Thursday, February 25, 2010

Just Ducky

I was a water baby. Almost forty years ago, I swam out into the world under the sign of The Fish. I spent most of my growing-up years on an island under grey Northwest skies, surrounded by salt-water rhythms and moon-drawn tides. I commuted to high school by ferry boat.

After a desert pilgrimage of sorts to attend graduate school in Colorado, I headed back out to the sea as quickly as possible-- this time in another direction, but with no less thirst in the journey and no less relief to arrive at a different ocean's shore.

I love oceans. I also love the North. I have spent time in Southern climes, testing my vocation and my ability to itinerate, but the North always feels most like home. It is my belief that we each carry an inner landscape--mostly a reflection of the place or places in which we grew--and I've found myself most at peace when my outer landscape contains the same elements (salt water, evergreens, mountains) as my inner one.

It made sense, then, to choose Alaska after Venezuela. It made sense, I thought, to choose Colorado for my next sojourn from my growing-up island--it had mountains and evergreens at least--but in that dry, high state I found myself thirsty and homesick nearly all the time. And then I made my way to Maine, seemingly the best of all options: ample salt water along its beautifully complicated coast, forests of spruce, hemlock, fir and pine, and mountains more ancient--if less dramatic--than the upstart Cascadian and Olympic peaks of my childhood home. Oh, and then there was the snow: famously cold, snowy winters, a longstanding source and inspiration for songs, poems, and legends galore. Add to this the lure of a certain bagpiper, and I was hooked.

So, now it's late February in Maine. Along with my birthday today, I celebrate almost a decade of full-time residence in the north-easternmost U.S. state. I have braved wild winds for New Year's Day walks along the shore. I have shoveled my share of deep, drifting snow. I have strapped on skis and snowshoes to traverse the winter woods in search of frozen water in all its beautiful permutations. But winter is changing.

This is our driveway today. In spite of my best efforts yesterday afternoon, the farm truck could not *quite* be coaxed all the way onto higher ground. I suspect my best hope is to make no attempts to move it until the weather shifts, the ground (hopefully?) dries out and the currently liquified muck freezes hard again.

Global Climate Change, I've read, is all about extremes. Wet seasons will be wetter, dry seasons will be drier, and storms will be stormier. Our current storm started yesterday morning and flood warnings are posted for our entire county all the way through tomorrow night. We often get similar conditions in April, but February?!? Oh dear.

But there are some things a flood does well. It may not beautify the landscape with white fluffy drifts, but it does help a farm dog find all her snow-buried tennis balls. It also highlights, for a farmer, those areas of the farm that would most benefit from some serious Spring Cleaning. For us, the work area beyond the woodpile demands the most immediate attention. That's where the spare lumber got stacked from last year's farmhouse renovation. That's where the leftover gravel sits, a remnant of plumbing and fencing projects. And that's where the farm dog dropped a most illustrative object that rose to the occasion for this February flood:

Thursday, February 11, 2010



The Old Woman whistled and the wild wind blew
And the beetle-ridden spruce tree cracked in two
And that was the start of the whole to-do:
The week we composted a cow.

Aye, down went the spruce on the old house roof.
While the man in the moon looked on, aloof...
Then the heifer slipped on a half-lit hoof,
The week we composted a cow.

Up with the dawn and our dear heifer down--
No time to mourn for those eyes of brown--
For the neighbors instantly started to frown,
The week we composted a cow.

The experts we called said to gather some brush.
Order a truckload of horse-poop! Rush!
(The neighbors peered with a horrified hush)
The week we composted a cow.

No time to weep, farmer. No time to yell.
We downloaded a fact sheet, (from Cornell),
Then we laid down quicklime and covered her well,
The week we composted a cow.

Well, word got around. The Selectmen beckoned.
The neighbors made motions and looked for a second.
And so we went down, and wrangled, and reckoned
The week we composted a cow.

Impressed by our fact sheets and photos and charts,
The Selectmen pondered it all in their hearts,
Then... commended our decompositional arts!
The week we composted a cow.

Now April the heifer's tucked safe in her pile.
We permit ourselves, now, a tear and a smile.
But the neighbors won't ask us to tea for a while...
Now that we've composted a cow.

--copyright Mainecelt February 11, 2010