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How I feel about June

More Than Enough

The first lily of June opens its red mouth.
All over the sand road where we walk
multiflora rose climbs trees cascading
white or pink blossoms, simple, intense

the scene drifting like colored mist.

The arrowhead is spreading its creamy
clumps of flower and the blackberries
are blooming in the thickets. Season of
joy for the bee. The green will never

again be so green, so purely and lushly

new, grass lifting its wheaty seedheads
into the wind. Rich fresh wine
of June, we stagger into you smeared
with pollen, overcome as the turtle
laying her eggs in roadside sand.

 
by Marge Piercy

A special day

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Today is my mom’s birthday. I failed to send her anything, even though she faithfully, to this day, sends me a birthday gift each year. I am 33 years old, and so grateful.

This year, in about two months, I’ll turn 34: the age my mom was when she gave birth to me, her youngest. And then a month or so after that, I’ll have a baby girl. My second child and, most likely, my last.

All of this has me thinking of her, wondering what she was like at my age … how she felt about being a wife, a mother of three, an artist, a young woman. Sometimes, I think we have this notion that our parents are complete or unchanging; that they became themselves long ago, before we knew them. But now, especially as a mother, I see how I’m constantly becoming myself. That it never stops.

Deep thoughts for a gloomy Friday afternoon.

All I know for sure is that I’m thankful for my mama. And if you ever see anything beautiful in my home — a turquoise plate with a bird’s nest etched into its center; a scarf in ocher, scarlet, and deep blue; a locket necklace in the shape of a perfect, golden, long-eared sow — chances are it came from her. She has excellent taste — I’m pretty sure she’s been that way forever.

Truth.

Nothing

can replace
poetry
in my life
and one day
surely
it will

–Ken Mikolowski

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Wilder by the minute

Hello! It’s me, Elise.

After a long hiatus, I’m re-launching my blog, Half Wild, with a new look. And hopefully some new things to say, and a few pretty pictures.

About six years ago, my husband and I left Washington, DC, and returned to Indiana, where we had met and gone to college. Together with my husband and some friends, I started farming on a small scale while keeping my day job as a writer for nonprofit organizations.

Sometime later, I came across a book of poems called Half Wild by Mary O’Reilley. The name clung to my brain. The life I lead often seems to operate in dichotomies, but regardless of what I’m doing, wildness finds its way to me.

Now, with a two-year-old and another baby on the way, my life feels more than just half wild some days. This is a space for wildness and order to come together, however they may.

Here’s a poem from Mary O’Reilley’s book (which I highly recommend).

The Gods Keep Descending

Just carrying in the groceries
you can lose everything.

Late October:
reeling
unreeling
intentional beat,
instinctive surrender–
the geese fly over.

“To be caught up like that!”
you allow–
stunned homesick
between the porch
and the car.

Your skin puckers, thins,
breaks into feathers

and easy as that we go,
belong to ourselves no longer
but to calling
and cliffs
of snow.

–Mary O’Reilley

 

Life Lessons from a Child

derstine_04282014_1This morning I rode my bike down to the farm where we are raising 280 baby chicks. I fed them, watered them, refreshed their bedding and biked home—all before my son woke up from his morning nap. I even had time for a shower.

If I lived in a perfect world, that’s how it would always go, every morning. My son, Abram, would sleep for over an hour and wake up happy. The chicks would be kept warm, clean and well fed. And I would have time to take a bike ride in the sunshine, drink a cup of hot coffee and maybe even read or write a little.

But most days, we just wing it (pun intended).

The day the chicks arrived in the mail, my sister-in-law was in town. Abram was sleeping when the phone call came from the post office, and my husband, Adam, stayed home while we dashed out the door to pick up the special package: three giant perforated boxes of peeping yellow fluffballs.

Half an hour later, we sat on buckets in a dusty barn, gingerly lifting each chick out of the box and gently pushing their beaks into a tray of water so they could take their first drink.

My husband called. The baby had woken up even before I left the driveway, and he was hungry.

We still had at least a hundred chicks left in the boxes. So Adam decided to jog down to the farm with the baby in the stroller.

When they arrived, I washed my hands and climbed into the front seat of the car and nursed my son.

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Abram practices his “gentle touch.” (Despite the look on Abram’s mother’s face, the chick was not harmed.)

The car door was open and the sun shone down on us. Spring had finally arrived, and I could hear robins singing in the pine trees over our heads.

It sounds idyllic. But I admit to having mixed feelings at the time. My son was happy. My family was helping me. The sun was shining. What more could I want?

In the back of my mind, I was disappointed that my son hadn’t napped well. I was annoyed that I had to stop my chores before they were completed. And all of it seemed to take much longer than I’d planned—I felt my day slipping away.

As a new mom, I’m still working on letting go of the control I used to have over my life. I like to plan ahead and know what to expect.

My husband and his sister finished the chores, and when Abram was done eating, we sat in the grass. It was the first time Abram had actually felt grass on his toes. He reached down and pulled at it with his hands, delighted. He held a few blades of grass up to his face and stroked them gently with his fingers. And yes, then he put them in this mouth.

Sitting in the grass with my son had not been on my agenda. And yet it was probably my favorite moment of the day.

Leave it to a child to show me how much I have to learn.

Emerging From Winter (And New Motherhood)

Sleepy AbramGoodness, it’s bright out here. Hello.

I’ve been hibernating for a few months…but I think I’m finally emerging from my cave.

That’s how I feel every spring—like a sleepy bear, groggy and stiff and hungry for fresh air. But this year—oh, this year—it has reached a whole new level.

Yes, this winter has been long. But for me, it has been more than that.

I gave birth to my son, Abram, on a beautiful day in late October, and though the following two weeks were gorgeous, I couldn’t really leave the house to enjoy them. I watched those final golden days of autumn from my living room, where I was pinned beneath seven pounds of pure miracle. Miracle who liked to eat for 40 minutes at a time, 12 times a day. So feeding him became my full-time job.

Then winter came in earnest. You all know what happened, so I won’t remind you. But let’s just say I didn’t get out much with my newborn.

Just when I thought I was getting the hang of things and Abram was getting old enough to brave the occasional “warmer” day, he stopped sleeping well. And by that I mean he almost stopped sleeping entirely.

So if I managed to get my son clean, fed and actually asleep or content in someone’s arms (other than my own or my husband’s), I didn’t take that opportunity to leave the house. I slept. I slept whenever I could. It was the only thing I could think about. It was a deep hibernation with constant interruptions.

Long story short: we survived. Abram sleeps much, much better now, and so do I. And now the sun is shining a bit more. The days are longer. Together, we’re starting to explore this soggy, thawing world.

Like just about anything that emerges in springtime, we’re a little tender. Maybe even a little etiolated (I could use some sunshine). But we’re determined. Getting out under the sky has never felt so good.

Photo is by Elise Hofer Derstine and may not be reproduced without permission.

A Special Introduction

Abe & PiggiesI know I’ve been quiet–but I’m still here. And now with a wee babe in my arms.

The first three weeks have been the roller coaster everyone promised they would be. We’re a little tired and bewildered, and also very much in love.

There isn’t room in our lives for much more than eating, sleeping, crying and cuddling–but we did make one very important field trip.

Abram, meet the pigs. Pigs, meet Abram.

On Tedium and Joy

Nearly every morning this summer I rode my bike from my house in downtown Goshen to Red Tail Farm, a property along the Mill Race near the college. Once I arrived I would lean my bike against the side of the beautiful red barn, unlatch the side door, step inside, and say quietly, “Good morning, chickies.”

More so than in previous years, I was the keeper of the chicks for our farm this summer. Our baby chicks live indoors for the first three weeks of their lives until they are sturdy enough to go out to pasture. They need to be tended to daily with feed, water and fresh bedding.

Usually Adam split the job with me, but for many reasons—including my limited ability to help with more strenuous farming chores while pregnant—I did most of it myself this year.

I took the same path each morning, making a big loop—south on Eighth Street, west on Waverly and then back north along the canal toward home.

At the barn, I pulled the feeders to the edge of the room by the feed bags so I could fill them all at once. I checked underneath the brooder—a suspended, upside-down box with heat lamps inside—while carrying the water bucket so I wouldn’t need to enter the bedded area more than once.

For me, these habits were about more than efficiency. Like any daily task, caring for the chicks became a kind of ritual. A ritual that I sometimes dreaded, especially on rainy mornings, or when the other tasks of the day loomed large on the horizon.

But most of the time, if I remained mindful, caring for the chicks was one of my favorite parts of the day. On my route, I loved seeing the town wake up. I paid attention to the daylight as it arrived earlier and grew stronger as the summer solstice approached, then began slowly slipping back. I relished those unseasonably damp and cool mornings in August.

I even enjoyed that first moment of stepping into the brooder and calling out gently to the chicks—even though they consistently scattered in a burst of feathers and peeps at the sound of my voice, despite its softness.

The tedium of farming can be a blessing or a curse—it usually just depends on my attitude.

Two weeks ago, we loaded up the final batch of 175 chicks and took them out to pasture. Afterward, my back ached from bending and straightening to scoop up the chicks and set them in the crates. At nine months pregnant, I was ready for this ritual to end.

Now, waiting for this baby to arrive, I imagine the morning rituals to come this autumn and winter. Rituals that, when performed in a state of exhaustion, will no doubt test my ability to enjoy them. And I say a little prayer for myself—that I will remember to be mindful, and to cherish a time that is as fleeting as that summer light. 

A Memorable (and Adorable) Event on the Farm

Mama Dot, resting and nursing her piglets.

Mama Dot, resting and nursing her piglets the day after she gave birth.

A few weeks ago Tom called with the news—the first Blue Heron Farm piglet had been born, and more were on the way.

We have worked with pigs for several years, buying young feeder pigs from Amish farms and raising them on pasture. But this was the first time we’d had farrowing sows on the farm.

What better way to spend a Saturday evening? Adam and I drove out to the farm right away, just in time to see Millie give birth to her second piglet.  

Even though I’ve been involved with farming for about four years now, I had yet to see a live birth before this night. In my childhood, I never even saw a dog have puppies. So I was a bit mesmerized by Millie’s labor.

Sleeping PigletsAt first, it appeared the conditions of the birth were not ideal. Tom had been moving all three sows (and one boar) out to their farrowing pasture when Millie went into labor, so she remained on the livestock trailer for the big event.  But it turned out to be fine—Millie seemed comfortable, the piglets couldn’t wander too far away, and we could easily see how everyone was doing.

Millie lay on her side, panting heavily. Every once in a while her back legs would flex as she sustained a contraction, but otherwise she was relaxed and paying absolutely no attention to the humans peering in at her from the door of the trailer.

Then, without warning, a piglet would simply slip out of her body—smaller than a loaf of bread, covered in a milky white film, and still attached to the mother with a purple umbilical cord.

Red piglet

Almost immediately, the piglets wriggled to their feet and began to walk around their mother’s body, pulling the cord free and climbing along her flanks until they found what they wanted—milk. In a matter of minutes, the slick film had disappeared from their bodies and the furry roly-polys were already acting like pigs, stepping on their siblings’ heads and fighting over feeding space.

Adam and I watched the arrival of seven more piglets before calling it a night. Before we left, Adam went out into the pasture to find Dot, another sow who was due to give birth soon. She was alone, laying in the grass on her side, breathing heavily. As Adam rubbed her side, she let out low, rhythmic grunts, but didn’t get up. She was in labor, too.

That night Tom stayed with the sows until after midnight. Between Dot and Millie, 23 piglets were born. Adam and I returned Sunday morning to find them all nursing or cuddling together in a pile. A few had tunneled into the grass and fallen asleep. Like I said, I was never really around newborn puppies—but I think piglets might be cuter. 

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