Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Housewarming, continued...

We had a ceilidh--a house-party--last week. It was an effort to hold ourselves accountable to joy: the joy we want to feel, the joy we know we should feel, the joy we can't always figure out how to feel. We decided we'd have a handful of friends come over for a potluck, followed by some shared tunes, songs, and stories to celebrate our farm ownership and usher in the Celtic New Year. We figured the presence of friends, feasting and merrymaking, would help us reconnect with the vast array of Goodness that has touched and warmed our lives. Besides, parties are always a lovely excuse to neaten up the house!

We'd had a housewarming party once before-- our friends Bruce & Sue joined us more than a year ago to help us celebrate our official inhabitation of this woodshop-turned-farmhouse. Sawdust was still on the floor and wallboard joints were still waiting to be plastered. We ate at the folding table I use for the Farmers' Market, but we had a wonderful time and together christened the place, "home." Their surprise gift that night, a basket of domestic goodies that included kitchen goods, two wineglasses, and a toy for our dog, proved immediately and continually useful. The memory is bittersweet because Bruce died later that year, a dear friend lost to cancer far too soon.

This year's We-Bought-The-Farm party fell on October 30th, almost exactly a year after Bruce's memorial service. The greatest gifts this time around? The songs, tunes and stories shared in the post-potluck glow, including many recollections of Folks Gone Before. Yet we were surprised with some more tangible treats, as well-- a jar of home-canned dilly beans from one friend, jars of rhubarb jam and chutney from another friend, and a beautifully turned salad bowl of local alderwood cleverly disguised by...well, a bowlful of salad. Oh, and then there was the bottle of champagne handed off with a conspiratorial grin--we were told to tuck it away in the fridge and save it for a "private celebration" of our own!

But there was one person who didn't make it to the party--didn't even know it was happening, in fact--and sent something anyway: my Fairy Blogmother, MamaPea. MamaPea is a homesteader and gardener extraordinaire who has been a sustaining source of wisdom, kindness, good humour and understanding. Her gifts were a very sweet surprise and could not have come at a better time. They were actually part of a "pay it forward" scheme among some craftsperson bloggers, but that deserves a future post of its own. For now, I want to share the tremendously thoughtful work bestowed upon me by MamaPea, who is a professional quilter of obvious talent, wit and skill!

Here's one view of the four quilted potholders MamaPea made for me. By the way, they match our kitchen's colour-scheme perfectly. I have NO idea how she managed that, since she's never seen our kitchen! How clever of her to work in so many salient motifs: alphabet fabric for my love of words and writing, images of old-fashioned farmsteads interspersed with a print of tiny quilts to commemorate our friendship and our homesteading foremothers, tiny gold stars and all those trees and branches and leaves...

Here's a second view, showing the potholders flipped so you can see (gasp!) their backsides. Such perfect colour-coordination! Such splendid designs! I feel so blessed and delighted to be the recipient of such gifts! (Trivia item: the potholders were photographed while resting on the tile runner of our dining table, one of the last items made in our house when it was still a working woodshop. The house is just small enough, and the table just big enough, that it dictated the placement of the stairwell and, by extension, the dimensions of all other rooms in the house.)

MamaPea didn't just treat me to a sampler of her own talents--she also sent a packet of beautiful photo-cards made by her daughter, an off-the-grid homesteader and artist/designer who blogs as ChickenMama. Most of the images come from Swamp River Ridge, the site of her Northland homestead. They betray the keen eye and deep appreciation for nature that you'd expect from a serious homesteader. Not only are the photographs themselves strikingly beautiful, they're also nicely mounted and elegantly packaged. I'm sure there's a wonderful story behind every image, and if I could just lure ChickenMama and MamaPea over to Maine, I'd love to sit down with them and hear every single one!

So, here we are: surrounded by friends and stories and gifts from many hands, our hearts full of gratitude, in a small farmhouse well-stocked with warmth and love.

P.S. Happy Birthday, Piper. I think this year's going to be a good one!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Autumn Thaw

The frost has come. The last late raspberries have been hoarded like a handful of rubies into the freezer. The pigs snuggle close in a nest of old hay, the cows lumber across the pasture in a quest for the year's last green tidbits, and the chickens scramble no longer for fresh worms and juicy bugs, their morning treat limited to scatterings of old bread. In the lower garden, all that remains are a few stalwart cabbages. In the upper garden the beets wear purple leaves in mourning for the black skeletons of tomato plants, recently uprooted and laid to rest on the damp branchy base of this winter's burn pile.

The land's production has ground nearly to a halt. We move slower too, weighed down by feedbags and slopbuckets, gathering firewood in the frosty air. But something strange is taking place, just as the cold weather sets in: we are starting to thaw.

When you live for years under the ax, waiting for that dull blade to fall, you becomes well-acquainted with fear, despair, and depression. The threat--in our case, the threat that our farm would be lost--becomes a familiar, if not friendly, presence, and you forget what life was like before the sky was marred with that great hanging wedge of cold metal above you. You forget how to walk outside without bowing and wincing and wondering when it will finally fall...

And then, one day, the ax disappears--life changes, new possibilities appear, the loan comes through and we finally buy the farm--but we're not sure how to stop bowing and wincing every time we step outside. We experiment with lifting our heads. We flicker an experimental gaze now and then at the sky. We say to ourselves, "We're safe. This farm belongs to us. We belong to this farm." We try to say it like we believe it...once in a while, we succeed. We flash each other a grin--but the next minute we're ducking our heads and wincing again, returning to the movements and rhythms we know.

Call it a crisis of faith. We have forgotten that hope is a free gift, not an exclusive commodity. We are enduring the long-awaited thaw of frozen dreams, and our movements are still stiff and unsure.

Bear with us. Samhain, the Celtic New Year, has come at last, carrying the promise of warm fires and songs in the deepening night. Our spirits drape themselves near the woodstove, gradually unfreezing like a pair of trapper's mittens. We are stirring, humming, and warming to life's possibilities.