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Month: February 2015

Farewells

Farewells

Barry

Today Stephen is saying goodbye to his Dad, his father died suddenly 10 days ago leaving his loving family in shock.  There was no warning, his light went out and he was gone.

There are no words, no pithy phrases that can adequately sum up the loss of a loved one.  It’s impossible to quantify a life, to sum up a person; we try, but we know that it really can’t be done.  Not really.  How do you describe love?  Not the grand romantic kind, but the everyday kind.  The kind that’s shown in cups of tea, in shared moments watching tv or washing up.  The kind that’s shown by hard work day after day, putting food on the table, shoes on feet.  The kind that we live every day, year after year, like an old coat that warms us but we forget it’s even there.  There is no way.

As I get older, and the list of those I’ve loved and lost gets longer, I begin to understand a little more of what it is to walk through this life.  I begin to understand that sometimes it’s just a matter of getting your head down and doing the best you can.  Grand destinies are wonderful, but they pass most of us by.  We make of life what we put into it, we do our best and hope it amounts to something.  Each days builds on the last, some good, some best left behind.  We do our work, we care for those we love, we build things, grow things, make things.  Sometimes the things we make are people, people we pour our love and effort and care into, hoping that when we send them into the world it all amounts to something.

I am beginning also to understand that the story of a life is not a straight line.  We do not move from A to B on a clear path, signposted for us with handy resting places along the way.  We wander, we rush, we stop and get lost; we find ourselves stuck sometimes, lost in a place we never meant to get to,  a way station in our story that sometimes becomes the place we stay.  We try to see ourselves from the outside, try to make sense of it all but really, we are all a little lost most of the time.

But along the way we collect, we collect memories and experiences.  We collect people who decide that they’d like to go along with us for a while; sometimes that while turns into forever, however long that turns out to be.  We collect people and memories and experiences, we meander together doing grand things and little things, not really noticing that we are now all woven together.  Woven so tightly, so completely, that we no longer know which bit is which.  We no longer know the space they take up in our heart, they are just a part of who we are.  Life, family, love, all woven together.

Sometimes we choose those people, we weigh up their place in our lives, we make decisions and vows and promises.  But the others, well they are the ones we pick up without noticing.  When we love we inherit a family too, when we share fun we weave ourselves into someone else’s story.  We don’t always intend to, we don’t pick those people with a careful list, they just become a part of us, an extension we don’t really notice.  Until it’s gone.

Then suddenly, like a gaping hole we see it all so clearly.  We see all the threads of that person’s life and how they cross over with ours.  We see the way their colour has merged in to our tapestry, becoming part of the whole, part of us.  We see what that person gave us and, of course, what we’ve lost.  We see the things we’ll never get again, the holes in the tapestry that won’t be filled.  The gaps in the future where that thread belonged.  And that, in those spaces, is where the sadness lives.  It has it’s own colour, it’s own thread, it weaves in and out in the places where our love once lived.  It becomes part of our story, part of what we carry with us as we continue on.

I’ve known my father-in-law for 20 years, for half my life he was there.  Without even trying I can summon up his smile, his laugh, I can visualise him sitting in his chair at home or, more likely, working in his garage.  Because work is the word I most associate with this man, work is who he was.  It was how he helped, how he found value, how he loved.  He showed his love, nailed it down and polished it, gave it freely to those he loved so deeply.  He gave his work in many forms, knowing that it would be a part of their lives day after day.  Even if he couldn’t be there, even if they lived far across the ocean, too far to hold close.

I can’t be in England today to say goodbye to Barry, to show my respects for a man I did indeed respect.  I can’t share my memories of his laughter, coming suddenly and with great joy when something tickled him.  I can’t offer any comfort to those I love far away, except at arms length.  So instead I pause, I look and remember.  I remember the man who helped build our house, who worked alongside his son to build the kitchen where I spend most of my time each day.  I remember how pleased he was when I cried with joy to see it, how hard he worked to get it done in time.  I find evidence of his work everywhere, in tiles and taps, in the special bed he made for his grandson.  I see his work ethic in his own eldest boy, the son he loved so much he sometimes glowed with it.  It was a love that rarely found words, but it was there in everything he did.

I feel the echo of my father-in-law in our garage, a waft of cigarette smoke circling to meet me, as he organised tools and used his strong, work worn hands, to shape and make wood into what was needed.  And I remember last summer, looking up with relief as he walked towards me, lifting a heavy milking machine from my hands and walking alongside me to the house.  The air is thick with memories, how could it not be?  After 20 years, how could it not be.

So I say goodbye, in my own way.  I try to remind myself that someone I loved is gone, not just away in another room.  I try to make that true, but really I know I can’t.  Because he’s not gone, none of them are.  They are woven into us, a part of our story, a part of what we carry around.  They are the paint on the canvas, colouring how we see the world, shaping even how we know ourselves.  The exits of those we love are rarely grand, no stage left in real life, no completion.  Instead we must just raise our heads, remember what they gave us and keep going; one foot in front of the other, making new stories as we go. Carrying the echoes with us and weaving them in to our future.

Deep Winter

Deep Winter

The days are getting longer in our part of the world, minutes are turning into extra hours each day.  This is giving us more time each day, a feeling of openness and expansion that we are more than ready for.  But really, when you get right down to it, what we have more time to do is look at snow.  Lots of snow.  Acres of it, literally.DSC_0703 DSC_0677 DSC_0676 DSC_0672

We’ve had more snow in the last couple of weeks than in the whole of the previous months of winter, snow that piles and drifts and sticks to everything it touches.  Along with the snow we’ve had deep, deep cold, the kind of cold that sucks the life out of your bones.  This weekend we were the coldest city on earth apparently, having been out doing animal chores I can vouch for it.  The cold was simply painful, scouring any available skin and even that which seemed safely tucked away.  The wind was so cold and so fierce that I could feel the zip line on my coat where the cold air pushed through.  That’s cold.

February is always the coldest month, it’s so incongruous that as it is getting lighter, it’s getting colder.  The lighter days are making me think of spring, but the earth is so encased in ice and snow that the notion of green, even thinking of green leaves and unfurling buds, seems like an impossibility.  But I know, deep, deep down that the green will come again.  Just not for a while.

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Even for the boys the snow has lost it’s appeal, and with the cold being so skin scouringly horrid right now I can’t insist of them spending as much time outside as they need.  We do the chores together in the morning and the evening, but then we are inside, staying cosy and warm; we watch the winter whistle boy outside through our windows and wait for days where the wind drops and the sun makes the outside fun again.  On those days we head outside, taking photographs, doing chores, making discoveries.  A tiny hint of the future months where outside is where we’ll spend most of our time.

We do our best to make sure the animals are comfortable, they don’t seem to suffer the winter angst we do.  Their needs are simple, shelter, food, water; it’s the providing of these things that can feel complicated.  The daily battle with frozen water, the hauling of buckets, the attempts to avoid knee deep snow drifts while carrying a heavy bucket of oats.  Though none of these things are my favourite activities they are becoming more familiar, the seasonal demands are something we are learning to anticipate and expect.  There is no sense being surprised by the cold and snow of February, instead we plan for it and use our energy to fight against the worst of it’s effects.

This work is, no doubt, tiring.  Heavy logs feel even heavier when the wind chill is -40 C (Also -40 F which I never cease to find curious) and stamping on a tub of frozen ice when you are starting to lose feeling in your face quickly loses it’s appeal, if it ever had any to start with.  But this is the work of winter, the work of keeping our animals alive, keeping our house heated with a renewable heat source, keeping healthy food on our table.  It is the work of the life we lead.

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This isn’t work that would appeal to most people, slogging through drifts in the middle of a freezing snow storm.  To be honest this work doesn’t appeal to me most of the time.  In that moment, first thing in the morning before getting up, or as I look out from the warmth of the house onto a cold world I know I would much rather stay inside.  We all would.  But we don’t.

The work that we do is made all the more bearable when we do it together, when we get bundled up and help one another.  It’s easy to forget this part of it, to let Stephen take the brunt of it all (and he does), but the reason we bought this land and built this farm wasn’t just about raising nice food and having a few apple trees.  We, Stephen and I, wanted our family to need each other, to depend on each other.  It’s so easy in the world we live in, a 24/7 12 months of the year world, to lose one another.  We can lose sight of the strengths each of us possesses that the others lack, we can forget to learn from one another, to teach one another.

I’m about as proud of being a woman as I can be, I identify as a feminist and have done since I was about 12, but there are things I can’t do as well as Stephen can.  I admire his strength, both physical and mental, I admire the work he puts in to create a life for this family.  I know I fill in the gaps for him too, I create the warmth of the home, I work alongside him, I share his vision of what our family can be and give him new thoughts and ideas to include in that dream.  And working alongside my boys, as I have done this week, out in the snow and ice, I admire them too.  I admire their kindness, their love, their determination.  I admire their patience when I am stressed, I admire their courage in facing things that are difficult.  They are willing to work, just like we are, to keep our family safe and warm against the cold; they care for animals, each other and for me.  I like (not just love) the people they are turning into.

I hope that when my boys go out into the world, when they become men taller and stronger than me, they will be prepared for it.  This life we’ve chosen includes daily challenges and puzzles, things that really need to be worked out or there will be real consequences. We have to overcome barriers, immediate and long term, we have to plan ahead to make sure our tasks go smoothly.  They are witnessing their parents being challenged and working things out, they are seeing that we get stressed but that we stick to it.  They are learning to overcome the obstacles of the mind to get to where they need to be.  They are seeing themselves improve, grow and develop; and they know that what they are doing matters, it really matters.  This isn’t a made up challenge to fit them into a category or tick a box, this is real life with real hardships.

There are times when I wonder if we are asking too much of them, asking them to do work each day.  But then I think about the men they will be, I think about what it will be like for them to enter the world with that experience behind them.  Not for them incapability, they won’t be trying to puzzle out the washing machine or living off food that only requires a 2minute microwave.  They will enter the world with full knowledge of their own skills, with the ability to puzzle out challenges, with confidence in their own strength.  When I think of this, when I think of the times we all stand around high fiving each other because we got our chores done, of the glow of their faces when I tell them how much their help meant to me, I know we are on the right track.

It’s a track currently covered by a lot of snow, but soon….soon it will be green again.

February

February

Well here I am in February and realising I haven’t written anything here since November, very odd.  A combination of blog hosting problems, winter and my laptop being out of commission has made writing tricky.  But now, I have returned.

So what’s up?

Here it’s snowing.  It’s been snowing for a while and will probably continue to snow for a bit longer; it’s winter after all and we know that we have a few weeks ahead of us here in Canadaland.  We make the best of it, skating on the frozen canal, enjoying the stunning sunsets and cuddling up on the sofa during the long, dark hours of the evening. It’s not so bad.

Actually, it’s pretty good.

For the first time the winter doesn’t seem to feel as oppressive as it has in the past.  I think this has something to do with the fact that it isn’t -47C like it was last year, the temperatures this year have been much more ‘normal’ for the time of year.  -27C I grant you, but not quite the bone shattering cold of the winter gone by. We’re not milking a cow this winter (and by ‘we’ I mean Stephen) which has helped keep us above the line marked ‘Deep Winter Despair’ and more in the zone of ‘Looking Forward to Spring’.

This year, as promised, we’ve stuck to our plan for keeping koselig.  After the joy of a Christmas break we decided not to take down our tree, the lights are so warm and pleasant in the evening; instead we redecorated it, a new colour scheme of green and gold to warm us and remind us of the coming spring.  I have plans to redecorate for the equinox, an egg covered tree could be quite the thing.

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Perhaps it’s the tree, perhaps it’s our plan to not exhaust ourselves this winter, perhaps it’s the delayed snow that gave us a balmy and mostly green December, but this year has been different.

And today, in the midst of what appears to be winter, but my soul tells me is the beginning of spring somewhere deep beneath our feet, is our 20th Anniversary.  Not a wedding anniversary as we never quite got round to getting married (all the living got in the way) but of when we decided that we were officially together.  20 years ago, just babies we were, just beginning this mad journey together.  There is no way we could have predicted where we would be now, we’d have thought you were insane if you’d have told us.

Truth be told I think we’re a bit bonkers now, doing what we do, making life just plain hard for ourselves a lot of the time.  Growing food when we could just buy it, homeschooling when we could pop them on the bus, making when we could just head to the shops.  But that doesn’t seem to be the way we do things.  Somehow, on this 2 decade journey we stopped being just ourselves with our own wants, plans and desires.  We became ‘us’, the two of us and then the four of us; with the animals included it’s about the 51 of us, all needing something from each other, all giving something in return.

I often wonder where we are going, where the next decades will take us.  Given how far we’ve come in the last 2, I might be past the point of surprise on that one.  But then knowing the utterly insane, utterly inspired, utterly wonderful chap I’ve hitched my wagon to, I might just refrain from placing actual money on it.