Thursday, February 14, 2013

Planting Love

Last summer really took a toll on me. In all fairness, there was a lot of stuff I had to get done before winter set in, but the dense schedule was rough, to say the least. When the dust settled, and my winter’s rest began, I looked at my husband and very clearly stated that I never wanted to put myself through that again. To that end, we decided to concentrate our efforts, one indoor room, and one outdoor area in a twelve month period. This was to be in addition to critical repairs and food crops. It was reasonable, rational, and do-able. I guess I should have known that I’d therefore have trouble with it.

January first, a new year dawned, and my husband Shawn and I sat and had a discussion about our intended projects for the coming months. We decided on the living room and the front yard, both of which are still in a raw, unfinished state. This consensus did not last long. You see, the problem is the shed. It’s full. And I don’t mean can’t-buy-another-large-piece-of-equipment full, I mean can’t-get-a-toe-in-oh-my-god-is-that-door-gonna-shut full. There’s no way to work in there, and no way for me to get in and get tools out. I can’t even find my plant pots. That sucker is full. And you guessed it, we need everything that’s stored in there, and there are a few pieces of equipment we’re going to want to add to our collection. To paraphrase one of my favorite movies, we’re going to need a bigger shed. Now. “But my gardens!” My inner voice wailed. “My walkways, the front steps, the new porch lights!” But it’s no good. Needs must. And at least it will make the construction of the living room window seats a pleasure. I made my peace, maybe with less grace than I would hope, but I managed.

And then… I got sick. Really sick. I wound up dehydrated in the Emergency Room, actually. Good old fashioned Influenza, which didn’t do wonders for my asthma. At the same time, poor little four year old Jason got just as sick. My mother came and stayed with us for almost a week, and I simply don’t remember a few days of it. I have never been more sick in my whole adult life. And though I am very grateful for the modern drugs I took, I found myself wishing for my customary stockpile of herbs. I had some things, sure, it is just quite unlikely that I would run out of peppermint, licorice root, or chamomile, and I did manage to gather up and dry some red clover last summer. But boy was I wishing for some slippery elm bark for a throat raw from coughing, and mullein and lobelia, lemon balm for crying out loud, not to mention how much of this I could have forestalled with some elderberry syrup. And I’m still wishing for it, still coughing my brains out as I write this, thirteen days later. Still limping along on peppermint tea.

My thoughts are turning to my intended herb garden. “I mean, come one,” I rationalize to myself, “how hard would it be to put in a couple of elderberry bushes? Surely potted plans don’t count, right? I could do mint, and some lemon balm, and…” On and on like this. I bought twenty-five varieties of medicinal herb seeds this morning, and suddenly I went, “Woah.” What am I doing, I mean really, WHAT AM I DOING? Seduced by spring, it is the only phrase. I know the ground is still covered in snow, and the nights are still well below freezing, but it is SPRING darn it. The trees have started waking, and there is mud, warm, rich, gooey, glorious mud where the snow has been cleared away. It has even started its annual trek into the house to cover my floors. And the seed catalogs, oh, the seed catalogs, I… ahem, there I go again.

So now I’m torn. I really don’t want to let another year go by without putting some perennials in the ground. It almost killed me to leave the ground alone last year, and I know perfectly well that vegetables simply aren’t enough. There is a deep need within me to beautify my home and land. Not to mention to have those needed medicines on hand. But I promised myself, one outdoor project area only. I promised. So what to do? Truthfully, I cannot say. Agreements with myself should serve, and not stifle, right? And so on I struggle with where to draw the line. In the meantime, I find myself buying seeds, planning gardens, and preparing to start my herbs this weekend. As though I am somehow unconsciously dragging myself onward. I have spent so very many years dreaming of this garden, since even before I moved out of my parents’ house. I mean, really, we are measuring this in decades at this point people. Perhaps this year will only allow for a few herbs in pots, maybe a bed or two, but I do believe this dream will simply not wait another year. I will just have to take it slow, listen to myself, and keep my promise to not let it get overwhelming. But it is time to plant this love, and watch it grow.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gathering Wool

I haven’t written for a while. Truthfully, I found my summer and fall so busy and overwhelming that I needed some down time to follow. Like the earth, I needed to lay fallow, and sleep, and dream, and think. Winter is such a perfect time to revisit the process and pace of the life that preceded it. And boy did it feel good.

Now, don’t think for a moment that I was unproductive during this time. It would fly in the face of my very nature, and make me miserable into the bargain. So I knitted. A lot. I knitted five pairs of wool socks in the six weeks leading up to Christmas, which is a personal record for me. The knitting didn’t end there either, the socks continue, and I’ve started a sweater. There’s also a wool scarf on my loom. And if that isn’t enough, I spent part of my weekend with some of the local ladies, spinning up some old wool roving from my stash. As if I don’t have enough yarn.

I’ve come to realize that the winter is such a necessary time for my peace of mind, and my mental wellbeing. That this burying myself in wool, this total immersion into the realm of sheep, satisfies a curiously old instinct in me. Frankly, it just feels right. Now, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. The process of turning fleece into clothes is one older than history. It is also one that is particularly suited to winter time, it being almost impossible for me to justify sitting down for any length of time in the summer. The temperatures here bring back the winters of my childhood, and I have realized that I let the woolens section of my wardrobe get quite shockingly low while basking in the warm Bostonian winters. And while I could buy what I need, again… there is that curious tug inside me, that thing that blooms into full blown pleasure at having made something with my own hands to keep my family warm, protected from wind and cold. What is more interesting still is to see that same satisfaction reflected in my loved ones, the simple pleasure of wearing hand-knit socks, and the way mommy-made clothing is more treasured than the store-bought kind. Even by my four year old son. I wonder if this is something lost or mystical, some arcane secret kept all these generations by mothers and grandmothers, aunties and matriarchs. This magic of handmade, as though we knit the spell of warmth into the garment, as well as our love.

I know I am not alone in this observation. It is there, in the hands and the eyes of my knitting friends, both spoken of openly and carefully avoided. It is the reason we knit for babies, to cloak them carefully in this protective thing. It is the reason we send our husbands and lovers out into the cold, their feet encased, their heads covered by our love. Nephews, daughters, brothers, sisters, sons, and nieces. We knit for friends and total strangers, casting out this magic like a light into the world, as though we can’t get enough, as though this thing, this instinct to provide warmth and beauty is so deeply seated in us that once unearthed it cannot be denied. It takes on a life of its own. Our houses fill with yarn, and needles, and tools. We find new outlets for this instinct; weaving, crochet, sewing, spinning, dying. And through it all is this deep peace, this zen, a tranquility brought of purpose. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “I knit so I don’t kill people.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said it. What’s new for me this winter isn’t the knitting, but the fact that for the first time I am part of a community while I do it. I have a weekly knitter’s group, and what looks to be a newly formed monthly spinner’s group. And I’ll tell you, if there’s anything better than knitting, it’s talking and knitting.

And through this whole process, soup to nuts, I’m resting and re-evaluating. As I gather more wool, and complete more projects, my mind is turned towards the coming spring. My resting is nearly finished, and the call of the earth grows stronger within me every day. Projects for house and homestead have started their inexorable lure, the wheel of the seasons turns ever onward, and I find myself turning with it.