The Forest Through the Trees

Grace (by Wendell Berry ~ for Gurney Norman, quoting him)

The woods is shining this morning.
Red, gold and green, the leaves
lie on the ground, or fall,
or hang full of light in the air still.
Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.

It has not hastened here, or lagged.
See how surely it has sought itself,
its roots passing lordly through the earth.
See how without confusion it is
all that it is, and how flawless
its grace is. Running or walking, the way
is the same. Be still. Be still.
“He moves your bones, and the way is clear.”

Here I sit, sipping on a cup of cocoa spice tea, sifting through some writings of my friends, and trying to figure out what I want to write. So many of my blogs lately have been so theme ridden – inadvertently, so some extent – that I feel like tonight I just need to get back down to the lists. Lists of things that are on my mind as fall swings through, reminding us that there is work to be done if we are going to take away enough to get us through the winter – body and mind. Fall is always a busy time for us, readying our house for the coming cold, but it is also a time to remember to soak in enough sunshine and social events to fill up our spirits for the coming darkness as well. It seems that there is a festival every weekend of some kind or another, and people are all outside working, and playing, and enjoying these fine, crisp sunny days. (And the warmish, RAINY days that preceded them…) So that is where my life is now. In this balance between the chores that need doing, and the life that needs living, before the north winds come to stay, and everything is blanketed under the snow.

The main thing we have been focusing on – again, after a summer hiatus – is our house. Our logger has come and gone leaving SUN in his wake. The leaves on our trees, mostly yellows, but some oranges and deep reds as well, look so vibrant with the sun glinting through them. Yesterday Matt and Emerson lay on the couch for a long time just looking out the windows up into the sky. It is so important this time of year to have sun in our lives, and I am so, so grateful for that. Then:

Another thing the logger left in his wake is a huge mess for us to clean up. It’s a daunting thing to look at all at once, but like everything, we have chosen to just focus on one small task at a time – one piece of the whole – and work on that. For now we’re starting with the wood.
Matt borrowed a friend’s chainsaw the past two weekends, and spent his days outside sawing up the felled trees that were left for us. He’s going to borrow some more chainsaws over the next few weeks, and cut as much wood as the season will permit, which we will split and get ready to season for next year. We have wood coming out our ears – which makes it ironic that we can’t use it this winter – we just called to have two cords of wood dropped off next week – but everything takes time. Next year – that’s what we say, and for once I think it’s a realistic expectation. There is no way we will have all this wood cut up this year, but we have wood to last us for a long time. And by taking a few trees every year after the wood is used up, we may feasibly be able to heat our home sustainably for a long, long time. At least that’s our plan – but we all know how plans change… Fortunately, Matt and I are nothing, if not adaptable.

With all the outside work to be done – the sawing and splitting and chopping and mowing and raking and clearing, and all those things to make things easier for the spring – the inside work is on hold for now. We have managed to “finish” the back room – read: do the ceiling and paint – so that Ophelia could move in.
Emerson would like to move into that room at some point too, but until she gets older, Ophelia really needs to sleep alone. One indoor thing we ARE trying to figure out for this year is heat. Last year we relied on the pellet stove, which really wasn’t designed to heat our entire house from it’s location in the basement. We solved the problem last year by sleeping in the basement, but although it worked then, we don’t want to do it again. Solving our heating issues are now number one on our to-do list, but we don’t have the funds to act this winter. By next winter we will put any extra resources into replacement windows wherever we can afford them (the bedroom windows are top priority, as well as the slider in the living room), and refitting our chimney to put a wood stove in our living room instead of the fireplace. The fireplace does a nice job at heating the house – surprisingly – but it is really inefficient. A wood stove will definitely do the trick. And we have the wood… But for now we are just going to try a wood, pellet, gas mix, and go with whichever one heats our house the best at the lowest price. Our goal is to get off the gas completely, but we need to be realistic that this isn’t going to happen this winter – and that the pellet stove just didn’t cut it last year. We also might play musical bedrooms this year, depending on which one stays warmest. As I was telling Matty the other day, some people move into their houses and know which room will be what right away. I think it’s sort of fun trying out all the options.

Projects on the agenda for the upcoming year: own a chainsaw, a big one, build a nice woodshed to house our crop, get the wood-stove up and running, put up swings for the girls, do some planting.

Speaking of planting, this week was our last at the farm for the season. The girls did some tree climbing in the blustery winds as I bagged up the last of our vegetables for the year. We watched the sun set around 6pm and headed home in the dark. A far cry from the summer days of fruit picking and late afternoon swimming. We will all be happy to return again next spring. Harvesting enough food to warrant giving up our farm share will take some time, but that is our ultimate goal. For now, we are just focusing on being able to store more for the winter. This year was better than last – when we had just some strawberries and blueberries in the freezer, and apple-sauce in the cupboard. This year we have the applesauce, blueberries, and strawberries, plus peaches, spinach, kale, peas, beans, and (soon) 1/3 of a cow to fill up the freezer. We also have peach, blueberry, and strawberry jams, about 20 quarts each of tomato sauce and canned tomatoes, and more pickles than we know what to do with. (We haven’t had the resources for Matty to brew beer lately, so he has taken to fermenting every thinkable vegetable. We pickled over 25 lbs. of cucumbers, massive amounts of green beans, as well as radishes, carrots, and sauerkraut. The girls can’t get enough of it, and because he never cooked the food, it still retains all it’s nutrients. And then there are the probiotics… Can’t go wrong.) It’s better than last year, but we’ve got a long way to go. Our goals are: more of the same for next year, as well as get some different kinds of meat (pig, lamb) and figure out a good place to store winter vegetables. We’ll be on the look out for a cool -but not too cool – spot this winter.

I have to admit, I’m somewhat excited for the days to darken and for the snow to fall. My winter projects are calling – knitting, felting, writing, trying to figure out my camera, reading tons of books about gardening – but they will have to wait. Leaves are falling, the sun is shining, and the outdoors calls.

And with so many trees gone, we can now see clearly what it is that we want to do with our land – even though it will take many years to get there. And with the kids getting older, and therefore a bit easier, we can see clearly what we want for ourselves too, although these things will not come all at once either. But for the first time in a long time, I CAN see the forest through the trees – both literally and figuratively.

Perfect in its rise and in its fall, it takes
the place it has been coming to forever.

Running or walking, the way
is the same. Be still. Be still.
“He moves your bones, and the way is clear.”


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