Friday, December 24, 2010

The Longest Night

In Birdland we are caught in the firm jaws of winter. The snow has encrusted, and the wind carries dust from the field to add a layer of soot to the once pristine drifts.

The furnace barrels on endlessly despite the fire I try to keep burning in the woodstove. The longest night of the year has just passed, but it’s still a long, hard journey until spring. The Winter Solstice is my favorite holiday. I always think it’s the darkest it can get. The sun has turned the corner of the year, and though it’s a long way off, Spring is on its way back.

I had been thinking about running again, thinking that this school break would be a good time to get back into an exercise routine. Ellis said he would be my trainer. My youngest's cross country experience means he knows all the stretches to avoid injury. The other night Ellis came to offer me a small square of a chocolate bar. As I took it, he said, "Now you have to run tomorrow." I agreed, and when he was up the ne

xt morning already dressed in his purple under armor, I knew he wouldn't let me off the hook. We did a slow jog to the mailboxes, then he showed me how to stretch. He said he was going to do two miles and I told him I'd just run as far as I could, hoping to make it to the grass waterway. I figured if I could make it there, then the next day I might make it to the pineys, and a bit further each day after that. With luck I'd make it around the corner and to the Benson timber within a week or so. Ellis took off, and Isis hung back with me, both of us bouncing along at our slow lope--two old ladies, my dog and I.

I always knew that running was a great way to de-stress, but I didn't realize that the rhythm of my breath and the pumping of my heart and the slow clop-clop-clop of my feet would act as a meditation of sorts. In the beginning my mind was running through troubling events, and before I knew it, I had passed the grass waterway, my original goal. I surprised myself and kept going. As I ran further, I began to pay less attention to my troubles and more attention to the various pulses in my body. I passed the piney woods and the cemetery, and felt no need to stop. I began to get curious about why I could keep running. Ellis was long ago out of sight, and I thought I might make it around the corner to the Benson timber. Sights and sounds and scents began to replace my troubles. I smelled the warm scent of my neighbor's horses, heard a high, warbling birdsong. I passed my uncle’s house and saw Ellis coming toward me on his way back from the one mile mark at the bridge. As he neared I called to him, "Can you see me?"

He slowed his pace a little, and as he approached, I made a long slow u-turn to run alongside him. He gave me an odd look. "Um...yeah," he said. "Why?"

"Well, I thought maybe I dropped dead on the road back there, and this was my ghost running. If you can see me, I'm probably not dead. High five!" At that moment I felt like I could run forever, and my ghost running while my body lay on the road behind made about as much sense as the idea that I could actually run as far as my uncle's house the first day of training.

Ellis gave me a high five, and I told him he didn't need to wait for me; I'd see him back at home. He picked up his pace and soon he was out of sight again. Isis and I followed with our slow clomp-clomp through the ice and snow.

Run in beauty; Absorb Peace; Blessed Be. Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She has decided on a goal to run five miles before her fiftieth birthday. She is interested in cycles and rhythms, celestial and earthly.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Summer in the Midst of Winter

Winter seems to be settled in for a nice, long visit in Birdland. Winter changes my perspective, and 30 degrees seems warm to me, but we haven't seen 30 degrees for awhile. The snow covers the yard with tight little crystals that squeak when I walk out to fill the woodbox.

My pile of firewood is melting away. I love the cozy feel of a wood fire in the winter, and keep a kettle on top of the stove for tea. I usually have a pot of soup or stew cooking, too. My stovetop gets crowded when I have a hot fire.

I bundle up in sweaters and throws and woolen slippers, but I keep warm another way too. The taste of summer is distilled in my pear butter and apple sauce. I pull it out of the freezer to spread on toast, to pour over chicken, and it brings back a little of the sunshine that went into it. Before the freeze I pulled out my tomato vines--some volunteer yellow cherry tomatoes that come up every year in the garden coop whether I invite them or not. They kind of take over the coop, growing like a true vine, not a bush. In the summer I forsake them for the varieties I actually planted--big, beefy red ones, and the Romas.

But I brought the vines to the basement and laid them across my laundry rack. The leaves withered and dried, of course, but the little green tomatoes quietly turned yellowy-orange, even though I forgot all about them. I happened to glance at them while pulling clothes from the drier, and saw them hanging like bright Christmas tree lights—or maybe it’s the Christmas lights that hang like ripe fruit. They, too, have distilled the summer sunshine, and seem to be lit from within. They're a little wrinkled, but tasty. As I pull them from the vine and pop a few in my mouth, I remember the summer sun spilling down as I weeded in the garden coop. I close my eyes for a moment and call up that summer heat to get me through this cold snap.

The winter is hard on old ladies, and Isis, my yellow dog, sleeps later and more soundly these days. She has a more difficult time getting up to go out, but once she’s stretched out the stiffness, she’s happy to walk even in the worst weather, her yellow tail wagging slowly back and forth like a flag. In the mornings, she’s not quite sure she wants to go out until Ursula nudges her with her soft, black nose. Still, Isis doesn’t want to go far on our walks, so I’m glad that Ellis discovered the lazy person’s method of dog exercise—leave it to my fourteen-year-old son to come up with a techie plan for virtual exercise. At night, he lets Ursa out on the porch and stands in the doorway, shining a tiny laser beam through the window onto the snow. Ursula never tires of chasing the red light around the yard, over the snow, around the tree, into the field. In fact, once she’s started, it’s hard to get her back inside, but once she comes in, she sleeps like a baby.

We all find ways to keep warm in the winter, to savor a little bit of summer sunshine until the Earth turns us around to face the sun again.

Savor Beauty; Remember Peace; Blessed Be.

We still have kittens to give away in Birdland. Email Mary if you'd like to adopt one.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Keeping the Home Fires Burning

This morning it's 13 degrees in Birdland, and I can't get the fire started. I've been known to skimp on preparation, but this time I used everything I was taught about fires. I cleared out the ashes so the stove could breathe; I made sure the flue was open and the window slightly cracked to provide ventilation; I piled a generous handful of kindling over crumpled paper; I propped a split log over the kindling. It should have been a one match fire. It started enthusiastically enough, and I took my coffee back to my desk to work, confident that my soup would cook on the stovetop and the house would warm. I worked a little, then went out to the kitchen for a refill to find the stove quiet, no shadows of orange flames dancing behind the sooty glass face of the stove door. I tried again and again with more kindling and more paper, readjusting the log just a bit. Each time the kindling would catch, and I’d leave a merry blaze only to return fifteen minutes later to ashes—my soup barely warm, the room still cold.

This morning I have at least sixteen things to do before 2:00, and I’ve only managed to smear my hands with soot. I need a new plan. I decide to begin again and go out into the snow for fresh kindling. The wind bites my face and the snow squeaks under my feet. I see some twigs sticking out of a snowdrift and pull out a dry branch. I snap it into stove lengths as I walk back to the kitchen door, thinking about the snow. The cold has made it stony and a little cruel, but when it first fell a week ago it was lovely. I was out at the First Friday celebration in Monticello, making my way around the square with my friend. We each had a wine glass and had a little taste of wine, and maybe a bite of cheese from each shop. It was a festive evening as we visited from store to store, seeing friends from the community in a new context. We talked about travel with our sons' teachers, we discussed grandchildren and drank sparkling grape juice in a toy store. We’d step out into the night and be dusted with snow as we walked a few doors down. Bulky snowflakes would sift down on us, and it was just cold enough that they’d land on the sleeve of my fleece and stay whole for a while. I can’t get tired of examining a snow crystal: tiny, perfect three-dimensional worlds. I could get lost in them if they would stay long enough, but suddenly they melt and it’s time to go into the next shop.

Now I go back inside and begin again with my fire. I pull the charred logs out of the stove and lay them on the brick hearth. They are smoking slightly, so I hurry to crumple paper and pile kindling over it. I lay the logs over the kindling and reach for a match, but before I can strike it I see that the coals of my almost-fire have ignited the paper. I watch through the open stove door until the kindling catches. I shut the doors and go to wash the soot from my hands. I grab my coffee and sit in front of the stove. By now the kindling is crackling and I peek in to see that the logs have begun to burn. The heat warms my face and I sip my coffee and stir my soup. Sometimes a fire just likes to be watched.

Burn in Beauty; Watch in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in community and the balance of work and life. She still has a few kittens who need homes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Stones of Winter

Winter has brought its leaden skies to Birdland. In the winter I can find plenty inside to occupy me. The Christmas cactus has burst with flowers on the window, with a bright pink that seems to glow despite the overcast day; the teakettle sings on the wood stove, which fills the center of the house with a cozy warmth. But the wood box needs filling, the dogs need walking, and I can't stay inside forever. It will be dark soon, so I bundle up, and the dogs and I head out to trek across the back field. I can walk them there without leashes. They run ahead of me as I follow the dotted line of bean stubble back to the hedgerow. I appreciate the austerity of a winter field. The gray stalks, the dry earth, broken by the occasional patch of green—weeds that will be plowed up in the spring to make way for planting of the corn. Don't get me wrong. I'm not so into the monoculture of our Midwestern corn and bean fields; I don't think it's healthy for the land. But something about the starkness speaks to me in winter, as much as the lush greenery of April articulates spring for me.

Today we head out and before I’ve gone 50 yards I start eying the stones that lie on top of the soil. I have forgotten to bring a cloth bag to carry them home for my various rocky projects, and anyway, I don’t want to pick them up until I’m on my way back. Ahead, Ursula begins to dig. She has found the den of a field mouse or perhaps a mole. She works busily, throwing a splash of dirt up behind her. The wind picks up, and I dig my hands deeper into my pockets. I have forgotten my gloves, too.

My grandmother used to tell a story about how she went out into the corn as a child and got turned around. Eventually she found a big boulder in the corner of the field and climbed on top of it to wait for her father. He saw her and came for her on horseback. I must have heard that story 10 times before it hit me that it happened right here on this very farm.

“Grandma,” I asked. “Where is that boulder now?” The story happened in that magical pre-automobile country; where the roads were paved with mud; where corn was seeded with a foot between each plant; where the fields were fenced with hedgerows of Osage Orange and Multiflora Rose; where the barn was full of animals: a dairy cow, a horse named Bunker and his Billy goat friend, some chickens. To suddenly realize that this story happened in my own back yard was to connect that magical country with the present, that little girl waiting on the boulder with my own grandmother. But I’ve never seen a boulder on the farm.

Grandma waved vaguely. “Over there,” she said. “In the corner by the Benson Timber.”

“But Grandma,” I persisted. “There’s no boulder there.”

She looked surprised. “Why, this whole country hereabouts was filled with boulders when I was a girl.”
“Then, what happened to them?” I asked.

She leaned back and looked over her glasses at me. “Dynamite,” she said, as if it were obvious.

Of course. What else? She told me that a man made his living driving all over the county blowing up boulders.

Now I am crossing the grass waterway. Soon I’ll turn back and pick up a few stray rocks from that long ago explosion. I pick up a sand colored shot put, and then see a small piece of flint. I put that in my pocket. I pick up a few more stones to cradle in my arms, muddying my coat, but then discard one for a lovely, brownish burgundy stone. In this way, I make my way back to the yard, shoulders aching, and finally dump the stones in a pile next to my spiral rock garden. The sky is getting heavier, and a few tiny snowflakes swirl down around me. I call the dogs, and go inside to cuddle with a kitten until time to start supper.

Gather Beauty; Ignite Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland, near White Heath. She is interested in issues of ecology and her own back yard

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Last Laundry

For the past few weeks in Birdland, hanging laundry has been a little chillier, a little riskier. It takes a little longer to dry, and sometimes isn't dry even as the sun sets. I have to gauge the probability of overnight rain, decide whether to leave the laundry up or take it down to finish in the drier. So far, I've opted for leaving it up, and always seem to luck out.

Hanging laundry in November is quite different from hanging laundry in August. First, let me explain. I love doing laundry. It's one of my many quirks. I don't understand people who think it's a chore. It's easy and satisfying. I don't have to think, just keep in the rhythm of hanging and folding, so my mind is free to wander. It takes some time, but the job has natural built-in breaks to it. The rhythm of the task encourages a quiet meditation, and I find satisfaction in folding the familiar clothes, now clean and soft, and ready to wear another day. Creating order from a pile of dirty clothes suits me.

Hanging the laundry takes me outside to enjoy the nice day—the breeze and the sun. But in November it begins to get tricky. I wea
r a heavy sweater, but I can’t keep my fingers warm. This makes it both more difficult to hurry, and more important to finish quickly. Laundry in November holds a little tinge of sadness. Winter seems to be late this year, yet we know it is coming. The gray skies hold snow, and the evenings come early. In the summer I can wash three cycles of clothes and have them dry and folded before supper. In November, I have to rush to finish even one load. As I struggle to hurry with the wet clothes, the late autumn air cools them. My damp fingers pull in the chill, and soon they are numb and aching, both at the same time. Now my fingers are clumsy, and my mind is no longer free to wander. Now I am wondering if this is the last laundry I will hang on the line. Will winter stop teasing us and settle in seriously now? Will the blizzards come, the temperature drop? Will my laundry freeze on the line into stiff cardboard cut-outs of shirts and pants? Will I be dispatched to the drier until Spring?

This week my laundry luck ran out. I left a batch of still damp clothes on the line one evening, and it rained for two days. Today the sun has returned, but some of the clothes are streaked with mud, blown across the yard from the field, I suppose. I’ll have to take it down to rewash. I wander around the yard, checking on things I should have taken care of before the frost. A basket of weeds sits in the middle of my half-weeded path; the rain barrel is full of ice, the sillcock frozen shut, so I can’t even open it in case of a thaw. I’ll need to weatherize the aviary outlets and plug in the lights and winter water dishes. All this would have been easier to do before the freeze hit, but every year I get lulled in to thinking Autumn will last forever, or at least one more day.

Now that Winter has come, I’ll turn my attention inward. I’ll work on interior, warm projects—cleaning out closets and painting them, knitting, writing, fixing the thermostat. I’ll take brisk walks with the dog, collecting stones for my spiral herb garden, but I’ll just leave these in a pile until Spring. I’ll make plans, bake bread, sing songs. I’ll clean the basement. I’ll plant seeds for Spring.

Walk in Beauty; Work in Peace: Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in cycles, common things, and her own back yard.

Monday, November 22, 2010


In Birdland we are still teetering on the edge of Autumn. Some days seem to want to spill over into Winter like a sudden slide down a snowy hill, and I regret not digging my mittens out of the closet before leaving for work. But no snow in Birdland, yet. Just when I thought apple picking season was over, I visited one of the public trees on my route and picked nearly a bushel. The little bites of frost we've had so far seem to have done these apples good. They are sweeter than before, and still crisp. This tree is badly in need of pruning. Next time I visit, I'll bring a pruning saw. Meanwhile, back in Birdland I'll take advantage of the weather--cool, but still nice--to continue the job my friend, Brian, helped me begin last year--pruning my own long-neglected fruit trees.

Pruning seems to be a theme for my life right now as I clean out closets and rooms with the goal of filling boxes to donate to Willow Tree or Goodwill. I look at all I've accumulated over the years and realize that this stuff might do someone else some good, but the only thing it's doing for me is adding clutter to my closets and my life. I need to prune deadwood and growth that's gotten out of hand, but some things need to be nipped in the bud—cut off before they even begin to grow.

We'll cut our Christmas tree this weekend. That, and all this pruning talk has me thinking about my plans for Christmas shopping. I never was one for the Black Friday frenzy. They can Deck the Malls all they want, but I won't be there. Instead, I am planning a buy nothing Christmas. My list will consist only of things I make, things I buy second-hand, consumable gifts (baked goods, candles, special soaps, lotions) things people would need to buy anyway (school supplies, socks, underwear--sorry kids), or virtual gifts, like a Heifer donation of a hive of honeybees or a flock of chicks. In this way, my Christmas list doesn’t clutter my conscience, and I don’t contribute to anybody’s closet clutter. Well, my handmade gifts might end up in someone’s closet, but I’ll try to make them useful, consumable, recyclable, or at least biodegradable.

There. Making that decision has me feeling better already. I have nipped that little bud of guilt that always accompanies my plans for holiday shopping. What is the point of it, anyway? To let our loved ones know we love them? I think a modest, but colorful knitted dishcloth could do that, a plate of cookies, a little jar of pear butter. Is the point of holiday shopping to drive our economy by fueling jobs where people make lots of plastic stuff that travels from factory to store shelf to shopping cart to a brief stay under the Christmas tree to closet shelf to landfill? No thanks. I’d rather send a hive of honeybees somewhere out into the world to pollinate the flowers and give honey to fund some child’s education. Black Friday may get Wall Street excited, but this year, I’m opting out. is a site maintained by some Mennonites in Canada. It encourages discussion about the issues surrounding gift giving and consumerism and religion. It has downloadable music, posters, a comic book, study kits, printable coupons (to give instead of store-bought gifts), and even a kit for putting on your own musical. The comic has inspired a lot of spirited discussion from diverse perspectives.

Heifer International is a charity that grants not money, but gifts of livestock or crops that can grow and multiply on their own to enrich a whole village. I’m partial to honeybees, since I worry for their welfare, and the devastation of our planet if bee populations continue to decline. The Heifer website gives the example of one hive enriching not only one family (who would benefit by the bees’ gift of honey to eat and sell, and pollination of their crops) but a whole village. Bees fly right over fences, so one hive would also pollinate crops on neighboring farms. According to Heifer, “Placed strategically, beehives can as much as double some fruit and vegetable yields.” In fact, while they’re at it, the bees would also help maintain botanic diversity of any wild flowering plants, helping to restore health to an ecosystem.

As the winter approaches and the trees sink into sleep, I’ll prune them for health and beauty. I’ll also make judicious cuts to my pile of possessions, and nip in the bud the kind of stifling growth that threatens my clarity and peace.

Prune in Beauty; Opt in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She still doesn’t have a beehive, so she will pollinate vicariously through Heifer International and send bees out somewhere into the world. She still has kittens to give away.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Hard Nut to Crack

What’s going on with the weather? Not that I’m complaining, but shouldn’t we be turning up our collars and digging mittens out of the closet? I wore a sweater over my turtleneck yesterday, and was over warm all day. The sky has been stunningly blue, and the leaves in the yard are toasting to a crispy brown. The trees are more than half bare, but I’m waiting for the last leaves to fall before I climb the ladder to clear them from the gutters. In town the leaves make new patterns of color and texture above and below, but I’m on the lookout for walnuts.

For years I’ve been thinking about buying a walnut cracker. We have plenty of Black Walnuts in the woods, and the lone Walnut tree in the yard had finally, after twenty years started dropping nuts, which mostly fall in the driveway and get run over. Juglans nigra, or Black Walnuts may be the hardest nuts to crack. They begin like green leathery peaches, with a fresh, pungent smell. If you try to remove the husk, your fingers will be stained like an auto mechanic’s for weeks. Wait, and the husk will decay, the green turning to a deep, dark brown—almost black. It is much easier to remove then, but you still have stained fingers to contend with, and you still have to shell them. You can heat them up and hit them with a hammer on a flat rock, but it’s difficult to control the crack, and the shells fly, while the nutmeats get smashed—that is, if the nut opens. Every fall I would look for nutcrackers on the internet, but any that claim to handle Black Walnuts are pretty pricey. A few years ago I bought a used one online for about $15, but it was disappointing. It could handle J. nigra’s cousin, Carya ovata, the smaller, slightly less dense nut of the Shagbark Hickory, but just barely, and after standing at the table cracking nuts one evening for about an hour, I had a backache for a week. The gallon jar of the Hickory nuts I gathered stayed on my kitchen shelf for three years, and the nutcracker stayed in its box in my pantry.

Again this year I searched for walnut crackers, and finally did the math to realize that even if I have to shell out (oops) $75 dollars for a nutcracker, it will pay for itself pretty quickly since I buy Walnuts for $10+ a pound. I mean, I always knew cracking my own walnuts would be a good deal, but even so, making that kind of purchase is hard. Well, this year I found a new nutcracker I hadn’t seen before for more like $50. I impulsively ordered it, and it arrived a few days later. It is cleanly mounted on piece of finished wood, and has fittings to accommodate Walnuts and smaller nuts, like Hickories or Filberts. With gears and springs it looks like a torture device from a tool and die shop. It has a lever, and you can adjust the pressure by turning screws or selecting specific gears. Luckily, before I used it I read an online review which suggested covering the nut with a towel. Even though the lever gives you great control, the nut often explodes under the pressure. I quickly used up all the Walnuts I could find in my front yard, and then switched to the three year old Hickories. The Walnuts mostly came out in halves, but even when I had to pick them from the shells, they came out in large pieces, and I filled a bowl quickly with fresh and free nutmeats. Hickory nuts are another story. I was happy to find them tasting very fresh—the shells do a good job of protecting them—but they are just that much smaller than Walnuts. They seem like half the size, but it took maybe four times longer to fill my little bowl with the sweet Hickory nutmeats. Hickories have a more Maple-y flavor than Walnuts, kind of like Pecans. I like them even better than Walnuts, and they are almost worth the extra trouble. I keep my eyes open for both kinds of trees. I spot a Walnut tree on my walk to work, and on the way back to the car, I bring a bag to fill. The squirrels and I haggle over portion, and we all leave with our share of the gift from the trees.

Shell out Beauty; Share in Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in the gifts all around and in her own back yard. Her favorite kitten is named Mink, but she would part with her if someone promised to give her a good home. Ditto for her brothers and sisters: Pumpkin Sam, Ruby Pearl, Quiver, Tortiebelle, and Toby.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Wall of Gratitude

In Birdland the wood smoke and the slight chill help us welcome the early evenings and late mornings. We keep warm with brisk walking, sweaters, extra socks, hot tea, porridge (we recently discovered steel cut oats with warm pear butter), and, of course, invigorating chores. Summer rhythms are winding down and harvest season is pretty much over (but for a few lingering apples and pears that need peeling) so I turn my attention to more structural employment: collecting stones for my spiral herb garden and my wall of gratitude. The spiral already has a beginning, like a big snail next to my path, and I imagine it will take me all winter to finish it, but the wall of gratitude is just at the planning stages. Actually, I have no idea how to build a stone wall; I need to do some research. But I do know that I want a tangible reminder in my yard of the kindness of friends and strangers.

Writing these letters has surprised me in many ways. Sometimes it’s a funny, one-way correspondence. I’ll run into people I haven’t seen in a while, maybe years, and they know all about what I’ve been up to, while I know nothing of their adventures. I’m continually surprised when I begin to tell a story, only to be interrupted by, “I know! I read about that.” If I’m lucky, they’ll have time to give me news, but often these exchanges are limited by the general busyness of our lives. We’ve both got groceries to get, other errands to do, kids to drop off or pick up. We part, but the brief exchange endows the rest of my day with a soft glow.

I get surprised another way, too—by hearing from complete strangers through letters or email. Sometimes they want to offer a recipe or a book recommendation, sometimes the news of a connection with my family, sometimes just to tell me about a flock of chickens their grandparents kept, or about their family of Shih Tzus. I’ve heard from readers with stories of my grandparents and great grandparents, and I treasure these connections. Sometimes readers even offer tangible gifts, and I’ve been blessed with yarn and needles from Sue, a fellow knitter; Irises, Day Lilies, Coreopsis and green tomatoes from Nancy and Larry, fellow gardeners with plants to spare after their landscaping project; books for my son about sailing, and t-shirt scraps for making rugs from Edwina; and offers of help with chores from various friends, old and new. Our neighbors, Jim and Sean dig us out of the drifts in the winter. A picnic table and umbrella from Dave and Pam make a focal point for the east side of the house, and a semi-circle of Sedum from Gayle defines the space, while Gayle’s husband stacks firewood he brought us. I can’t imagine what I’ve done to deserve these gifts, but I value these glittering links to my community. And isn’t that what community really is? Sharing our gifts, tangible and spiritual with each other? I feel lucky to be part of such a vibrant neighborhood—both geographic and virtual. When people share these gifts with me, I feel inspired to find new ways to share. I can never really repay these friends, but keeping a balance sheet is not what community is about. Instead I try to think of ways to keep community flowing by passing on gifts of my own. Who in my life might like a little jar of apple butter? A loaf of bread? A visit on a chilly day? A story? A smile? A letter? A card? A kitten? (A really cute one at that. Come on, you know you want one.) Come to think of it, if I were keeping a balance sheet, I’d be in the red. I’d better get busy.

Share in Beauty: Pass on Peace: Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in community and social justice, and her own back yard. Her basement kittens are seeking new homes.

Autumn Winds

In Birdland we’ve had mild weather for so long that we’ve almost forgotten that winter is coming. We haven’t turned on the furnace yet, but this morning I put on two sweaters and then carried in firewood for the season’s first fire. The coming winter begins a whole new arrangement, and the wood stove, which acts as a plant stand all summer needs cleaning. The plants must find a new home. As I move them to the table I remember that the stovetop can be my slow cooker for the apple and pear butter for the final fruit of the season. Life has been so full since last winter that I’ve almost forgotten how much I love cooking soups and stews on the top of the woodstove, and the memory comes back in snatches, like a pleasant dream. The fire has caught now, lighting the glass in the door cheerfully, and I fill the kettle for tea and place it on top of the stove. It will take a while to boil there, startling me with its whistle after I’ve long forgotten my tea, but then I will have hot water for tea all morning and into the afternoon.

The woodpile is full, thanks to our neighbor, Tom, who came last week with a trailer full of firewood, cut to the size of our stove. We are lucky to have such caring friends. I heard Ursula bark and went out to find Tom at the woodpile. Together we stacked the logs, and then I went inside for a little jar of apple butter—small thanks for a huge favor, but I hope his family enjoys it. Winter can be long and lonely and cold, but we get by with help from our friends.

The wind has hit us heavily this week—tipping over my picnic table and tumbling my Adirondack chair across the yard. The wind keeps us awake at night, but makes Ursula’s crocheted discs sail twice as far, and she joyfully races into the field after them, leaping to catch them on the fly. It blows my laundry off of the line and my mail out of the box. The wind blows the leaves off the trees and around the yard, and sometimes into the next county. Last week I built a new mulch bin out of wooden pallets. It is a three-sided framework to pile leaves and sticks, and it took only about five minutes to screw together. I had to reverse it when I realized I had set it up facing east so that the western wind would blow the leaves right out. I turned it around, and now the wind will blow leaves into the bin. We put two wheelbarrow loads into the bin and stomped them down. We could probably fill six more bins with the leaves in our yard, but the point isn’t really to rid the yard of leaves. The wind will do that. Instead, I’m thinking of the rich, dark leaf mulch we’ll have for the garden in the spring.

The radio warns of frost tonight, and I’ll go to the garden and pull last of the little yellow pear tomatoes off the vine, and pick up any apples and pears that have fallen since yesterday. I’ll cut the tomato vines to hang in the basement; the remaining green tomatoes will slowly ripen. Then I’ll walk down the road and hunt for yesterday’s mail, thinking about the ripe but slightly wrinkled tomatoes we’ll have for our winter salad to remind us of the last sunny days of autumn.

Blow in Beauty; Gather Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in the change of seasons and community. She has kittens ready for adoption.