walking through the snow in the woods

What a difference a day makes. One day, well paved paths, some sun, dry creek beds, and the tipping point of fall.

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The next day, making fresh tracks, some clouds, flowing water, and a preview to winter.

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I had a premonition that making an afternoon appointment yesterday a half hour away, with the forecast of snow looming, might not have been the best idea. By the time I left, and the closer to home I got, the more I should have seriously considered just pulling off the road. But I knew I could keep going, slowly with flashers, I didn’t care that I was only going about ten miles per hour. At one point about four miles from home, I was about to pass a car that had pulled over, it’s skid marks grooved clearly in the inches of accumulation. It was one of the many inclines that I would have to negotiate without the benefit of snow tires or a SUV. My car registered the distress of spinning wheels and decided to keep this other car company. I did my best to maneuver off the path of cars that would be coming behind me and to the side of the road as well. The realization set in that this snow was just getting going,there would be lots more, it was getting dark, and there was no cell service. Abandoning the car didn’t seem like an option. So I sat. I was curiously calm. Unafraid. I loved snow after all, it has always been my friend. Eventually, I simply put the car in reverse, backed up a bit, and successfully coaxed the car out into a slow upward climb. Luckily it was still light when I got home, and immediately let the dogs out.

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It’s official. Yogi is a snow dog.

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I literally had to put on my most serious snow boots and trek out the edge of the meadow in the almost dark, leash in hand, to get him back inside.

I couldn’t wait to get out for our walk in the woods this morning. And once again, I didn’t consider the full impact of the snow, how wet it would be, that walking up inclines without cramp-ons might be foolish. We made it to the pond and I loved every moment of it.

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We simply turned around and walked back instead of negotiating the steep inclines of Eagle Nest as we have been doing for the past month. Heart singing, I felt every bit as in love as I ever have. Walking through the snow in the woods brings me to this every time. It is love I was able to share with the first man I fell in love with, and love re-awakened anew with the last man I fell in love with. There isn’t any explanation that I know of for love finding me here.

days of drinking dandelion wine

I’ve been drinking my dandelion wine** for the past three weeks. I didn’t expect to get into it until the heart of the winter, all the recipes I consulted said let it mature for at least nine months and it’s been barely six. But I just had to try it. The nine bottles of golden liquid that carry the essence of spring called from the basement shelf where they have been keeping company with the plethora of empty canning jars. I haven’t canned a single fruit or vegetable this year. This wine is it. It is the product of many nights of separating dandelion flowers from their stems, eliminating all traces of green, pure yellow that became a tea to combine with citrus and raisins and yeast to make this golden brew. I get it now, the fun of making home spirits, of being witness to the natural flow of fermentation and transformation.

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One taste turned into a glass. Truly a wine for sipping. Dry, fragrant, unusual, and strong enough to satisfy in small measure.

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Like a ritual, I began to celebrate the end of each golden warm day with a glass, as if hugging the promise of spring as leaves changed and fell. Three weeks of known paths merging with new paths

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immersed in beauty.

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Five bottles later, the trees are now mostly bare. As the dandelion is one of the first to produce a bright yellow display in the spring, now all that is left are the golden yellow beech leaves that seem to hang on the longest.

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The starkness of bare limbs signaling the coming winter proliferates now as strongly as the sea of yellow in the spring.

I think of all that has transpired since then, the promise of life and death settling into the middle ground of summer, Yogi coming into our lives, Molly almost dying in Peru, the intensity of the upcoming election, the challenge of discerning purpose in all the ways of relating to the world as a woman and as an American, all compressed into the space between these two displays of yellow.

Molly has struggled to find her balance once again in a place that feels like home to her, but is not where home began for her. She just recently made a posting on her Facebook page with a glorious photo and a caption of “Happy to be alive!”

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And bless adolescent seven month old Yogi trying to work through his place too, mostly in the water these days as he explores off leash together with Nora. His body language says it all.

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**Dandelion Wine

2 gallons fresh dandelion tops, collected when they are fully open on a sunny day
(all green parts removed)
4 gallons water
3 organic oranges
2 organic lemons
2 lbs. sugar
1 lb. package organic golden raisins
1 package wine yeast (I used Lalvin EC-118 for sparkling wine)

1. Remove dandelion tops from all green parts, flower will fall apart and become a puddle of individual petals.
2. Bring the water to a boil and pour it over the flowers in a large pot.  Cover and let steep for three days.
3. Prepare the citrus. Zest half the skin, cut the rest of the peel off in thin strips to minimize the amount of pith going into the brew, peel the pith off/discard, slice fruit into thin rounds.
4. Add the orange and lemon zest to the flower-water mixture and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat, strain out solids, then add the sugar (I used about half of what most recipes called for because I like dry wine), stirring until it is dissolved.  Allow to cool.
5. Add the orange and lemon slices, yeast, and raisins to the liquid.  Put everything into a crock with a loose lid to ferment.  (I actually put my silicone Silpat perforated baking mat on top…perfect for letting gas escape, but a clean cotton towel held in place with rubber band will work too)
6. When the mixture has stopped bubbling (about a week), fermentation is complete.  Strain the liquid through several layers of cheesecloth and transfer to two sterilized bottles (I used two (1) gallon carboys fitted with airlocks) Attach the airlock and allow to ferment 30 days.
7. Rack into bottles. After 90 days, when clear, rack again and cork.
8. Age for 6 months.

Ps. I skipped step 7. And even though the wine was clear and tasted great, there is residue settled at the bottom of each bottle that gets stirred up as I reached the end of pouring. I will definitely do the second racking next time I make this wine and allow the extra time for aging too. It will only get better!

this little hill of beans

I’ve been marking time with a tree. A most regal and expressive specimen that can be viewed on my new favorite route to the woods. It called out to me about a month ago, still clad in a profusion of green.

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Now it is exposed, with beautifully formed bare limbs undulating in a dance to the sky while throwing off golden leaves.

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I wish I could be so bold. Just when I am celebrating the warmth and comfort of the layers I get to cover my body with as the season of hibernation approaches, this beauty is celebrating the promise of new growth in full on exposure. I want to speak the language of this tree. Perhaps the season of human me turning inside is simply the opportunity for throwing off the need for accomplishment and quietly baring the soul.

It has also been a month of languid walks in the woods. Gloriously long excursions that now include a multitude of choices for direction and degree of difficulty. The other day I felt myself circling the crest of Eagle Nest and then back down around its base in valleys along familiar paths that follow the edge of water in some way.

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We are usually out mid morning when the sun has risen fully in the sky, casting light in dramatically different ways depending on which side we are on.

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Eagle Nest is the highest of the ‘hills’ in my neighborhood of hills. I can feel its presence even walking the paths at its base, glimpses of massive gray boulders through trees, and the sense of being comforted by something close by. Each day this past month has begun or ended at Eagle Nest. I have felt drawn to it like a moth to a flame, hungering for something. Being out for so long that day created physical hunger as well, and I walked with visions and sensations of warm fragrant squash and apples I could bake when I got home. As soon as I walked through the door inside, I set the oven for 400 degrees. Cut an acorn squash in half and cut one of the halves into 3/4″ slices. Made a few 3/4″ slices of the butternut squash waiting in the fridge. Cut one of the beautiful Cortland apples just picked from a local farm in half and into slices too, rubbed it all lightly with olive arranged them in a lightly oiled shallow baking dish, baked for fifteen minutes before adding pats of butter and a drizzle of maple syrup, and then baked until apple was puffy soft and squash was fork tender.

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Through it all, the preparation, the baking, and the eating, I was still feeling the gentleness of Eagle Nest. I was still communing with my new tree friend, and I was already circling around to anticipation for the next walk. The apple had carmelized a bit and tasted like the sweetness of the day accompanied by the warmth of soft buttered shades of orange.

Yesterday I woke to our second full on frost. I found my mound of drying bean plants now wet and on the verge of mold. I picked all the pods in various degrees of readiness, and opened them to extract the beans inside. Such a beautiful little hill of beans!

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Flecked with a purplish gray, some still cream colored, some golden in their age. I felt the thrill I felt as a little girl when my mother would make a bin of dried beans for me to play with, hands plunging into the the thick silky texture and gleefully listening to the sounds of bean waves as I moved them around, picked up handfuls and let them rain back into soft mounds. For some reason the expression ‘hill of beans’ stuck in my head and accompanied me into the day’s walk. I know this expression is typically used to describe something of no consequence or significance, but it felt the opposite to me as we ventured onto a long ignored path on the other side of Eagle Nest and the pond at its base. I knew I would veer off path. I knew I would work my way back toward Eagle Nest. The thing I love about walking the woods here is the wavelike regularity of the hills and valleys. Off trail I am learning to become one with these waves, following barely discernible deer paths that make my passage significantly a joy.

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It felt completely natural to feel my way home through completely unknown territory. And cook those beans for dinner.

life-wave

“When you feel stuck, or fear an ending, remember that you exist within a life-wave, that life is always moving. Waves have high crests and low troughs, and stuckness is just an indication of an impending turn in your wave. Nothing ever truly stops; you can count on an ongoing momentum to move you repeatedly and ever more quickly now, through ups and downs and beginnings and endings. The more you allow yourself to relax into the current and feel that everyone and everything is somehow in the same flow with you, the easier the turns will be.”
Penney Pierce, from her book Frequency

I had a big work deadline this past week that required most of my focused attention until the project was done and ready to be sent out. It is the nature of this business of architecture, to be accountable for making a set of documents that contractors can put a price on. It means that every detail that has a dollar number attached to it needs to be considered and represented in some way. For weeks I had been stuck in a place that wasn’t enjoying the process. I dreaded sitting down at my computer with the feeling that I needed to finish it quickly, by a certain time, whether I was ready to or not. I kept waiting for the joy to appear, the fun that would move me more quickly to the desired end.

I’ve been doing this a long time and I’m good at my job. I have to keep reminding myself of this when I am at the trough of the wave. My mind knows that the wave of this work is always moving, that even if I physically leave the drawing, I am still working on it. My heart knows the feeling of love for this seemingly static thing called a building continuing to grow through the changes of renovation. I can’t will myself feel good about accomplishing the little bits I may be able to accomplish on a day to day basis, while otherwise walking in the woods or working on a quilt or writing. When I feel stuck this way, not making visible progress, or can’t see the end in sight, it is simply because I am resisting what I know. That there is no end, just the deadline, and as much as what I am doing might eventually look complete, it will change and become something else just by virtue of how it is perceived.

The joy finally did appear this past week. Like moving toward the crest of a wave, like the final quilt composition that is ready to be sewn together, like the words of a chapter that have begun to flow together just right, the details of this set of documents fell into place naturally. Once in this awareness, I was able to effortlessly complete the package and send it out. The wave at its crest began to turn back down toward a new beginning. Each day moving through the beauty of changing fall color, like a current moving along a spectrum of light that is always there, I could feel life taking on a different form each moment of its travel.

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The pools of water and their reflections kept calling, reminding me that even here, where all is seemingly still with water at rest, form and light will change in a instant. I might not see the inner molecules of the water, but I could feel them sharing this truth with me.

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Even while I was feverishly typing specifications and completing detail drawings, I was being drawn to the table where two new fabric constructions were happening, the beginning of a new quilt.

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I love the feeling that I exist within a life-wave flowing toward new beginnings and new ends in equal measure. I saw a photo of a knitted shawl that prompted me to dig out some yarn I bought months ago, compelled to begin the project right now,

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not at all surprised when I started knitting that I was seeing the exact same range of color that was right out my window.

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Life is always moving. The challenge is to stay aware of where the wave is about to turn.

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beauty and the seven month old puppy

Yogi chewed the entire corner off a wood window sill last week. It happened in the blink of an eye with no warning. I could have paid sharp attention right then, could have taken swift action to acknowledge the beast that was being unleashed in him, turning him from the sweet gentle puppy he had been up till then into this force of adolescent destruction. Next was a noticeable section of the oriental rug edge missing. Then the entire center of the new fleece pad I had just bought for his crate. And eventually, the large pillow I used to hide the damage he had done to the window, dragged to the the center of the room and de-stuffed in moments. Meanwhile, the digging became epic, with new holes appearing faster than I could fill them back in.

I know this is just a phase, that the adolescent dog is easily bored and full of energy. Especially in the morning, just when I want to be spending quiet reflective time. I need to be patient and creative and consistent with my attention, care, and training. More than the recall work we do in the woods together, no, I think I could be doing more right now to help him through this phase. But my ability to take clear action seems to be a week behind. I have a looming deadline on a project and have been otherwise distracted. I bought a large supply of bully sticks to satisfy during those coveted early morning hours, realizing that this is just a bandaid. I can feel a change coming.

Yesterday was the quintessential fall day. Blue sky and bright sun, color emerging everywhere, cool air and moist dark ground from a recent rain that let go of evocative mist as the day broke.

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Beauty everywhere I looked.

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The kind of day where anything is possible. After weeks now of working with Yogi, letting him off leash for spurts of free roaming with his sister, working on the trust that he will come when called as Nora does, I still feel angst when they are out of sight.

What if they don’t come back?
Their return to me is never instantaneous, never the exact moment I call. I know they hear me. And I have come to trust that they do come. Sometimes I just stand still and wait. Still my heart. Call out again to let them know I am here.

As we turned to enter the path toward the pond, at the same moment I breathed in the exquisite beauty of where we were,

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I reached down and unleashed Yogi. It was time to let the adolescent have a longer dance. As we progressed deeper into the woods he darted and dashed and always came back. It was as if Beauty was his dancing companion, guiding him to be the full expression of his desire today. He ran to the pond and immersed himself in muck, covering himself in thick black goo.

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He sniffed indefinitely at every fern that called him. He happily stayed close to Nora.

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When it was time to put the leash on, he became a willing partner trotting contentedly next to me. We circled around the mountain and to the swamp on the other side and found the full expression of this gorgeous day.

 

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Here was the Beauty to Yogi’s Beast. She’d had a good long dance with him. It would take a lot more work I know, for this beast to fully mature back into the gentle giant he was destined to be, and for the moment, everything felt exactly right.

That afternoon I went out and bought a bagful of new toys, and an even wider variety of treats. Training begins tomorrow.

the sweet spot

The bread dough is proofing and almost ready for baking. The peel that holds the loaves within parchment paper and towel formed couches is sitting in the sweet spot. It’s the place where virgin levain became ripe and vibrant in just three days, and where the levain starter prepared last night for today’s bread more than doubled in volume overnight. After weeks of failed risings and bread so utterly dense and inedible that it had to all be thrown away. I had been taking the levain and subsequent containers of fermenting dough up to a closet on the second floor out of sight and out of mind because I assumed it was adequately warm and draft free as dough rising places should be.

Clearly something needed to change. I started all over again with a new levain, and decided to keep the fermentation process out in the open where I could be in relationship with it at all times. It is a living thing after all. The process of teasing yeast naturally from flour and air is an art I can well appreciate for the effect that attitude and place has on coaxing a vision into form. Setting the bowl at the end of the wood table in a corner of the room that is the heart of the house, where dough could capture the heat of the sun through the window and of the woodstove when it was full of fire had been a passing thought that proved to be the right one. I could watch and covet every bubble and burp,

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as it became an integral presence with us all.

Magic was happening there in a way I’d never experienced in all the years of making bread. I’ve rigged up cabinets with heating pads, set up stations next to fireplaces and wood stoves behind protective screens in addition to the assortment of closets presumed to be adequate. Now, finding a place where everything feels just right is not something to take for granted.

It was like finding the blue chair at the brook last week.

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Coming upon it in the section of the woods newly discovered wasn’t a mystery. I assumed it was simply someone else’s sweet spot and not for me to sit in and experience. But after a week of walking past it, I finally sat down. And considered view of stone and water and wood and dog from this particular point of view.

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Yes, there was magic here for me too. Sweet spots want to be known and shared.

I was talking with a friend yesterday about the practice of not making assumptions and where I first encountered this way of thinking in Miguel Ruiz’s little book called ‘The Four Agreements’. I can’t assume this recent batch of levain developed so potently because of this particular place. There could be a hundred other possible variables and this is not a problem. I can narrow the range within which success is possible, but the success will always be relative. This batch was made from two different varieties of wheat I hand ground myself just hours before using it.

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There will always be a reason to try something new if I want. Similarly, I can’t assume that sweet spot of being with myself without excessive drama these days is solely a function of not taking things personally (one of the other agreements in Ruiz’s book). After too many years of putting myself in the center of every problem, it is a relief to step aside and consider all the ways that simply being in relation works or doesn’t work. And choose what works for as long as it works. Even with bread dough.

The loaves are out of the oven now. The smell is intoxicating and it is a sight to behold, two nut brown crusts fully expanded to their very reach. I’ve set them in the sweet spot to cool, where I can listen to the gentle crackle of bread coming to rest.

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A few warm slices with some aged cheddar cheese and kalamata olives. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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