Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hens Keep Things Lively at Hoganvillaea Farm

Two of Judy's hens curious about that photographer Sarah.  They look out of one eye at a time.

I was surprised when Cindy Ramsay, Central Carolina Community College’s Director of Continuing Education in Lee County, asked me to do a chicken workshop with the focus on a small urban or backyard flock. I’d been keeping chickens then for seven years and very much enjoyed my small flocks. I’ve been intent on raising as much of my food as possible and then having a few cash crops, so raising chickens made sense: handy protein and egg money.

It proved a sharp learning curve. I had to overcome a lot of fear: that the chickens would die, that we wouldn’t get the coop and yard ready in time (they grow fast) and that they might start eating each other; that predators would kill them, etc. But they didn’t smother each other by piling into a corner (it helped to have a horse tub with rounded corners); they didn’t eat each other, and I learned, if one was getting picked on, to separate her out for awhile, and we built coop and yard so as to be secure against the multiple predators: foxes, raccoons, possums, rats, snakes, dogs, hawks, owls, etc., and none died from disease.

It was hard when I had to decide to have some killed, for they were attached to me as I, to them, but my neighbors helped me, and I got through that. So, yes, though I was no expert, I had acquired some experience, knew the resources, and agreed to do the workshop in the fall of 2010.

Cindy Ramsey offered it in Sanford because a recent law allowed keeping chickens (no roosters) inside the city limits.

It turns out that quite a few municipalities now allow chickens, plus, with the interest in healthy local food, my own passion for my chickens isn’t unique. My small flock, renewed with new chicks every three years, is a break-even proposition, as the feed costs almost as much as the egg money can pay for, but I have wonderful fresh eggs in my diet, and they make other people healthy and happy, too.

Teaching is one way that those of us in our PMZ years can give to those younger and share what we have learned, whether about chickens, living, literature, or any endeavor to which we have given time and attention and learned to be at ease.

To my second chicken workshop on April 9 this year another writer came, Ruth Eckles, and she wrote about the experience. I okayed her bringing a photographer to the afternoon farm visit, so Sarah Cress joined us here at my Hoganvillaea Farm, which is, essentially, my backyard, since lawn, where chickweed grows profusely in the spring, the gardens where I grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers, and the small orchard, plus my house, the coop and yard for the hens, are all on half an acre.

I was pleased with Ruth’s report and thought Sarah’s photos added the exactly right visual images. So try this blog and enjoy:

Chickens help us keep our sense of humor!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Taming the Dragon

This is Mrs. Pearl Crawley, a dear friend from 1998 until late 2010.  She was 96 when she died, and she was a wonderful mentor to me those years, with her loving wisdom and service to others.


 Those who produce works of genius are not those who spend their days in the most refined company, whose conversation is the most brilliant, or whose culture is the broadest; they are those who have the ability to stop living for themselves and make a mirror of their personality, so that their lives, however nondescript they may be socially, or even in a way intellectually, are reflected in it. For genius lies in reflective power, and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.
–Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, translated by James Grieve, p, 129.

When I was younger, late thirties, I learned
that inside me was an inner circling sun
guarded by a dragon. The image stuck.
I’ve tamed the dragon, but no one else has.
It means I’ll be alone now. Odysseus
has left and returned many times, and yet
I remain alone. He could make one more
homecoming, but it seems unlikely.
Meantime, my spirit gathered up the four
corners of my archetype, like folding a
sheet and putting it away. It was a guide,
a series of stepping stones or street lights
I followed along a dark way, from one
pool of light to the next, learning to trust
what lay ahead when I had to walk blind,
one step at a time. It is worth everything
to stand where I stand now. Even as darkness
grows more gloomy in the outer world,
where I once worked with so much passion
and energy, the light in my center burns
brighter, intensifies its swing around its
orbit. Can my written words help?
A black man I’d never met before,
working near me at the polling place,
says that if I write books, "We’ll read

We don’t know how our words
will survive all the hazards of the
twenty-first century, when our human
race has yet to learn care for our planet
village or to imagine the inner landscapes
of people different from ourselves. A few
spirits who can see are all that is needed
to turn us from the weather disasters with
which our polluted air and sea begin
to punish us. Poverty makes friendships
stronger. We still, sadly, learn the hard way,
a truth Sophocles knew centuries ago:
we have to suffer before we learn. Wiser,
we pay more attention to our inner Spirit’s
words and to the love our fellow beings
give us. Even dogs, cats, and chickens
sometimes can’t get through. Obliviousness
is not the worst crime, but it can damage
the love others bear us when we don’t
deserve it.

My path is clear now, and straight.
My all-too-human body has its twinges
and its doubts about all that I still plan
to accomplish, which is why that inner
sun must carry the workload and egg me on.
My greatness is an unknown, and yet I
feel it settle comfortably into the driver’s
seat, turn the key, and tell all the other
passengers: "We’re off."

Judy Hogan

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Creative Mind: Restlessness

This is a shot in early spring of Winfield Farm in Randolph County, NC, near the Chatham County line.

One of the interesting things about my life is how I have responded to periods of restlessness. These rainy days make me restive, but I’ve learned how valuable such times can be. In fact, my finding creative ways to fill the time when it hangs heavy probably began when I was seven and put to bed for a year with rheumatic fever.

My mother home schooled me for the second grade. We lived across the street from my school, so she brought home the lessons. She also read to me and my younger sister every night, once we were ready for bed. She brought home many books from the library, and I read them.

But time still hung heavy, so I began to make up stories and illustrate them, and she always praised them. That set in motion my becoming a writer. By fifth grade I was writing longer stories and knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

I’ve noticed, as an adult, that, when I’m in a situation where things don’t turn out as I’d thought they would, and I suddenly have time, that I will invent things for myself to do. In 1990, when I went to the Gower Peninsula of Wales to spend three weeks with Mrs. Merrett at her bed and breakfast home, I had been there only a few days when I stumbled on a footpath about a mile from the nearest village, and sprained my ankle.

I limped back and was able to call an ambulance. They took me to Swansea Hospital and treated me free, gave me crutches, though no ice. My plan had been to ramble about the cliffs for many miles every day and find beautiful spots to sit and write poems. This had to change. I was essentially stuck in bed. Mrs. Merrett coddled me, but what was I to do?

I had some library books, and I wrote a few poems, but I still had a lot of time. I’d brought with me but not yet read Jacques Maritain’s Poetic Intuition in Art and Poetry. So I set myself to read that, a highly philosophical work, and in it I found the best articulation and understanding I had ever read of the creative process, of my own creative experience, as well as a lot of good advice for living with, and taking care of, my own "poetic intuition."

I also, at Mrs. Merrett’s suggestion, "Why don’t you write a murder?" began plotting my first mystery, The Sands of Gower, although I didn’t write it until the following summer. Toward the end of my time, I did get out to the nearby cliffs and write some new poems for my book, Lightwood Knots.

In Russia, in 1992, when I spent a month in two different Houses of Creativity for Writers, Peredelkino and Komarova, I again had time to fill. Expeditions to Moscow and St. Petersburg, to see the sights, often fell through. I made new friends at Komarova, and we had an interpreter living in the dorm with us. The writers there were more interested in us than they had generally been at Peredelkino.

By then I spoke a little Russian and could read it with the help of a dictionary, and I had one with me. I decided to translate some of the poems from books I’d been given by these new writer friends, and that made me even more itneresting to the writers there. Our young interpreter, Yelena, checked them for me. That led, too, to two women poets translating some of my poems and the book published in Russian by the Kostroma Writers Organization, Beaver Soul.

My restlessness disappeared in all those situations, and I was happily occupied.

There are days off and on in our lives when our routine breaks down, and for one reason or another, we suddenly have some free hours we don’t normally have. When that happens to me, I’ve learned to say to myself: "You can do anything you want to do." I almost always want to write.

So these last few days I’ve been restive, since I couldn’t do my usual farm chores–only a few of them. But my evenings have been free, and I knew it was an opportunity to write, so I have been writing, and I’ve had more discoveries and insights than usual.

I’ve learned to treat my feeling of my mind being empty as a sign that something in me wants to rise up and be written about. It’s clear to me now that this restlessness may also be a precursor to new creative work, to better than usual writing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Laughter for Zest

This is a painting by Nikolai Smirnov, which I treasure and use on my desktop.  It's a Russian peasant's farm, and although my farm is quite different, in the meaning, purpose, simplicity, and love I feel for my farm, they are the same farm.

I have a strong fourth house, astrologically speaking, which is the "home base" house. I have there two planets, both in Aries–Venus and Saturn. Venus has, I suppose, made me impulsive in love. Saturn made me serious. I still am deeply serious, but I laugh more and more freely, as I get older. Maybe that is also Venus. I laugh aloud sometimes when I’m reading and something strikes me as funny.

I didn’t laugh much as a child. I remember, at age thirteen, getting the giggles, when we were playing Hearts, and not being able to stop. I was both embarrassed that I’d lost control and delighted that I could so laugh. At age seventeen, when I was editor of the high school newspaper, and James, another "brain,"–he now works as a physicist--and I were stapling the April 1 edition of "The Sooner Cub." We had April Fool jokes in it, but we got the idea of stapling it on all sides so it was hard to open, and we got the giggles. The students took the joke well, as they struggled to access their mimeographed sheets. I had never so laughed and been so silly, especially at school.

Laughter is good medicine and another thing that helps us age well.

Once, when I was teaching a "Roadmap to Great Literature" class in the 1980s in the Durham Library, a student asked me how I’d learned to laugh at myself. I didn’t know the answer, but I said probably it was because I’d suffered so much. After awhile, you have to laugh.

When my three adolescents gave me fits, I certainly suffered, but when one, who’d run away twice, wanted to come home because he was living in a tent in his friend’s backyard, and it had been raining a lot, and the mosquitoes were driving him nuts, I laughed.

The mistakes we make, the things we forget, and many other of life’s little glitches can feel so tragic, but later, if we’re lucky, we can laugh. That’s the gist of what Carolyn Heilbrun said about some marriages: when you realize you can’t get unmarried, if you’re lucky, you laugh.

Laughing at ourselves is especially beneficial and can be healing, can freshen our perspective and take the dreariness out of a rainy day.

We can all be pretty silly at times–over-estimating or underestimating our ability to do something or how well we’ll cope.

When my new and first flock of chickens stayed out in the pouring rain instead of running for shelter, I read in a chicken advice book that they could drown, so I ran out to rescue them, and when they saw my umbrella, they fled. I put down the umbrella and was drenched, of course, and still had no luck getting the chickens to shelter. They didn’t drown. I don’t do that any more. If they want to stay out in a thunderstorm or when it’s hailing, I let them. I can laugh now at my mistake. Something about chickens tends to set off these absurd encounters. One of the blessings in my life?

When I carried into their coop for the first time a big bag of feed, they went into total panic and flew wildly all around the coop. So we learn and then if we’re lucky, we laugh.