It is wet and cold now. There are days of bright sunshine when we run outside and soak it up, even when the air is chilled and our noses turn pink. Mostly it is cloudy, overcast, and rainy. Of course, temperatures don't dip below thirty degrees Fahrenheit and it doesn't snow here, so "winter" is used loosely here, but to us it is a far cry from a California summer where everything is just lovely and perfect outside and to stay in seems like sacrilege. So, we made a promise to ourselves that we would get out in it every day and bring at least one thing back to put up on our nature board.
Even Frida now understands the going out process and brings us each article of clothing she will need especially: coat, shoes, hat. With Keats, it's almost always a frustrating process with reminders of patience and "You don't have your boots on yet." That boy loves stomping in puddles and they are everywhere this time of year. The ground is squishy and the creeks are high. He stomps and trudges through fresh and muddy puddles alike, coming out soaked and smiling ear to ear. We've learned to bring two strollers with us now as Keats quickly realizes that it's not actually comfortable to walk in boots filled with water. We need to get him some waders!
We still haven't found any good quality boots in Frida's size so her puddle stomping days will have to be in the coming rainy months when she reaches a toddler's size five (her feet are tiny). For now, Keats helps her by pushing her through the puddles in her stroller. They both squeal as the water splashes up.
Frida more and more wants to be out of the stroller and walking about just like her big brother. She is good about holding hands which makes it easier to steer her away from tricky spots on the path. It takes us about an hour to walk the entire forty-acre farm at a leisurely (read: baby step) pace, but that's without stopping too much to see the animals and play, so usually we're out and about for at least two and a half hours if not three. During the rest of the year, the kids get two farm walks a day: one with me in the morning and one with Birch once he gets home from work, but with the sun going down so early, they're only getting one in these days. If Birch gets home with some time left before dark, the kids go out with him to the basketball court next to our place and play kickball. I am so grateful to Birch for these breaks. On the busiest of days, a break means I can finally wash some dishes or vacuum the floor. On lazier days, I can take some time for myself to watch something, write, READ, or even... gasp... take a long bath. When the day hasn't been too wearing, I go out with the rest of the family and play. It's nice to get a break from the kids, but that usually means more time away from Birch so I go out with them when I can, if only to get a strong arm wrapped around my waist for just a moment or to hook arms and hold hands while the kids entertain themselves a bit.
The farm changes quite a bit from season to season. Some of the larger willow trees are cut back after the fall harvest while the smaller trees and bushes are left to bud and then harvested to make more decorative fences and things. We've watched this process only twice since we began our time here on the farm and have pieced together what we could from our distant observations. I'll have to ask about it more the next time I see the owners. The farm has so many things going on, there is always something being done. Hustle and bustle is a way of life here, but there is a great rhythm to it. The busyness here is different than that of the city or even the suburbs. The country is a special place. The work here is hard and constant but it has the appearance of leisure. Riding around in tractors and forklifts, herding sheep with a pack of dogs, feeding pigs... it all seems so idyllic. To me. Some people look at us like we're crazy when we tell them what we enjoy. You should have seen my sister's face when I told her Birch wanted a whole hog for Christmas. Let me clarify that I do mean "idyllic," not easy, not always fun, but idyllic. Farming in this way seems to us to be the perfect marriage of doing what interests us and acting on the principles that are important to us in order to make our world a little better.
This place is a wonderland to us. Seeing it everyday, coming home to it everyday, watching it change and evolve right before our eyes is all absolutely stunning. We see so much wildlife everyday. I count all the different seasonal birds, take note of who stays year-round, and watch for other wildlife like coyotes, bobcats, deer, and the very occasional mountain lion. We hear frogs and crickets every night. We have daily visitors such as owls, hawks, kites, egrets, and herons. Ducks and geese land in the flooded field across the road. We see tracks from raccoons, badgers, and so many more. Often we find the remains of animals in various states of decomposition. Keats is curious and compassionate, so we discuss what might have happened to the animal and what might happen to it now that it has passed on. It's a good opportunity to introduce him to the topic in a way that isn't overly traumatic. When we lost Harlequin, our rabbit, Keats was still quite young and couldn't really understand it. He just waited at Harlequin's cage for him to come out. Birch and I would see this and tear up. Not knowing what to say, I told him that Harlequin had "gone bye-bye." It worked, but it felt a bit like cheating. Now that Keats is older, I feel like he needs a better understanding of death and loss. I've always been afraid of death and even more afraid of others dying. My very first memory is standing next to my aunt right after she passed away. I can see her face very clearly, not her face as she was in life, but the strange face that appears after we die. I've seen it too often. I've seen too many relatives, too many friends pass away and I can only hope that my children will have a better understanding of the event than I.
Winter can have the appearance of a mass death among all things, but looking closely, I can see life pushing forward, growing stronger, and making its way to being even more brilliant than it was the previous year. 2012 was the winter of my marriage. It was hard. It seemed like too many things were falling apart. Birch and I didn't love each other any less than the day we got married, but our days became relentlessly filled with frustration, sorrow, and exhaustion. We've learned our lesson now. We're pulling ourselves back up. I can only hope we have the resilience of the farm that takes what it is given and makes itself stronger and more beautiful than it has ever been. I know we can do it. I've told some friends and family that Birch and I are struggling and they immediately become quite worried. Don't be. Birch and I are fine, we are in love, we are committed to each other and to our life together. Some days are harder than others; some years are harder than others. I'm so very happy that a new year has begun, that Birch and I have summoned up and renewed our energy, and that we have such caring individuals all around us who help us to be who we want. Who knows, this may be another hard year for us, but I already feel stronger as my roots sink deeper into the earth here on the farm.