Monday, April 19, 2010


One's sense of time is a subjective thing, at least I've noticed my own being stretched like a telescope of compressed like a slinky under various circumstances. Many a poet has waxed on about a lover's sense of time versus a condemned man's, a young child's versus an octogenarian's. In my current situation, my removal from things familiar, from the routine of farm chores and obligations to the animals, plus the need to contend with unfamiliar stresses, has turned my perceptions of the past four days into a slurry of images without definitive edges. That is what I had hoped...but I had hoped it would be occurring because of the miles that I had expected to have logged on Scotland's moors and highlands. Unfortunately, Eyjafjallajokul (the volcano in Iceland) had other plans for me...and millions of others.

So, a much-anticipated wilderness adventure has morphed into an education in acceptance and flexibility. As I've stood in lines, lines, and more lines these past four days (nope, I still don't have my luggage, and the Wal-Mart blouse I bought on Friday is developing an interesting "musk") I've struck up conversations with folks from Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, England, Ireland and quite a number of Germans. Their stories vary, but all tend to remind me that my situation is far from dire.

Many are like me, frustrated and inconvenienced and racking up hotel/living expenses. They express concerns over their inability to get back to work/family/home and I can relate to the see-saw of emotions inevitable in situations where conflicting information contributes to repeatedly dashed hopes. Some folks' stories are heart-rending, like the woman who had cut short her vacation with the husband she rarely sees to attend a funeral in England, only to find herself unable to be with her grieving family or to rejoin her bound-for-Greece husband. A grandma who was so agitated she literally was bouncing on tiptoe, hoping against hope she'd make it to Italy to see her grandson's first communion. One couple couldn't even make it to their own wedding! Of course the news has been full of more high-profile consequences, like the cancelation of many dignitaries' attendance at the Polish president's funeral, or Angela Merkel's inability to get back to Germany.

But the individual, Common Man stories I'm hearing day after day have reminded me of my experience flying home from Germany on 9/11. The Canadians housed everyone on my flight and several other planeloads of stranded travelers in military barracks a couple of hours outside of Halifax. The thousands of passengers that found their fate linked by those events formed a camaraderie of need. People relaxed their usual facade, forging bonds of a deeper and more acute intimacy than society normally supports. The stories that were shared with me, then and now, were under circumstances that compel unvarnished emotional honesty.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gardens and Grooming

The pups have had the use of my garden area as a play yard for the past couple of months, but today's play sessions were cut somewhat short. Mom, they soon learned, hasn't much patience for all their "help" when actual work needs to get done. It was funny at first; I marveled at the intelligence expressed by the twelve-week old Rio daughter who started digging every time I wielded a shovel and who grabbed and shook the clumps of grass and weeds as I hoed. I watched her sidelong...she was looking at me, looking at the task, then copying. She didn't know why, she didn't know the purpose, but she wanted to participate. I had to lean on my hoe and laugh. But about the fourth time she gamboled up and down the furrows as I kicked dirt over the corn seed, I had to scoop her up and send her packing. The howling that wafted from the kennel was quite mournful...she's going to be quite a character. The pup pictured is a son of Vixen & Ieuan.

Besides getting the corn planted and the potatoes cut and the manure spread, I raked out several garbage bags full of hair from the two molting horses and a half dozen of the shepherds before my arm gave out. Since the birds are already nesting, I like to leave some of the softest undercoat clinging to shrubs and bushes so their nestlings have a nice warm, soft start in life. From there I took to the mower and managed to cut about a third of the pastures and property before running out of gas; that's gasoline, but it pretty accurately portrays my overall state -- out of gas. Regardless of what the calendar says, Mother Nature has committed to bringing forth spring. And just as She sends squirrels spiraling barber-pole patterns on the oaks and maples and cardinals bashing against the windows, She dictates my steps. The warmth and sunshine pushes me into an unwinnable race to get my garden planted, all the dogs and horses groomed out, perennials that proved their fitness by surviving winter in their pots still beg to be planted, and, oh yeah, maybe I should pack?

Pack, as in prepare for two weeks of hiking the Highlands of Scotland. I leave Thursday, but even if I had every minute between now and then with nothing to do but prepare, I don't see how I'd manage. And I find myself coming up with multitudes of essential projects(it's not procrastinating if you're doing something truly useful and necessary, right?) as it becomes apparent that I've managed to schedule myself to be away during some of the best of what PA has to offer. The wisteria will bloom while I'm gone...I curse that vine all year long just so for one brief, glorious week (or so) I can breathe the cool grape-scented midnight air under those magnificent pendulous purple blossoms. And the lilacs, those delicate reminders of the bouquets my mother always placed in each room every wonder I'm ambivalent about leaving.

So, Scotland, what do you have for me to compensate for a two-year gap between filling my nose with the scent of lilacs and wisteria, and not being here to watch as these pups expand their world?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April going on July

Little did I know how completely ludicrous that photo of the dogs playing in snow would look just a couple of weeks later. Here I am with the windows open to try to entice a breeze to sweep the heat of the day out of the house. My skin is itchy from dried salt-- my evening walk had me sweating like a work horse. Everyone's commenting on the lovely weather, and sure, I'm loving it. But at the same time, it terrifies's been hovering in the high 70's and even over 80 a time or two...this is APRIL(!?!) The apple trees have opened their leaf buds and are quickly developing flower buds. The quince (japonica) will open by the weekend, the jonquils are in full glory, even the lilac looks like it'll bloom while I'm gone.

When we moved here from New Jersey, on Memorial Day weekend 1984, at first glance I thought there had been a horrible insect blight because the trees had no leaves. So, a quarter century ago, trees were at approximately the stage at the end of May that they are now at the beginning of April. That's nearly two-months' difference over the course of a geological nano-second! I've been reading the stats as spring arrives earlier and earlier, but I don't think the official proclamations match the on-the-ground reality of the abrupt climate change being wrought. I wish I could stop thinking of implications and just enjoy the rapturous wonder that is spring.

And spring on my hilltop truly is rapturous. Even in a normal spring, one dominated by Mud Season, one can't help joining the rabbits in their maddened "March Hare" dances...squirrels spiral up oaks, the horses donate their winter cloaks to the birds who frantically weave it into their nests, and Beth and the dogs go gamboling through the woods. OK, the dogs gambol. I trudge, but with much lighter step than usual. Tonight I counted seventeen turkeys, four kingfishers, two wood ducks, as-yet unidentified geese that made intriguing whistling sounds, and myriad cardinals, robins, wood thrush, chickadees, juncos, blue jays...and their calls were capped by the ear-drum piercing, brain-mush-inducing shrill of spring peepers calling from every wetland.

Tomorrow, back to hauling manure to my garden. The sprouts are ready to transplant, and I have potatoes to set.