By The Skin of My Teeth

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The sump pumps churn in the basement alternating forceful, consistent blows of water from the concrete foundation, up and out of the house. Ten inches of snow melt seeped into the November soil followed by two days of consistent rain, asking too much of the ground below to hold. Freshly emptied water buckets under the dripping roof have been poured into the sink and returned to their kindred tile homes eager for new collection of earth which spills inside. I boot up and take a light to the basement examining the streams that press in from the walls, remembering salamanders dwelling there during flooded days of early spring when the water ceased to keep from the walls. One half brick and two lengths down in the corner on the north wall is a mental note I make to myself where water pours in. Under the chimney boiling up from the floor. Another hole high up above one sump pump where water cascades down the wall, three holes apparent building a stream, and one room of the basement ankle deep with too much water to assume there is only one culprit spot allowing in the flow.

The kitchen is filthy and frigid, my belly hungry with cold in my bones. I take a hot shower first so that the water will warm my fat allowing me a more pleasant mood to cook a hot egg and warm some bread in a pan which will warm me from the inside. My skin begins to cool the longer I cook, but thoughts of the hot yolk slipping down my throat are promising. There is still no insulation in my ceiling, and when the heat kicks on part of me sickens visualizing dollars I do not have evaporating out of the cracks and through the roof. I part the blanket separating the living room and kitchen to get under blankets and a heating pad to eat my steaming egg and rosemary bread.

There are moments on this farm where I feel like I have the help of the world, and this is a truth. It is also a truth that I am a single woman, and all of these trickles of water and slips of heat are burdens all my own. There is no one beside me hustling pastries, sewing goods, planting for spring, making soap, or caring for babies to make an income to put into the roof or the walls. My saviors are my two hands, my hurting legs which still allow me to move and walk, and a sense of capable self worth and gratitude which prevents me from wallowing in disbelief in the power to accomplish and provide for myself.

This is no plea for pity. It is a truthful analysis of my days. They are both sweet and tart. “Three things of joy, one of grief, that makes a living thing,” I keep this statement alive in my brain when I feel simultaneous gratitude and truthful pangs of struggle. I am alive. My shower curtain is weeping with hard water, stained from the family who lived here formerly, and never replaced new when I moved in. Lady bugs cluster together on the ceiling in the bathroom where there is still insulation and the steam of the hot water enlivens them again, and they start to skate around the ceiling resurrected. Who am I to kill them when they cluster for warmth as I would if there was a belly to my back? Seeing their shells meet I feel an affinity to them as though we are in this together. I thought to myself how to so many people this house is unsavory and gross with its many issues and the wildlife it tends to harbor. To me, it is my home.

“As long as you’re in no hurry, it doesn’t matter how much work your house needs,” a neighbor once said to me among a corn field. With certainty, there are many accomplishments that will come in slow time. In the meantime, it is imperative that I fight for each dollar in the jobs I take on because my time is worth it, my skills are worth it, and my heart is pure in every job I take on. If I make you food, it is with a yolk colored of the sun down, rich, and labored by a hen who mustered what she could with the dwindling light of the season. If I care for your baby, I give them my heart and my hands, and if my body was willing I would lend them my breast. When I give you my time, I give you my life. When I give you my word, I give you my heart.

Just now, I am supposing I simply wish the world knew. I wish that all of our employers, all of those in positions of power with dangling dollars, could see what our individual lives hold, and how hard we are working to put those dollars into warming our walls. And in so, perhaps those employers would limp their wrists and let down the dollar easy and say, “I see how you love my child. I see how cold your kitchen is. I see how your work is the earth’s work. I see how you nurture life among the land and life among our homes. I see you are trying. And because I am in this position of power, and because I honor what you give to my family and what you give to the world, and how you honor your word, I, too, will honor my word and will stay true and giving in the reciprocity you provide for my family and the sleep I collect because your hands and heart are at work in my home, in the heart of my child, in the heart of the earth wherein I am absent. I cease the negotiation of your time.”

But what more to do, than to speak the truth, illuminate what we can, and move on where our light is not seen. Praise be for strong friends who remind us of our capacity and our worth. Praise be that I live among these lady bug companions who remind me that all I ever wanted were simple walls that I would enliven into a Home, and land wherein I could be free. So be it that the sump pumps wanted one more workout before the coming again of spring rains, and so be it that the kitchen has yet to keep its warmth. I am grateful for all I have, for I have much more than I have not. I have life, freedom, mobility despite pain, a warm bed, myself and animals fed, my praise of days, loving friends and family, capable and hardworking hands, and a heart so full that it only continues to multiply in love for all the earth harbors.

I might be making it by the skin of my teeth, finding it difficult to ask for what I need, but I am asking for what I need, and by the skin of my teeth, I am making it and fully alive, a living thing.

Abby Juanita Rodriguez, November 2015.

Notes From a Rainy Market Day

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They predict an inch and you are in for three. Or more.

The Earth decides the way of the rain, and whether the gladiolus will rot or bloom,

If what is planted will strive or shrivel,

If fungus will be the final word.

If there will be enough flowers for the wedding, and which will be the surviving variety upon which celebration rests.

No one can prevent the course the Great Mother takes, though we may pray for healthy crops, we cannot demand that hand.

We can hope next year is better. Or next week, or month, or weeks until the frost comes.

There is comfort in the camaraderie of fellow farmers.

Everyone is in prayer and a furrowed in-flexed brow wears upon each forehead.

At least I know my sheep has a break from the mosquitoes and heat in the shelter from the downpour.

And though adaptations prove difficult for humans and animals to move from 70 degree weather to three sun’s heat over 100 degrees, we will find our adjustments.

And though the roof leaks, and the basement floods, and the field (in places) holds water –

I have a roof. I have a basement. I have a field.

And, thankfully, the weather and seasons flux with the ephemera of a flower.

May the elements be on our sides.

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The Land, She Provides.

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Scrawled in many-a-journals lies the repetitious message that each In-Between merits authoring. I can be prone to mulling in my days, wondering what is worth it to mark with words with a document that will last throughout time. The fact of the matter is that each day we go through is significant because it is a place where we have never arrived before. The day might be wrought in pain, but it is a different pain, or confusion, or celebration unique unto itself.

Now is the time of a great In-Between for me, filled with a plethora of unknowns, frustrations, surprises, insurmountable gratitude, hope, and faith that is growing from seedling to solidifying sun grown stalk. I am the sunflower with its seed hat still cusping the tender small leaf and it is no doubt we mirror one another right now. The sunflower may be asking itself in the field, “Am I going to grow? Seriously? What if I don’t? What if my flower is weak? What if I never get a flower? And if a curious and derisive wind pummels me in a snide fury?” and the ever popular follow up question, “…then what?!” is the caboose of each question mark. And the flower says, “I don’t know. This is my first time being a flower. I still have my seed hat on. In the meantime, I’ll just get some sunshine and water, and we’ll see how it goes.”

And likewise in my own days follows the internal dialogue that of a self questioning seedling. A litany of uncertainty followed by self mentoring that this is my first time farming by myself and I will just have to give it my all, give it lots of sunshine and water, and see what happens above all else. I spend a lot of time in my own company and lately I have been instating mental laws like, “If you wouldn’t say it to your best friend, then you can’t say it to yourself,” knowing that if I am going to accomplish anything flower farm wise or creatively, beating myself up and questioning if it is all going to work out or not does absolutely no good, and is in fact energetically combative.

The last two weekends have brought me my first solo farmers’ market experiences as well. I have been selling bouquets and sewn handmade goods. I have included hyacinths in many bouquets, alongside muscari, and the errant non deer chomped tulip. I coupled those flowers with some apple and cherry blossoms, newly budding branches, phlox, lilacs, sprigs of evergreen and cedar, and elements of dried grasses that still linger tall in the prairie. I felt those bouquets resembled the true world of spring. The last couple of weeks have exemplified that glorious sweet spot of spring where the whole world is in bloom and nearly each specimen in nature is first a flower before a leaf, before all else. There are pent up buds moments away from unfurling at any moment. What seems so compact and days away from emerging its wild show of color and true form only takes hours, an evening, a piece of day. You forget to check on something in one day and the following day the world reveals more of its natural progression and surprises.

Now is an especially exciting time because this farm home of mine is new. Though I visited the place contemplating buying it last summer, much was already green and leafed out. I never got to experience each living thing blossom and become. And indeed, there were many features of this land that I knew nothing about and have made themselves known to me only now. Not until spring began to thaw the fields did I know that there was a huge strawberry patch out in the field. Tonight I had the pleasure of weeding the patch of still green berries and flowers as the sun set. Two geese flew by sounding the pastel melt of night on the horizon, Venus a’glow from behind. I stood tall with old daisy flea bane stalks in hand and a clump of rogue grasses plodding soil below from its hanging stance. “Some great force is on my side,” I felt. Overwhelming peace was among me in the strawberry patch, thinking, “The land, she provides. Don’t be afraid.”

I turned to look back at the house and could see the reflection of the lingering bits of orange cream sun pastel and milky in the windows, warming the view. My ram stood silhouetted in the distance, watching with quiet. I stood awash in a gratitude resounding in my body. There in the strawberry patch lied no need for fear. “Everything you need to eat will come from this soil. Sow seeds each day, and you will be okay.”

I have not mowed any part of the land since I have moved in, and in doing so I have found many surprises that would have been dormant, unknown, and destroyed had I taken the shears to all that grows in the name of “keeping a nice lawn.” Last week revealed lamb’s ears and salvia. Today revealed many tiny maples, the beginning sprigs of a rose bush, and an entire peony eager with buds! With glee ridden bones I smiled and hollered a pleasant “AWWW!” aloud. The raspberries and blackberries are getting bushy bottom leaves. The apple and cherry blossoms are long spent and now preparing their fruits. And since many of the trees are fully leafed the air lends itself to a percussive sound that was absent in the hanging winter silence. The breeze hushes a new tune between the trees, soft harping among the leaves. I rise with dirty paws, bulbs in tow, and watch the beauty spread through the pasture with a praise that never tires my eyes with old. I could watch the silver backed leaves chime the live long day and never cease of its unexpected silver, nor would the sheen that rivers in the wind ever reside predictable.

Sunny was also sheared for the first time over this past week. He was so round appearing to have no neck. As I clipped his jacket off he appeared youthful and relieved to be unburdened by a year of wool. The wool closest to his body was a deep, silken black, saturated with a musky lanolin that I would put my nose to over and over again. I massaged the lanolin into my skin and repeatedly brought my hands to my face, breathing in. The large masses of wool clipped were placed into a bag and the smaller pieces attempting tumbles and release in the grass were tucked into the top of my summer dress for collection. My chest was coated in lanolin, grit, and bits of wool sticking to my sweat and oiled skin. It was a day that warranted a good shower at the end but I refused simply so I could go to bed smelling myself and rolling over catching scents of lanolin and sweat in the night.

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And so here I am, writing in the wavering depths of the unknown, with a sometimes alarming sense of peace. There is fear, oh there is fear. But fear has no space allowing its rule of me. I am feeling the love and support of my friends, family, and new community members I am meeting through the farmers’ market and feeling there is no option other than for good things to come on this farm. There will be trial and error, there will be failures and successes, good weather and the poorest. There will be everything, because that is living.

And to be living is so, so good.