Five-Acre Almanac: Hard News

Week 40

My visit to Atlanta was wonderful, but the week since I’ve been back hasn’t been the best.

The day after I got home a bear climbed into our chicken coop and killed three of our chickens, including my new hen and rooster. Dean was home when the bear broke into the coop and he managed to scare it away with some noise and light bird shot.

After the unfortunate bear encounter we sat down with a cup of tea to decompress, and that’s when we saw the news that a man has been arrested for the murder of Duffy Murnane. On an afternoon in October 2019 Duffy left her home to walk to an appointment across town and she was never seen again. For two and a half years we’ve suspected and assumed that she was abducted and murdered, but now we have information that confirms our worst fears.

The suspect worked in the assisted living apartments where Duffy lived and he was a member of our community for a few years. Duffy knew him and trusted him enough to get into a car with him.

There is some relief in knowing that a violent killer is off the streets but right now the relief is overshadowed by sadness, anger and shock over the news. And the senselessness of it all. Duffy was a kind and gentle person, quiet and observant. She was loved. Her undeserving family has been through hell. And now as new details come to light, there is a different kind of hell that many people will have to contend with.

While our town has been shaken by her disappearance, this new information brings with it a sense of betrayal. I did not know the man who was arrested, but many people I know did. He made his way into our community. He found employment. He included himself in our town’s traditions. He made friends. On the surface he came across as a decent person, but he was not.

And so here we are in the spring of the year. Finally the crocus on the west side of our house are blooming and things are greening up. The migratory birds and the seasonal workers are returning. We’re hardening off our garden plants and making plans for summer camping trips. In the midst of it all we’re trying to come to terms with this horrible thing that happened in our town. We’re holding onto the people whose lives have been randomly and unfairly impacted by a man whose inner demons defy understanding. We’re mourning the loss of our friend. We’re devastated by the pain that’s been inflicted upon so many good people.

Sometime on Friday morning the bear came back and killed five more of our chickens. And in the evening when we were trying to figure out what to do about this problem bear, it came again and nabbed one more of our birds. We yelled at it and it ran away but we knew that as long as there were chickens to be had it would keep at it. We gathered up our six remaining chickens, all of which were at least three years old and past the point of being good egg layers, and put them in cages and brought them into the house for the night. Once they were out of harm’s way we were faced with a tough decision.

I’ll leave out the details, but our twenty year run of keeping chickens ended on Saturday afternoon. We’ve lost a few hens here and there to dogs and hawks and eagles. We even had bears break into the coop to get to the chicken feed a time or two, but this bear had a taste for blood and it wasn’t going to stop. We had to make sure it wasn’t rewarded.

The bear will likely come again, but now if it does it will find an empty coop. Hopefully that will be enough to make it lose interest in our place and head back into the forest.

Losing our flock of chickens was hard, but compared to the hardships other people have to endure it was a small thing. There are bad days and then there are life altering tragedies. We’ve had a few bad days and I’m sad about the chickens, but I’ll be okay.

This morning we sat on our deck and sipped coffee under blankets and the yard seemed especially quiet without the rooster and the chicken chatter we’ve grown accustomed to hearing. This afternoon I spent a couple of hours harvesting nettle down in the elderberry grove below our house and the act of foraging felt healing, like the earth was offering me something in exchange for my loss. Now it’s the middle of the night and I’m sitting looking out my window at the full moon over the bay. Since the trees are down I can see the moon’s reflection on the water and it’s as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen.

I’m up late because I’ve written a hundred endings to this blog post and I’ve deleted them all. I’ve been thinking about Duffy and her family and nothing I can think of to say feels remotely adequate. I guess I’ve been trying to think of a way to say that even though the weight of all that’s bad in this world feels awfully heavy right now, I hope we can keep each other tethered to the beautiful things, like the full moon over the bay, like a mother’s love for her child, like small acts of kindness, like the snuggles of a beloved pet, like the way new lovers look at each other, like a blueberry bush loaded with plump berries, like a field of fireweed in full bloom. I hope we can notice all the beauty, and name it, and tip the scales.

Five-Acre Almanac: Oh, Georgia.

Week 39

I’m spending a few days with my daughter and her wife in Atlanta, trying to rest a bit and ready myself for the demands of early summer that will be waiting for me when I get back to Homer. I’m fully enjoying my time here and doing a pretty good job of not thinking too much about the nettle I could be harvesting or the potatoes I could be planting or the holes I could be digging back at home. In reality though, it’s a decent time to be gone. The last remnants of winter will likely be gone by the time I’m back.

From the guest room I’m staying in I see Adella and Ally’s backyard garden and a wall of deciduous trees. It’s still cool enough here at night to sleep with the windows open and last night a thunder storm startled me awake and this morning I woke to a serenade of birdsong and rooster crows. You wouldn’t know that there’s a major freeway just a couple miles away or that 6.2 million other people live nearby, but it’s true.

Last night we strolled around the neighborhood for a while. We passed a grafted tree that grows plums, peaches, apricots and nectarines. We stopped a couple of times to smell the Japanese honeysuckle and again at the bridge to look down on the creek that runs the length of the neighborhood. Last spring we hopped Adella and Ally’s backyard fence to go foraging around the creek and found cleavers, turkey tail mushrooms, wild garlic, plantain, roses and dock.

While we were out walking we ran into neighbors Philip and Sylvia and their two daughters. The last time I’d seen them was at Adella and Ally’s wedding last July. Now their baby is walking and their toddler is talking. Philip takes a trash bag with him on their evening walks and was happy to report that it takes much longer to fill a bag than it used to.

This morning after coffee we looked in on the tomato plants and pole beans which are taking off as the days get warmer. The spring greens are in their prime. We pulled a couple of garlic to check on their progress. Last July when we came for the wedding I brought some comfrey root from our Alaska garden to plant here in this Georgia yard. Like our daughter, it’s adjusted just fine to this warm climate.

Had my daughter not moved here I might never have visited Georgia, but now I’m happy to have this place to return to. So much of what I love about my five acre home in Alaska is what I love about here. There are wild plants to forage, trees and birds to identify. There are seasons to track and weather patterns to learn.

The forecast is predicting a high of 88 degrees this afternoon so our big plans for the day are to sit in the shade and sip on sun tea. Later when it cools down we might head into the woods behind the house for a look around. Tonight when it starts to get dark we’ll keep an eye out for fireflies and watch the tops of the trees for bats. Mostly we’re enjoying our time together. It’s a short trip this time and it’s going by too fast.

It may look like I’m not doing much to fill these fast days, but I am. I’m busy filling my heart to its brim with this place and these two women. I’m gathering and storing and filling my reserves with all that our time together has to offer in hopes that it will sustain me through until our next visit.

Five-Acre Almanac: Expanded view

Week 38

For the past several months I’ve spent Sundays writing and it’s been a luxury to devote one entire day a week to it, but now that the season is shifting this blog may have a bit of a personality change in order to accommodate the demands of summer. It might be a bit less lofty and a bit more earthy. It may have fewer words and more pictures. I’m not sure what it will look like exactly, but it will be fun to see where it goes.

Every winter in Alaska is a long winter, but now, thankfully, it really does feel like this one is behind us. Every day there is less snow and yesterday after coffee Dean and I ventured out to have a look around and to reacquaint ourselves with the bare ground. We pulled mulch off of our front garden beds to check on the state of the soil and saw that it’s thawed and ready for seeding root crops. We checked on the waist-high apple trees that popped up in our compost a few years ago and pruned them back a bit. We looked in on the rhodiola divisions that we planted in the fall and found that in addition to thriving they look like they somehow grew over the course of the winter. We found rhubarb bulging up red through the soil and stinging nettle growing on ground that was covered with snow just two days ago. We plotted out the spots where we’re going to plant the five apple trees that we ordered and then before coming back inside we picked some early spinach and chives to go with our scrambled eggs.

In the afternoon Dean cut down a tree in an ongoing effort to reclaim our view. I had mixed feelings about this as I tend to get attached to trees. I enjoyed watching squirrels jump from this particular tree’s branches onto the neighboring tree and I appreciated that the two trees together formed a kind of passageway from one part of our yard to another. This tree was young when the spruce bark beetle infestation that came through twenty some years ago and its very survival gave it sentimental value. I mourned the loss of the old trees, but it helped to watch the young ones that were spared grow tall and stately over time.

The view from our house disappeared so gradually as the small surviving trees grew that I didn’t notice its absence until people started commenting on it. In my mind the view was still there for us, we just had to take a thirty second walk to get to it. I didn’t feel like I’d lost anything as much as I felt like I’d gained some tall trees. But once it was pointed out to me that our view was gone I started to look for the things I could no longer see. In time I warmed up to the idea of dropping some trees.

I was on the phone with my daughter in Atlanta when the tree came down and in an instant the space inside our house was brighter, which is a benefit I hadn’t anticipated. Now I can once again see the entrance to Peterson Bay from my living room window, and Sadie Peak, and a swath of Kachemak Bay that goes from this side of the bay to the other. The tree was still healthy and beautiful though. It blocked wind and provided a barrier of privacy between our house and the development in the meadow down below. It was a part of this place.

Now its trunk has been sawed into rounds and stacked to dry. Either next winter or the following one we’ll use the wood to heat our house. Cutting the tree down was a loss and a gain. An exchange. Soon enough it will be old news but today I can’t stop looking at the space where the tree used to be. The influx of light still surprises me. The gap leaves me feeling a little bit exposed.

More trees are slated to come down but probably not for a while as gardening season is upon us. After we get back from a short trip out of Alaska next week we’ll be going full throttle around here. We’re eager to get our hands in the dirt. Eager to see green. We’re eager for company and late night fires, for songbirds and cranes. We’re eager for fishing and foraging and for getting our fill of summer so that when winter rolls around again in a few short months we’ll be eager for it too.

Five-Acre Almanac: Eastering

Week 37

I don’t think about it much anymore, but when we bought this property we were recovering from a bad decision. Without going into too much detail I will just say that before we landed here we had a bed and breakfast in town. It all looked good on paper when we bought it and we did our best to run it for a couple of years, but we were young, we were in over our heads, and the stress of trying to maintain it and keep up with the demands of guests and two small children nearly tore us apart. We reached a point where we had to make a choice between getting a return on our financial investment by sticking it out, or count our losses before we lost more than just money.

Our daughter was born at our bed and breakfast home on Thanksgiving. It was a fast and easy birth and after our midwife and doula left, Dean and I found ourselves sitting on the couch with a newborn and a toddler and it was there in the dark hours of that early Thanksgiving morning that we decided we had to make a change. It took a while to extricate ourselves from that house and business, but when we finally did we were nothing but relieved.

When we saw this simple house on five acres of land it seemed like a place where we could begin again, and thankfully we still had enough money left to make a down payment.

There’s a lot of shame involved in losing money and it’s not something we’ve talked much about with other people. But as the story goes, we had a chunk of money from an inheritance and then we lost most of it and then we spent a lot of years of our lives beating ourselves up over those losses.

Once I took a writing workshop from Luis Alberto Urrea and he said that forgiving our former selves is one of life’s most difficult tasks, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard truer words. But I can say that it’s worth the effort it takes to do so.

Now our lives seem so sane. Our children are grown. We have steady jobs and enough time to pursue the things we love. The dreams we had when we bought this piece of property have been slow to come, but they are coming. I say all of this because sometimes the way it’s all working out still surprises me. Our grown children still seem to love us despite our imperfect parenting. While money is not growing on any of the trees we’ve got around here, we can pay our bills and afford the inevitable car repairs and winter tires. We’ve got steady jobs and friends and family members who’ve got our backs. We’ve still got each other too, which wasn’t always a given.

One of my favorite novels from the last couple of years is This is Happiness by Niall Williams. Besides being exquisitely written, it’s an homage to a simple life. It takes place in Ireland and it’s told from the perspective of a young man living with his grandparents in a small village during the time when electric lines were making their way to the rural parts of the country. There is a custom in the springtime of the year in which all of the villagers’ household belongings are taken outside and set in the yard for a good airing out in the sun. Then the empty houses are scrubbed clean. The cleaning and airing out is to prepare for the Easter holiday and the custom itself is called Eastering.

First fresh greens of 2022

We’re not quite at that stage of the game here. Our yard still has too much snow and where the snow has melted the ground is mushy. But the scene from that book stays with me. I imagine the house would smell like freshly laundered sheets and sunshine after that kind of a cleaning. And I try to imagine a life so unencumbered by stuff that it would be an easy enough task to haul all of our belongings out into the yard in an afternoon. Mostly I love the idea of letting air and sunshine work their way through all the indoor things that are prone to dust and darkness.

Retreating snow from the back garden

Journaling for me is a form of Eastering. With each entry I haul out something from inside myself that could use a little fresh air and sunlight. When it’s laid out on the page I can see the dings and the dust. More importantly I can see how small it is when it’s juxtaposed against a larger landscape. Once it’s no longer cluttered inside the shadowland of my interior self, there’s space for me to do some cleaning. Or forgiving, as the case may be.

Then, once I’ve looked at whatever it is in a different light and from a few different angles I can decide what to do with it next. I might choose to let it go or I might decide to hold onto it differently. I might file it into a new category or I might connect it to things that at one time seemed unrelated. But after each airing out I’m ready to begin again, which is what we all do. We begin, and then we begin again, and hopefully as we look at the pieces of our lives that brought us to where we are now, we’re able to offer ourselves and each other some grace.

**

Fire safety/improved view/next winter’s heat all wrapped into one job.

Five-Acre Almanac: Small Joys

Week 35

It’s Sunday again, the day I’ve designated each week to write a post for this yearlong project. Facing down a blank page with the intention of sharing the words that materialize over the course of a few hours requires courage because while I’m writing about some aspect of life here on our five acres, I also want something more to come from my writing. I never know if what I’m hoping for is going to show up though, and the courage comes in trusting that something will reveal itself at some point along the way.

Writing about the work we do, the gardens we grow, the wild foods we harvest, the antics of our homegrown food experiments and our animals is the easy part. Writing from a deeper place, a place where the physical world connects to that place within me that is searching for meaning, is much more difficult.

This is all to say that this week I’m struggling to know what to write. In one hand I’m holding all the hope that this time of year brings, and in the other I’m holding sorrow. I believe that’s true for most of us. To pay attention to what’s happening in the world is to know grief. To see spring chives poking up out of the ground is to feel hope. Watching our beloved dogs grow old exposes our hearts to a tenderness that’s both beautiful and sorrowful. To have the time and ability to work on the things we find meaningful gives us deep satisfaction. Every day is a mix of small joys and deep sorrow, deep joy and small sorrows and writing this post each week becomes a balancing act where I try to lean heavy on the hope and joy but stay grounded in reality.

Earlier this week Dean and I signed up for a year-long gardening course offered by local gardener and teacher Saskia Esslinger. The way it works is that Saskia hosts a Zoom meeting once a week to talk about some aspect of gardening and a person can join the course at any point in the year. We signed up because even though we’ve been gardening for a long time now, there’s always more to learn and as we look at expanding, any efficiency we can implement now will help make this a sustainable endeavor rather than one that wears us out. Also, we get to talk about gardening and related subjects every Saturday morning for a year.

Yesterday was our first session and the topic of the day was greenhouses. We have a greenhouse, but already after just one class we have some simple improvements in mind that will likely make it better. Even if we don’t have the time to make the changes this year, we have an ideal we can work toward, which is exactly the kind of thing we were hoping for when we decided to sign up for this course.

Dean built our greenhouse off the back of our chicken coop five summers ago. He used old windows, a door one of our friends salvaged from the dump and scrap lumber from an old structure that was here when we moved in but needed to be torn down. It’s a funky little greenhouse, but I love it and now we have a place to grow a few crops that don’t typically grow outside in Alaska and a place to hang out and enjoy the view this time of year before it’s full of plants.

Dean putting all the pieces together

On Thursday I went out to check on the chickens in the early afternoon and heard something scurry up the side of the coop. I’ve suspected that an ermine has been stealing our eggs and finally my suspicions were confirmed. I rearranged a few of the laying boxes and plugged up a hole that might have been the entry point. Since then I’ve been getting four or five eggs a day as opposed to zero or one, but I’m not convinced that the ermine won’t find its way back in. They seem like smart and scrappy little creatures that would be quick to find a work-around to any obstacle that’s put in their way.

On Friday an unexpected package arrived in the mail from a friend. She sent me a chicken poster with a handwritten note explaining that she saw it hanging in a bookstore window and immediately thought of me. She asked the proprietor if they had another poster for sale but they didn’t. They did however have one they were willing to give her. She also mentioned that the poster is meant to be hung in the chicken coop to inspire the hens. I’ll get down there soon for some deep spring cleaning and muckraking and ermine-proofing and I’ll find a place to hang it then, but in the meantime I’ll keep it inside where I can see it and be reminded of my friend, and the fact that she thought of me and acted on her impulse to spread some joy.

And I guess that’s what I’m landing on today, the importance of those small joys that make up a life. Interesting classes, the kindness of friends, fun surprises, spring greens after a long winter, sitting in a warm greenhouse on a cool but sunny afternoon, solving problems, time spent pursuing passions, great conversations, beach walks, good music. These things don’t take away the sorrows of the world, but they ease them a little. They don’t give us a solution to every problem, but they point us in the right direction. If enough of us follow where those small joys lead us, maybe it will make a difference.

Five-Acre Almanac: Spring Equinox

Week 33

Spring Equinox was this past Sunday and for a while in the late morning after it warmed up to nearly 40 degrees, I camped out on a blue and brown thrift store afghan on a south-facing, wind-protected piece of earth in our yard. I brought my journal and my favorite mechanical pencil with me and thought I’d brainstorm ideas for this blog post, but out there in the bright sun and cool air my mind wasn’t big on ideas. It was just taking it all in. The heat of the sun against my black jacket, cool air on my face, the shimmer of light on the bay, every contour, shadow, ridge and knoll on the snow covered Kenai Mountains, the chirping squirrel in the tree behind me, neighbors hammering and sawing in their yards, a raven chortling in the distance, chickens murmuring in their pen, faint music coming from the deck where Dean was planting more seeds to fill our garden beds that are still buried in snow.

It was the kind of day like the days that make their way into my January dreams. Only this one was real.

I thought I’d sit for fifteen minutes and fill a page with ideas but instead I sat for a couple of hours and tried to list the things I noticed. Newly hatched insects floating up from the ground, last autumn’s musty smelling leaves, the cool, damp earth against the soles of my feet,  light reflecting off the crusty snow covered mountains, magpies hopping from tree to tree, eagles circling overhead, melting snow all around me, the voices of neighbors, sun on my skin, wake lines left by small boats on a glassy bay.

When I let go of having to write something meaningful and allowed myself to become an observer, I freed myself from my own busy mind.

The natural world I observed was not vying for my attention. It was not trying to sell me anything. It was not twisting facts or trying to keep secrets. It was indifferent to my place in society, my age, my education, my past. I did not feel unsettled by anything I witnessed. There was no veil of judgment between me and what was around me. No expectation.

And so here I am two days later, still unsure about where to go with this post. All I’ve got this time around is that I sat on a small dry patch of grass beneath a spruce tree for a couple of hours on Sunday and took in as much of the world around me as I could. I soaked in the sun. I filled my lungs with fresh air. I listened to the sounds of a changing season and stopped trying to make sense of things for a while. It was peaceful and it was good.

Maybe for this week that’s enough.  

Five-Acre Almanac: This Sad World

Week 30

A good deal of my week has been spent reading about Russia invading Ukraine and trying to imagine what it would feel like to have bombs randomly dropped on your town, or soldiers in tanks driving through the streets of your city, or feeling the need to make homemade explosives in order to defend yourself. I’ve thought too, about the Russian citizens who are hearing one thing from their government and another thing from other sources and the general helplessness and confusion many of them must feel. I’ve admired those who have taken to the streets in protest, in spite of the risks they face for doing so.

What a privilege it’s been to shut it off, close my computer, and step away when it all begins to feel like too much. While a fierce battle raged in Kyiv, I made chocolate raspberry brownies. While children huddled in subways at night to stay safe from explosions above ground, I picked up another book and settled into the couch. While citizen soldiers kept vigil day and night, I allowed myself another nap.

None of this is new. It’s just easy to forget that in every moment of every day there are people who are oppressed. People who are hungry. People who are living under tyrannical leadership. People whose lives lack stability. It’s not that I don’t know this, it’s just that most of the time I don’t think about it. I go to work and know my paycheck will be deposited into my bank account every two weeks. I plant my garden and if for some reason it doesn’t grow I have no reason to fret. I read whatever books strike my fancy on any subject that interests me. I wander around these five acres of property that I call home and look at the Kenai Mountains and Kachemak Bay and am grateful for the life I have.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I’m just trying to describe the weird phenomena of watching a war unfold in real time while munching on chips and salsa and listening to Radio Paradise. Trying to make sense of geopolitical alliances and responses in the context of history, much of which I’ve either never learned or have forgotten. Trying to figure out what to do with the weight of all the suffering and fear, with the pointlessness of it all, with all the grief.

It’s easy to identify the things that cause us grief, but we don’t always allow ourselves the opportunity to grieve. I feel like that’s what I’ve done with this week off of work. I imagined that I’d rest a couple of days and then get busy getting things done around here, but that’s not what happened. Last week I wrote that I was tired. When I finally allowed myself to rest I discovered that not only am I tired, I’m sad. I’m sad about the state of the world. I’m sad that after two years of a pandemic we’re more divided and suspect of each other than ever. I’m sad for friends who are hurting and for their kids who are hurting. I’m sad about the rapid development I see all around my town and neighborhood. I’m sad that my dogs are getting old. I’m sad about the lack of time and bandwidth I have for nurturing the relationships in my life that matter the most. I’m sad about so many things and now I’m sad about the war between Russia and Ukraine.

I’m not writing about sadness because I need sympathy. I’m not suffering from depression. I’m writing about it because I think it’s something we all need to address in ourselves. We’re afraid we’ll be overcome by it, which is a legitimate fear, but to feel sad is as much a part of being human as is being happy, and yet we tend to push the sadness away. In denying ourselves the opportunity to grieve, to feel sad, to mourn our losses, to empathize with others, we don’t allow ourselves to fully live.

Much of life is learning to hold many different things in balance, and I read this week that peace is balance. Balance is peace. So what do we do to balance out the sadness in the world? I think we stay with it. We don’t push it aside. We give ourselves the time and space we need to feel it. We love this sad world and we offer up our sadness as a prayer. Not a prayer for an answer, but a prayer as an offering. Here is this sadness. Here is this sadness. Please make something beautiful from it.

Five-Acre Almanac: Multidimensional

Week 29

“I hope you find something to love
Something to do when you feel like giving up
A song to sing or a tale to tell
Something to love, it’ll serve you well.” –Jason Isbell

It’s Tuesday 2/22/2022 as I’m writing this and even though it’s just numbers there’s something fun about all those twos in a row. I’ve taken this week off of work in hopes of rejuvenating my spirit. It hit me a few weeks ago that I’m tired. Bone tired. Not the kind of tired that sleep can cure but the kind of tired that only the freedom to follow my whims for a while can cure. So today I’m reading and napping and writing. I’m listening to fiddle and banjo music I haven’t listened to in a long time and it’s waking something up in me that’s been tucked away, buried under layers of responsibilities and commitments and all the things I try to write but cannot properly express. John O’Donohue said, “music is what language wants to be,” and I’ve thought that a thousand times. I write because I’m a better writer than I am a musician.

This morning I came across a journal entry of mine from February, 1999. I recognized my handwriting but not a whole lot else about myself. In it I was searching for something to love. I wrote about how Dean had passions and interests that he pursued and I recognized that I needed something like that for myself.

It wasn’t long after I wrote those words that I borrowed an old fiddle from one of my coworkers and enrolled my kids in violin lessons. The three of us practiced together and while technically I was doing it for them, I found myself pulling out the fiddle after they went to school and after they went to bed. At first it was Suzuki songs, then it was Irish tunes. Then one day while driving the kids to swimming lessons I heard a segment on NPR about old-time music. That fiddle and clawhammer banjo combination was new to me, but the sound of it cut right through all the layers of my soul.

I sat in the car with the kids and listened to the rest of the radio segment before heading inside to the pool. I sat in the bleachers with other parents as the kids learned to swim and there was one mom in particular that I watched closely because her son and my son had a similar energy about them. I sensed that we’d have a few things in common and so I struck up a conversation with her. We hit it off and the next day she brought in a book for me to borrow and over that week of early morning swimming lessons we learned more about each other. One of the things I learned was that she played clawhammer banjo.

It’s funny how you don’t always put things together until after the fact, but the way that friendship came to me just when I needed it seems remarkable now. Like it was orchestrated. I needed Kate’s friendship and I needed that connection to music in my life. It was through Kate and her husband Scotty that I came to know old-time music, which became that thing I was searching for back in 1999 when I wrote that journal entry. I wanted a passion to pursue, something to capture me and give me spark, and I found it.

I immersed myself into the world of old-time music for a while and I loved it, but it wasn’t always compatible with the rest of my life. The experience of delving into something, practicing it, pursuing it, listening to it, studying it, and spending time with other people who loved it as much as I did changed me though. It added dimensions to my life that beforehand I didn’t know existed. And once a person knows about those new dimensions, they’re not something you want to live without.

So I’m taking a break from work for a week, not to get things done or cross things off my list but to remind myself of my multidimensionality. I might read and write some more. I might play music. I might even give Kate a call to see if she’d like to go for a walk. We started talking while our kids were at swimming lessons all those years ago and we haven’t run out of things to talk about yet.

Five-Acre Almanac: Halfway There

Week 26

This week marks the halfway point between winter solstice and spring equinox. To me that means we’re entering phase two of winter. I needed those dark months of winter, but now I need them to be behind me. I’m ready for driving to work in the daylight and for the angle of the sun to be a bit higher on the horizon. I’m ready to get ready for summer, which is so much of what phase two of winter seems to be about. This morning over coffee Dean and I flipped through the seed packets that came in the mail and we plotted out next summer’s garden. I’m sure we’ll make adjustments when it’s actually time to plant things, but at least we’ve got something of a plan now.

This week also marks the halfway point of my Five-Acre Almanac posts. When I set out to write a post a week for a year I wasn’t bold enough to publicly announce my intentions. I wanted to give myself an out in case I wasn’t having fun or gaining anything from the process. It didn’t take long though for me to determine that this was something I wanted to do for myself.

It’s difficult to invest time in writing when there are so many other worthy demands on my weekend hours, but I like the way I feel when I’m writing. I like the way I look for things, the way I ask more questions, the way I push myself to find the most honest way to say a thing. I don’t always like the self-doubt that sneaks in or the frustration that comes when the words don’t come easily, but I like the feeling of growth that comes when I push through in spite of myself. It’s a practice.

For the first twenty-six weeks, this has been a practice in giving myself permission to write for several hours every weekend and allowing myself to buy into the notion that it’s time well spent.

It’s been a practice in trusting that the words will come even when it’s difficult to summon them. Sometimes a kombucha explosion offers itself up as easy subject matter, but more often than not I sit down to write without a plan. Even so I’ve come up with something every single time. It’s like experiencing a small miracle every Sunday.

It’s been a practice in discipline, in letting go of perfectionism, in not taking myself too seriously. Each week it’s a practice in courage.

Speaking of courage, there are still directions I’d like to go with my writing and the hope as that these Five-Acre Almanac posts will help me get there. I’d like to dive deeper. As I write about fireweed and spruce trees and collecting rocks on the beach I want it to be about more than fireweed and spruce trees and collecting rocks on the beach. As I write about turning the soil and planting carrots and digging for dandelion roots I want it to be about more than turning the soil and planting carrots and digging for dandelion roots. Whatever that more is is what I’m striving for.

In that way these Five-Acre Almanac posts have become a spiritual practice. I’m hesitant to use the word spiritual because it’s often associated with supernatural belief, but I can’t think of a better word for what this has become. I started out with an idea of writing about my relationship to this place but through the practice of committing to it I’ve learned a bit about myself. That’s been an unexpected gain from this process. The unexpected delight has been that there are people out there who read it. So if you’re reading this, I thank you. You give me the energy and incentive to keep going. It’s a true gift.

I imagine that as the snow melts and the ground thaws, these posts will change to fit the season. But I know better than to try to plan for that. Whatever this is meant to become it will become. Unless something unforeseen comes up I’ll bring you along with me through spring equinox and mud season, through the springtime planting frenzy and those first harvests of nettle. I’ll bring you along through the longest days of summer when the world outside our door is overwhelmingly green and the stars are nothing but a memory. I’ll take you with me into July, the month that makes me tired just thinking about it, and then we’ll head on through to the beginning of August which will complete the year. Today we’re halfway there.

I’m both daunted and excited about the prospect of sitting down to twenty six more blank pages.

Five-Acre Almanac: January Light

Week 23

A few weeks ago we didn’t have it in us. Just the idea of plotting out next summer’s garden and taking inventory of our seeds seemed like too much as it felt like we hadn’t fully recovered yet from the last summer season. But last night, to our surprise, it happened. We started talking about the garlic Dean planted in the fall, wondering how it’s faring out there under all that snow in the frozen ground, and soon we were sketching out garden design ideas, dogearing pages of the seed catalogs that arrived in the mail earlier this week and making a list of things we hope to grow and harvest for our business.

The way personal energy waxes and wanes with the seasons isn’t something I’ve thought much about for most of my life. Each day contains 24 hours and each week has seven days. Work starts at 9:00am each weekday whether it’s summer or winter, spring or fall. I tend to rise each morning and go to bed every night at about the same time, year round, whether we have six hours or nineteen hours between sunrise and sunset. It seems that with all the consistency we’ve created by adhering to clocks and calendars and schedules, our energy levels would also be somewhat even throughout a given year. But those arbitrary lines don’t always take into consideration our physical relationship to this planet and its cycles.

Here on the southern Kenai Peninsula on the first day of January we gain almost two minutes of daylight each day and by the end of the month that gain is up to almost five minutes. I may go to work at the same time each day and sleep for the same number of hours each night, but it feels vastly different from July when the daylight hours are going the other direction at nearly the same rate. In January my energy starts to build. In July I’m beginning to feel spent.

The difference make sense. If summer solstice is like the full moon and winter solstice is like the new moon, then we’re in the waxing phase right now. The light is coming back. Energy is building. In January I’m feeling the healing effects of autumn’s downtime and darkness. In January the energy that July requires begins to feel possible again.

It didn’t take long last night for our conversation about this year’s garden and business plan to dip into the territory of too much. The vision we have for this place is much greater than we can afford in terms of both time and money, so part of the planning requires reigning ourselves in, coming to terms with what’s realistic and remembering that our energy in the late part of summer is not what it is in the spring and early summer. Our tendency over the last few years has been to put too many projects on our to-do list and expand in more directions than we can realistically keep up with while we both have full time jobs. Taking into consideration the waxing and waning of energy over the course of a year when planning for the future feels like hard-earned wisdom, like a preventative tonic for our sanity, like a thoughtful gift of self-care. I need to remember this when our ambitions outpace our reality.

The nice thing about January is that while we’re trending toward long days, it still gets dark at night. We can ease into this shift of energy and use it to our advantage. Based on our past experience we can anticipate what’s coming and plan accordingly. We can imagine what our days will be like in July and August and ask ourselves what we can do now that we’ll thank ourselves for later.

I think in July and August I’ll be glad I crossed a few tasks off of our overall summer to-do list. I think I’ll also be glad I took advantage of the slow, dark mornings and early evenings of winter to rest and rejuvenate. I think I’ll be thankful for any January progress we make on clearing out the garage. If I get on it, my late summer self will be glad I created a new website when the ground was still frozen.

Low sun illuminating an oft-neglected instrument.

Next year when we’re back to January again I’ll be glad for the firewood we stacked and for the potatoes we’ve stored in the pantry. I’ll be glad for summer blueberries in my oatmeal and the herbs we dried for our winter teas.

Right now I’m glad for the light’s slow return and for time on my lunch breaks to walk on the beach. I’m thankful for the constant reminders of how precarious and beautiful my life is even as the clock keeps ticking forward and the calendar days pass from one to another. We live our finite lives as earthlings juxtaposed against the perpetual cycles of light and dark, of spring-summer-fall-winter, of the waxing and waning of the moon, of the planetary orbits. Just being here and trying to make sense of it all is enough to keep me occupied for a lifetime, maybe longer. Anything else I might fit in is a bonus.

Short-lived sea otter I came across on Bishop’s Beach this week.