This hush

Late-winter evening, a light snow,
6:30 on the first day
after the clocks spring ahead

standing on the road below my house
surrounded by fields, woods
and a profound quiet

my ears throb with stillness and a faint ring
from the city traffic I’ve left behind
for minutes no other sound comes by

I listen beneath soft flakes
in a luminous glow
of muted afternoon sun on snow

then solitary barking carries over far fields
brief squawking rises from the trees
down the long trail of the road

around the bends
an engine slowly draws near
and yet I hear

this
hush

~~~

Small offerings

The night’s small offerings to the road
are easy to lift: wrapped in a leaf
or carried on a bier of two stout twigs
an empty drink cup in the ditch will do
if a scoop is needed

Their still, often neat bodies
of feathers and beaks
of claws and fur
tiny red stick legs and translucent wings
or simple uncoiled lengths
finally agree
to settle
deep into the long grass
and wait for the seasons.

But some
if I come too late
cannot be pried from the asphalt
black as a clean slate
they are too small
the load that felled them
too exact:
these, after a few soft words, I leave
their diminishing flesh and precise skeletons
recording history

~~~

The fabric of the world

in the hammock
in the shade
in the clearing
in the woods

with me
a small mosquito, two birds nearby
a shushing wind

the bleats of sheep
car on the road
woodpecker knocking:
rooster crows

30 feet above my head
four maples meet and swing their greens
in a blue sky the sun shines through,
a dappled pattern on my knees

the buzz of bees
the smell of hay
in the hammock
in the shade

the fabric of the world
envelops us
in the clearing
in the woods

~~~

Life’s little brown jobs

I love being at home. It’s not that anything remarkable happens there. It’s that a succession of unremarkable moments, when truly inhabited, turn out to be quite beautiful.

Rae bird feederRae side view

When I have time around my actions to feel the rhythm of the day unfolding, I also have time to observe the details of my life in a way that lets me see how incredible all of this is, and that some sort of “I” in me feels privileged to be aware of it.

Just like the little brown jobs or LBJs my bird-watching friends talk about (nod to A_Span and MRM III) — the hard-to-distinguish (especially female) birds of the perching passerine family, such as sparrows or wrens, whose similarities can make their various species hard for humans to accurately identify — the moments of my days at home are small, hardly varying on the surface, but full of song.

Take today. I’m talking like someone knowledgeable about birds, but I know almost nothing. However, thanks to Bob at Gilligalou Bird Inc. in Almonte, ON, I know more today than I did yesterday. Tuesday on my way to meet a friend for lunch I stopped in at Gilligalou to ask how to put suet into the feeder I had bought the other week at the co-op. You’d think it was easy, but at my first go, I felt totally inept. Bob interrupted his own lunch to answer my 15 minutes of questions about what birds eat, and to explain the importance of small to large seeds, nuts, and mealworms, and some of the best ways to provide these.

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He told me about Gilligalou’s specially formulated blends, with no filler, that give wild birds optimal selection and nutrition; showed me various styles of feeder; talked about habitat; and reassured me that I’m not being a bad citizen if my feeders go for a few days without being filled. The birds will come back, but they will establish a habit of eating at my house to the extent that I provide them with a reliable food supply, water, cover, and nesting opportunities.

So today I spent a fun and messy half hIMG_20160106_133307our with seed and suet. First, I filled my old feeder – left behind by the home’s previous owners – with seed for the perchers and the ground feeders.

 

Next I crammed two types of suet – a peanut blend, and a mealworm blend – into the different holes of the wooden IMG_20160106_133422hanging feeder I bought the other week at the co-op. It’s the first time I’ve held a mealworm, and although they made me jump for a second, I’m most intrigued.

Next step: a proper feeder with rails for the ground-feeding birds, since there is nowhere for them to land on the seed feeder I have now. In the meantime, I’m trusting they will continue to gather the big seeds from the snow where they fall as the smaller birds eat. And after that: well, I have dreams, but I’ll be happy with life’s LBJs.

IMG_20160106_133824

17 January, 2016 – Update: This week’s visitors include chickadees, juncos, a multitude of posturing jays, a male house finch, downy woodpeckers, and a discriminating cardinal.

Me and Mrs. Jones

My vehicles have names.

What’s a vehicle? Anything with wheels, that I take to go on adventures. Car (Vivi, Mattie), bicycle (Genny, Francie, Gary)…

Lawnmower?

It’s only since moving to my little two acres, with a big patch of cleared greenery to mow, and a Greenworks battery-powered mower to do it with, that I’ve started thinking of my lawnmower as a vehicle with whom I have adventures.

But I haven’t known what to call this companion. Until the other day, heading out to mow for the fourth or fifth time in a week, and realizing that I was looking forward to it, I thought, “the lawnmower and I have a bit of a thing going on”.

Almonte lawnmower Me and Mrs. Jones

Mrs. Jones, waiting for a battery change

So let me tell you  about today’s adventures, mine and Mrs, Jones’.

We avoided the usual batch of smartly hopping frogs, crickets, cicadas, spiders, and moths. We did not avoid the desiccated wild cat poop but as it was dried, no matter. (No photo, you can picture it yourself.) We cut down a goodly number of nascent wild parsnips but they were not in flower so we’re simply keeping them at bay, not spreading them around, according to what the provincial ministry of the environment’s website tells me.

Almonte Greenworks Me and Mrs. Jones

Mrs. Jones with her bustle

 

We collected grass clippings for the compost – this is heavy work, and pushing Mrs. Jones and her bustle full of long grass along the sloped lawn makes me think I can cancel my gym membership.

 

 

IMG_20150919_172846We found an egg, broken open, with remains inside.

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We found wild catnip, which I harvested for Hazel and Mabel.

For the goIMG_20150919_173333od of us both, I wrestled and snipped out several stands of wild raspberries, which Mrs. Jones finds impassable. Wild raspberries have whip-like, pliable stems, up to ten feet long, that start new roots when their tips reach the ground. They may not look like much in the photo, but they also have wickedly clever thorns that hook and slice human skin and foam rubber handles with equal ease.IMG_20150921_165042

We picked six domesticated raspberries, the whole harvest from the plants sweetie transferred this Spring from the city house. I fed these to sweetie.

We left a few wildflowers here and there to brighten the lawn.

And just before the rain, we found a patch of lemon-scented moss with a teeming colony of winged ants, that reminded me of Coalescent, by Stephen Baxter.

So what does it matter, these adventures Mrs. Jones and I have together?

I’m surprised at how much I like mowing the lawn. I tend toward non-intervention, wanting to leave things to themselves. My brother says I used to protest shovelling because it ruined theIMG_20150921_153304 smooth look of the snow. But to some extent, mowing must be done, and it’s a physically exerting but intellectually easy job, one I understand. I know when I’ve done it well, and I know when it’s finished. Mrs. Jones is like a horse who knows the path, and I can almost just follow along. I’m outside, I’m moving, I’m getting to know the world around me, and I can hear myself think. I can hear the birds, I can hear the sheep, and the mower doesn’t scare them off. I can take a break over the rail fence to nuzzle Alpha, the elderly horse who boards with the sheep.

Alone with my thoughts, yet interacting with my environment, mowing is not quite a meditation, but a way of coming alive. My friends say, get a ride-on mower. But I’ve got my thing with Mrs. Jones.

Rooster’s big day

Rooster opens an eye. Dark. Of course. Gently, he ruffles his feathers, shifts his feet, opens both eyes. Clears his throat. Big day ahead. As usual. He will eat and drink later: now, there’s work to do.

He hears movement and knows the black hen is peering toward him. She likes to watch him work, likes to witness his skill, likes to be there for the first moment to know he has succeeded once again.

Rooster hops down from the rail and walks out the door of the coop to the wire fence. The end of the moon tosses a little light into the yard, and the stars wink. Goodnight, Rooster tells them, Your work is done. Sleep. He hears the black hen walk into the yard behind him. Then he clears his throat again, settles his feathers, and begins.

He knows he has timed it perfectly. He’s been at this for years. As a young cock he was sometimes hasty, started early, worked too hard. It is hard work, it takes stamina, but he knows his job and he never falters, never fails. And after the first big haul, it only takes a little well-timed effort here and there during the day until it’s time for night again.

ERRR-a-ERRR-a-ERRRRRR! ERRR-a-ERRR-a-ERRRRRR! ERRR-a-ERRRRRR! ERRR-a-ERRRRRR!

Rooster pauses for a breath. One more. ERRR-a-ERRRRRRRRRRR! And there. The tiniest slip of pale golden light appears behind the trees on the far horizon. Rooster nods. The black hen sits down. ERRR-a-ERRR-a-ERRRRRR!, cries Rooster, as he pulls the sun into the sky.

Waking to the world

We are home!

Moving in

Last month, I moved. From a 14-year sojourn in a house in the city of Ottawa, Ontario, with a large vegetable garden, mature trees, and friendly neighbours, within walking distance of shopping centres, bars, and the library, from this place that had always treated me well but always felt too jangled for my soul, my spouse and I packed cats and belongings to install ourselves on a two-acre wooded plot an hour west of downtown, outside the small Ontario town of Almonte, in rocky, farm-strewn Lanark county.

Let’s be clear. I am not a farmer nor a back-to-the-land-er. I am a city-bred, wireless-loving, grocery-store dependent woman, who knows how to grow almost every vegetable for my own freezer but is ignorant of – or at least shielded from – the hard work and hard choices that go into raising animals, growing crops, and making a living on the land. I’m a tree hugger and plant singer, toad minder and deer talker, rock thanker and grass patter, and I will be slightly out of step wherever I live. But I am not afraid of the dark, or of solitude. I am not afraid of the woods, or the wind. And I am deeply relieved to be away from the asphalt and cement, and to find, surrounded by the world, the softer, fuller breaths that lie in my depths.

Maple Sugar, 1 May 2015

Maple Sugar

All my life, I’ve lived in small cities, with their buses, bustle, and myriad choices for entertainment, employment, and shopping. But all my life, it’s been on visits to my grandparents’ dirt-road rural summer home in Clifton, Virginia, or at the ocean on Prince Edward Island or Virginia Beach, or standing against the sea air at the rocky coasts of Tofino and Gabriola Island in British Columbia, that I have felt like my real self. Camping on school canoe trips in Algonquin Park, canoeing in Temagami, hiking outside Banff… this is when and where I have felt in step with the world’s music.

Morning view from the sheep porch June 2015

Morning view June 2015

My new landscape does not have everything. It does not have ocean or mountains. It is pastoral, settled, mostly on the grid, thoroughly – although sparsely, compared to town – inhabited by humans. I do not have, and do not plan to have – although I would if this were 20 years ago – the care of cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, and chickens. What I do have is trees, rolling countryside, rocky outcrops, barely visible neighbours, animals – both farm and free – living all around and sometimes spotted by me, and an independent, inter-dependent, community ethos that feels like a meal I’ve been missing.

Video: Three deer, June 2015
http://www.evernote.com/l/AZhquziP9p5J25j2z0Q7PgPvVFsLNX1_Bro/

This is only the beginning. I don’t yet know how different my experience may be here outside town, with regular visits from deer and with sheep grazing next door. Already, I feel a change in myself as I sniff the breeze, as it awakens in me the possibility of a greater awareness and a greater appreciation of what I have mostly thought of as ‘nature’ but now realize is simply ‘the world’, living its own life. It’s a return to an earlier state in me, when, as a child, I knew that I was part of a fabric whose weave included all of existence.

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The sheep next door

When I mow the lawn with my battery mower, I keep my eyes sharp so as not to run over tiny toads. When I drive to my job, in the city, I watch closely for rabbits, chipmunks, and deer bounding across the road… or turtles, who in no way bound and are thus so vulnerable to rushing traffic. At night, I go to sleep in the dark, with a backdrop noise of frogs and distant coyotes; occasionally I’m awakened by the dream-jarring screech of hunter or prey, twisting abruptly through the night. When I dig in the garden, I can wear something resembling pyjamas, with no one but the next-door sheep to cast an eye my way. When I need a boost or a tool or a hand with a tiller or a dozen eggs, or a jar of honey, I call a neighbour, and assistance is rendered. When I stride downtown in my rubber boots, I feel right in step with myself.

Some of this is not much different from life in the city. There is loud machinery, as the land is worked and buildings are put up. There are dead animals along the road, hit by fast-moving cars. In a few years, I will need to clean my septic system, paint my house, repair the porch. I have friends along the road. There is a library in town. And people are people: kind, helpful, honest, private, industrious, or not.

But who am I? How will I be shaped by the unceasing green and rolling vistas, shaped by the world that I encounter each morning?

Audio: Waking to the world
https://www.evernote.com/shard/s408/sh/4f6188c9-b887-4df6-a2fd-cc5f998bd7e0/cfc0acd5728019f202094a2cd5717af5

Importantly, how will my writing reflect the change? I’ve taken a hiatus from the blog and for a short time will be posting here less frequently, as I plant new seeds and harvest a new creative vision. I aim to offer a richer harvest, as I wake up to the world.