Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Birth, Life, Death And Rebirth

I mentioned in my last post that lately, there has been a lot of death and loss around us, be it physical, emotional, or material death. Between loosing loved ones, possessions (at times, all of them), old ideas, old selves, everything seems in a flux right now.
The first few months of this year were all about birth, then some sort of watershed came and there has been a lot of the opposite. I don't know if it's because the Year Of The Horse, the forward momentum pushing those on the edge of things onwards, causing carelessness and enabling odd circumstance. 

Maybe it's nothing new, just the same old cycle repeating itself. Or perhaps, I'm still not used to it, I'm still struggling to fathom exactly how this works, how people and things and ideas, come in and out of the circle, stay awhile, move beyond the horizon. They are, after all, the most natural parts of life, birth and death, they occur to someone everyday, and sometimes to the same people (but let's not dwell on that) and yet there's something strange and magical about them, the two short moments on the edge. That seems the perfect metaphor for life really, how its whole, long mundane existence, is determined that which we know nothing about at its beginning and end. 
There was this long moment in my life when death and birth were in no way a part of it. The years I lived in the city at the end of my teens and through my twenties. It's not so unusual really, in this day and age, to lead a life where no one you know dies, or is born. Our grandparents were mostly gone, almost none of my peer group were having children. Living in a world where everyone is young, doing the same thing, living the same life, seemed normal, even though, of course, it is completely odd. 
Now that I live in a community where I'm constantly faced with different stages of life; birth, coming of age, finding yourself, finding a mate, mid-life, aging, growing old and dying, it seems unthinkable to not be exposed to the experience of people of all ages all the time. It seems like the natural way we should live, close to both ends of life and everything in between, always aware of the fact that something new is about to happen and someone else is coming up behind us. There's a strange satisfaction to it, as sense of continuation that I imagine, perhaps folks with kids sometimes feel. 
But  I wasn't going to wax lyrical on life and death. I don't exactly know why everything I write these days turns into a pseudo-new-age-y ramble on the basics of life. I guess that's just where my thoughts are at right now. Maybe it's the season of rebirth, reassessing everything, looking at the mundane facts of life in a little different light.
There are a few things I haven't told you about over the past few months, mostly because I haven't wanted to dwell on it, or because, well, I simply forgot, in the hustle and bustle of daily life. 
For one thing, my chickens died. We had had Smoky, Toasty, Dusty, Rusalka and Emeralda for a long time in a chicken's life, three years. It's always odd when fowls die, because you're not supposed to mourn for them. They're a farm animal, livestock. The hardiness in the face of  a livestock animal's death is considered a toughness test in 21st century homesteading. We seem to imagine that our great grandparents, or the imaginary real farmers of an earlier time, didn't flinch when they had to chop of the head of a rooster, or end the life of pig. That imbuing all animals with the personality and emotion we afford our pets, is somehow a sign of weakness. I think that's bullshit. The reason why I like the term "animal husbandry", is that it implies a connection with that animal, a commitment to its well-being, a commitment to a swift death and maybe even a commitment to love it while its alive. Maybe it's my religious bent, or maybe it's an over-sensitivity, but it seems to me that everything deserves to have its death mourned. 

I think this is particularly the case if the relationship you have with your animals is the agreement that in the end you will have to kill them, or if they die because of some failure in "husbandry" on your part. Our chickens, for instance, died because we failed to adequately check to make sure the roof on the coop was weasel proof.

Those five chickens had a happy life up until the point they died. That's a point of pride to me. They had good food, room to roam, they were cared for and as free as a domestic animal can be. I'm hoping to provide the next twelve the same. They run around the yard trying to catch bugs with erratic flight patterns, as though they've always done so. They know how to make and give themselves a dust bath, they don't have to be taught anything, or read any books on how to live.

On sunday we watched a baby goat be born, open its eyes and try to stand up. The birth was hard, the baby, Calypso, was huge, the mama goat mewling in pain, the people delivering her pulling with all their might, fearing that the kid would die, or the mother. Within hours it was walking around on its own wobbly little legs. Presumed dead, now very much alive.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Bird Of Hatland

Oh April, never before have I paid any mind to the mutterings of old T.S. Eliot, about you being any crueler than other months. But this year? You have had your wicked way with us.

Charlie and I have not so much fallen pray to April's cruelty, save for the lack of time and sleep, in fact we've felt very lucky this month.

In no small part thanks to all of you our crowdfunding was a total success (♡Thank you once more♡), I got to spend a whole week with my best girls, offers for small writing, editing and photography gigs keep appearing in my inbox, my handmade and vintage business is expanding in all directions, online and off (more exciting developments to be reveled next week!) and the immediate future, though always shaky and unpredictable, looks bright.

It's been a wild, tough month for everyone around us though, with these last seven days amounting to the week of calamities: deferred dreams, fires, deaths, accidents big and small ranging from cuts to serious injury, and from fender-benders to head on collisions. Big changes it would seem come both in good and the down right terrible.

Another thing I'd like to ask from April, is where exactly did she go, because a moment ago we were still in nettle season, and now we've skipped through morels right into the spruce tips. I can't keep up.

Nettles, morels, cleavers, rhubarb, spruce tips, baby chicks, the good things keep on coming. I spend my days chasing them around in circles through the woods, as though on the tail of some witch, who's dropping unpredictable spells in her wake.

I finally found the magic spot in my garden where the light is always right for etsy shots.

Got to spend a little time with this gal and her Little Bear. It's funny how faraway Orcas seems, when it's supposedly just a ferry ride away. It took me over a month to deliver her a birthday package. I'm excited and hopeful for us to get to hangout more in the coming months.

I've been having not only the best thrift/dump luck lately, but specifically the best thermos luck. The day before heading out to Portland I was all sad because we only have one small thermos and C. needed it for his own trip, but lo-and-behold, if the Dump didn't hand me the most perfect age-old and hella heavy baby-Stanley thermos, complete with an airtight cork to hold the liquid in. Then last weekend I got the soup thermos from the same source. I'm so ready for some camping time!

I also got this bend-y drawing doll from the Dump, as well as a polka-dot shirt and a glass jewelry jar with the moon and the stars on it. Thrift Gods must be on my side this month.

My biggest accomplishment might just be that I finally managed to spring clean my house, after what seemed like months of marveling at the sheer dirt and unadulterated mess. Cleaning is so not a priority for me when there are more interesting things going on and boy are there more interesting things going on right now.

Spring, as ever, runs hot and cold. One moment you're out in the orchard wearing shorts and a tank top, drinking a beer, the next it's this:

Marieke sent me an email enquiring after the little bird that's made its nest around my neck lately and I am happy to tell her here that it is the Bird Of "Hatland", or perhaps "Hat Town", named after the township of Hattula in Southern Finland where the original bronze bird from around year 1000, was found. Hattulan Lintu, is most likely a waterbird, as Northern cultures had a special relationship with them. We do after all believe that the world came out of the egg of such a bird.

An awesome Finnish jewelry company called Kalevala Koru, named so after our national epic that makes pieces inspired by jewelry  traditional wares and those found in archeological digs. Most Finnish women own one or two pieces from Kalevala Koru and they've been gaining more popularity in recent years as women in my generation have become more interested in Finnish tradition. Over the years I've acquired quite a few pieces myself, though I've never bought any, mostly from my mom, but also from friends and other relatives. This particular bird is one of two, a pair of earrings my mom has had since I was little. I love the idea of wearing a piece of Finnish history each day.

With spring, come not only the good things, the business but the steady stream of markers making way towards summer. Here comes Easter, Eostre of Dawn riding her wagon, salmonberry blossoms, the Procession of The Species, here are the pinedrops, May Day...

I was going to apologize for my lack of anything real to say, for my absence from this space, but you know what? I'm not sorry. Other stuff is going on and that's a good thing. I'm sure y'all have your own other stuff and understand completely.

Feel fee to tell me about it. In the meantime, lots of love,

Saturday, April 19, 2014

You can't say no to happiness...

Thank you for all your replies to my last post on happiness, and what it is that gives us those fleeting moments of contentment and joy. In the two weeks since I've thought about it a lot more. I happened to write that post at a time when I hadn't been feeling a lot of joy, worn-down by an attention divided too many ways, not enough sleep and anxiety over all the good things that are going on in my life. Worrying about good things? Silly, I know. But in order to make those things happen, we've had to work pretty hard and having one too many projects, plans and jobs to juggle, doesn't leave me with enough mental space to really enjoy it all.

However, as previously established, these things we all juggle, are in fact, the foundations on which future happiness will be built: the right work, the good friends, the things you love, the money you need to live, creativity, self-sufficiency, whatever it is that makes you happy in the long term.

And yet piled altogether and all at once, they can make you wholly unhappy. Not only that, but I have found that it is consistently pretty hard to take the daily steps needed for the feeling of happiness and all too easy to choose a momentary satisfaction that mimics real happiness, say watching TV and eating candy, instead of going for a run,  meditating, or engaging in real emotions with real, actual people (that's not to say that watching TV can't sometimes bring you genuine happiness).

Everyone I know that meditates, including teachers and long-time practitioners still says its hard. I've never met anyone who says watching Mad Men is particularly hard. Yet TV almost perfectly mimics the "loosing your self" aspect of joy. You are less within yourself when you watch movies, television, plays, surf-around the internet, or read.

Of course he path of least resistance is always, always easier to take than the high road, but personally I think that a little bit of both is the way to Shangri-La. Choosing that which will increase your happiness to come often, yet sometimes also letting yourself choose that which will unwind your racing mind.

So why talk about happiness? Why is every lifestyle blog full of tips for "staying present in the moment" and why does NY Times keep running articles on transcendental meditation (And why do so many of all articles about meditation have pictures of thin white women?), why is instagram filled with the hashtag #hundreddaysofhappiness (apparently according to a dear blog friend most people don't complete this challenge 'cos they don't have the time! What?)? Why can't we, myself included, just shut up about it already and just be happy?

Because, it is the one thing that we all strive for. If anyone denies their desire to be "happy", they're probably full of "shit". It is the ultimate goal of…well…life. I don't know if all societies, always have spoken of happiness, or if it once was implicit. If maybe the fall from Paradise is a myth remnant from the moment when happiness stopped being our natural state of being and became something we aspire to? The one universal thing we all want, so much so that pursuing it is written in the constitution of this unhappy nation.

The pursuit itself may be as old as civilization, but it seems to remain a wild goose chase, that many, if not most, of us are going about achieving the wrong way.

In this world, the world of complexity and endless choices, where most people do not do something meaningful for a living, where many people have no spiritual foundation, or no community, where everything is all at once up to our individual choice, and at the same time, we are more or less powerless to affect the larger framework within which we live, happiness can be hard to find.

We often confuse it with lust, love and want, with money, possessions, altered states, security, conforming to societal expectations.

The hardest thing about happiness for me is two-fold. On the one hand being happy with what you have, on the other working hard to achieve that which will create more happiness. Sometimes even identifying the things that make us happy can be a hard, having them obscured by those afore-mentioned, confusing substitutes.

In my last post, I talked about moments of transcendence, trying to each day stop for even a short while to examine our surroundings for the signs of silent bliss. Yesterday, for instance, I watched Charlie lay in the sun-warm grass with our cat, I stopped to look at the new chicks as they ran for the coop door, having never been outside of anything in their lives and intuitively still knowing that it is where they belong, I constructed pictures of myself, of all things, yet forgot myself, framing them, and all this made me happy.

But at the same time, I did this in the midst of completing an epic task list, reserved for this, my sole day off. Yet the expectation of completing all of these things didn't make me anxious, resentful, or depressed, simply because they are the things that make those other moments possible and more abundant.

It may not make me happy to spend my day off weeding clumps of grass from our still completely unfinished garden, even though it is mid-april and I'm still only getting started on the first bed, which is to house potatoes; but it makes me happy that we will have a garden, full of greens, peas, radishes and those potatoes. It makes happy that our busy farmer friend took that time to help us till it. It makes me happy that in a few brief weeks it will be something,  a living growing thing we accomplished.

I would love to spend my days writing, kayaking, reading the Tarot, but in the end, building something that will feed us, or making money that will shelter us, buy us time for those pursuits should also fill me with happiness. Not the blissful joy-kind. The steady, sweaty, job-well-done, we'll-be-sleeping-sound-tonight-kind.

Daily happiness may not be just about looking up and recognizing the joy you have, it may also be about identifying the things that bring you joy, contentment, that make you feel like you've  accomplished something, and then pursuing them; at times relentlessly in spite your exhaustion, at others, when you have the strength and concentration. At times it really is the experience of flow in even the most humbling, mind-numbing work.

Because even if I'm not writing, or doing the other things I'm passionate about, I'm still doing the "right work".

I've slowly come to accept that even the "wrong work", the day jobs, being tied to the computer, instead of the woods, can be the "right work", so long as it serves our greater purpose.

I'm also learning that sometimes the things we love the most can come second, can stay on the back burner for another little while. Rushing to complete the weeding, the sauerkraut, the etsy photos, the cleaning, I was in my head planning for this morning, how Charlie and I were going to get up early and go kayaking, finally a tranquil time alone in nature. Yet waking up early today to list stuff on my shop, to maybe write this post, though I did not know what it was going to be about yet, I realized that it  would stretch the day too thin, that he was too tired, that I had too much to do still. Laundry, gifts, notes for a meeting I have, plans for work. Instead of being sad an disappointed, feeling like I'm failing, I'm writing this. Soon, Charlie will get up and we will drink coffee together and walk to the neighbors and go on with what we need to do today.

I'm perfectly happy about it. I can't make more time, he can't function on less sleep. We'll still have the day, with friends and costumed parades and cold cloudy weather. We will not go kayaking, but I will write a letter to someone who needs it badly, I will do the laundry we so badly need.

Happiness is in the cards.

Happy Weekend!  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Once More, With Feeling

I promise this is the last of my Portland posts, but seeing as I suddenly find myself back to the grind that sometimes is my life in the spring and summer, I'm going to relive my recent vacation times once more with feeling. When I'm really only getting through days by taking several deep breathing breaks throughout, it's nice to remember that there's ebb and flow to this madness, and I just jumped into the overflowing creek from the tranquil shores of Portland.

As much as I love my reality and try to remember that it's beautiful and inspiring,  I can't help but being a little nostalgic about a few things from last week's reality.

So long to wandering with intent and stumbling upon art and odd, interesting things.

So long to magnolias, cherry blossoms and the thousand yellow suns of my new favorite flowering plant.

So long to the sweetest little five-week-old, with wide open eyes and a love of stretching out in all directions.

So long to unhealthy breakfasts and forbidden coffee drinks.

So long to dry pavement.

So long (for now) to sunshine everywhere.

So long to city clothes.

So long to unpredictable and friendly fauna, and the kind that tries to rob your bagel from your hand.

So long to the f***ing squirrels.

So long to the endless pictures of flowers and magic hours.

Before I get too bogged down in glorifying tea houses, thai food, flowering tees and vintage frock stores, I should mention that I am trading all of these things to baby chicks, baby goats, kayaking with husband, wildcrafting season, building a garden, new challenges and long walks.  Well, once I'm done with work week from hell…so any minute now well return our regularly irregular programming.

How's your reality doing?