Sunday, November 26, 2017

"Stick Season"

"Stick season" trees in silhouette against the sunrise
I discovered the term "stick season," an appellation apparently borrowed from Vermont, in an article in the Bangor Daily News. It is so appropriate for our northern late autumn days, after most of the leaves have fallen from the trees and before snow appears and stays. It works well as a counterpoint to Maine's infamous "mud season" in the spring.

I was thinking about sticks, branches, and of trees silhouetted against the sky, the Standing People to our indigenous neighbors, as written of in Robin Kimmerer's book, Braiding Sweetgrass.

Standing bare against November sky
I seem to see the souls of trees,
With life force safely underground,
Their essence etched against the sky.
One stretches up and spreads
delicate branches in joy, an arched crown overhead.
One reaches out in all directions
calling "come, light on me." "Someday there will be shade again."
One gestures downward, towards the earth;
head upward bound, it seems to say
"Look, I can show the way."
And so he can, if we but watch and listen.
A row of youngsters, pruned this year
(power lines, you know, and planted by humans
who did not watch or listen)
show off a thicket of a adolescent enthusiasm.
"We're here to GROW! You see! We know!"

I need to learn them all, by shape, at least those left to natural growth. And so, as I was sent to Dr. Kimmerer's talk by the corn totem on the hex sign I was painting, I have been sent to a talk on Winter Twig ID by the Bangor Land Trust a week from today. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Back to 2017

 Where to start? Over Samhain/Halloween-tide we had a nor'easter. What a storm it was... winds up to 60 mph and an inch of rain... which doesn't seem like much water until you take into account the four inches that saturated the ground a week earlier! That much water is almost enough to cause unbalanced, shallow rooted trees to fall without other factors. But other factors were in play, including the clearing of a large lot down the road from us, which allowed many of the trees around the boundry of the clearing to topple. One, as seen to the left, laid suspended by our electric line for nearly a week. Just "up stream" from the tree, two transformers were also damaged. So for nearly a week, I got the opportunity to revisit -- more or less -- my off grid days.

It was nice, actually. I did miss having a reasonably close source for water, as our well pump is on-grid and during my off-grid days we had running water in the summer via pipes from a creek and in the winter from a cistern with a hand pump. Other than that, and my curiosity as to why most of my kerosene lamp wicks needed daily maintenance instead of being tended weekly, as back in the day, we were pretty much both content. I have added to my "to do" list, the task of repairing or replacing the burner noses on at least two of the lamps. They have not adjusted easily for some time and got worse this week. If you have not used a kerosene lamp, it is essential that the little knob on the side of the burner turn freely so you can quickly and easily adjust the height of the flame. The wicks need to be turned up to light, but then quickly start to smoke. Unless you get the flame turned down before you replace the glass chimney, it soots up as well and you loose much of what little illumination they provide.

Our freezers survived well; I lost the meat that was in the fridge-freezer and some ice cream melted and re-froze, but over all, our food is fine. I can cook just as well by lamp light as I ever could, and can spin also and did a bit of both after the sun set. I spent much time during the quiet beginning my reading of Braiding Sweetgrass, a book that I bought for my winter study after hearing the author, Dr. Robin Kimmerer speak at the local university back in May. I encourage everyone to read it, and I will be writing more with her discussions as a theme later on.

Much of what she writes about more than strikes a chord with me; many of the places she has come to through following her heritage are things I learned, long ago, in somewhat similar fashion. While I do not have blood that is native to this soil, many hours spent in contemplation, leaning on "the zen pine" while listening to the teachings of the land, the elements and the sky did their job and helped me to begin to be able to listen to the land and the plants and animals upon it.  They are easier to hear when it is quiet, which may explain why they are so little heard these days. In many places, the drone of canned music, radio, TV and now the constant summoning by mobile devices pretty much precludes hearing the quiet voices of nature. Trust me, even the best nature documentary is no match for the real thing.

While the somewhat distant sounds from neighbors' generators did, much of the time, break the natural background sounds, it seemed to me that, annoying as they were, the absence of even the quiet sounds of a still house (we don't run media unless one of us is actually paying attention to it, but the computers, refrigerator, freezers, and so on, are seldom all slient at once) made a big difference in ways that I cannot really communicate. It makes me wonder, if being surrounded by wires carrying electrons -- not just when I am in the house, but outside, with other homes nearby and the wires that feed them as well -- is something I sense at some level. This power outage again reminded me of the striking feeling of space that I felt when I first stepped into the canyon that was our off-grid home. I felt, psychically and psychologically like I could s-t-r-e-t-c-h for the first time in my life.

But now the power is back on, and while we aspire even a bit more strongly to work towards being less reliant on the power grid, the adjustment to the faster pace and longer duration of the day -- thanks to "man-lights" is taking a while. There was much left awry from projects in process and just completed, that I did not get to tend to during the outage and now... several weeks later... I am still catching up. Either I will or I won't, but winter will come and so our focus changes.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Magical, Mundane Ritual

Sun breaking through
clouds during October
nor'easter storm.
-- Started writing in October --
We are well into autumn, and the time of year when darkness no longer creeps slowly into our awareness, but rather arrives, early and unexpectedly, on the doorstep. On days like today, with hard rain, wind and overcast skies, it is even more obvious. The Winter Nights Tide is upon us. I appreciate the return of the dark season, even as I hurry to prepare next year's garden soil and worry about the final harvest of this year's crops. Leeks, beets, carrots and red cabbages are all that remain in the garden at present.

I am gearing up, as it were, to do something I have never done before. I have called on a group of friends, of various spiritual paths, to help me perform a "magical, mundane ritual." House, in whom we live, is unhappy. We have been unable to keep up with keeping her windows clean and last year at this time, though we did what we could, only the insides got washed before we applied the plastic to keep out the drafts. She is sad, because the dirt and cobwebs on her windows, like cataracts on human eyes, cloud her vision.

Most folks, I guess, think of washing windows "to let the sun shine in" but for in her awareness, the sun shines in regardless... but she sees the outer world through cloudy vision. She wants to see the beauty of the wider world, the trees as they drop their leaves and then after a time, regain them in varied hues of green. She wants to be on guard, as a house should be, to protect her occupants... but with clouded vision, she is worried.

So I am convening this ritual, with trusted friends, to clean the lenses of her vision and help put up the clear plastic that helps her block drafts and protect her family.

It has been ages since I have "had friends in" in any capacity. And even though these are all trusted friends, I am still concerned. I am far from a conventional person -- though I suspect that the depth and breadth of my differences often are not noticed, as it is not my habit to wave that flag. And therefore House is far from a conventional house, and even more so from a conventional trailer.

She does not see herself as a trailer, even though there are still wheels underneath her. She has roots. She lives, she is planted here, by her choice and ours. But her nods to her more conventional house sisters are few. Her small kitchen, designed -- if we can even use word-- more for simple recipes, heating up cans and frozen meals with a small place for a small family to eat, is home to more cooking and food-related activities than most houses have seen in many years. And it has to do triple duty a canning kitchen and an art studio too!

The "master" bath lost its tub years ago, to leaks and only one sink has full functionality. Her owners scratch their heads, though, at the idea that a house really needs more than one bathroom, and at that more than one sink for hand washing per bath, so this long-neglected room is bathroom to cats more than humans, and is also their dining hall and one of the humans' storage areas. Poor house was not blessed with much storage space, as she was designed -- there's that questionable word again -- for humans who don't spend much time with her and when home, mostly sleep and watch a small magic box.

Her humans, on the other hand, seem to have a myriad of pursuits... they bring in many raw foodstuffs to store, they make things from cloth and even make cloth from fibers that they collect and need to store somewhere. They make things from wood and paint, and during much of the year there is sawdust in her long-neglected carpets. Oh, how she longs for real wood floors that can be cleaned, like those of the workshop she says she is playing on TV!
-- Continuing mid-November --
I am pleased to report the ritual work day went well. The first to arrive, and workhorses of the window project, were my Christian friends, Bonnie and Galen. These folks truly live their faith and are always ready to "put their shoulder to the wheel" as one of my favorite hymns from the LDS church admonishes. While Tractor guy was cutting cardboard, Bonnie and Galen got quite the routine going, hitting the windows outside with the hose to wash away the worst of the grime and webs and attacking the inside with equal vigor. I had determined not to try to snug the plastic well, and to shrink it. Previous years this has proven not terribly necessary and on the most leaky windows, the need for a bit of "give" showed itself more than once, so the plastic went up quickly as well. We were surprised to find that the window that we thought had a broken or missing storm pane was, instead, simply open! Silly us! I had a plan in mind to apply a piece of plexiglas to the outside using silicon seal, but was glad not to have to do it, as my silicon gun was MIA.
The extra heavy vinyl from the fabric store, which I bought to use on the west facing windows -- which have no storms -- also seems to have worked well. The Force was with me when I bought it, as I had added extra length in case it was not possible to cut the three pieces needed for those windows from a single width. The added bit was exactly enough to go over the kitchen sink window, which actually did have a broken/missing storm pane.

Pagan friends showed up in the afternoon. I joked with the first young mom, Jessica, who dashed in after a frazzled morning...  typical in a family with 3 energetic, curious, busy youngsters, as we were just sitting down to have lunch. "Of course, it's lunch time! The kids are here!" Because they did not get to help much with the windows, which Bonnie and Galen had amost completed with their amazing efficiency, Jessica insisted on helping with something else. The only thing that came to mind was my next proejct: clearing storage totes out of the back (cat area) bathroom and doing a much needed clean and sanitize after the demise of our old kitties, who both had developed incontinence at the end of their lives. I had cleaned up their messes as they happened, but had not had the time to do a thorough, this is NOT happening any more, cleaning. It did not seem like a job anyone else would want to tackle, but when presented, Jessica jumped in with both feet for an amazing, top-down cleaning! Heck just the floor was more than I was willing to ask... but from mirrors to counter tops and fronts, places on the walls...and yes, that gross floor... looked like the "after" view from a cleaning product commercial when she and the kids were done!

Missy arrived shortly after Jessica. I knew she would be late, as she had been committed to officiate at a wedding in the morning. Apparently the wedding had half an hour of unexpected drama, so she was running later than expected and she jumped in to attack the kitchen and living room floors.

Tree down on the electric lines
4 properties up-stream from us.
Before I could complete writing this -- and before we had the chance to complete the sorting and rearranging that our need to move things around for the project had brought to light -- we got WEATHER!  A major nor'easter storm, with an inch of rain (on top of 4 inched the previous week!) and strong, sustained winds proved to be too much for many to many trees.

This one, in a nearby town, missed the wires
but nearby, two trees lay on the same section
of electric line.
We were without power for nearly a week, which was not that much of a big deal, but did prevent me from completing and uploading this post! I will write about that week soon! Stay tuned for the further adventures of the Hexeri and Tractor Guy.