Song in the Key of D

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So much is forgotten in these ripe days of our summer together: emails and efficiency, grocery shopping, the world beyond our gate, where we went wrong. On the table are a few scraps of cloth, snips of thread. So you see, something is made by hand here and there, now and then. As much of a surprise as the sweet purple tomatoes from the garden I had been despairing of. On my piano I make something like music, and the girls call me the piano queen. I will miss them when school starts, miss these long days home where I sometimes wonder “Who are these beasties and what on earth can be done to get them to stop screaming?” I feed them the twelfth peach of the day, sweep the floor, stop fretting that we didn’t do enough jump-roping before first grade starts, let them bring home those pink little ponies from the neighbor’s yardsale. I wonder what it is I will do with myself when the hush of fall arrives.

On the road this summer, camping in the far northern reaches of this mountain range we live at the tail of, my husband and I sang together in the darkness of night. We’d forgotten all the song books, but his fingers knew the way across the guitar strings, and we knew enough lyrics to fill each night with music. Who can say whether those songs were a seed planted or a seed bursting forth. I can say only that it is good to remember that our gardens are wild places, in the end, and we do not really know what our faithfulness in tending them is for, or even how best to do it. 

I came home from that trip washed clean in the way that happens when we step outside the lines of our days. I looked at the clothes in my closet, the messages on my answering maching, the events on the calendar’s days, and wondered “Whose life is this?” It would be nice to know what it all is for, what comes next, the answer to every need. Instead, we find our way across the strings, and see what music will come of it. 

Watering the Little River


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At the end of our road, and across the next, there sometimes runs a little river. The winter waters kindly left us a beach, and we pay thanks by visiting often. This is a fine place to watch the greening of the land, and to water ourselves.  This river can always use more water, and my children happily come with their watering cans to oblige. Our hearts, too, can always use more softness and hope, and I find that those seeds in me are well watered here. This is the place I come when I feel the tides of my despair rise.

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You see, I live in a very special place, a place where it is almost too easy to forget that we live in troubled times. Our little river was long ago dammed, but in recent years has received “environmental flow” to water the willows and create a commons. There is no fracking for hundreds of miles. Our last mayoral election was a heated battle between two highly progressive gay candidates. Yes, we drink plutonium tainted water, but there are plenty of watchdog groups keeping an eye on that particular fly in the ointment. New Mexico, I’ve heard, is one of the best places to survive a zombie apocalypse.

I find that it is easy to rest in the comfort of hope. As my awareness grows, so does my commitment to finding solutions and living a life that reflects them. I imagine that if I and my friends and the readers of Orion Magazine are doing that, then surely everyone will and all will be well. And then some choice pieces of bad news gets through my filter, and I realize this is a story that we are not writing a happy ending to until a fair amount more drama takes place. I lift my gaze from all the good and hopeful things, and wake up again.

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Last week I signed an online petition asking Monsanto not to sue the state of Vermont, and the full absurdity of our times hit me. If that hopeful act doesn’t seem absurd, then bless you. You should move to Santa Fe. It’s usefulness was not in getting Monsanto to change its mind, but in helping me to examine mine. If not a petition, what? How shall we live, my friends?

This little river here, it is running because for twenty years scores of dedicated people did whatever they could to fight for it. The biologists did studies and wrote reports, the citizens picked up trash and planted trees, the poets wrote poems, the elders told stories, and the politicians listened. In time, a dying river came back to life in the hearts of a community, which brought it back to life in its dry little channel. Which is a good thing, because the river’s future and our own are the same.

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I believe most days that my work in service to the earth begins where I am. That I am accountable to what is before me–my home place, my community, my family, and myself.  From there, we grow and expand, we ripple out, we strengthen the grassroots, we trust in the healing that we are directly engaged in. We try to stay awake as best we can.

Pete Seeger said the world would be saved by people saving their own homes. So dig in, friends. Do the work that your place needs to have done. Go often onto the land and fall so in love with it that you cannot breathe unless you are taking steps to protect its wholeness. Work to serve others. Sign those Facebook petitions, and write your own. Go spend a day working on the farm that grows food for the needy. Speak on behalf of the land, join the neighbors that need your solidarity. If you don’t have time to hang your clothes on the line, then for goodness sake make some. Clear away whatever clutter keeps you from knowing yourself and living according to what your heart knows is true.

And keep watering those little seeds, that trickle of water, this good thing we call life.

Postcards from La Jara

In April, my friend Arina and I were recruited to run the kitchen for a motley crew of Hippies and Old Order Amish as they built a house on our friend Colin’s off grid farm in southern Colorado. Here are some glimpses of our time at the “frolic” in La Jara.

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I’ve always said, I can’t resist a trip to the olden days, so here we go, to a house raising in the boonies. After weeks of planning menus and grocery lists, Arina and I and our three children head north to see what’s for dinner. We arrive to a spotless, empty kitchen: two pies on the table, a cauldron of borscht on the wood range. Our children fill the quiet home in no time, jumping on the old loveseat and kicking up a cloud of dust the likes of which you’ve only ever seen in a San Luis Valley windstorm. There isn’t anyone about; all are working on the House. It’s for the House that we’ve come, to cook for all those who are here to build it. We stoke the fire on the cookstove, tie on our aprons, and arrive.

April 8, 2014

IMG_0822 Folks have traveled from across the country to help Colin build the house (it’s that tall pitched roof in the background, behind the Spanish Villa chicken coop). His old friends, colleagues, and neighbors come in a regular stream, staying for a few days or a week, someone always arriving, departing. The house will be for the Yoder family, who have just moved to the Valley, leaving their community and dairy farm in Wisconsin to join their kin that have settled out West. The plan is that they are taking over the running of the farm, the raising of the sheep. The Amish men and boy-men are wicked fast with the nail guns. Arina admires the cut of their pants, asks the mother, Lydia, if she makes her own pattern. “This is what’s been handed down to us,” she answers simply. She comes in to help us cook. We watch carefully as she makes pie crust, she looks over our shoulder at Moosewood cookbook.

April 9, 2014

IMG_0859I am in love with this kitchen; for it I came. My friend and I, joined by an occasional neighbor, by Mrs. Yoder, by my own mother, cook all the day long. The huge meals created on the wood burning cook stove are like a puzzle to put together. I wake in the night realizing just what the leftover pot of beans must become, how to stretch two chickens to feed twenty. Each meal a feast in its own right: braised lamb, baked beans, corn bread, salad, cole slaw, pies, cakes, cobblers. When we set the table for the midday meal, the construction crew of Buddhists, Sufis, Amish, and mystical Christians takes their seats. After the silent blessing, they eat, try to fathom one another.

April 11, 2014

IMG_0948 Nobody knows quite what to call the House, so that’s what we call it. But it is really something else. Nobody can say quite what the destiny of this building will be. Is it for a family? A community? Like a life just beginning–an unborn child–it is a Being that demands to Be. The beams and wood, windows and tile are all salvaged from the departed Beings of the Valley, barns and courthouses, old farmhouses. There are stories everywhere, some reclaimed, like all those building materials, some remembered around the table as Colin’s reunion of old friends tell tales about their wild days, and some emerging with each day. We are part of all of them, it seems.

April 13, 2014

IMG_0892 The kids make the rounds each morning on the farm, from cow to draft horses (Maida calls them Giraffe horses), 200 Churro sheep and lambs, wild turkeys, lamas and donkeys (who guard the flock when out on the pasture), and carefully keep tabs on the progress of the building. When they get to rub up close to the Amish children–the girls in their blue dresses and head scarves, the boys in their charming pants and suspenders–it is a bit like meeting a slew of storybook characters (Laura and Mary and Almanzo times many siblings). They are shy and curious and a little in awe. Which isn’t to say they don’t make us blush with embarrassment from time to time. For some reason, when everyone files in for lunch they leave their quiet, heart warming play to jump on those dusty chairs, make noise, and ask loudly “Why do all these guys have funny beards?”

April 13, 2014

IMG_0969 Palm Sunday brings snow, rest, a big pancake breakfast for my own newly arrived husband, whose birthday is upon us. He gets suspenders, of course. After tea and a long morning around the table, Elliot and Colin head out to smear clay on the strawbale walls. The girls settle into a game of mother and baby, and we in the kitchen try to catch up with the gallons of milk we’re indundated with each day (Arina calls it Chinese Water Torture, the twice daily arrival of Hannah’s fresh milk, which we are otherwise grateful for). Cooking here is like a retreat in which service, meditation, bewilderment, labor, laughter, nourishment are all mixed together. We lick fresh cream from Hannah off our lips, and start plotting the next meal. There are daily miracles, and finding something to make a feast out of from our dwindling stores is not least among them.

April 15, 2014

  IMG_0849In leaving behind my home, my rhythms, my very sense of self, I was able to return to all of that with clearer eyes, and a warmer heart. The world outside our knowing is waiting, and sometimes we manage to answer the call to step outside ourselves. As ever, the land takes us in with its goodness. As ever, there is the gift of giving ourselves over to service and its fellowship, of saying grace around the table, silently, lovingly. And then sharing the meal, seeing what will come of it. There are friends waiting to be met, open spaces within us waiting to be discovered, and always, a few more dishes to wash, another floor to sweep.

May 14, postscript

It turns out the Yoders found a farm of their own nearby, which I mention just in case you have dreamed of living in an off grid strawbale palace in paradise, of raising heritage sheep and running a farm with draft horses and a kind mentor next door. I happen to know just the place, and would be happy to introduce you.

First Seeds

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The little girls have fevers. I leave them asleep on the sofa, and plant peas amidst the winter greens.

The last letter from Granny arrives on Equinox. “No more thinking, no more writing. Keep the tea herbs close.” She will die that first night of spring.

Every planting season the worries of drought or calamity fall silent as my hands begin to work. Warm soil, bees in the early-blooming apricots, cisterns brimming at last with the late snows of winter.

Was I thinking to forgo the garden?

By the moon’s transit, it is not a fruit day, nor a leaf day. Still I slip the tomato seeds, the kale and lettuce, into a wooden flat on the window sill. The girls stir. “Stay close,” one says. Birdsong. Buds. The long light of spring.

I unfurl the hose and open the tank, watch the captured rain in its release. When the snow comes in April, it flutters over plum blossoms. The heavy skies are pierced with light.

Gentleness, open me. The seeds are just beginning to rise.

Travels in a Very Large Landscape

We set out on the back roads, crossing the Great Wide Open.

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Oh New Mexico. She looks like nothing much, but is everything.

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Pick a road, and it will take you beyond where you thought there was to go. So we just kept going.

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80 miles of dirt road, skirting mountains that look like smudges from the distance, but are filled with hidden mountain things. Crossing in and over, around.
IMG_0558Some folks say they prefer a place colored green. I say, I’ll take this glory.
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I’ll take these long hidden roads, and the places they lead to.
IMG_0572 I’ll find my way with the ragged map, the poems that tell old stories, the brightly dressed children like flowers in the dry land. IMG_0582We’ll make camp far from anywhere. Call the long grasses, the stone crags, the dark mountains and thirsty junipers home.IMG_0681For it is.

Casting the Net

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We did have one lovely snow in February. Now the fruit buds are threatening to open, and we’re heading south to go camping. 

I’ve been thinking of late about the broken world, and what it means to repair it. Casting my net in search of the great solution. Is it in the world, or in the home? Is it my spirit that must be intact, or the entire web of life? Sometimes my focus drifts from one of these to the other, seeming to separate them, but when I am in my wholeness, they are all one.

I came across this wonderful interview with Larry Littlebird, an Indigenous storyteller whose people have seen climate change in this region a time or two before, on “The Benefits and Blessings of Climate Change.”

March Choyt: How can we find a new direction, or home?

Larry Littlebird: I believe that we are collectively attempting to rediscover this starting over place. One people’s starting over place is all too often very different from another people’s. Whatever you are caught in is greater than you are, but you are in it at the same time and part of it.

The starting-over-place, or what you call home, is discovered in the chaos, when everything is blown apart and you are grabbing at planks—and finally there is just a relinquishing. You let go. And that is where that first inkling of, “I have to do something” begins.

It is so simple! You are being tossed in this ocean and a wave flips you way up in the air for a moment and you see something in greater trouble than you. Something within you says,

“I have to do something.”

The chaos brings you in relationship to a place where all our needs are always met – a place between what has happened within and the contact with the need that will provide a starting over point.

Have you reached that point in your relationship with chaos? And what, then, is it that you do? What does your net bring up?

A Few Favorites at Candlemas

It’s Candlemas time. Roughly forty days since the re-birth of the sun, and forty days till the spring equinox. A cross quarter day and threshold  where we can feel the earth begin to breathe out again, the light surrounding our days just a hair more. The sap is rising in the trees, and there is renewal and expansion in our own spirits. For me, this is the time to work diligently and lay the foundation for the year that I have until now been mostly contemplating. Meanwhile, some of those nearest and dearest to me have been busy all through the winter bringing their creative vision into the world, and I want to celebrate these good works today.

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I’ll began with my mother, Lia, for that is where everything began for me. Here she is, alongside some ragamuffins she picked up somewhere or other. This year she is celebrating her 38th anniversary as a practitioner of Classical Homeopathy. In that time she has skillfully cared for many hundreds of clients and taught courses on homeopathy to groups ranging from roomfuls of mothers to auditoriums filled with nurses. This course is now available to take online, my friends, and for a very good price. If you have used homeopathy before, but with varying degrees of success, if you can’t remember which remedy is for which color of mucus, or if you simply want to understand just what those little sugar balls are and why they are indeed medicine and not placebo, check it out. Fluency in homeopathy 101 is a skill we should all posses.

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Now for nourishment and healing of the heart and spirit. My friend Brenna has offered a gift to the world by looking up from her knitting and urban homesteading and homeschooling and general pursuit of beauty and heart and begun a blog. Storymama is a golden needle in the haystack of the blogosphere. Brenna is soulful and reflective and masterful in a way that encourages our own soulfulness and reflection. Waldorf Homeschoolers in particular will swoon in ecstasy when they discover her, but I think we all should give ourselves the gift of Storymama and the tonic of her wise and thoughtful ruminations on life. I hope you read all the way back to her very first post, which is not so far back, and don’t forget to introduce yourself!

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For me, February means it’s time to do a whole bunch of seedstarting. I plant by the stars, in the Biodynamic way, and use my friend Erin’s calendar, “The Gardener’s Year: Planning Your Plantings 2014″ to tell me what to plant (leaf, roots, fruit) when, and where (indoors, outdoors, coldframe, etc). In other words, instead of just telling you that it is a leaf day, Erin’s calendar tells you that February 3 and 4 are the time to start mache, spinach, and parsely indoors. The calendar is also a wonderful manual for year-round gardening practices and inspiration. And, it’s beautiful.

Here’s one more friend whose creativity spilled over this winter: The Salt, a book of poems by Adrie Lester is so fine. Here’s my amazon review: These collected poems nourished me like a feast made from heirloom recipes. Adrie speaks of real things: of hard work, the earth beneath her feet, tools and capable hands, love and blessings and struggle. Her words are like prayers, asked and answered. They are treasures from the hearth of a fine baker.

Now tell me, is the sap rising in your body? What sweetness will you make of it? What buds will soon be breaking open in your days?

First Egg


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My chickens have begun laying once again. A small miracle, that evidence of cycles and fertility and the gift of the seasons bringing us back to ourselves and our purpose.

We are still chickens when not laying, of course.We are always ourselves. And somehow, in the fallow, dark months, we become even more ourselves.

Then one day, an egg in the nest.

And everything you’ve always known is the same, only now you know it anew, perhaps more truly. And though it is a new year, you keep at the familiar rhythms of your sweeping and forgiving and mending, your mothering and being, and occasional prayers. You remember poetry, and all the unspoken everythings. You go more slowly. Ever more slowly.

Get the egg basket down from its hook. Soon enough it will be full.

The Road to Homefire

“Knowledge is not obtained exclusively with our brains; it is gained through our hearts and by reconnecting to life, a source of wisdom. Makers of things are in a position to understand and change the world.” Wendy Jehanara Tremayne, The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living

IMG_9550It’s been four years since I started this blog to document our journey of living with less waste, and more joy. What began with a four month plastic fast became an immersion in life-learning, skill growing, community building, culture reclaiming, and creative, imaginative living.

I like to think of those years as my PhD program in homemaking, which I define as the making of a life, a family, and a community in balance with its home-place. It has also been a nifty capitalism recovery program.

IMG_9671When I set out on this road, I had instincts and good intentions and not much of a clue. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to make wool long underwear for my kids without a pattern, or growing a garden all winter long, or for that matter going a few months without plastic. Truth is, I often struggled to place my personal revolution into a broader movement for change (but mostly because I over think everything).

Fortunately, I have not walked alone. There is the internet, of course, which has been the stand-in for a capable great grandmother and conscious collective. There is my husband, with his true-north moral compass. And there are my motherkin, the friends reclaiming skills and knowledge and connection in their own beautiful ways.

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Together, we have helped each other trust that the work we were doing in our homes would ripple out, would be a force of change in our community. And lately (by which I mean over the last two years), we’ve been looking up from our children and canning pots and gardens and jobs and around at each other and the world to see where we might direct our creativity and skills next.

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With a half-dozen children underfoot at “meetings,” over late night phone calls and many cups of tea, a handful of us began shifting our work of reclaiming skills and lifeways into that of rebuilding a community that reflects those values.  Just as cooking leads to gardening leads to preserving, manifesting change on a (teeny tiny bit) larger scale is the logical next step for us. We created the Santa Fe Harvest Swap, which just held its second glorious exchange. Incredibly, we have a website, and on November 10th we will host a whole new venture we are calling the “Homefire Retreat,” a day of workshops meant to inspire, empower, and connect us more deeply to ourselves, our community, and our commitment to the earth.

I hope you come to the retreat if you can, or start something like it in the place you call home. Something as simple as a few friends skill-sharing while the kids play, or as complex as a week-long regional gathering (I do like to dream).

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Let’s celebrate our individual journeys by stitching our work of reclaiming and rebuilding into a big crazy-quilt that encompasses our diverse lives. Let’s get together for a quilting bee, if you will, and put our bits together into something whole. And then call the beauty that comes of it our dissertations, our revolution, our world.

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PS, go ahead and read Shannon Hayes article on the three R’s of Radical Homemaking: Renouncing, Reclaiming, and Rebuilding. It has been a helpful guidepost to me along the way, and I gratefully acknowledge her language and ideas borrowed here.

27 Things to Abandon in Fall

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Remorse, which will enfold you with its sweeping embrace
anyways, accompanying you on the missteps of your journey.
Those many things, 19 in total, that you are doing
with fierce determination, with impatience,
or the expectation of greatness:
mothering, getting dressed, birthday parties,
saving the world. Not getting anything wrong,
which is to say, being always right.
Wasn’t there something you meant to do?
A life made of small gestures, its shape slowly unfolding,
A quiet waiting for you to hush.
Clear away the brambles and overgrowth.
Make a space for the woman you are becoming, began as.
She is not so fierce, nor certain.
But lovely.
Gather the fruits of your heart and longing.
Stew them into a preserve for cold days.
Tally every small harvest from this year:
from gardens, from chickens, from children,
from the good, hard work of serving, of making, of resting,
of dreaming. Gather it all into your lap.
In the garden slash down the vines and bushes, the life bearers
now dead. In your days, clear a vast space.
Let a fire blaze, let flood waters come.
What stands in the way of wholeness?
Ask this 100 times a day and heed the answers.
Stay warm. Seek light.
Keep sweeping.