Today I had planned to clean the house. It badly needs a vacuum and a scrub. But before I could get started, a friend called and said she wanted to go on a walk that my group, Transition Wayland, was organizing though Wayland Walks. Wayland Walks is a great spin-off,  run by two of our core group members. They set up a walk every month, each one with a new theme (Full Moon, Wild Edibles, Walk on Water, etc.). Exceptionally, this one wasn’t local, but a half hour drive away. We used to have cranberry bogs in Wayland, but no longer.

As we drove toward Wachussett Reservoir, the clouds drifted away. By the time we got there, the sun shone on the water. We couldn’t believe our luck! And there were the berries. What a delight! As Amie said: “They like to play hide and seek!” Who knew cranberry plants were so tiny – well, they’re actually quite extensive, but you only see the “uprights,” the branches that poke three or four inches up above the ground. The real meat of the plant is the tangle of underground runners. You can walk forever and still be stepping on the same plant. The berries are hidden low in the brush: you have to almost get down to their level to spot most of them, and rake the foliage with your fingers.

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We picked for hours, Amie with her friend, her friend’s sister with her friend, the adults mostly by themselves. Before two others arrived, the kids were in the majority, which was a joy to behold. Their squeals of delight and their laughter was wonderful. The adults were quieter, no less intent on collecting. There was a lovely, meditative quality to the picking: focused on the bright or darker red, hidden in the red foliage. Kneeling down, water soaking the knees of my jeans. The slow loss of sensation in my fingertips, a creeping clumsiness there, dropping berries…

We picked quite a few berries, gaining real appreciation for cranberry harvesting. In certain situations, the Native Americans and those after them would flood the bog so the berries would float, making them easier to find and scoop up out of the water.  We donated all but a couple of handfuls to a Veterans Thanksgiving dinner.

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 Look at those intrepid pickers and their harvest!

By then the sun was setting and we were all cold. Two of the girls had found the warmth in the car and wouldn’t come out for the picture.

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The weather being sunny and not too hot, we sat outside, watching the hens enjoy a free-range stroll. No lawn is complete without chickens, I say! That’s why you have to watch them: they’ll mess up your lawn in no time with their scratching. The monster on the trellis is actually two hardy kiwis. The ladies came to this greener pasture after exploring their part of the yard (which is through the opening in the photo above).

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There there is comfrey and buckwheat on a small Hugelkultur, and wood chips with lots of worms. My neighbor takes down trees and has been dropping off piles of wood chips, which I’ve been putting down all over. The two pullets are around too, but they kept out of the way of these four.

Joining these descendants of reptiles was  a real cold-blooded visitor. When I saw it I quickly picked it up and sheltered it from the chickens, who would have eaten it. He or she sat in my hand for over half an hour, sleepy-eyed.

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Then I put it in a box so Amie could see it when she came home. She held it and commented on how weird its sticky feet felt on her skin. Then it hopped away. The chickens were long in their coop by then. Safe travels, frog!

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Though very tired I went on the Full Moon Walk yesterday evening, a lovely tradition or what we hope will become a tradition, when a group of us walks in the dark under the full moon, either quietly or in conversation. The clouds drifted apart enough to let the moonlight through only at the end of our walk, but before then the blanket of snow reflected enough of the residual sunlight and of course the human-made light for us to get by without flashlights, without breaking any ankles.

Walks like these tend to be spiritually “loaded” – sometimes in a funny, humorous way, sometimes a bit morose, most often both in rapid succession. When someone brought up the very real possibility that these open fields, which in season grow hay and bluebirds, would be turned into soccer fields (and parking lots, of course), we all rose up in protest, but then inevitably the conversation turned to the recent history of other such atrocities, and how it got to be that yet another atrocity, here, in this field, is legally, even culturally possible.  No one went too deep into time, though – what atrocities lie there are too much. And someone said: “Well, that was a buzz kill!” and we laughed and enjoyed the walk – the enjoyment of the walk the very reason for, if need be, fighting for this field, and therefore, don’t get me wrong, a very worthwhile effort.

But it set the tone for me.

Geese started honking at each other in the dark distance, calling up that deeper time, and deeper still. How ancient are their species and their flyways and, glory, here I stand listening to them, in what is truly their field. Further off was also the sound of the traffic on the road. I wondered out loud why there was so much light (the cloud cap was still tightly drawn) and why it was so orange/pink – but no, no one else would have it. Someone said it was the snow reflecting the light, believing, perhaps, that one being natural, so must the other.

I was not the only one, though, struggling with the contradiction. It ran through the hour. How ugly and artificial our world is, how nurturing is nature.  Someone talked about dragon lines, which are alignments in landscapes. Are they natural, artificial? But the thread was never really taken up. It was – it was – too enjoyable to be there.

It wasn’t time for activism, for plotting how we would save this field, get others to walk it with us and get attached to it. What then, was I feeling that I could  not let go?

I laughed with everyone when one of us, who was not looking down at the slushy/slippery treacherous ground while we were descending a slope, all strung-out, called moooo-OOOON in a very wild and haunting way. We all stopped and looked up then and the ice floes in the sky broke up and there she was, that body. Others took up the call, but not the one dog present. I found I could laugh with them while the moon pulled at me. Like Josh Ritter writes,

“she pulls on your heart as she pulls on the sea”

and she ripped the grief right out of me.

Funny, I thought, that it would be the moon, that extra-terrestrial that is oblivious to, above our mayhem. Then I did a double-take. Of course, the moon too has seen our mayhem: we went there, too, planted a flag there. We just couldn’t resist.

And that that was a US flag also mattered. I have been thinking of what it means that I immigrated to this country, that I live on and off the many takings and that I too am therefore a taker. I started reading about the indigenous people to learn what it is like for those living in a dying culture, to see it die. That was at first. I soon realized that by immigrating here, living here, calling this “my home”, I too am living on the corpse of that murdered culture.

I’ve been in that state, lately, of openness to whatever accusation the land will throw at me. If I call it home (whether rightfully or not), the land has the right to call me out.

But here now were the geese, calling me out, and the pink field, too. And now the moon as well!? I wondered, how do I even stand upright and laugh at the wild yell of  these fellow human beings clad in Gore-Tex and Ray-Tech, and leather. How is this even possible? And then it hit me.

This is not guilt that I feel, but grief. The field, the geese, the moon were telling me this. Stop feeling guilty, start grieving. You cannot live with guilt, you cannot make peace with it. But we want you to live, we want you to make peace with yourself, and we want you to grieve, because only if you are grieving will you be truly, deeply alive and able to do right by us.

On the way back, five minutes to the parking lot (yes), I could no longer hold it back. I could typically not directly say what I was feeling (I hope that skill, too, I will learn), so I anounced my admiration for Stephen Jenkinson and his observation that

“guilt is grief for amateurs.”

Well, that came out of nowhere for the friend to whom I had directed the pronouncement. She said, but let’s not dwell on guilt, and added that that’s what she likes about Transition, that it’s so positive. And I said, yes, guilt we must avoid, or work through, but grief… grief… I could not make myself understood, but she must have grasped some of it. She brought up the documentary Traces of the Trade, A Story from the Deep North, about a woman (the filmmaker) who realized that her ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in the US, and who set out to stare this atrocity in the face.

Well, had I not just had the Great Insight into grief-notguilt, I would have stark fallen over, right there in the slush in front of everyone, and wailed. How had I left out that atrocity? This land is piled with corpses…

I reeled but stood, quite speechless. My friend and I left it at that, an opening. I came home and after Amie was asleep I watched the trailer of Traces of the Trade and was in for another  surprise. In that trailer, Katrina Browne, the filmmaker, says it, literally, exactly that: that once she looked, unflinching, at the atrocities and her and her family and the world’s role in it,

“it became natural to want to make things right, not out of personal guilt, but out of grief.”

I have to stop being an amateur and start the work, part of which may well be to teach the absolute necessity that we not mistake grief for guilt, that we must grieve because the situation is grievous, and that only then can we start the work of making things right.

I found an old journal (last part of 2007) in a stack of novels hidden behind a chair in my little “office”. I am usually very careful with my journals, keeping them together and safe. This one isn’t the usual black moleskine but a fancy cloth one given to me by a friend, and that’s probably why it was separated. I opened it, curious about the year 2007, and on page one I read:

~

I’m going to write a new story. A short story, an essay, a novel, a poem, or maybe a definition, an etymology, or a map or itinerary, a history, a geography. I don’t know yet. I have some inklings. It will be “American”  in that it will be concerned with situating me – someone – in a landscape. “Situating” is perhaps not the word: letting her be, get lost, find her way. And it will be “American” as in “natural”, nature-bound: about the freedom and potential and the rule of nature, and mourning it. No matter what will be the point of writing it, I need write it, on pen and paper, scratch it as much as write it: ETCH it and so it is alive.

Even if you despair about the future, you still need to take care of the present. It is in the present that your urge, you life, soul, animus exists, lives. It may aim towards and work for tomorrow, next year, “retirement”, but it aims and works now.

~

They’re connected: writing, the story and the now. I’m still doing that, four years later, asserting a story (my imagination, my freedom), in the present (the way things are), to be able to face an uncertain future.  I guess that’s  my way of coping, living.

In the meantime my neighbor’s pine tree has interposed itself between the sun and my office window and I can feel its shadow on my back. In Winter in an unheated house one is so close to the edge, the margin between warm enough and cold is so narrow a tree makes all the difference.

A friend came to visit us and after eating homemade Belgian waffles I suggested I take her and my family to Pod Meadow, which I had discovered on a walk with Transition earlier in the week. The weather was a balmy 55F and only partially overcast.

Pod Meadow is an amazing conservation area in my town that is a hidden gem, “a sleeper,” the town naturalist calls it. It is 25 acres. You park the car on a busy road – no less than the old Native American Great Trail, which became a major highway in the colonial era and is now Old Connecticut Path, or Route 126. You walk through someone’s yard, and then, suddenly, this:

Amazing, the sudden dip toward the Pond and the lack of tangled shrubs under the stately trees – mostly beeches, oaks and some pines and spruce – which allows you to see right through. It gives the open and clear feel of a maintained forest, much like, I presume, the forests in the time of the Native Americans, who used to set fire to the underbrush to make hunting and travel easier.

In this forest the maintenance is done by the beavers. I don’t have the skinny on the beavers yet, but there seem to be many of them and, some worry, too many. They have dammed the Pond so that now the water reaches higher, inundating old trails and making what used to be a vernal pool (first water body in the picture above) into a part of the “full-time” pond.

The beavers clear the forest by doing this:

Amie couldn’t believe it. Imagine chewing through a whole tree with your teeth! There is more beaver handy toothsome work behind her: the beavers apparently like beeches the most and in this spot most of them were stripped of their bark at beaver height. It is amazing to run your finger over the scrapings. To me it is like touching the wild. Here’s an even bigger tree (an oak) being worked on:

And some more beeches:

We speculated that there must be some system or plan in their activities. Perhaps they are working up to a moment when they will tip one tree and it will take down all the others, like dominoes, in one great bang! Then they’ll have a party, say “our work is done here,” and move on.

For the moment they’re at home. This is their lodge. No sign of the inhabitants.

Seeing all this is so awesome to me, and I am eager to learn more about these animals. I’m also fascinated by the geology of the place, which is, like so much of New England, dominated by the 50,000-year-old glacier that started to retreat 15,000 to 16,000 years ago. I sometimes dream about that glacier.

Today was about Amie. At first she didn’t want to come but the moment we arrived she started running and jumping, suddenly free and wild herself. She had climbed onto this great downed oak before we knew it and DH had to scramble after her.

She also really wanted to walk on water:

She was upset at the end and I didn’t know why. She said she had “wanted to have more adventures and all we did was walk around and chat!” I will take her back after school some day and she can show me what it is that she wants to do. We can also take our journals and draw or write.

We are reading the Finn Family Moomintroll which another friend gave her and perhaps she has that landscape in mind and the adventures of Moomin and his curious friends. I can certainly understand her. When I was a kid I was always pottering around in the overgrown area (now a nature reservation) across from my parents’ house, pretending to be the last kid left on Earth, losing my boots in the bog, coming home with leaves and mud in my hair.

I would have gone on that tree too! I may still.