April: Isolation Thoughts

Hello, dear ones. How is everyone doing out there? We have been self isolating here since the week of March 15. So we are almost ending our third week in what promises to be a long, LONG time period of hunkering down and waiting things out. This promises to be a rambling post because I don’t have anything written out beforehand but do have some thoughts I want to put out there. Just my reflections of this time.

First, I feel so lucky that this happened when we were entering Spring. Spring flowers are blooming all over our little bit of earth: daffodils, glorious forsythia, peach trees, lenten roses, and Korean Spice viburnum. Lilacs are budded out. Each morning I awake to a chorus of birdsong and can’t help but feel happy that the dear birds are going about business as usual. Weather is warmer so we can get outdoors a bit. I have seeds started in my basement light garden: spinach, lettuce, pansies, tomatoes, cottage pinks and hollyhocks. I jumped the gun (so to speak) a few days ago when the soil was warm and workable and planted snow and sugar snap peas and poppies in the garden. This is the work of hope. Hope that I will be here to tend a summer garden. Hope that seeds will sprout. Hope in the ability of nature to nourish and heal us.

I have decked the old Christmas tree out with yarn so that the birds will have nest building material.

I thank heaven for my husband and my animal family. I realize that so many do not have that comfort and my heart goes out to them. This week my young “girls” are one year old, and I plan to make a chicken birthday cake for them. They deserve a nice treat. They have been laying well and I feel so much gratitude to have fresh eggs every day.

What is self isolation meaning for you? For me it is a time of introspection. My family (all three children and us) are all introverts so at first we joked that we were born for self isolation. And indeed that first week felt almost like a vacation or retreat from people. I thought greedily of time spent reading books, quilting, practicing my watercolor art, writing letters, taking long leisurely walks. However, as the news grew more disturbing with every passing day, I did little of these seemingly indulgent pastimes. In fact I spent much of my day staring out the window. Pondering how we got to such a point, and feeling quite helpless. I ordered a puzzle, which sits unopened on the table.

Week 2: the week of kindness. The world seemed to glow with acts of kindness. We saw videos of people singing and clapping from balconies, enjoyed concerts from people’s backyards or living rooms, listened to lessons on kindness each evening with Steve Hartman from CBS and his children, on Facebook live. People started using Zoom for family celebrations and get togethers. People started writing poetry and posting pandemic poems full of hope that the world would emerge from this ordeal as a better, kinder place. I still hope that.

Week 3: beginning to dig in. Ok. The newness has evaporated. Television has lost its appeal. The news is frankly, terrifying. I begin to realize that perhaps the only way through this is to keep up my spiritual practice. For me it is meditation and yoga. This is when I really begin to listen to my inner voice and admit that this is going to take quite a bit more effort than I have been putting into it to remain centered and mindful. This is where I need to be gentle with myself and my partner and wade through the waves of powerful emotion that come over me suddenly.

I am hanging on to signs of hope: the sun still rises, the backyard Norway Spruce is forest green and waves its pine cones gaily in the breeze, people who drive by when I am in the front yard are waving and they never did that before. In the grocery store I lock eyes with a stranger. We greet each other and smile in acknowledgement that we are in this together. We are doing what we can. Staying in so the world can be healed. A worthwhile effort, I do believe, for us all.

The Forest Speaks

A few weeks ago I started a practice of spending long, meditative time in the woods. It is a practice of Shinrin-Yoku, which I believe originated in Japan. The idea is to really commune with the trees, birds, and all of nature. This is outlined in a book I recently purchased entitled your guide to Forest Bathing by M. Amos Clifford.

As it states on the back of this book, “simply being present in the natural world – with all your senses fully alive, can have a remarkably healing effect. It can also awaken in us our latent but profound connection with all living things.” The book describes forest bathing as an experience which is not a brisk walk or a hike, but rather a type of communion, entered into with intention. And it gives guidelines on how to enter into this experience along with suggestions for invitations, or exercises one can do when spending this type of time in nature.

I wish to describe a recent forest bathing experience which simply blew my mind, and proved to me that the forest does indeed exist in relationship with humans. I entered the forest behind our house, which is a fairly recent (about 70 years) bit of woodland in succession recovering from being a corn field on my family’s farm. I first set an intention for my journey. This was right when the COVID-19 pandemic was taking off and the first cases were reported in nearby states. I was troubled in my mind about my response to this clear and present danger. Also I was grappling with the idea that I was now considered one of the elderly, at risk to die from the virus. The elderly were encouraged to stay at home and away from people in order to not contract the virus.

I have always been active especially in my school community, and it really bothered me that I could not be out there volunteering to deliver lunches to children or help in some other way. We were being told that the best way we could help was to shelter in place. Also, as a mother, I was concerned about my children and grandchildren who live far away. So my intention was a question: what is my response to be to this virus, and how can I be of service? I asked this of the trees.

I slowly walked the trail, silently observing the woods coming alive in the spring. I had a backpack with me. In the backpack I had a copy of the forest bathing book, a journal, some art supplies and a snack. I found my sit spot, which was a rock along the trail where I could look down on the oldest tree in the forest, a giant oak which was there long before my family cleared the land. I did a silent meditation, wrote a bit in my journal, ate my snack and after about ninety minutes, prepared to walk back.

I bowed in gratitude for the beauty of the day, and greening of the forest and the singing of the birds. Even though I had emptied my mind and remained open, I had not received any answer to my question I had asked upon entering the forest. I signed and decided that the answer would come in time. If you have ever talked to a tree, you will know that they are very patient. At the end of the trail, where I had entered the forest, I bent down to pick up a stick I had placed across the trail, signifying that I was stepping over a threshold into sacred space. My purpose was to replace the stick by the side of the trail until the next time I would be there. When I picked up the stick my eyes fell on a piece of paper by the side of the trail. It was a brown piece of packing paper with one word stenciled across the paper in large red letters. The word was LOVE.

No kidding. I was simply astonished. I took a photo of the paper with my phone and this is it above. The forest had answered my question. I was to love. Simply that. To me, this is the answer to every question. How shall I proceed? How can I participate in the healing of the world? How do I live with my fears for the future? I am to LOVE. To dwell in LOVE, to live each day in LOVE, to LOVE my neighbor and also the person drumming on Facebook whom I have not met. To LOVE this earth, our garden home. To spend my days sending LOVE into the world. I can think of no better task. The emptying of oneself for the LOVE of the world. Perhaps this is a message for us all.

Welcome March!

Today I sit at my desk overlooking gray skies and bare trees. From this vantage point it would seem that we are still caught in winter’s chill embrace. But from the ground level I know better. Buds are swelling on the branches of my lilacs, roses, and honeysuckles. My primroses are putting on a blush of green. Spiked daffodil leaves are pushing their sword like foliage straight up from their underground slumber as if their sole destination was to pierce the sky. Soon the maples will wear a flush of red on the tips of their branches. I am awakened in the morning by birdsong again. I feel I am riding a wave of energy as the earth around me begins its process of rejuvenation – rebirth. It holds so much hope, even in these somewhat discouraging times. I invite you to keep an eye out for signs of hope! Here are some examples from my world of Windy Hill Farm: the unfurling petals of a purple crocus, a prancing young puppy full of curiosity, my Maine coon cat sitting alert at our French doors, face to face with a racoon on the deck; each calmly regarding the other. Perhaps best of all are my chickens’ warm brown eggs nestled in my coat pocket on a chilly morning. These are all reasons I am feeling hopeful.

My three young girls are happily laying now, gifting me with eggs every day. They run happily to greet me each morning pausing to allow me to pet their soft feathers, and begging for sunflower treats. My three older ladies are much more dignified and reserved! I delight in having chickens. Each morning I hurry out to see how they are doing.

As for the garden, I have ordered all my seeds. I need to lay all the colorful packets out and photograph the array for you! I am planting more flowers among the vegetables this year, but I have not planned how I will arrange my garden just yet. More to come!

Stress Away Bath Bombs

This year I made several attempts at bath bombs. And failed miserably! Finally, success! Thanks to a recipe from my daughter-in-law, who has made them with my granddaughter and her elementary school class. Practice makes perfect, and these are absolute heaven for a soak in the tub. The recipe comes from this source: https://www.busybliss.com/bath-bombs-kids/

March is the perfect time for looking for rainbows. I saw a brilliant rainbow just yesterday during a brief moment of sunshine right in the middle of a terrific downpour. Another reason to hope and believe there will be a better tomorrow. Wishing many rainbows to YOU!

I Can See Clearly Now?

Pardon me, but I wrote this after a series of gray, depressing days. It is not exactly sweetness and light. But needed, I think. You decide:

What shall we choose to do as the year moves forward? Shall we let the darkness prevail, or “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” (from “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas). Shall we whimper or shall we roar? I think one of the worst feelings by which one can be imprisoned is a sense of helplessness. I see it in so many people. It truly drains all the joy out of one’s existence to feel helpless. What can one do to ward off this pervasive sickness of helplessness – feeling one can do nothing to stop war, slow climate change, improve our democracy? What good does it do to throw up one’s hands? To do this is to embrace nothingness. To be filled with self pity is an excuse to indulge in behavior that is self gratifying and only provides a temporary release. It is getting drunk on misery only to wake up the next morning with a terrible hangover. And then the world looks even darker.

What can one do to bring light into the world? I can light a candle. Seemingly a small, perhaps pointless gesture. Yet if we all would light a candle, we could become a beacon of light. This is 2020, the year when so many people are embracing a clearer vision of our world, our past, present and future. What can I do as I embrace new vision? When I was in fifth grade, a wise teacher and also my dear sister noticed I was squinting a lot to see. So it was recommended that I have an eye exam. This exam revealed that I was extremely near-sighted, and the optometrist (Dr. George – remember him?) prescribed eyeglasses. I will remember all my life getting those glasses. My parents drove down Main Street and I, in the back seat with those new glasses perched on my nose, gazed out at a world I had not known existed. I could see storefronts, which had only been a blur. I could read signs! Colors became clear and vibrant. I could see faces. Simply, my life changed, as my vision changed.

Now, in 2020, perhaps we can put on new glasses. Take off the shades which filter the light and keep us in darkness, and take a good look at ourselves and our world. What choices can I make to create a better world? Perhaps I can light a candle or one small lamp instead of a whole houseful. I can choose not to support factory farming of animals and cook more vegan and vegetarian meals. If I do eat meat, I can buy it from local farmers. I can reduce or almost eliminate use of plastics by refusing plastic straws, investing in glass containers and beeswax coated storage covers. I can use shampoo bars instead of bottles, and washing powders which come in pods or cardboard boxes. In short, I can be a conscious consumer instead of a sleepwalker. Consumers have a lot of power to force change. I can choose to be kind, and support causes I believe in rather than spend money on things I do not need. I can choose to live consciously and deliberately. I can exercise my right as a citizen to VOTE. If more people did that we really could be a force to change the world.

I have found a really good resource for living more sustainably at this source: https://mightynest.com/

I have a monthly subscription there. I have discovered sustainable hair shampoo https://www.chagrinvalleysoapandsalve.com/

and laundry soap https://meliorameansbetter.com/collections/laundry

I do what I can. I am sure you do too. To me it is better to make choices that affect change while we still have enough resources to make choices rather than wait to change our lives because no choice remains. Grist for the mill. What do you think?

And So It Begins

My writing desk

And so it begins. Coffee on the left ready for my hand to grip and lift. Notebooks stacked on my right – even a tentative schedule I made last year penciled in. Wondrous new lamp set at just the right angle so the shadow of my hand falls behind the curved signature of my fingers curled around the pen. I am ready to begin again because the only way I can push the darkness back is with my heart and my pen. And so it has always been done.

Outside my window is the grace of snow. Pure white crystal flakes, blue in the moonlight of a nearly full wolf moon. The air is cold. Freezing. And school is on a two hour delay. All is silent awaiting the dawn and the return of the light. First snow of the winter yesterday. We quickly got four inches as the fluffy flakes poured down and piled high for several hours. I marveled again how snow can bring a silence which calms the angry world and covers every muddy corner with a promise. Oh, how I wish that promise would come true.

Yesterday, as night fell on this magical landscape I pulled on my boots and winter coat – no need for a hat or scarf because it was so still and not really cold – just 30 degrees or so. I took a walk under the moon-lit sky. Each branch was lined with a border of snow and the tall pines bordering our meadow wore lacy shawls draped over each evergreen bough. On the sumac tree each berry filled cone wore a conical cap of snow – a whole troupe of jolly elf dancers, frozen in silent time frame. The sky was that blue that only comes on a snowy evening. It has a depth that makes me believe I could dive into it like the ocean.

Hello, Wolf Moon!

One lone star lifts it radiance high above the treetops, causing me to pause to repeat the old childhood incantation: “Star light, star bright. First star I’ve seen tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” And what do I wish for? Each day my wish list goes longer and longer: Peace. Above all Peace on earth. Peace, please God, peace. Peace in the hearts of all people. Peace like this snowy landscape which causes me and hopefully everyone around me here to pause, take in the beauty and realize how very healing our world can be if we would just Let It Heal and Leave It Alone. Stop playing with war and embrace the blessings of peace.

This is the January page from my new mini Susan Branch calendar. https://www.susanbranch.com/

Faith is the bird that sings within my heart and reminds me to stop wishing so very hard and rest in silence. So in my new beginning, may it be so. May you enjoy quiet moments of reflection and peace in this, the new year.

Happy Christmas!

It has been a quiet Christmas at Windy Hill Farm. This is the year we visit the children sometime during the season because we had everyone here for Thanksgiving. So we are enjoying Christmas with our fur and feathered friends. The day began with being mobbed with kisses from our beautiful dogs!

Excitement ruled the day!

Caitlin proved to be a real party girl. She ripped off the wrapping on every present and thoroughly enjoyed getting the squeakers out of both her toys and Sadie’s. Sadie was a bit more sedate, but when the time came for kisses both dogs were enthusiastic at something they do the very best! Even the cats were excited and opened their own gifts of a catnip mouse each.

We have been blessed with a few days of deliciously warm weather and the chickens have been loving it! They have been outdoors from dawn to dusk every day, nibbling on green grass and basking in the sun. I had bought them a Hot Cake from Tractor Supply, but it did not seem like a warm weather treat for Christmas. So I hollowed out a couple of apples and filled the centers with a cornmeal/peanut butter mixture and pressed a few dried cranberries and sunflower seeds on top. All this in a shallow pan of chopped kale and fresh cranberries. They enjoyed it very much!

So Happy Christmas from Daisy Sunshine and me! Hope you have some quiet time as well to count your blessings and treasure time spent with loved people, and your fur and feathered friends.

Twas The Night Before Christmas

Chicken Wreath
which I learned how to make on Tilly’s Nest.com

So I wrote this poem the first Christmas with my chickens. I hope you enjoy it and can adapt the verse to your own flock. A very merry Christmas to you and to all you chicken lovers out there! There is nothing to compare with the love of a feathered friend. Hen or rooster. These lovely ladies have changed my life and have given me a completely different perspective of one’s relationship with animals that are mostly considered prey or meat animals by so many in our jaded culture. In saying that, I do not mean to criticize those who raise animals for meat, treat them honorably and humanely, but I will never participate in our country’s factory farming which is such a great contributor to global warming and causes untold suffering for animals. So imagine, just for once that your little flock is composed of individual beings, spirit souls, who possess real personalities and are so much more aware than most people realize. What must Christmas Eve be like for them? Imagine its SO lovely to just imagine, a different world where magic IS possible)

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISMAS IN THE CHICKEN COOP

T’was the night before Christmas

And all through the coop

Not a chicken was stirring

Not even Miss Roo.

The chickies were nestled

All snug on their roost

With visions of sunflower seeds, and oatmeal

Giving them a nice boost.

While Daddy in his long johns

And I in my wrap

Had just settled down under

our fluffy quilt

For a long winter’s nap.

When out in the chicken house

There arose such a clatter

I sprang from my bed to see

What was the matter!

Away to the screen porch I flew with so swift

Wishing I had a web cam on my xmas list!

The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow

Put a shiver down my spine — the temps were zero!

When what to my wondering eyes did I sense

But a miniature wood elf

Unhooking the electric fence!

HIs cheeks were all rosy

He was dressed all in green

A more magical sight

I have ne’er before seen!

A bundle of lights he had slung on his back

And I could see treat balls loaded into his pack.

He spoke not a word but smiled with a sneer

Then said, “We mustn’t forget chickies —

Its THEIR Christmas too, my dear!”

He sprang to the roof of our little garden coop,

Quickly strung all the lights

Then turned with a swoop

Hung little chickie stockings in the run

All in a row

Tossed in all the treat balls, tied up with a bow!

With a snap of his fingers the lights began to glow

And down came the chickens

Strutting all in a row.

Henrietta, Buffy, Yellow Feet and Miss Roo

Don’t you know!

They fluffed all their feathers

Clucked approval with a glance

And we all joined our chickens

In a Christmas Chicken Dance!!

The wood elf just giggled as he re-hooked the fence,

But I heard him exclaim as he pranced on his legs

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all Scrambled Eggs!”