Monday, December 21, 2009

2009: A Term for the Verse

Today marks the Winter Solstice-- the year's shortest day and longest night. As the minutes slipped away prior to the Official Astronomical Event, I wormed my way under our new house for one last intimate encounter with the earth. (The practical reason for this ritual was that a faulty extension cord needed replacing; the shower drain--so carefully surrounded with heat-tape, insulation, and a tyvek-wrapped, earth-banked styroboard frost wall--would do us no good through the winter's whistling winds if the heat-tape could not be trustworthily plugged in!)

Now I am back inside the house, grubby but warm, relaxing into the knowledge that the last great ritual has been successfully performed and we shall henceforth be able to Hold The Wolf of Winter At Bay. (We won't make any bold predictions about any other wolves just yet, but suffice to say that we're really boning up on our wolf-wrangling skills and getting better every day!)

The Proper Activity of Northern Winter Folk is repair and creation: the careful tending of tools and gear, the mending of strained relationships, and the creation of things both useful and beautiful. My heart is ready, now--and if you will permit me a bit of creative indulgence--my rusty bardic muse is in need of some warm-up stretches. Like any stretch, the following will involve the potential of painful reaches and the appearance of ridiculousness, but these seasonal tasks simply MUST be done...


January started out
cold and full of gripes:
Our year began with frozen folk,
cold house and frozen pipes.

February came along
with icy, sparkling jaws--
We went outside and froze some more--
for a worthy local cause.

March brought hard digging
and--finally--joy! Let
us now praise installers
of pipes, shower and toilet!

April--on windowsills,
seedtrays sat out,
dark soil dreaming
and sending up sprouts.

May--month of sweet melting
and warming and growing!
New piglets were bought.
In the fields we went sowing.

June--to market and home again,
all in a whirl
to host a church picnic
and the dear Wild Girls!

July started wet and grew wet enough
to douse any forest fire.
Pigs being pigs, in the mud they did dig,
and slipped out under the wire.

August brought an island journey--
oh, sweet farm-women's reprieve!
Our first home-grown bull met his meaty end:
a choice we did not grieve.

September: batten down the farm
and rush to catch a plane
For a family wedding we piped and preached--
so good to see kinfolk again!

October came to
a bittersweet end.
With bards and musicians,
we mourned a dear friend.

November brought the cold and dark--
a fearful time for the farm.
But oh! We gave thanks for our sweet new house,
where the woodstove kept us warm!

December sang softly of flickering hope,
now fanned to a stalwart flame.
We plan for years, fields, and friends to come.
Solstice Blessings! May you do the same!

--copyright MaineCelt 12/2009

(This post's images were taken during a visit to Trustworth Studios.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Whaur Will Ye Bide?

The song was based on the words of Maggie Cameron and other Travellers in the midst of a wrenching struggle for their dying way of life. Their stories were gathered by Ewan MacColl and others in the 1960s, recorded on cumbersome equipment in potato and berry fields and along British byways their people had traversed for centuries. These so-called Tinkers and Gypsies had moved between time-honoured camps and resting places as they plyed their traditional trades... but the old ways were changing and new laws turned their traditions into punishable crimes.

From their own words, Ewan wove a Winter Song that later came to be known as "The Terror Time."

Heather will fade, and the bracken will die
Streams will run cold and clear
And the small birds, they'll be goin'
And it's then that you'll be knowin'
That the Terror Time is near.

And whaur will ye gang, aye, and whaur will ye bide
Noo that the wairk's aa dane,
And the fairmer disnae need ye
And the council wilnae heed ye
And the Terror Time is here.

--from the BBC Radio Ballad,
The Travelling People (1964)

We have lived all too close to the aching reach of this song. These last few years, in the same span of joyful animal-tending, seed-planting and upbuilding, we have lived daily with the knowledge that this land was not entirely in our grasp. We have lived knowing it could all be taken away.

The woods give no shelter, for the trees, they are bare.
Snow's fallin aa aroond
And the bairnies, they are cryin'
For the straw on which they're layin'
Aye, it's frozen tae the groond...

And you need the wairmth o yir ain human kind--
You move near the toon and then
The sicht o ye's offendin'
For the police they'll be sendin'
And ye're on the road again.

Because we are history-minded, because we are singers of old songs, we knew there was nothing unique in this, just a gnawing, echoing sameness that linked us to Dustbowl farmers, hurricane victims, and thousands of other faceless losers-of-land-and-homes. We tried to steel ourselves. We tried--and failed--not to love this particular piece of land too much. We tried to keep our minds open to possibilities and our hands always working, our eyes and ears always searching for that job, that program, that business or organization that might make it possible to bind ourselves to this land forever. Mostly, the words we heard were "no" and "sorry..." or just...nothing. Into this emptiness came the song's haunting refrain:

And whaur will ye gang, aye, and whaur will ye bide
Noo that the wairk's aa dane,
and the fairmer disnae need ye
And the council wilnae heed ye
An the Terror Time is here.

But now, in the Dark Half of the year, there is a rumour of light. There is a whisper of music. There are signs of hope. We are not out of the woods just yet, but neither are we alone. We are blessed to find ourselves surrounded by friends, by well-rooted and winged things, by good friends and Wise Tiny Creatures. We are beginning to walk, ever-so-tentatively, on something that feels like Solid Ground.

It feels funny, this placing of the feet with unaccustomed confidence. We do not know how to move this way. It feels awkward and strange. We are people who have walked in darkness...perhaps we might yet learn to rest, to trust, to see each other's faces by the light of a bright star. Perhaps we might yet find a way to dance down the path, to stumble astonished across our own threshold, and call it Home.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Many Happy Returns!

The Piper and I have a running joke. "Marry me," she says, "and I'll take you away to all this."

Well, 47% of Maine voters would be perfectly happy to let us do just that, but it looks like we'll have to wait--and work--a while longer before that particular dream comes true.

And so we work. We rise each morning and greet the rising sun together. We let the Border Collie out of her kennel and she guides us through the door, down the steps, and over to the waiting chickens inside the wee barn. The Piper lifts their little hatch and they come hopping and spilling and fluttering out in a laughable, feathery rush.

We check their feed and water. We gather the eggs--softly brown and sometimes still warm to the touch. We stop to admire the cows, all shaggy and complacent in their neatly-fenced pasture. We hear the contented sounds of creatures all around. We are in love with this place, these creatures, this dear old storied plot of land.

Happy Birthday, my Beloved. Married or not, thank you for taking me away to all this!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rockin' the Big House: a Tribute to Bruce Malcolm Cole

I preached my first funeral last Saturday. It was a rather unusual service.

How unusual?

Well... let's just say I am now part of a rather small club: the association of clergywomen who have stood in the pulpit of a large Catholic Church and led a Celtic New Year-themed service on Halloween.

It was Bruce's idea--Bruce, dear grace-filled trickster, who knew he was dying and was determined to go out in style. You see, Bruce was the kind of guy who loved to move behind the scenes. By profession, he was a facilities manager, the man with all the keys who understood all the mystical mechanics and secret spaces. As his wife wrote about the church, "He always referred to it as "the big house", but with affection, like a nickname for a cherished friend." Indeed, Bruce poured himself into the meticulous care of the schools and churches he tended, taking pride in details nobody else might ever notice. Yet he also had a theatrical streak, and he loved to be the center of attention. The best times for Bruce usually involved the chance to feast, the chance to tell stories in diverse company, and the chance to play with fire. (The picture give you a hint of his sense of humour. It comes from a charity fundraising calendar called "Under the Kilt.")

When Bruce received his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, he understood that it was serious. He understood that such a diagnosis came with a lifespan of mere months, sometimes mere weeks. He spoke of "beginning to live in two worlds"--one in which he maintained a powerfully positive outlook with a fierce focus on future living, and one in which he pragmatically began to put his affairs in order to prepare for a fast-approaching end. Soon after his diagnosis, he approached one of the priests of the large Catholic church where he worked. He knew full well the merit of his work, knew how to play his hand as their only non-Catholic employee...and really, when a man says he's dying and wants to have his service in your church because the place means a lot to him, how could anyone say no?

The venue secured, he proceeded on to the next step of his subversive plan. At a Scottish Heritage society meeting, he pulled me aside. Would I, as chaplain to the society, officiate at his service and see to it that his heritage would be honoured? Again, how could anyone say no? In my mind, I pictured a quiet, intimate gathering in a rustic chapel somewhere...peaceful shadows and flickering candlelight...a simple, unadorned place without too much fuss where a youngish clergywoman could manage, decently, her first attempt at a funeral. Silly me. I don't know what I was thinking.

As the weeks and months unfolded around us, Bruce battled his cancer with all the courage and dedication you'd expect of a serious caber-tossing athlete. He stormed through chemotherapy and other treatment protocols in a blaze of glory, gritting his teeth and grinning at the slightest hint that he might be winning. He sought out an energy healer and seized the opportunity to improve the well-being of his spirit as well as his body. Yes, there were days when the strain showed, waves of nausea and sudden urgent trips to the doctor...but those of us at the sidelines found ourselves frequently bewildered by Bruce's newfound vigor. He was so determined to embrace life, to live fully in every moment, that some days he actually seemed MORE healthy, not less.

Bruce flexed his growing spiritual muscles and exercised them frequently. For years he had been mentoring others, but now every meeting was another chance to impart wisdom, and he tried not to waste a single chance. When we complained of our frustration with The Disappearing Plumber, he told us to "stop being angry and let it go." When we got wound up about things, he would say things like, "you may think it matters, but it doesn't. It really doesn't matter as much as you think it matters." Then he would counsel us to turn our attention elsewhere--to love, to shared comfort and laughter--and get on with the business of real living.

Over shared meals, Bruce gradually ate less and less, but we feasted together on laughter. He could build up a story, then suddenly flip it around, leaving its legs treading the air and leaving us nearly helpless with laughter. He had known plenty of rage and anger in his own life--he often reminded us that we would not have liked him when he was younger--but he clearly was intent on a different path now. Bruce, mighty-muscled and built like a tank, entertained himself now by mentoring amateur athletes for the Maine Highland Games, building runs and feeders for the wee wild beasties in his back yard, crafting traditional Scottish knives and elegant walking sticks as gifts for his friends, and weaving his own words and music together with the help of a good guitar. He counted his riches in the affection of his beloved wife, his two rescued "special needs" dogs, and the diverse range of folks he counted among his true friends.

Diversity-- that was another thing that mattered to Bruce. He welcomed both myself and my partner into his circle of friends and lauded the way we cared for each other. And when his ecclesiastical employer chose to vocally advocate the overturn of Maine's recently-passed same-sex marriage law, I suspect Bruce decided to have a little good-natured fun at their expense. So it was that he secured a huge, ornate Catholic church for his funeral venue, then asked me to lead the service and asked my partner to play the pipes.

And so we did-- three days before election day. His wife and I planned the service together and settled on the Celtic New Year as a day with particular meaning for Bruce, who deeply loved his Celtic heritage. We used the funeral service in the UCC hymnal as a guide, but included a prayer from this book along with a poem that echoed Bruce's earthy, earthly spirituality. So: Catholic church, check. Woman in pulpit, check. Pagan Celtic readings, check. Prayer for lightning not to strike me down in the middle of the homily: check.

Now, I've officiated at weddings, at christenings, at house-blessings and tree-blessings and other rituals, but I'd never done a funeral. When the full impact of the situation hit me, I confess that I got a little, well, freaked out. I don't put much stock in conspiracy theories, but after stepping into that sanctuary and seeing all the contribution envelopes for the "Stand for Marriage" campaign at all the entryways, I did feel a bit like I'd been sent into hostile territory and would soon be found out and "removed." I had to remind myself that we were there to celebrate Bruce, and that hate and petty sectarian bickering had no place in his celebration. We called the administrative head of the parish and asked him to start the service with some words of welcome. We called another priest and asked him to say the prayer of invocation. They both agreed. Now it was up to me to walk the line, to call up every ounce of worship-planning skill and diplomacy in the service of honouring my friend.

Perhaps Bruce's spirit was still "facilities manager" that day. Somehow it all came together. Somehow, it all worked, and it was beautiful. Somehow, I sat between two priests in the front of that opulent sanctuary, in front of hundreds of people, and I never triggered their "heretic and abomination" alarms. There was a massed bagpipe band in full regalia in front of the church. There was a Celtic harper inside, weaving a gentle, comforting web. There was the most heartbreakingly beautiful a capella rendition of Danny Boy--a song I usually deride--I'd ever heard. Bruce's niece played a Bach sarabande on cello. All of the readers offered scripture and poetry and prayers in clear, strong voices. Hundreds of voices joined together in "Be Thou My Vision" and "Amazing Grace." Amazing it was--and, yes, full of grace. At the end, the sound of the bagpipes swirled up and echoed from the high stone arches. Together we wept, and together we smiled, bound together in grief and love for a truly remarkable--and gleefully subversive--man.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Five: Music of the Spheres

Songbird, at RevGalBlogPals, writes, "...It was the same Martin Luther who said: "I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor." On this Friday before Reformation Sunday, let's talk about music. Share with us five pieces of music that draw you closer to the Divine, that elevate your mood or take you to your happy place. They might be sung or instrumental, ancient or modern, sacred or popular...whatever touches you."

Oh dear. Only five?!?

When I read the instructions for this morning's Friday Five, I immediately raced over to my music-box (one o them fancy 4-in-1 things) and put on my CD of "Sing Lustily & With Good Courage" by Maddy Prior with the Carnival Band (CD-SDL 383, copyright 1990 Saydisc Records, England). The recording, commissioned by the BBC for the 250th anniversary of John Wesley's spiritual awakening at Aldersgate, takes its title from Charles Wesley's "instructions for singing," found in most Methodist Hymnals and also posted in the choir room of the United Methodist church in which I grew up. Look up the full instructions when you get a chance-- they're a delightful read and, even now, an excellent set of instructions for group singing.

The lusty, courageous singing and instrumentation of this recording are a real, well, EAR-opener for anyone who thinks "traditional" hymns are dreary and boring. They were, in the 18th century, a rather shocking innovation. Not only did they stray from strict adherence to the texts of biblical psalms, they often employed tunes that verged on being rambunctiously secular. But that wasn't all that upset the BigWigs and Hie-Heid-Yins. As Andy Watts says in the liner notes, "What made the hymns so different form the old metrical psalms was their expression of personal religious thoughts and feelings in vigorous, emotional language. They spoke of God's love for sinners, salvation for the individual, the liberating power of Jesus, the inner experience of the Holy Spirit, strength to withstand oppression and the promise of future glory. This was abhorrent to most of the Anglican Establishment and the ruling classes."

So, with my customary delight in doing things abhorrent to the ruling classes, here's my list of five:

1.) "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing." Once you get past the ridiculous mental image, it's a wonderful tune of upwelling joy. I always heard it as confirmation of a multilingual path towards spiritual truth-- that no single tongue, no single voice or language is sufficient to teach us all there is to know about God's Grace and God's ongoing involvement in Creation.

2) "Be Thou My Vision" This mystical hymn wraps itself around me like a warm embrace from my spiritual and cultural ancestors. The tune, "Slane" is an old Irish one, dated at least to the 6th century. The hymn's imagery echoes old Celtic praise-poems and travelers' prayers of protection. Curiously, it also represents one of my few quarrels with the move to "inclusify" and democratise the language of American hymnals. I much prefer the old words, in which Jesus is proclaimed "High King of Heaven." Admittedly, the reference is lost to American singers, but this refers to the old hierachies of the Celtic Lands, in which many small local kingdoms deferred to a "High King" as their ultimate leader and wise arbitor. With all the petty kingdoms and tiny idols we modern folk worship, I still find it meaningful to understand Jesus as a wise leader whose stories and virtues inspire us to extend our gaze beyond our own navels.

3)"Lift Every Voice" (words: James Weldon Johnson, music J. Rosamund Johnson, c. 1921) Unlike "Be Thou My Vision," this anthem emerges from a struggle outside of my culture and ancestry, but I do not love it less. It makes me feel connected to the deep and powerful "soul-force" of the African-American freedom struggle. When I sing it, every breath re-embodies the truth that "an injury to one is an injury to all." The forceful rhythm draws my footfalls into a greater march. The music lifts and even shoves my spirit upwards and onwards. This anthem holds me accountable for my own role in the great drama of justice-seeking.

4)"Freedom Come-All-Ye" (Hamish Henderson) Many Scottish folk continue to call for this song to be named the new National Anthem of Scotland. It was written by one of my personal heroes, a Scottish soldier whose wartime travels to Africa and experiences of shared suffering somehow moved him to transcend hatred and bigotry, to love "the fellowship of man" MORE fully and deeply. (I use the gender-specific term on purpose, as Henderson's experience was truly one of brotherhood with his fellow soldiers.) Here, he has taken a pipe tune from the First World War, "Bloody Fields of Flanders," and put Scots words to it that draw a connection between Scotland's own history of struggle and oppression and the South African struggle against Apartheid. (Henderson was a long-time correspondent with Nelson Mandela during his imprisonment.) It's a visionary masterpiece that has become one of my own "get-my-courage-up" songs.

5)"The Joy of Living" (Ewan MacColl) Ewan wrote this song in his own struggle to come to terms with the approaching end of his life. I learned it from the singing of Alison McMorland and Geordie McIntyre, two Scottish tradition-bearers who knew MacColl very well. Their recording of it was played at my grandmother's funeral. Just now, I keep this song in mind as I mourn the crossing over of another dear one, my friend Bruce. I think Bruce and Ewan would have gotten along famously--they shared an intense desire to live each day to its absolute fullest, to do all the good they could in their years' span.

(Image sources: Language Tree from here. Celtic Mandala from here. MLK art from here. All other images copyright Mainecelt 2009.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Common Ground 2009: All's Fair in Love and Chore, Part Two

Here, as promised, is the second installment in our "film strip" from Common Ground Fair. Rose Freedman and Justin Lander of Modern Times Theater (an outgrowth of Vermont's venerable Bread & Puppet Theater) teach us about the word "Chore", the art of farming, and how to strike a blow for freedom.

"Chore lives high on the hog, low on the hog, and makes soup from the rest of the hog."

(I regret that the details of their hand-painted posters don't show up as well as I'd hoped due to the low resolution at which I was filming. You'll still have a pretty good sense of the images they're indicating, however.) If you ever get the chance to see these two brilliant buskers in person, I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Common Ground 2009: All's Fair in Love and Chore, Part One

We interrupt this blog to bring you a word from our sponsors.

No, that's not quite it...

We interrupt this blog to bring you a word from our mendicant mentors, our creative co-conspirators, our avant-garde agricultural artisans.

The following images and film clips come to us courtesy of the organizers of Maine's Common Ground Fair--and also courtesy of the freshly-charged rechargeable batteries I had the foresight to put in my digital camera that morning! The fair is one of the high points of the agricultural season here, a celebratory reunion of hard-working, passionate folk as well as a three-day showcase of sustainable, community-minded farming and northern New England creativity. It is held on fairgrounds that also host a heritage-breed apple orchard, a working educational farm complete with resident journeyperson farmers, a sustainably-managed woodlot, and the offices of our state's venerable organic certifier and all-around advocates of healthy farming, MOFGA (Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association).

We attended on Sunday this year, narrowly avoiding Saturday's record-setting crowds thanks to a most moderate and manageable bit of precipitation. We ogled the prize veggies in the exhibition hall, oohed and aahed over the beautiful handiwork in the crafters' pavilion, gathered brochures from the educational displays and signed petitions in the "Social Action Tent." Shortly after noon, as we were strolling among the savoury array of food vendors, munching on a "rainy day special" of two-for-one calzones made with grown-in-Maine veggies, meat, and wheat, a voice came over the loudspeaker. Partially lost amidst the noise of vendors and fairgoers, we caught the all-important words, "Small Farmers Journal" and "surprise guest speaker."

Could it be? Could it possibly be? We rushed over to the greensward and the small platform--still empty--where the fair's keynote speakers typically held forth. A nervous half-a-minute later, we caught sight of that familiar figure with his wiry frame, neatly-trimmed beard and weather-worn hat. Yes! It was indeed Lynn Miller, self-proclaimed "farmer pirate" and editor of one of our favourite publications, Small Farmers Journal. He had snuck in to rouse the rabble once again, with the gleeful assent of the folks at MOFGA.

Here is a portion of his speech given on September 27th, 2009 at the Common Ground Fair in Unity, Maine. Note that this portion finishes up with Miller's introduction of a Vermont theatrical troupe. Their brilliant and clever presentation--an attempt to restore and celebrate the richly meaningful word, "CHORE," will be posted shortly!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Life Imitates Arc

Yesterday evening, heading north under a bruise-dark sky, we were blessed with the sight of a glorious double rainbow, arcing above the incandescent trees. Even with wild winds, storm threats and encroaching darkness, we were unable to escape the world's demands to be noticed in all its paradoxical grace and beauty. There it was, arrayed before us, thrumming with energy, dancing, singing to us in tones by turns coaxing and strident: "Lift up your eyes! Move beyond your small miseries! Open yourself to all this bedazzling abundance!"

Who were we to deny this? How could we turn away?

And so we watched, awestruck and open-mouthed, as the colours glowed ever brighter and the rainbow refused to fade and die. Every turn of the road brought the possibility of a new vantage, a striking new perspective. My body, still clenched from the day's desk-bound parsimony, at last began to loosen its needless grip.

Surely, surely there is a way to move more freely in the world, to live more fully into the presence of such arcing beauty. Surely there is a way to be drawn up and out, to feel more fully Creation's surrounding wealth, to draw on it and be sustained!

This morning is washed fresh. The air and ground and trees are spangled with leaves. The season is turning. I too, must turn. So it is that I step forward, reaching out my open hands. So it is that I raise my empty basket to the sun and gather a harvest of light. Such riches! I am surrounded by gold!

(An Beanneachd Oirbh / Blessed Be!)

Thursday, October 1, 2009



Down beneath the chicken pen,
Under many an egg and hen,
There's a shadowy sort of a glen
Just the right size for a piglet.

Under the floorboards, dusty and dark,
Free from the farmdog's pesky bark,
Down in the dirt, the piglets park,
Indulgently digging their diglet.

Nothing but noses poking out
As piglets under the barnboards scout
or doze with a now-and-then twitch of the snout
While chickens pass by, unperturbing.

But oh, how they grow, those dear little hams--
Just as their uncles and cousins and grams--
'Til half-way-out some porker jams
With a noise that's quite disturbing.

What's to be done? The shingles shake.
The terror-struck pig's sides heave and quake.
We fear for the hens. Will barnboards break,
In this battle between hog and hovel?

We look at the posts. We peer at the beams.
The pig in question screams and screams.
The farmer tires of tragic themes.
She leaves, then returns with a shovel.

Some jobs are little. Some jobs are big,
Some holes are harder than others to dig,
Especially round a stuck, thrashing pig.
But the critter was freed, fat and fine.


Now we're digging no longer for pigs, but for gold,
As onto our farm we strive hard to hold.
May our efforts bear fruit. May our strivings be bold,
And may all of our work turn out swine.

(Image and text copyright Mainecelt 2009)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Whistle Stop

Last night, The Piper and I made a late-summer pilgrimage to one of our favourite eateries: the Fat Boy Drive-In. Cleverly sandwiched between a military base and a college campus, Fat Boy's is a independent family-run seasonal institution. As you might guess from the name, this is a no-frills fast-food establishment. Only train tracks and a thin line of trees separate it from the ugly grey towers of the old Dragon Cement plant. Seagulls wheel above the green-and-white corrugated fiberglass roof. What it lacks in charm it makes up for with quick service, good food, and prices that make starving students--and hungry farmers--smile.

Fat Boy's has been in business for over 50 years. Generations of high school and college kids have worked their way from April to October at the big grill or on the asphalt, balancing trays and swooping between the cars ("lights on for service!") to take orders. Tourists usually park and wait for the carhops to come to them, but locals often come inside. There are only four small booths, each one stocked with a paper napkin dispenser, a ketchup bottle, and a paper cup full of crayons so kids can color on the paper place mats. More than once we've used these materials to sketch out farm projects, designing house, garden, and pasture fences as we wait for our burgers and "frappes."

Last night, The Piper and I both worked late off the farm--I at the shop, she playing pipes for a wedding somewhere on the coast. She picked me up from my workplace, waved her cash tip in front of my eyes, and said, "Wanna go to Fat Boy's?" I gave her a hungry smile, hopped in, buckled up, and we headed on down the road.

The place had quieted down a bit since Labour Day. The parking lot was only one-third full and there was no-one else sitting in the booths. The young grill workers and carhops were enjoying the rare chance to relax, chat, and tease each other in between filling orders. They weren't slacking, though: we had almost instantaneous service as we slid onto the orange naugahyde cushions in our chosen booth.

We scanned the menu out of habit, although we knew it almost by heart. Hmmm. Fresh haddock sandwich? Hamburger with all the fixings? Or should I just get the House Special, a BLT made with Canadian Bacon and served with lovely thin, crispy onion rings? And what flavour of frappe--pronounced, I shudder to inform you, as "frap"--should we share tonight: chocolate or vanilla for The Piper, maybe mocha for me? We ordered orange cream just things up.

No colouring this time. We were both tired beyond creativity. We sat quietly, content to people-watch as our order was prepared. The rhythm of other folks' work was soothing after the busy-ness of our respective work-days.

Just then, the side door banged open. Two men rushed in with an air of tightly-scheduled importance. One of the men could have been any sort of labourer, with his heavy boots, Carhartts and canvas jacket. The other man's gear puzzled me. What kind of worker wears a black vest, black pants, a white shirt, and a complicated holster with what looked like a walkie-talkie clipped to the edge? Except for the holster, I would have guessed a bartender, but that didn't make much sense. The two men stepped quickly to the counter. I heard the cashier say, "the usual?" and the men nodded their assent. Three minutes later their orders were bagged, rung up, handed over, and the men were on their way back out the door. "Drive safe!" the cashier called out. The men grinned and the black-vested one turned back to answer, "Always." As he turned, I finally caught a glimpse of the emblem and the yellow lettering embroidered on his vest: "Eastern Maine Railroad."

Two minutes later, we heard two long blasts on a train whistle: the engineer's way of saying thanks for a job well done. The railroad men had made Fat Boy's their own little "drive-in," and now they were on their way.

(photo credits:
(I'm usually far more focused on eating than picture-taking when I go.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Journey to the Center of the Mirth (Part Three)

This is the final installment of our Pacific Northwest travelogue.

Sunday, August 30th
Kith and Kin are slow to wake and gather, and farmers need food before noon. We early risers banded together on the day after my brother's wedding and set out in my uncle's car on a bakery quest. Clarification--this was my uncle's rented car, complete with GPS. He recalled a previous visit, during which my brother had taken him to an enormous French bakery. He did an internet search for a French bakery in Portland, Oregon, entered the address into his GPS unit, and we headed off.

Half an hour and a few "recalculations" later, we arrived at the indicated coordinates: a tiny Vietnamese-French bakery tucked into the backside of a dilapidated building in a low-income neighborhood. This was not the sweetshop of memory, but hunger was edging toward voraciousness, so we went in. There was a small array of French pastries, most of which involved coconut, pineapple, and other tropical twists. There were also fried sesame balls and steamed pork buns and coffee--not your typical barista creations, but tiny splashes of tarry black stuff that made The Piper's eyes slam open so hard she appeared to bruise her eyebrows. After two sips, she looked entirely awake and slightly terrified.

One cousin, one aunt, one uncle, one farmer and one Piper quite overwhelmed the tiny shop and its single cafe table, so we ate quickly and took a bag of sesame balls with us in the car. None of our relatives were yet answering their cell phones, so we headed back downtown and raided a couple of Portland's fantastic bookstores--including the massive ediface of Powell's--before heading back to my brother's house for the 1:00 potluck "brunch."

After a beautiful sunlit backyard repast, during which the involved families lolled around adoring each other, we repacked the cars and headed north. This time, Z-man headed back with Dad and the other car was declared the province of "just us girls." We intended to make a detour: the Swan Island Dahlia Show. My florist mother, my sister the designer, my Piper and I tucked ourselves into the car and headed west.

The city streets turned to country roads. We traveled alongside rivers, through hillside tunnels, and down byways lined with fir, hemlock, and other evergreens. Two turns off the main road, the scenery suddenly changed to massive fields full of flowers as far as the eye could see. It was like the technicolour revelation of the Land of Oz: so brightly coloured as to seem unreal. The other oddness was in the crowd's composition. We were there for a flower show. Nothing else was going on. Why were there so many MEN?!?

Well, as it turns out, I guess dahlias are a guy kind of flower: big, brash, bold, their colours and styles bursting forth like so many fireworks. I have never elsewhere beheld so many men taking the lead at such an event, dragging their wives and girlfriends from one display to the other, enthusing about this one's size, that one's astounding hue, their cries of delight echoed by the preening peacocks on the roof of the adjoining barn. (Dahlias and peacocks: another previously unconsidered natural pairing!) The Piper and I edged our way through the crowd, marveling at the floral freaks on display: dahlias of pale green and velvety black, dahlias splotched and striped, dahlias bigger than our heads. We made our way to the exit and ambled around the edges of the farm's public concourse, just as interested in their safety and crowd-control measures as we were in their blooming displays. Flower farms need not fear the same vectors of infection as livestock farms--there were no boot-washing stations, for example--but it was a useful opportunity for study nonetheless.

My mother and sister emerged several minutes later, their grins huge, their digital cameras full, their eyes surfeited by colour. We laughed and enjoyed our time together, then reluctantly returned my sister to the city and headed north to the island once again.

Monday, August 31th
The pressure was on: this was our final day to visit kith and kin and there were two very important trips on our schedule, each involving a different ferry route to the mainland. My little brother had fortified us the night before with his ferry pass and some "free ride" bus coupons and my mother obliged us with a morning ride to the ferry dock. The rest was up to us...but I had forgotten to account for the fog.

Growing up, I loved the fog. I loved the way it encircled the island, a soft blanket that cushioned us against the noise and fuss and hurry of the rest of the world. Fog obscures sight and swallows sound. A ferryboat ride on a foggy morning, complete with good companions, great books, and/or pleasant projects, can be a sweet sabbath of unhurried time. There is nothing one can do but sit back, relax, and wait.

On this particular morning, though, we strained at our weather-tethers. Ten minutes' walk from the waterfront, in a mainland city, waited a dear friend I'd not seen in ages. I'd met her in a Gaelic choir, where her rich, full voice, welcoming spirit and wry wit were the delight of all who knew her. The understanding between us was deepened by our respective multicultural upbringings. I missed her heartily, and the ferryboat's delay was stealing precious minutes from our one chance at meeting.

Finally, half an hour later than intended, we arrived out our meeting spot. She was walking slowly away with a dejected air and we were racing down the street with much anxiety. When our eyes met and spirits leaped in recognition, the sadness and stress dissipated like fog under a hot summer sun. I introduced The Singer to The Piper. We repaired to a restaurant and packed as much affection and as many stories into that visit as time and space would allow--and then some! But she had an appointment to make, and we had buses and ferries to catch on our way to yet another visit... reluctantly, we held on to each other as long as we could, then bid each other a proper Gaelic farewell. The painful sweetness of the chance to converse in Gaelic was almost as hard to bear as the thought of leaving her and the Gaidhealtachd again. Such grief at departure is, of course, the basis for a great many Gaelic songs. As one Cape Breton bard explained it, "they're always singin' about the girl who's never there."

The sun was rising higher and, as we rode a bus out of the city to another ferry dock, the fog gradually lifted and cleared away, leaving us under a bright blue sky on a glorious late-summer day. The water sparkled. Our spirits skipped and danced, riding the currents of the Sound and the gusting sea-scented air.

Later that afternoon, Z-man and Mom joined us for yet another ferry-ride. This time, we aimed ourselves westward. We were off to the Olympic Peninsula to see the home and workplace of The Piper's Son, and we came bearing pies for dessert.

The Piper's Son works for The Arts & Crafts Press, a letterpress printshop that specializes in original and historic cards, prints and books related to the Arts & Crafts Movement. His employers, Bruce and Yoshiko, have immersed themselves in that movement, both its history and its revival. Yoshiko's artwork and Bruce's authorship both contribute to the revival, and their work is much sought after.

It was natural that The Piper's Son should find his way to their workshop. His father and The Piper built Arts & Crafts furniture together for many years before their artistic pursuits went in different directions. The Piper's Son divided his childhood playtime between woodland streambeds, a huge collection of Legos and an exquisite set of mahogany building blocks. Everything he handled informed his sense of structure, form, and design. Everyone around him worked with their hands, making stuff. So it was that, after graduating from college and working as our house-carpenter for several months, he took a cross-country trip and secured his current position.

We arrived at the end of his shift, so he showed us around the printshop. There were beautiful old printing machines with massive rollers and cast-iron flywheels. There were racks and shelves of recently-printed cards, warm vintage colours impressed on elegant, creamy cardstock. He talked us through the process from start to finish, then led us to the stockroom full of finished prints, cards, and other beautiful necessities. We could hardly tear our eyes away from the splendid array, but voices called from above us: dinner was ready, and it was a perfect evening to repair to the deck.

Mom, Z-Man, The Piper, The Piper's Son, Bruce, Yoshiko and I basked in the light of the lowering sun while their two small children wove in and out. We feasted and talked, it seems, of everything under the sun. I felt sorry for the young Japanese au pair-- our conversation became so rapid and animated that, although she was welcomed into our midst, I believe we quickly exhausted her capacity for comprehension. The children, meanwhile, seemed to absorb and use both languages with apparent ease. My Taiwanese brother, Z-Man, seized the opportunity to surround himself with other Asians. As soon as our talk veered towards art and politics, he excused himself from the table to play with the children. We all settled into our respective elements, utterly content, blissfully happy.

We talked until the moon rose high in the sky. The soft gradients of the sunset and the sharply deckled lines of the evergreens looked for all the world like one of Yoshiko's prints. Then it was time for more hugs, more promises to visit, more reluctant goodbyes...and a side trip to the present abode of The Piper's Son, spartan yet suitable, befittingly bedecked with one of Yoshiko's prints in a handmade frame and two well-assembled lego spaceships. He seemed to have made a good start for himself. We smiled to ourselves in the moonlight as we drove the dark roads and took the ferry back to the island.

Tuesday, September 1st
Bags repacked and begrudgingly ready to go, we stepped outside for one last walk around the gardens and blackberry thickets of my parents' island home. We smelled the roses, laughed at the comical trio of slug-patrolling ducks, and popped handfuls of juicy blackberries and huckleberries into our mouths. But we had to make haste-- there was another ferry to catch and another bus to ride before we'd reach the airport, and I was back in island-commmuter-mode, planning all my activities with lead-time and public transport schedules in mind.

On the way to the dock, we stopped for a quick hug and the briefest of visits with on of our Wild Girls, KyedPiper. I handed her a promised memento-- a snippet from the forelock of Broilleach, our recently-dispatched bull. Being a vegan, she was at once queasy and grateful for the tangible connection. We reminded her that the farm and the cows would gladly welcome her back again, then headed off to catch the boat.

On the ferry dock, we unexpectedly ran into another one of my childhood friends. Islands are like that! We walked on to the boat together. He gallantly carried our suitcase up the stairs on the ferry, then regaled us with tales of Casa Vista, the B&B he built on the island. It was a fitting connection, a reminder that we were headed home to continue the work of constructing our own dreams and building our own vocations.

One bus, two airplanes, one lost piece of luggage and a long car-ride later, we arrived back at our own wee home. We were greeted less-than-enthusiastically by our Border Collie, who clearly had adored the farmsitter. The farmsitter (a bit bleary-eyed from the rude awakening of our late-night arrival) said those words every returning farmer loves to hear: "you didn't leave me enough to do, so I weeded your garden."

Hmmm. With a farmsitter like this, we may just take vacations a little more often!

(All photos mine except for the final image of an historic boat on Puget Sound, which I borrowed from Osman Person.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

News Flash-- Bye, Bye Birdie

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog post to bring you this important update: as of this morning, all surplus roosters have, dispatched. The year-old broilers-turned-stewbirds, denizens of the Very Bad Year, pre-dawn hellish harmonizers, feathered idols of concupiscence and caprice...them birds had to go.

For the sake of more squeamish readers, there will be no pictures of the process. Suffice to say that the knife was sharp. They were dispatched most humanely with reasonable skill and speed. We thanked them and vowed that nothing would be wasted...and nothing was. What didn't end up in the freezer or the stockpot went to fertilize the garden. As the Wise Ones say, "everything is food for something else."

These birds have been a bane for so long that the final bird's death felt like more than just another unpleasant-but-needful barnyard task. It felt elemental, primal, like an offering of sorts, or some ritual banishment of bad spirits. Perhaps offering IS the correct word. We offered its soul back to the Cosmos and its blood and feathers back to the earth. We transformed its body into more nourishing forms. With these acts came a lightness, a curious sense that we have released ourselves from the taloned hold of last year's suffering.

Did our Celtic and British ancestors feel these things, when the wheel of the year turned to harvest and their hands fell to the hard work of culling and butchering? Did they offer prayers of release? Did they sense the tenuous, terrifying beauty of nature's balance? Did they speak aloud their thanks, breathe deeply, set their jaws, and bloody their hands, killing and taking only what they had to, using everything they possibly could? And were there special words or tales or tunes to honour all of this?

I found the tune of an old wassail song welling up in me as we worked. There are many wassails-- songs of seasonal blessing and honour, from ancient roots meaning "be whole." (There is one called "the Apple Tree Wassail" that I sing to my fruit trees when I plant or prune them. I am of the belief that no creature, rooted or footed or winged, can be too often blessed.) I reshaped the words to our purpose and sang them--not cavalierly, but with genuine joy, recognizing that every harvest is a time of death, but reapers need not be eternally grim. There is a time to reap. There is a time to sow and a time to gather in. It is good to move with The Great Wheel's Turning.

Goodbye, roosters. Farewell, four-thirty A.M. alarmers. Tomorrow is the sabbath. We shall celebrate by sleeping in.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Journey to the Center of the Mirth (Part Two)

It has been a largely unbloggable week here as we deal with the "joys" of farm refinancing. To remind myself of life's more celebratory aspects, I'm taking some time to chronicle our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Another awake-at-five morning, after which we struggled (successfully) to fall back asleep. Two hours later, we were awakened by the sound of a door shutting, a dog barking, and a car engine starting...ohmygosh! Mom & Dad had left for the ferry without telling us! We knew they had to leave early, as Mom had taken on the triple tasks of flower-grower, flower-courier, and flower arranger for my big brother's wedding. The need to keep the flowers cool and minimally stressed required an early-morning travel schedule from the island down to Portland, Oregon.
A call to my Dad's cell-phone eased my worries. Unlike them, we had no crucial time-table for our own arrival, so we eased a little more gently into the day.

Suitcases, kilt, bagpipes, alb, and little brother (a comic-book fan henceforth known as "Z-Man") tucked safely into the car, we headed down the road towards the 8:50 boat and made it with time to spare. The Piper had never driven on to a ferry before. As feared, they directed her to the outermost lane where she had to navigate my parents' minivan between metal colummns into what looked like the automobile version of a cattle squeeze chute. She did a fine job.

We drove down I-5, joining the commuters and speeding holiday hordes on this massive western corridor. By noon, we were eager for food and a break from the Interstate's pace, so we pulled off and headed towards Kelso.

Kelso is one of several Scottish town names in Washington State. The list also includes Fife, Elgin, and Aberdeen. Euro-American settlers displaced the Cowlitz tribe--for which the county is now named--to create a booming milltown where thousands of stately evergreen trees were "processed" and shipped away daily. Although we did see a couple of logging trucks trundling down the road, overly-zealous logging practices have combined with the overall economic downturn to depress this extraction-based economy. The place looked it.

We drove through the flat, grey industrial landscape in search of a decent eatery, but all we saw were railroad yards and drab lots full of dusty, banged-up equipment. Following signs to "city center," we reached one of the most depressing main streets I've ever seen--almost colorless and ghostly, full of empty storefronts and letterless marquees. There was a Tudor-style YMCA that must have been grand in its day, but the rest of the buildings were flat-roofed and eerily featureless. We pulled into the only establishment that showed any life: a stuccoed cement drive-through advertising "Comida Mexicana" via sprawling letters painted on the windows. Three people sat at a booth inside--the largest gathering we'd seen anywhere in town.

The Piper and I split a chicken chimichanga. Z-Man got a seafood taco plate. I enjoyed the kitchen staff's banter as we waited. My Spanish is rusty, but I caught just enough to know the cooks were good-naturedly teasing each other. A young man came in after us and ordered in rapid Spanish. The cooks hurriedly packed his order to go, and he was out the door again in three minutes. I'm guessing the place caters to Spanish-speaking workers, both settlers and migrants, on whom the local economy now depends. Our food came just a few minutes later: nothing special, but good, fresh, filling and reasonably-priced. Twenty minutes later, we were back on the road.

Z-man made use of his superhuman navigational skills and got us safely off the freeway, through city construction zones, past roundabouts and into my Big Brother's driveway. Preparations were underway for the rehearsal dinner--a potluck in their backyard. The Bride-to-Be came out of the house just as we pulled up, welcomed us all with hugs, then fired up a string trimmer and attacked the front yard. (For purposes of this blog, we'll refer to her henceforth as "Dr. Honey" because, well, she IS a doctor, as sweet as she is smart. Her ten-year-old daughter will be known as Elf, because I think she is one!)

Big Brother (a martial artist henceforth known as Monkey King) excitedly showed us through the house and yard, detailing his adventures as a new homeowner: the pulling up of damaged floors, the planting of gardens, the replacement of exploding appliances, etc. Talk about a carpenter's holiday-- hardly fifteen minutes had passed before The Piper and my uncle bounced on the spongy wooden deck, discussed the impending influx of heavy guest traffic, and declared the deck in need of immediate repair. Half an hour later, The Piper was ripping up boards, I was hauling two-by-fours, and my uncle was operating a circular saw. Why, the place felt just like home!

The repair was finished--just barely--by dinnertime. The rehearsal dinner was so relaxed, I began to wonder if a rehearsal was included in the evening's plans. Friends and relatives were scattered around the pretty little back yard, some casual and some elegantly dressed, all chatting amiably and enjoying the delicious array of food. Fortunately, a stalwart FOB (friend of the bride) marshaled everyone into their places and got us all rehearsed with remarkable efficiency--no easy task, with a wedding party that included a wild band of little Amazons as flowergirls! Afterwards, we held a hurried conference and typed up the ceremony on my laptop, then repaired to our various designated sleeping places for an attempt at rest before The Big Day.

Up at five. Back to bed. Up at six. Back to bed. There we were in a big city hotel, thanks to my parents, in a lovely quiet room with a comfortable bed. Could we relax and enjoy it? No, apparently we are now hard-wired for morning chores and the sound of roosters. At 6:45 we heaved a sigh and headed down to try out the hotel's "continental-plus" breakfast. Senator Kennedy's funeral was being shown on a large (but thankfully silent) screen. We kept our voices hushed and respectful, eyes flickering up to the screen and back to our own kith and kin, busily discussing the wedding-prep schedule. The screen's sea of black umbrellas and somber coats cast a strange tension over our own anticipatory joy. In my mind, my professional interest in the close-captioned funeral homily warred with my professional need to finalize wedding homily wording and find a place to print it out before the ceremony.

Cut to the chase: fifteen minutes 'til designated start time, and my mother's flowers are everywhere: in vases on the reception room tables, in urns flanking the wedding arbor, pinned onto dresses and jackets, and tucked in my hair. I've just helped one sister place the last flowers on the cake she made herself. It's beautiful, and so is she. Z-man is showing off his own handsome outfit, complete with a very stylish new tie. I scurry to the back room and pull on my alb. My other sister has arrived with her personal aide and a young man who introduces himself as her boyfriend. She taps out the words to me on her letterboard: "Hi, Sister. I miss you." She gives me a furtive hug, then ducks her head and moves away. She needs to find a few seats at the back, where she can slip away if anything overwhelms the delicate balance of her neurological system. I was her caregiver for several years, so I don't pressure her to stay and chat. I understand how hard it is for her to brave this situation, even on an occasion of joy.

The Bride is late. The word passes through the crowd that a flowergirl--a friend of her daughter--jumped from a treehouse and put her foot through a metal chair while the bride was attempting to get herself be-gowned. Finally they arrive. I can't tell which flowergirl was injured. They all look sweet in their pretty dresses, and not one of them has a telltale limp, though one girl's smile looks a bit grim. The guests take their seats again, The Piper strikes up a tune on the bagpipes, the wedding party lines up, and the procession begins.

First the welcome and greetings and introductory remarks, then a special blessing from FOB. Next, the sharing of handwritten vows, the exchange of rings...then the time comes time for that homily I printed out (whew!) in the hotel lobby. (Readers, please note that blognames in the homily are in brackets. I didn't really address my brother as "Monkey King" in front of all those guests!) Here we go:

"...The first time [Monkey King] brought [Dr. Honey] to meet me, it was high summer on our farm in Maine. The cows were dozing under the apple tree in the middle of the pasture. The pigs were meandering sleepily into the shade at the edge of the woods. The chickens were taking afternoon tea in the garden—-or at least helping themselves to the cherry tomatoes and an occasional bug.

My partner and I were about to embark on a year-long home renovation. We were living in an worn-out 1830s farmhouse, soon to start work on rehabbing a 20-year old post-and-beam woodshop to make ourselves a warmer, healthier home. But when [Dr. Honey and Elf and Monkey King] came to visit, it was a freshly-emptied, not-yet-reinvented space. It was no longer a shop. It was not yet a home. It was just a 30' x 30' plot of potential and possibilities.

I'll never forget our first meeting. [Monkey King] showed up, radiating happiness, with this strong, lovely woman and blythe, impish child at his side. There were the requisite introductions and awkward embraces, then a rambling tour of our fledgling farm. The sun began to sink lower in the sky and Maine's infamous mosquitoes and black flies found us, so we retreated inside and began to discuss things in earnest. [Dr. Honey] leaned over to me with a confidential air. “Do you mind if I ask you something personal?” My mind began to race. Would this be a comment on my female partner? Something about past relationships or children? A question about our odd vocational blend of farming, social services, bagpipe lessons, and Christian ministry? I nodded nervously, not wanting to seem impolite. She leaned a little closer with a quizzical expression and spoke in a half-whisper: “I've been wondering: does EVERYONE in your family take photographs of your food?”

Okay, so maybe this family IS a bit different. Some families just share the same facial features, the same genes, but we've come together from different parts of the world. There are other things things that bind us. We love a good meal. We love a good story. We don't always say what we mean, but we celebrate well-placed words. Mostly, it is our laughter that binds us, and a shared conviction that family is as family does—that we find brothers and sisters wherever there is justice, hospitality, and celebration.

There are many ways to create a household, to make a home, to make a family. We are proud of our diversity and the sometimes odd, often entertaining, connections we've made amongst ourselves. I didn't actually take pictures of my food, until [Dr. Honey] brought it to my attention, but now I find myself reaching for the camera at the table now and then. It makes me smile. It makes me feel close to my sister, with her passion for good design, and my brother, with his passion for food adventures. And it makes me feel close to my newest family members: [Dr. Honey], my first ever sister-in-law, and [Elf], my first ever niece.

Over these past two years, we've followed each other's stories. We've woven together our struggles, twisted together through our frustrations and our fears. We have traded tales of renovation, news of new nests. We have gone swimming in the same oceans. We have taken turns drowning sorrows and leaning on the arms of others, reckoning with grief and death.

Slowly, sometimes subtly, we have laid the groundwork, the sturdy foundation, for a bountiful and beautiful abode. And we have learned, working together, about each others' rhythms and styles of engagement.

[Monkey King] and [Dr. Honey], like [The Piper] and I, have spent part of the last several months immersed in the work of home renovation. There is, perhaps, no better metaphor for engagement than this! The work of renovation demands engagement. It demands hands-on, total-body engagement—the kind that sometimes leaves you aching with bruised shins and ragged nails, the kind that marks you with paint splatters and with scars. It demands that you work, sometimes, in a noxious atmosphere, your breathing laboured, your eyes watering from the fumes. A loving partnership makes similar demands. [Monkey King] and [Dr. Honey], you have weathered so much together, engaged so fully with each other, that I feel confident your home—and your love—will endure. Wallboard may crumble. Appliances may stop working. Deck planking may need to be replaced. But your true home, your deepest sense of peace and shelter and security, will endure, because you have made your home in each other's arms.

We all have looked on, lent a hand, and shared this engagement with you. Your marriage will be blessed not only by your own home-making, but also by this ready and willing crew of consultants, groundskeepers and carpenters. Look around you, now, and know that, whenever the work seems too much, whenever the burden seems too hard to bear, we are all here, ready to share our tools, to lend a hand, to help with future repairs, improvements, and renovations.

In lives filled with movement, may this loving circle of friends and relations be the solid structure of support on which your home depends. May you feather your nest with the laughter and love of many—peers, elders, and children. May your walls resound with stories of adventure and songs of peace. May the wise old earth cradle your abode, and may it be known as a place of joy and grace.

[Monkey King] and [Dr. Honey]... welcome home.

The rest of the wedding went well, although the Beloveds snuck in two quick kisses before I officially told them they could! Nobody seemed to disapprove, though. We all knew how wonderfully, deeply in love they were, and we all blessed them together. The reception included dancing for the grown-ups with the added fun of hula-hoops, courtesy of Elf and her friends! As for me, I had barely changed out of my alb, grabbed some food and plunked myself down at a table when everyone around started teasing me, saying, "Where's your camera?" and "Aren't you going to take pictures of your food?" With a begrudging grin, I went back to the dressing room and rummaged around, came back with my camera, and dutifully documented the feast. Only then was I "allowed" to eat!

Finally the time came for the Cutting of the Cake. The blurry sweetness of the day all came into sharp focus as Bride and Groom lifted the knife and lowered it into my sister's beautiful creation, careful not to disturb the flowers. They fed each other bites of cake, and it was lovely, and everyone clapped and cheered...but the best was yet to come. They beckoned to the Elf, standing nearby in the shadows. She walked up to them, wistfully glancing at the cake, eyeing their finery, clearly pondering how and where she fit in. Then, as her eyes widened in joyful surprise, they both leaned down and, together, fed her a bite of their cake. None of us could contain ourselves. The room erupted in shouts and laughter as people wiped their eyes, cheered, and cheered, and cheered.

Tomorrow: stay tuned for Part Three, featuring more ferryboats, the Arts & Crafts Press and flowers bigger than your head.

Photo credits:
MV Rhododendron:
Old lumber mill:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Journey to the Center of the Mirth (Part One)

It has been a largely unbloggable week here as we deal with the "joys" of farm refinancing. To remind myself of life's more celebratory aspects, I'm taking some time to chronicle our recent trip to the Pacific Northwest.

After doing the morning chores, grabbing a hurried early lunch, and laying things out for the farmsitter, (including three pages of instructions, a sixpack of local ale, and our entire library of Celtic tunebooks for his perusal), we departed for the airport. Both of our flights were happily uneventful, though the second flight became a bit more interesting when the captain came on the loudspeaker and announced that we were in the care of an all-woman crew, from captain and co-pilots to flight attendants. Huzzah!

We were greeted at the Sea-Tac airport by my father, who whisked us away to the island on which I grew up. We admired the last lingering sunset light over Puget Sound as we made our way to the ferry dock. Dad flashed two little cards at the dock-worker, who zapped them with a handheld scanner. I felt wistful for the plain paper tickets of my youth. Then it was over the Sound, up the hill, and along the winding island byways, under the looming evergreens, to my parents' garden-encircled house. We were greeted by the rescue beagle's shrill bugling, the tumbling, lolloping boisteriousness of two Gorden Setter puppies, my little brother's laughing attempts to corral them, and my mother's welcoming embrace. With my father still spinning stories, my mother playing games on her laptop, and my brother chuckling at sitcoms, we stumbled off to bed in my sister's old room, tripping over puppies on the way.

We woke at five o'clock. The place felt eerily silent. It felt foreign. Something was wrong. The Piper and I looked at each other in the dim pre-dawn light. "Er-a-er-er-oooooh!" I crowed, as quietly as I could. "Ah, that's better..." The Piper murmured. We willed ourselves back to sleep for an hour, then woke up again, fighting the urge to rush out and do chores. I was afraid this would happen. I don't remember how to have a vacation!

Mid-morning, we accompanied Mother on her delivery rounds for her organic cut-flower business. She and her friend run a handful of flower stands around the island with ready-made bouquets from their gardens, as well as selling subscription bouquets to a few local businesses. When we stopped to deliver a bouquet to my childhood chiropractor, Mom treated me to a much-needed adjustment. Our chiropractor is worth the trip cross-country! (I'm uninsured and the ones in Maine charge three times as much, so I rarely use their services, regardless of how much I need them.)

We headed back out of town. It was comforting to see some familiar sights--the old hardware store, the community art center, (a revamped Odd Fellows Hall), the "village green" where the farmers sell their wares... In between the familiar storefronts, I was surprised by a thick crop of new restaurants, including one with the words "sushi bistro." My goodness!

Mother walked us through her sprawlingly beautiful, outrageously productive gardens that afternoon. From the island's glacial till, with the help of abundant compost and added topsoil, she has coaxed an amazing variety of flowers and edibles. There were ripe strawberries and tomatoes. There were heathers and heucheras and hellebores. There were sweetly fragrant roses cascading over the old copper-pipe arbor I built for her years ago. There were bold dinner-plate dahlias and delicate sprays of my favourite flower, Love-in-a-mist (Nigella).

At suppertime, The Piper and I headed a few miles down the road to Holmestead Farm. There we were introduced to the family--and farm--of a childhood friend. We toured their massive restoration project: an orchard full of heirloom-variety trees, all carefully and lovingly pruned and tended according to biodynamic principles. We peeked through high deer-fencing at their bountiful berries and other garden crops and watched their children race and tumble as chickens strutted confidently around the grounds. It would have been enough, that educational and inspirational tour of another farm family's endeavors, but there was more to come: after The Piper treated them to an impromptu concert on the smallpipes, our hosts reciprocated with a phenomenal dinner of (island-grown Scottish Highland!) beef carpaccio and a lovely fresh vegetable soup with white beans and shrimp, followed by just-picked raspberries and sliced peaches for dessert. Fueled by such excellent food and such nourishing company, we talked until long after all farmers should be in bed-- especially an island farmer who has a long sunrise commute to an Off-Farm Job on the mainland! (Sorry about that, Toby-- hope you got off to work okay!) We'll savour the memory of this visit for years to come. We look forward to the day we can return the favour and host them as guests at OUR farm.

The morning's agenda was laid out for us: set up several buckets full of hot water. Add a bit of sugar and a splash of bleach to each bucket, then stir until dissolved. Take the buckets into the garden and pick all the good blue, purple, green,--yes, green--white, pink, and peach flowers with the longest stems you can manage. Plunge the stems into the hot water. This helps "set" the petals and extends the vase-life of the flowers. When each bucket is full, take it to the Cool Room (Mom's flower-processing room in the garage). Early the next morning, these buckets would all be packed into my mother's Scion for the long drive to Portland, Oregon for My Big Brother's Wedding!!!

The rest of the day, we eased ever-closer to vacation mode, ambling out to stuff our mouths with wild blackberries, perusing my parents' bookshelves, watching the puppies play, and cooking. My little brother coached me through his favourite enchilada recipe. How lovely, to work together in the kitchen! Then it was off to collect The Piper's Son (with sweetie in tow) from the ferry dock so they could join us for an island potluck and music session. Ah, the glorious of late-summer potlucks! Smoked salmon spread! Paroxysms of Pie!

The music was hesitant at first, but The Piper played smallpipes for a while as the gathering made its way from lawn to deck. A couple of people thumbed idly through a copy of "Rise Up Singing" and called out lyrics and tunes. We managed "Bright Morning Stars" just as the sun went down.

(Tune in tomorrow for Part Two: comida a la Kelso, deck repair on-the-fly, and my Big Brother's Wedding!)