Friday, December 30, 2016

Fourth and fifth days of Christmas: April and May

Yesterday I looked up while doing my late-day chores in the field and saw a spectacular winter sunset from the top of November Hill. The sky was filled with gray clouds that, lit from behind by the sun, appeared to be tipped with flames. I take this to mean April is going to be an amazing month.

Today I was on the front porch looking at the winter landscape. A stunning red Cardinal appeared in a tree close to the house. Everything in sight was the muted colors of winter except for this brilliant red bird. Bold and beautiful - looks like a terrific May.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Second and third days of Christmas: February and March

Yesterday, the 27th, my daughter's newest critters, two female hissing cockroaches, arrived and were set up in their very large, nice habitat. Within the first half hour one had disappeared and there were worries that she had escaped. Then she appeared, eating slivered carrots and grooming. A little later the other one disappeared. More anxiety. Then she too appeared. It turns out there is an area in the habitat where critters can hide. The info sheet that came with the habitat actually cautions that this is likely to happen!

I have an insect phobia. It's pretty controlled at this point in my life but wood roaches and big spiders remain issues and if I think any kind of bug is actually on me shrieking ensues. 

Interestingly, since I was little and read Charlotte's Web, my fear of spiders shifted and I became intrigued and even enchanted with spiders. 

Yesterday, although these very large critters scared me, I began to feel protective of them and enjoyed watching them eat and groom. I think this close encounter foretells some movement beyond my comfort zone for February! And I love the idea of an "instruction manual" giving me clues along the way. 

Today, the 28th, I spent some time mucking in the midst of the herd at dusk. It was dark enough that I was partly finding manure piles by intuition as much as vision. It was as quiet an evening as I've heard in a long time. So very still out. There were no sightings or soundings of any wildlife at all. But there were all the members of the November Hill herd around me, and what I felt was peace and safety. They were grazing hay calmly and I knew if anything happened they would know it first, and then I would know it because I listen to them. March will be peaceful and safe, in the midst of my loved ones. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

celebrating the "omen days" - the 1st day of Christmas

First, happy holidays to all! We had a nice time this year and changed some traditions - the only thing I cooked was this:

A few years ago I read the following excerpt from Caitlin Matthews (who has wonderful books if you're interested in mythology and symbols and all things Celtic). 

She writes:

In the medieval liturgical calendar, the festival of Christmas Day stood alone by itself as a supreme holy day, and so the counting of the twelve days began from 26 December which is the 1st day of Christmas until the 6th January which is Twelfth Night, or the 12th day of Christmas.  What has this got to do with anything?

Well, in Brittany and in Wales, the Twelve Days of Christmas, which mark the intercalary days of the year, are called ‘the Omen Days,’ and they have a special purpose. ‘Intercalary days’ are really the days left over from reckoning up the solar year and, in calendars throughout the world and at different times, they are special because they are considered to be ‘the days out of time.’  It is in this interval between the ordinary count of days that gods are born or conceived in many different mythologies, including the Irish one, where Oengus Og, Young Angus, is conceived, grown and born at BrĂºg na Boinne within this time, all in one day, by the magical workings of the Dagda.

Within these twelve days lies a wonderful secret that those dismissive of the Christian tradition might well miss, for each of the twelve days is assigned to a month of the coming year, with the first day of Christmas the 26th December as symbolic of January, the second day or 27th December representing February and so on, right through to 6th January which represents the December yet to come.  It was the custom of many to go out on each day of the Christmas festival to observe the signs in nature and divine from them the state of the year to come. The omens experienced on each of the Omen Days indicate the nature of each month in the coming year.

The divining of oracles from nature has a long tradition in Celtic lore.  The Scots Gaelic tradition of the frith or the augury from the signs of nature is well established. The listening to bird’s calling was a critical part of druidic lore, as was the movement and behaviour of other animals.  Some of these auguries have come down to us, like the little white book of meanings in a tarot pack: some people used them, but others did not.  The real skill is to read the signs in accordance with your understanding at the time, and as it relates to the question that provoked the augury in the first place.  I’ve been teaching this skill for over 25 years and not yet found anyone who couldn’t do it, as long as they first asked a well-framed question.

In this case, you treat each day of Christmas as the opportunity for an augury for the month it represents in coming year.  This might be experienced during a daily walk, or perceived in the nature of the day itself and how it falls out. Personally, I like to make a frame for each Omen Day, by asking to be shown an augury from nature and allowing the next thing I experience, see or hear to be the sign I am expecting.  It helps to find the right place to do this on a walk, to close your eyes, to spin around on the spot and then be attentive.

And I write:

I wanted to do this last year but got caught up in daily life and simply forgot until it was too late. This year, on Christmas Eve day, my husband and I drove into town to do a few last-minute errands, and as we left the driveway saw three young deer cavorting up our lane. They were frisky and playful, unafraid of the car even as they gamboled out of our path, then ran up into the neighbors' yard and turned to look back at us before resuming their game. For me, seeing deer always means something special. Deer summon us to journeys and the number three is magical as well. Thinking about this got me thinking about the Omen Days, and so today, December 26th, I begin the countdown to January 6th and the 12th day of Christmas in this tradition.

Today I drove my son back to his apartment in a North Carolina mountain town. I was in our car, but enjoyed the cloudy, gray day and as we approached the Blue Ridge Mountains, it was a treat to see them banked in cloud cover. The road was at times foggy and although driving was more difficult, it was lovely seeing the mountains shrouded in what looked like cloaks of fog. I noted as I drove down the mountain approaching the town that while the fog limited visibility it also made it easier to go the speed limit. I often come down that particular spot with my foot hovering on the brake, but the fog felt in an odd way safe. I think sometimes only being able to see what is right in front of us is a good thing. The ridge lines were amazing too, the bare trees like sketches done in black ink. It was one of my favorite kinds of days and if this augers a foggy, mysterious, and beautiful brake-free January then I am very happy with the first day of Christmas! It has been a peaceful, low-key day, and I can use a month of that. 

I invite you to join me for the next 11 days as I count them down, looking for signs of what is to come in the year ahead. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Stopping By Woods On A Solstice Evening

Two little donkeys up the hill by the big oak tree is my solstice gift today. Happy solstice to all!

I invite you to sign up for my email list to get December's newsletter, Stopping By Woods On A Solstice Evening. I send newsletters out each month or so and would love to send one to folks who visit me here on the blog.

Follow this link to sign up:

Monday, December 19, 2016

November Hill farm journal, 24

This week I bought a new wheelbarrow, which is one of the most-used things on a small horse farm. I use wheelbarrows to move manure and stall waste, leaves and rakings, to carry firewood and hay. We don't have a tractor and for the most part don't need one. This time of year the horses aren't in stalls much and the bulk of the mucking we do takes place in the fields and paddocks. 

I'm a one woman mucking machine. So having a nice, well-made and balanced muck barrow makes life so much easier! This one is all of those things and I love the cheerful color in the winter landscape.

This week our weather made one of North Carolina's crazy roller coaster ride loop-de-loop patterns. We had two bitterly cold days and nights, then a slight warming with rain, then another cold day and night, then yesterday the temperature soared to 70 degrees and sunshine for a few hours before rain blew in and cold right behind it. The horses seemed to weather this crazy changing weather just fine but yesterday as the rain and cold rolled in I developed a migraine which put me on the sofa for the afternoon and early evening. I've read that rapid shifts in barometric pressure can do this, and it seems to hold true for me.

In spite of the few hours of 70 degrees, it is winter now. The entire farm has put on its winter wardrobe: the muted yet lovely colors of brown leaves, gray tree trunks, and bits of hay left behind by the herd. The evergreens are deep and dark, and the horses and donkey and even the painted pony blend into the landscape. It's one of my favorite times of year, though when we get a lot of rain and the ground goes to mud it becomes tiresome.

Now, though, we've had just enough rain to water the earth and hasten the compost process. Leaves mixed with hay scraps and manure break down fast, and everywhere I walk the earth is soft and spongy. We had such a spell of dry before this we never got to overseeding and liming, so that has now been pushed to early spring to do.

Everything is dormant, and maybe that's why a cold winter morning is so perfectly still and quiet. It's a peaceful, perfect time, like those moments in movies when time stops and everyone freezes in their steps. It's just me and the herd, communing.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Raymond Briggs' The Snowman

Pippin reminded me that it's time to watch one of our favorite videos ever - The Snowman, based on Raymond Briggs' gorgeous book.

If you've never seen the video, or even if you have, take a little break to enjoy the imagery, sweet story, and amazing soundtrack:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Time, lights, and wintery nights

There has been a lot going on the past few weeks and I have had a very odd sensation of going both fast and slow, in different directions, at the same time. The phrase "doesn't know if she's coming or going" would be apropos lately. I've been on the road more than usual, driving 70 mph on freeways trying to get to the next place I need to be, and although I'm going fast, I have a distinct feeling of time slowing down. 

It may be that I know in my head all the things I'm NOT doing, like writing, editing, some special projects that I want to finish up, and it may also be winter, and the nights falling early. I'm not sure what it is about darkness that slows time down for me, but it does.

This year we put a smaller tree in the living room and put the big Christmas tree on the front porch. When I drive down our lane to November Hill, I catch a glimpse of light as I come down the hill. Every time I see it I pause to ask myself if that is our light or someone else's - the road curves further along and I'm never sure if I'm seeing our tree or the neighbor's lights. But that initial glimpse, the question, then the knowing, is like a little bit of balm on dry skin, the first sign of Home.

When I get to our driveway I see the tree clearly, all lit up with tiny white lights, the warm golden ones, not the blue-ish LED lights I'm seeing everywhere these days. Like little candles, ours are, and although on one hand I feel so glad to be home a part of me wants to hit the gas and get to the garage as quickly as possible, what I actually do is slow even more, bringing the truck to a near stop as I enter the driveway, enjoying the lights, letting the good feeling of being home wash over me.

Often when I glide slowly along the driveway I'll see one of our wild extended family members. Last night it was brown bunny. Some nights I see the November Hill deer. Raccoons, opossums, owls, foxes have been spotted in the past. I love the fleeting glimpse of whichever animal I see. Our little world is home to more than we know. After that I take one last look at the tree and head into the garage, and I can hear Bear Corgi upstairs and usually see at least one cat waiting as I come up the stairs and into the house. 

Donkeys braying, sometimes the musical whinny of a Big Handsome Bay. All of this is what that fleeting glimpse of light at the top of the hill means when I drive down our lane. 

Home is the place I want to be when I'm rushing madly around, and when I get here, it's where the rushing time and the slowing time finally meet in the middle and come to a very beautiful stopping point. Or at least that's what it feels like to me. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Crazy week, supermom, good heart

This past week was nuts. My dear daughter had 4 final exams in a 3-day period which included the day my mom went in for her scheduled heart valve replacement surgery. We had cold weather and rain so horse care was on the intensive end of the scale. I had clients and a writing deadline and, being humans, we had to eat too. 

Wednesday went great for my mom. The valve replacement was successfully done without cracking her chest, she came out of it feeling great, and the hospital has good coffee (at least until 3 p.m.) and good food. 

Thursday I posted this on Facebook:

Superman: able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Supermom: able to dash across campus to buy a replacement calculator from the student store while calculus exam time clock is ticking without pausing to even consider buying a peppermint mocha from Starbuck's on a cold wintery day.

Later in the day my mom's team of doctors decided she needed a super-duper smart pacemaker to address a very specific issue she has and that was scheduled for Friday morning. That, too, went well, and exams were over for my daughter, and yay, it was the weekend. Then dear husband headed out of state to visit family and wheeeeee, colder air blew in and chores got a bit harder and my mom is still in the hospital and animals need feeding. I ate dinner last night at 11 p.m. I was too wired to sleep until close to 2 a.m. so the morning feeding time here came very quickly this very cold morning! I'm now finally feeling like I can sit down and just breathe. 

Fortunately husband returns today, my mom is probably being discharged, and the temps look to be warming enough that breaking ice off water troughs and blanketing/unblanketing won't be necessary. It's good to know that I can go from 0 to 80 and maintain it for a brief period and that even when going 80, the key is still to do one thing at a time and remain flexible when needed. And the Starbuck's drive-through right by the hospital is a Very Good Thing. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Night magic in the barn

Last night I was in the barn just after dark fell, cleaning stalls and putting in clean shavings while waiting for the rain to roll in. Keil Bay was at his back stall door, holding court beneath the shelter and knocking the door with his knee, more than ready to come in.

It was quiet, the only sounds were the soft snorts and occasional bang bang bang of Keil's knee. The stalls looked nice with fresh bedding and just as I started putting hay in the stalls I heard the first drops of rainfall.

I hurried and let them in. Rafer Johnson and Apache came in the near side with one stall (our other stall on the near side is full of hay!) and Redford, Cody, and Keil Bay took the three stalls on the far side with the shelter. Redford is always welcome to come over with Rafer and the pony but those two have become such good friends Redford often chooses to stay with the big boys. 

I cleaned and refilled all the water buckets and made sure the shelter was clean too. When we have rain the shelter becomes a much-used space - allowing the horses on that side to go in and out of stalls without getting wet, and offering space to hang out and watch the rain fall, which they do.

In January we're having the barn roof replaced and a matching shelter built for the near side, which will be so nice for whoever is spending time there. I was thinking last night how nice it will be to have a muck barrow on each side of the barn. 

There is something special and lovely about getting horses set up for a cold wet night. They seem to appreciate it, and in Keil's case he expects it and even demands it! Every time I do it I have the fleeting thought that the only thing better would be to get them all tucked in with hay and water and fresh shavings and climb into my own little bunk right in the middle of the barn aisle.

But then I would miss the walk to the house, with the horses munching hay behind me and the warm lights through the windows drawing me inside. Seeing the activity through the windows as I head through the gate and along the path to the back door is its own special magic, like I've been in one perfect little multiverse and am heading to another. The space between the two, the walk, feels like what I imagine an astronaut might feel floating alone in space. 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

All the good stuff and where it is

I was intrigued by this poster in my son's physics department lounge when we were there on Thanksgiving Day. I'm drawn to the idea, especially when I think about all the crazy and in some cases awful stuff going on in our world, that all the good stuff is out there still waiting to be found and studied and made sense of.

And then I stand in the front field with Keil Bay touching me with his nose as the sun sets on November Hill and I realize that all the good stuff is truly right here.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Circling at F

I wrote earlier about the big red oak at F in my dressage arena, and how it's the corner where monsters sometimes lurk, where Keil Bay might act a little spooky or try to cut the corner altogether. It's also where the acorns fall and on any given day in the autumn if given access the herd will gather and crunch what they consider treats. So it's a place where monsters and good things live, which is sort of like how life is when you think about it.

I write a lot about how great Keil Bay is, and part of that is true in the most basic ways: he's handsome, well trained, elegant, kind of heart, willing to tolerate my quirks and imbalances in the saddle, and generally easy to manage. He also has a fun personality. He'll nudge for peppermints, untie himself in the barn, bang when he wants his wet tubs, sing for his supper, splash in the big trough when he's hot. 

But there's another way in which Keil Bay is great and that is his offering up of opportunities to take what is happening with him, on the ground, in the saddle, and look for what those things mirror in my life away from the barn.

Circling at F has to do with approaching a scary corner and choosing to stay forward, to come back at it again if need be to move through whatever's creating fear or resistance. Stopping at F to find some treasure and appreciate it. Every time I ride Keil Bay into that shadowy corner of the arena it reminds me that sometimes, often, this is the answer when facing larger questions in life. 

Over the years I've learned that sitting tall and straight, balancing my weight evenly in the saddle, looking ahead and centering myself is the very best way to let Keil know things are okay, and, that by circling at F, we're affirming that it's a safe place to be. I use this every single day in other ways. That all of this takes place beneath the big red oak, a perfect manifestation of the Tree of Life symbol, makes it even better. 

Sometimes that corner is Shadow and monsters, in the summer it is shade and relief from the hot sun. It's the same corner but it takes on different meanings at different times. The answer is always to ride in deep, circle when needed, and stop to experience the treasures when we see them.