Monthly Archives: April 2013


Blue skies reflected in the pond!promisespeekmaple budsMountain laurel or rhododendron? Help!Bolted!bolted arugulaskunk cabbageNettles!

A couple weeks ago the spring peepers launched headlong into their moony chorus and I don’t want them ever to stop. A few years ago I found a copy of The Gardener’s Bed-Book: Short and Long Pieces to Be Read in Bed by Those Who Love Husbandry and the Green Growing Things of the Earth at an estate sale, or maybe it was at a fantastically Hogwartian junk shop near our old farm. Either way: I find it a (largely) addictive and delightful little book, even if author Richardson Wright does refer to the “infernal squallings” of the peepers. Me, I say their song is about the prettiest and most heartening thing I know. There I am, plodding along in my slippers, shoulders hunched in cold self-preservation over another cup of coffee, cracking the front door to check the weather and wondering if I can summon the wherewithal to suit up self and child for a bracing evening walk – and there they are! When I hear them I know for sure that we are on the other side of winter’s worst. (Did you know though that the cold-blooded peepers can tolerate sub-zero temperatures without dying? Whoa! It’s a pretty complex process; more here.) And they do most of their eating and, umm, merrymaking after dark and throughout the night – which is to say: they sing us to sleep.

So it’s moony peepers and moony me. Last week the forsythia woke up and this week it’s just exploding, fountains and fireworks of it everywhere we go. I don’t know what made me think we’d moved too far north for magnolias, because we haven’t – they’re everywhere too and instead of making me feel homesick they are just making me feel at home. Inside the high tunnels where we’ve been gleaning scraggly kale and rosemary, the greens are bolting and the herbs are flowering and the heady smell of it all makes me grin so wide I can hardly speak. And I’m not sure what’s redder: the maple buds against a sky that is one hour thick with thunderclouds and the next a blinding blue, or the robin’s breast in the pear trees behind our house, or the barn in the setting sun??

And the skunk cabbage! It’s huge now, up to my knees nearly and bright bright green, and as I walked in the marsh behind our house yesterday and the day before I saw that wherever the skunk cabbage is growing, nettles are too. Nettles! I will wait just a little longer, and then I will put on some gloves and get to work. I want lots of tea, and I want the buttery nettle soup a friend made for me in France 10 years ago this summer, and I want Nicole’s nettle tart. The marsh where they grow, half frozen just a few weeks ago, is carpeted in thousands upon thousands of tiny cotyledons. Is it too much to wonder if some of them might be watercress? This marsh habitat is so new to me. I don’t know its calendar yet at all.

Oh, friends. It has been a very long winter. This is how I am finding home.

“The Peace of Wild Things”

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry
The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry

On bright blue days delight comes easy.

bootssilofinding color where i cancattailsskunk cabbageleap

At three and a half, our son seems to be doing that “kids are adaptable” thing with aplomb as he settles in up here amongst the stone walls and glaciated ridges. At three his feelings are also acute and immediate, and this long winter of preparation and packing was not easy for him. But now that we’re here and our days have some semblance of normalcy to them again, he seems to be taking in stride the loss of so much that was familiar. He’s so here, so now, and has just gotten right to work building up a brand new familiar. Of course the move means enormous changes for my husband too. But his days here are busy and new, and he’s the first to say he’s very much looking forward to a year without his nose buried in QuickBooks.

Me? In truth I half feel like I’m still treading water. I’m not melancholy. It’s nothing like October, when the decision to leave our farm was still so raw. But it’s not July yet either.

Case in point? This Hudson Valley winter. This, friends, is going to take some getting used to. No, it’s not Arctic. It’s not even New England. But it is COLD. And brown. And icy. And long. Perhaps I’ve been coddled by too many easy Virginia winters – because I did grow up in Pennsylvania, and I did live in New York City for much of my twenties. I’m confident that in time the heady southern springs will be less the thing I yearn for come March and more just a part of how we tell our son about the place where he was born. I remember that in the first months of my pregnancy in 2009 I thought I might burst with vernal delight, that clamor of blossoming trees and all that green seeming to cheer on the tiny new life in my belly. I suppose that bit of magic did set the bar for spring pretty high.

But I’m confident too that, soon enough, the northern bellwethers will come to be just as comforting as those Virginia redbuds and dogwoods and wisteria. Look at that amazing skunk cabbage in the marsh, two photos up – do you know it makes its own heat, upwards of 60°F above air temperature, melting its way through the frozen ground, confidently and without complaint, to thrust its speckled burgundy spathe through the mud?? Geese are everywhere, filling the skies with their glorious racket. And who could’ve expected I’d come to be so enamored of mud? If our boots are crusted with it and our floors splattered and smeared, can it be too long before I linger with my coffee at sunrise on the back deck?

If I’m half homesick, missing blossoms and Kaffeeklatsches and our land, well then, I am also half drunk on my own delight in all that is new. When were those stone walls built? What kind of rock are those cliffs carved from? Those evergreens are enormous – what are they? If these hardwoods ever get leaves again, will I know them by sight or will I need to go on long walks with my Peterson guides? What’s this – oh, ouch! It’s a chestnut! Right there in the yard! And look at those marshes! And all those ponds! And those vast black dirt onion fields! Of course there are people here too. They run diners and ice cream shops, and they know how to make the kind of bagels and pizza I’ve been missing for years, and they invite us over for breakfast, and they tell us where the playgrounds are, and the good Indian lunch buffets too, and how on this sweet green earth one can procure a library card. (You might think this would be easier to procure than, say, raw milk, but you would be wrong.)

From such diverse and abundant raw material we are beginning to piece together our days. Sometimes the skies are too grey and the winds too fierce, and my resolve to get us outside in all kinds of weather just doesn’t stand a chance against my kid’s grumps. On those days we bake, or we keep unpacking our books, or we take long and winding drives. But sometimes the skies are blindingly blue and so we tug on our boots and zip our coats and off we go. I tell him about cattails and we laugh as the dogs leap the creeks and I swear one day last week we startled a pheasant up out of the rushes. We stop at luncheonettes for bagels and coffee, and the waitress at one already knows that my kid would like two crayons, one red and one blue please, and she cuts the straw down to size for him special. We are missing our own vegetables like the dickens, but we need to eat fresh vegetables just the same, and it’s lots of fun trying new cabbages and squashes from the big Asian market. There is a great spot for coffee just down the road – I have not had a lovely little luxury like that since my NYC days. We’re looking up swim classes (what with all these ponds), and while I haven’t found a great spot yet for bulk grains and spices, buying fresh milk is as easy as going to the farm and paying for it. We’re trying out a weekly parent-child class at a small Waldorf school. On weekends we sometimes stick close to home but more often, so far, we are taking advantage of what seems like unbelievable good fortune: living within easy driving distance again of family and old friends. If things work out here, my son will grow up knowing his cousins and with loads of aunties both kith and kin.

So here we are. On bright blue days delight comes easy. On harder days I am trying to take cues from the skunk cabbage, burgeoning through the frozen mud, and of course also from my resident bodhisattva, who cries when he is sad, eats when he is hungry, laughs when life is funny, and gives the best hugs.