
of the tree I am.  I, too, have my seasons,
sometimes bereft: where are my leaves?
What happened to my fruit?  But in this
season of my life, three-quarters lived,
I bloom and make fruit as never before.
You might not find me easily.  I live
on the back wall of a garage in a modest
Durham neighborhood.  The many phases
and seasons of my life are implied but
not in focus here.  Here I live a joy as blue
as a serene lake where the current runs
deep but doesn’t ripple the surface, and
the sky penetrates the water it sees below.
I still work hard.  You will see my limbs 
in motion, a form of dance if you pay
close attention.  You didn’t expect to see
new buds or fully ripe fruit?  Both are
possible when a tree is planted where
it has always longed to be, a home that,
if not permanent on earth, is, in some
sense, eternal, despite, or maybe because
of so much change, in our past, our
present, and well into future time.  Hold
in your mind this vison of a blue tree, in
dance ecstatic, needing no name or
century.  You’ll remember the hands.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Climate Change, Fracking, and Aging

The sign for my figs in Chatham Marketplace, July 5, 2012


Several reassuring and reinforcing things have happened to me this week, and yet I find myself giving priority attention to the negative things.  This isn’t like me.  I like to focus on the positive.  Hence, this blog.  What exactly is disturbing me so much that the good things are not buoying me up as they usually do?

This week these good things:

1) Sasscer Hill and I sent in our guest blog to Kaye Barley for its appearance on July 18 on Parental Wings and Fowl Play.

2) I watched the DVD film the Farmhand students from Duke’s School of the Environment made last spring when they visited local farms, including mine in February, to help with fence work (keep out those possums that eat chickens and fruit).

3) I made and canned applesauce from the bounty of my cooking apple tree (Gravenstein).

4) I moved the three-week-old chicks out to their “room” in the coop, and despite the 100+ degrees temperatures we’ve had, they and the eight big hens are still alive.

5) I took my local co-op, Chatham Marketplace, the first figs of the season, and they featured me and my figs in their weekly newsletter (check it out with this link:  

The figs are selling faster than my nine trees can produce them, but the summer looks good for figs, since they like hot weather, and the trees are loaded with green figs.

6) My friend Doug took me out for a birthday dinner (too much happening in late May, when I turned seventy-five).

7) My younger daughter and her teenagers came over to celebrate her July birthday.


Doug's photo of figs in Chatham Marketplace, July 5, 2012.


So what’s my problem?  I’m feeling dread because of two major events–also this week.  The N.C. Legislature passed a bill to legalize fracking as early as 2014.  The Governor (bless her!) vetoed it, but it was overidden, even though the deciding vote to override was a mistake.  

I’m learning that there may be ways still to protect our environment and landowner boundaries (fracking uses horizontal drilling and can go under land where permission has not been given), but I also know that fracking has yet to be done safely, without harm to the environment and human beings.  The little town in West Virginia (Cameron) where I lived from ages four to six, was ruined by fracking.  There is gas under my land.  What this signifies to me is that I will lose my home and farm, my ecosystem of a life that I designed and love, that enhances my aging and keeps me well and happy.

The other sense of dread comes from our heat wave (this is day ten of it–temperatures 100-105 F (103 F predicted for today) and higher heat indices (up to109 F because of the humidity).  N.C. WARN sent out an email this week with these facts:

1.  Spring 2012 in the contiguous U.S. demolished the old records for hottest spring and most extreme season of any kind.

2.  The last 12 months were also the hottest on record in the lower 48 states.

3.  This temperature change is strongly correlated with the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  “The bottom line is that atmospheric carbon dioxide acts as a thermostat in regulating the temperature of Earth.”

4.  Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. is in drought, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map.  “The parched conditions have been aggravated by a dry mild winter and above-normal temperatures.

5.  Carbon accumulations in air and water from emissions to date mean droughts, torrential storms, heat waves (in all seasons) and wildfires in the west and southeast are likely to keep increasing for at least several decades–even if humanity quickly begins reducing global warming pollution from fossil fuels.
If fracking doesn’t drive me out, the heat and storms that are in our future may.  Agriculture is threatened by both these realities.  We need water and fairly predictable temperatures to grow food.

I do tell myself that I will cope.  I can still write.  I’m ingenious.  Even if I lose everything here, I will be okay in my spirit.  I will live and write.  But I already grieve the loss of what I have now, which is clearly at risk.

That little ecosystem I’ve created?  What is it exactly?  What is at stake?  I am in close touch on a daily, even hourly basis with the world of growing things.  I feel how the plants struggle to survive the heat.  I fight weeds and bugs and wild animals that like to eat fruit and chickens.  Yet I’m providing half my food: vegetables, fruits, eggs, some meat from the hens.  

Farming is a lynch pin in my lifestyle now, giving me exercise, motivation to stay healthy, eat healthy food, and do the work that provides my food.  I sell some crops (figs, leeks, eggs) to keep the farm going as a viable business (I can subtract farm expenses from income on my income tax).  I can live simply on social security and not have to work as much for money at teaching. 

Even more importantly and part of all this is that farming is good for my morale and challenges me constantly to keep solving problems.  More droughts led to my putting in drip irrigation.  A possum killing a chicken led to my reinforcing the chainlink fence by getting volunteers to help put down ratwire along the bottom.  Razor wire at the top is the next project when I have extra money.  When I go outside to work in the garden or shut up the hens, I feel replenished and refreshed in my spirit.  My main work is my writing, and the farming provides ballast and balance for that.  I sit a lot, to read, write, work at the computer.  But all day I’m in and out, using myself, mind and body, every day, and refreshing my spirit both ways through writing and communicating as well as taking in the peaceful hens as they settle in the evening or a new moon as I got out to shut them up for night.  

There is also a community of people, friends, neighbors, even strangers around me who help me.  They also lift me up and make my life feel good and meaningful.  Aging brings more fears and doubts, so people and good healthy work combat such feelings.  

Here’s the poem I wrote last Sunday.  I do believe in transformation, but this is a hard one–this fracking, climate change future.  What can we human beings do?


The Telling that Changes Everything XX.
July 1, 2012

How do I describe the equilibrium I feel now?
It’s a form of sanity, a balance it took me
a lifetime to achieve.  I used to let my passions
rush me to extremes.  It doesn’t mean I can’t
still be enthusiastic or feel deep grief.
Ecstasy comes and goes, an intermittent wind.
Because we have days of dangerously high heat,
I spend more time indoors.  Outside it feels
like a Finnish sauna but with bad air.  I go
out early and late, to water, pick fruit, and 
at intervals to check on the hens.  The weeds
take advantage of my being sensible.  Then
even they begin to wilt.  This, too, will pass,
but I know we’ll have more and more
weather that is dangerous for human beings,
that make it harder to grow food and raise
chickens.  That knowledge weighs on my
spirt.  Yet I have two bushels of cooking
apples and the time to make and can
applesauce.  I’ve written “The End” on
my new novel.  The co-op produce man is
eager to buy my beautiful fat figs.  People
read my poems at the farmers’ market.
They buy my book before it’s published.
The two-week-old chicks are lively and
funny.  They perch on my hand when I
reach into their tub.  The big hens settle
into the shade under the fig trees.  Their
bodies know a wisdom I have to remember:
do what you can.  Adapt as needed.
Don’t despair.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

To Forgive is Wisdom; To Forget is Genius

Nadya's hollyhocks in a Russian village near the Volga.


The Telling that Changes Everything XIII.

March 18, 2012

People need our clarity, our joy, how 
we do a stake-out to catch the errant heart
when it suddenly opens wide.
–The Telling That Changes Everything IV.

To flourish, we allow the mind to empty, 
the feelings to experience hunger.  Then 
the words and the love rush in.
–The Telling That Changes Everything V.

Learn and learn.  Learn humility again.
You can’t always get what you want.
You want to save people from the fate
that looms because they’re afraid to take
the only path that frees them.  Am I
afraid?  Afraid to let them learn the
hard way?  It’s how I’ve learned, how I
still learn.  They may well fail you, too, 
but mostly themselves.  You have
knowledge they need but run from.  
Old Gulley Jimson’s “to forgive is
wisdom; to forget is genius” helps
you now.  To let go when you feel
that tug of war, that will to win in
the other person, that stubborn streak
like a thick brick wall, well-mortared,
is to know true compassion.  She
learns faster when you cease striving.
He hears his heart’s true love song
when you stop singing.  It took you
seventy-five years to touch this home
truth?  Be grateful you stepped ashore,
however wounded in soul and body.
Comforts beyond your present
imagining lie straight ahead.