ergo,

I came across it as I was cleaning my closet this evening: the sun-bleached bark brown material; the sacrificial cloth that protects the shoulder straps from slobber and baby teeth and boogers; the waist strap still stained with my sweat ring; my very own koala pouch; the Ergo.

I’ve come across it before, and could always lovingly tuck it back into the closet, telling myself comfortingly that at least the little one is still young enough to fit in it in a pinch. That we might just find ourselves on a hike where his legs will poop out, and I’d whip out our trusty Ergo and everyone would cheer because I would save the day by carrying him across the finish line.

But that’s not how our last several hikes have played out. The Ergo sat quietly in the closet while those once baby boys explored lava tubes and waterfalls, hiked/ran across sand dunes for hours, completed a rather humorous but completely disastrous trail run with me, and backpacked into and out of the Grand Canyon. T (now 10) is a force, being both stronger and far more agile than me. M (now 6) does an incredible job keeping up and has only suffered from tired legs a few times, namely coming out of the Canyon. We had a few incidents of boy-splayed-out-in-the-middle-of-trail-wailing-about-how-we-are-so-hard-on-him, followed by a pulling-together-of-one’s-self and an interesting discussion about settling into the idea that when we don’t know when we’ll arrive somewhere all we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. There’s no way I could have carried that sweet boy anyway, so a mind over matter solution was serendipitous.

Our life has changed a lot since wandering into that small shop in Littleton as wide-eyed new parents and investing $100 on that Ergo, a purchase that turned out to be both life-saving and life-changing for me. It allowed me to keep them close and safe while getting out of the house, running errands, hiking, biking, and most importantly, farming. They both spent hours in that precious piece of equipment, and there are times when I ache for that closeness again. I sense their gradual outward motion as they grow up. I now work outside the home full-time while E works the farm, and boys both go to school. They are starting to become their own independent people with their own agendas and ideas, and I’m no longer imperative to their survival as I once was.

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M circa 2014, Kentucky

So tonight when I saw my beloved little helper (the healthy kind) in a heap in the back corner of my closet, it aroused an acute melancholy and I missed the way they used to depend on me and the closeness we had when they were babies. The realization also struck me in a way it never had before, that even if their legs are tired and even if I could, me carrying them across a finish line isn’t really what they need anymore anyway. That it’s okay for the form of my support to evolve. I want them to develop independence and self-reliance, fortitude and perseverance. Ergo, I’ve decided that instead maybe what they could use is for me to just do my best to walk beside them when their legs ache, hold their hand if they want it, and listen openly to their thoughts about how hard the tribulation might feel.

It’ll never find itself in the donation box, though. Some day you might just find me wearing it empty while doing the dishes, remembering the feeling of a sleeping red head resting on my back.

 

Ditching the bitty

Not to be confused with ditching the biddy, wherein E’s endless patience runs out. Not sure how much is left, though…

I’ve decided it’s about time to retire the itty-bitty Cannon PowerShot we got back when we decided to leave Denver with a car and a backpack (and almost a crib mattress). Out of the closet will come the SLR that my parents gave me when I graduated college back in…uh, a while ago. It was a Cadillac of a camera, and way beyond me at the time. My old boss and friend gave me camera lessons with it in 2009 as we sat on a bench by the bay in Victoria, BC.  Between the blue sky and the reflective water, the colorful bobbing vessels and passing aeronauts, it was the perfect photography classroom. We talked about shutter speed and aperture, and other inner workings of cameras. Unfortunately, since adopting the PowerShot, about 99% of that knowledge has faded because of that whole “use it or lose it” thing. The deeper knowledge of photography has been lost on me, and I’m excited to revisit the subject.  Looking at all my parents’ old albums was a strong reminder that my dad (and other people, likely) really knew how to use a camera back in the day! The albums are filled with so many amazing compositions, and when I realize that every one of those required a decision and a manual adjustment before clicking, it makes me feel like a most ignorant photographer.

Don’t get me wrong, though, the bitty has been awesome. But its planned obsolescence (damn capitalism!) has run its course and it’s becoming unreliable, so we’re pulling the relief pitcher.  The PowerShot was highly portable, which is why we got it. It survived a second story drop off a hotel balcony, and shared countless lint-filled nights in close contact with the standard detritus that any good pocket on a farm might accumulate over the course of a day. It’s been dragged around by both our boys, taking an untold number of photos of blurry grass and tops of feet, and incredibly unflattering photos of me. WTF Canon? You’d think with all this technology, I could look hot in at least one photo in the last 6 years.

I remember what a big deal it was when my parents got a CD player when I was probably early teens; I was certain we were a decade behind all the other families we knew.  We usually listened to my parents’ old vinyl records on Saturday mornings as we’d clean the house, or KMGN, a rock station out of Flagstaff.  In hindsight, I like the way technology wasn’t a driving force in our family dynamic. We never had the latest and greatest so in a way we bowed out of the frantic pursuit of it and focused on other things. When my parents did get around to making a technology upgrade it was an awesome, memorable luxury. I’ve noticed that E and I  hold back on technology in a similar way, and I’m really glad we do.

We just recently upgraded to two flip phones instead of a single shared one.  And, after several months of deliberation, we now have a smart TV (which will only play DVDs at the moment because our internet service is also behind the times). The decision was not driven by a need to keep up on technology or peer pressure, rather, our method of watching Netflix had become so painful it was driving us mad. The Netflix-method consisted of: (1) delicately transport aging laptop with screen hanging on by a thread to large computer monitor in living room, (2) balance laptop precariously while crawling through the lower shelf of a cabinet to unplug the DVD player and reroute cord to laptop, (3) plug in laptop because it can’t hold a charge for more than four minutes, (5) reroute speakers to laptop and fiddle with the intermittently-working, duct-taped single speaker whose twin died years ago, (6) have E pull me out of the cabinet by my ankles, (7) apologize to kids for all the cussing, (8) watch Netflix. So we went ahead and made the upgrade. And now we have a remote control to adjust volume – something we haven’t had in 8 years. I can’t even believe how much I appreciate remote volume control. I imagine the boys also appreciate it, as their little legs have served as “remote”, and their little fingers have served as “control” to turn the volume control shaft (because the button fell off a few years ago).

So, going back to the SLR feels like going back in time, reconnecting with an era pre-quick-and-easy-pocket-camera. It’s comforting. It does present some logistical questions, like how am I going to tote this giant thing around? Maybe, just maybe, I can get it to fit in this:

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My prize find when we bought the farm: a fluorescent fanny pack. Can’t wait to wear this to my kid’s soccer game. And put tissue in it.

The Last Hair Tie

I am down to my last hair tie. Two weeks ago, I still had one of my simple black no-frills Goody elastics and now it’s gone so I’m down to my last resort – a rubberized one that rips out my hair every time I remove it. I’ve always had long-ish hair (except for a fun night with a bottle of wine and rusty farm shears) so hair ties have always been an integral part of my work costume. E once told me he had one hair tie for his entire long hair career, and one pencil throughout all of college. He’s superhuman if you ask me; I can’t fathom the kind of discipline that he must have to put something back in the same place every time. He famously puts my tools away before I’m done using them and closes cupboard doors while I’m still emptying the dishwasher (or a week after I’m done, whatever). He is the ying to my yang.

 

But for some reason I’m feeling this last hair tie to be symbolic. We’ve spent the last year without income, living on savings to get this farm up and running and producing. We took our last big gasp of spending before we left Kentucky – I probably even had a full pack of ties then – and we’ve been holding our money-breath ever since and frivolities regularly get the ax. Our stores of comfort items and niceties have dwindled. Hair ties for some weird reason, fall into that category for me. After all, couldn’t I just rig up my hair some other way? I could revert to making horrific scrunchies like all of 4th grade by pulling the elastic out of T’s outgrown shorts and sewing it into the ragged dishtowel that I’m about to throw out. But I just don’t have that kind of time these days. I even eyed one abandoned at the park that looked just like mine and almost picked it up, but then got to thinking about lice and thought better of it.

What I’m trying to say, is that it’s the 11th hour around here. First market is still 23 days out, and we still have some big expenses coming around that are imperative to a successful season. It can feel a bit discouraging on days, when progress feels like an uphill battle and we realize that the path to where we’re headed isn’t paved in well-drained silty loam with a pH of 6.5. But we’ll forge on – we’re not starving or destitute – and we’ll make it to that first market, with hair a blowin’ in the wind.

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Hair? What hair?

 

9

E and I spent our ninth wedding anniversary atop the old barn, pulling the 20′ corrugated tin panels to salvage before its demolition the following week. We decided it was best to take down the building on account of all the rotten timbers we discovered as we cleared it out, the cobbled and crumbling multi-level concrete floors, and the piles of trash and manure that would have been nearly impossible to deal with to our satisfaction by hand. Tackling the job ourselves to make it safe and functional before the rains set in could have easily consumed the rest of the summer, and we just don’t have that kind of time. We are realizing that our outbuildings are our highest priority. To have them weatherproofed and operational before fall so we can continue making progress out of the weather feels crucial.

E takes down the north lean-to the week prior
E takes down the north lean-to the week prior

With my anxiety about one of us falling off the barn (since a neighbor recently fell off her roof and was badly injured) I begged E to rig up some ropes so we could tie-in while working up there. I think he enjoyed an excuse to throw some climbing rope, and with my harness just a bit more snug than it was in college I managed to wear it with my legs only going partially numb.

It was sure fun to be up there working together, pulling bucket loads of nails and looking out to a perfect view of the land and the coast range to the west. We were both tied off to one long loop that ran along the ridge, and as E went close to an edge I thought how convenient, even romantic that by literally being his ball and chain today I might actually save him from falling off the edge. As I continued to pull nails in my semi-meditative state, my mind wandered to how appropriate such an arrangement was to celebrate nine years together: being each other’s anchor in this way, keeping the other from going off the deep end when needed, being bound together as one to accomplish what felt like a monumental task. And no sooner had I settled on the magnificence of our union, I looked up to see E standing in the middle of the ridge, having just unclipped his harness because the ropes were tripping him up. He was smiling, handsome in the sun, looking around enjoying the freedom and the view from his perch. It seriously rattled me. But wait!! I thought, We’re each other’s ball and chain! You can’t just unclip!! I had to laugh at my somewhat silly notion that may have extrapolated itself a bit too far. I had not even considered that one of would eventually have to leave our arrangement to pee.

Me and my big butt. I mean buttket. I mean bucket.
Me and my big butt. I mean buttket. I mean bucket.

It was a stark reminder that he was, and always is, clipped in voluntarily. We’re all clipped in voluntarily to what we’re doing, to the relationships we’re in, to the jobs we commit ourselves to. While it might be complicated to unclip in many cases, the fact of the matter is that 99% of our actions are ultimately by choice. What we eat, what we buy, whether we take the stairs or the elevator, whether we choose engineering or farming. Sometimes those choices can trip us up; sometimes they can save our life. Sometimes you have to trust that unclipping from your current situation and enjoying the freedom of exercising that choice is exactly what you need to do.

We did get the roof off except for a few pieces we left because of a bird nest under the ridge. We wanted to give them the extra week to figure out the flying thing. Most of the nails were popped because of the rotten slats holding them up, so pulling them was actually pretty fun. E waged several battles with wasp nests in the ridge, and I managed to get a raging sunburn on my muffin top because of the way my shirt rode up – reminiscent of the plumber’s crack sunburn I got helping my dad put a roof on his garage in Flagstaff about 15 years ago. Some people just never learn, I guess (hand raised). So to anyone out there working on a roof, I highly advise tucking in your shirt. But only if you choose.

Phoenix

The other night I was feeling a little beaten down, so after my shower I slathered my face in a dead sea mud mask. It’s a small act of self care, but that combined with a cup of hot tea can sure feel like going to the spa for pennies on the (hundred) dollar. By then it was about 9:30 and the boys were asleep so I sat down at the kitchen table to do some writing in the silence that’s become really rare in our house. Before my mind will wander freely in that way, though, it has the annoying habit of first scanning the periphery for any dangling tasks. That night, on the brain-menu was (1) culling a sick chicken and (2) planting a eucalyptus tree given to us by E’s mom.

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A bucket for every boy

We’d separated the narcoleptic chicken from the rest of the flock a few days prior, on account of her green poo and the fact that sleeping (or otherwise nonmoving) chickens become speed bumps when moving the chicken pens and that’s not fun for anybody. We separated her in hopes that VIP access to food and water and peace might revive her, with no such luck. When she started falling asleep in the waterer and flies set in we concluded her situation was probably terminal. With our healthy critter population around here, a hole to bury said dead chicken seemed in order. And thinking of the hole led me to thinking about the coincidence that completing task #2 would also require a hole. And thinking of planting a tree led me to thinking that a decomposing chicken carcass might offer some pretty awesome nutrition for a tree being transplanted at such an inappropriate time of year, and that this marriage of tasks would require the digging of only one hole. And then I got to thinking how digging a hole deep enough to bury a chicken and plant a tree at 9:30 at night through dry sod didn’t sound very fun. But then I remembered the scar left in the earth by the epic pile of debris I cleared a few weeks back. It sat there like the tender skin that’s left under a blister when you finally pull the skin, looking at me every time I’d go down to take care of the chickens. There’s no vegetation but it’s alive with bugs; the dirt was soft, still moist but becoming more callused with each passing day.

And before I could stop myself, I popped the question to E if he wanted to help me with my mission. I told him I’d do the digging if he wielded the hatchet, and afterward we both felt like we got the best side of that arrangement. I set out to digging a very deep hole in the moonlight down there while the potted tree looked on. “Deeper” it would whisper every time I looked over my shoulder at it. E came down with the chicken and block of wood a bit later, and in what felt like just a few minutes the deed was done and E and I stood across from one another looking at the eucalyptus that we just planted together. It’s a strange universal relationship between the life of that tree and the death of that bird, the ugliness of the pile that was there and the beauty of the tree that will restore that place. I like thinking that for the next 30 years, that spot gets a shot at being awesome and enjoyable instead of just dumped on. One could make any number of allusions to Phoenix here, but I’m not feeling so clever.

I went in to wash my hands and realized I had my mud mask on that entire time and E never even gave me a hard time about it. He’s a good man, and probably didn’t want to make me feel self-conscious. He also probably realized that if he said something I would have stopped digging to go in and rinse my face and he would have been left holding the shovel. He’s good and smart. So I rinsed that off, and even though it didn’t leave me more beautiful I felt rejuvenated in a new and strange way.  Of course, by then I was just too tired to write so I joined in the silence with the sleeping boys.

Piss

The last six weeks on the farm have been primarily consumed with cleaning up someone else’s mess. I’m pretty well-versed in that department, but this mess wasn’t created by a blood relation so it packs more of a sting. There was some of this to be expected: we bought a farm that, as it turns out, hadn’t been lived on for the last 15-20 years. The mailbox was full of wasps, the phone box full of water, the chimney full of bats. The aging owners only came out occasionally. They had owned it since the mid-eighties, and from what I have gathered, they inherited a bit of a mess from the owners before them. And so our current tally is 20-yard dumpsters: 1, 30-yard dumpsters: 3, metal recycling loads: 4. We’ve also sold two vehicles and a RV that were left behind. Currently, the 3-car carport is empty, pressure-washed, and awaiting fresh rock that arrives in the morning. The 3-car shop has been emptied of a barricade of disgusting things as tall as E. It’s also been pressure-washed, painted, electrified, and E replaced the shop’s south wall (it had been literally torn off by blackberries). We found a few windows in the barn and E framed them into that south wall to let in a little light and to be able to enjoy the view.

The blackberries swallowed me right after this photo
The blackberries swallowed me right after this photo on account of hubris

It’s impossible to even explain the kind of madness we’re dealing with here. It has not been uncommon to find a paper bag full of the following combination: one used wooden toilet paper holder, three empty candy wrappers (I swear they were empty when I found it!), a used toothbrush, a container of 10 brand new stainless screws with receipt from 1973, a map, and a hook. WTF? I mean, I am not organized by any stretch of the imagination but how the hell does one decide those things ought hang out in a paper sack together for 20 years? I am now laughing at myself because E once gave me a hard time about discovering the “Chaos Boxes” I create when I clear off the kitchen counter before company arrives. But in my defense, at least I put it in a box and I do deal with it eventually.

A cute picture frame. Get it?!
A cute picture frame. Get it?!

We’ve discovered that most of the monstrous blackberry islands around the house were probably founded upon the inability to mow over a trash pile and so the berries got the green light to try and take over the universe in that area. I decided to tackle one glaringly huge pile last week, and as I filled the truck for the third time with trash to transport to the dumpster I started to cuss humanity. I was cussing the companies that made the junk, and the person that bought the junk, and the wasteful mentality of our culture as a whole that convinced that person they needed the junk, and the audacious disregard for the natural world that causes people to think that piling all that junk in a field is a good solution. And while enjoying my strong cocktail of piss and vinegar, I thought that E and I should have gone and bought a piece of wilderness instead and started from scratch. We should have chosen a piece of bare land where no one had the chance to screw it up yet and we should have just lived in a tent, ate blackberries and poo’d in the bushes. And once I thought that, it became apparent to me that by the very act of touching the earth we are screwing it up to some degree, no matter how lightly we try to tread. I would have stolen those blackberries from a mama bear, and I would have accidently chopped some worms in half digging my poo hole.

So I decided that maybe it’s a meaningful act to deliberately choose to fix a piece that’s already been screwed up and abused and then neglected. Maybe the world needs more people fixing the broken rather than exploiting the pure spaces that remain. And so I bucked up, decided we still made a good decision to love this land, filled two more truck loads, and went in for a serious shower.

So I guess I’m saying all this because I think our culture has a romanticized view of what farming is – of what rural life is, and I’m no exception. We’re not sitting under the grape arbor looking out over our fields of perfectly-weeded veggie fields whilst the boys play merrily in a tree house. We’re hot and sweaty and physically uncomfortable in one way or another for a good part of the day but it feels good to feel – to feel the muscles I pushed too far, to feel skin that’s been in the sun a touch too long, to feel the refreshing cool of even a bit of shade. Even my first wasp sting was an excitement I hadn’t felt in a while. There have definitely been some disheartening moments, moments when I’m ready to stop cleaning up someone else’s mess and start my own creative endeavors but I have to remind myself that this is a necessary step to that end. To get paint to stick, you have to remove the rust and the dirt and the grime and uncover the solid metal underneath it. And who knows, maybe it’ll even be an alloy with some Tungsten in it.

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New Home

We had lots of moments during our transition back west that evoked memories of previous pilgrimages. A 2-ish year old boy running (and crashing) on the metal grated ramp into a moving truck, leaving town with the Subaru full to the brim, check engine light ablaze, and having no way to escape it but to finish a quadruple digit journey. Then there’s the feeling strung out, and missing the familiarity of having our own digs after about day 10. It only took us seven nights of camping, three nights with E’s good friend in Denver, one last-minute hotel in Utah, a final 15-hour day, and a partridge in a pear tree to get here from Louisville.

ROAD TRIP FOOD: One last strawberry load from last year's plants. Disclaimer: Cheetos photoshopped out to protect the guilty.
ROAD TRIP FOOD: One last strawberry load from last year’s plants. Disclaimer: Cheetos photoshopped out to protect the guilty.

I even had the audacity to write “Oregon or Bust!” in shoe polish on my rear window as my way of accepting the very real possibility that our two vehicles (that share nearly half a million miles between them) just might not be up to the task. Little did that car know we’d push it across the country after the few previous sedentary years of grocery and school runs. I bet she thought we retired her. Oh contraire!

I imagined myself changing my window graffiti to “Oregon or Bust!” after loading it onto the tow truck in the middle of Utah, but luckily that didn’t come to pass and we made it safely, if not entirely haggard. It’s hard to think about loving a machine, but when one delivers your family without incident on a voyage like that I think that’s the only way to describe it. It was drizzling when we pulled up to the property, not the sunny welcoming weather we all had anticipated (damn expectations!!). I did have to pee, I may have done a little jig but I did skip the dog roll and I didn’t even cry. Actually, I only teared up once on the way out here listening to Lumineers, and that’s pretty good for a recovering emotional basketcase.

Arrived and alive!
Arrived and alive!

It tugged at our heart strings when M would cry out ‘”home!” after he was tired of being on the road, obviously ready to return to the familiarity that he’s had since he was born. It was often a sentiment we all shared, but I guess us bigger ones learn to swallow it with a stiff upper lip or let it manifest in less direct ways. I appreciate his lack of grayscale in communicating his desires, as I’m not the sharpest when it comes to decoding emotions. I wonder which of T’s antics on the road were a result of the same need: was it when he insisted on carrying a stone the size of a bowling ball from our campsite 100 yards downriver, across said river, and up a 40’ embankment to the car? Was it fighting falling asleep in the car until we were nearly all in tears only to sleep for almost three hours solid once he finally gave in? When M was anxious, T kindly offered that instead of “home” we were on our way to our “new home,” and it seemed to set him at ease. Funny, we still call it that.

We’ve been on the property for nearly six weeks, and while it feels like we’ve been here for months it’s also blitzed by because of the insane amount of projects we’re tackling simultaneously. I guess that’s what happens when you jump with both feet, it’s a rush as you sink deep, and the only way to catch your breath is to paddle hard.

He does not tiptoe, and they are not tulips
He does not tiptoe, and they are not tulips

So we’re here in the new home, soon to be home.