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 Glory of a Mother’s Garden

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We are already past our first week in May and today is Mother’s Day! I’m praising the mommas of the world and those in my own life. My mother has always been an incredible inspiration to me for her strength and wisdom. It was just two years ago that I had started to experience death of friends. My own brain got a bit muddied at that time and I had a seizure that left me pretty wrecked. But, in reality, those difficult and then paralyzing events were the passageway for where I am today. I have always known the ephemeral qualities of our days but that reality was kicked into high gear a couple of years ago. I had been reaching and striving to meet my goals as the owner and sole operator of a dog walking and pet care business in the city of Chicago. It was my way to commune with animals and be outside – two things that made me a happy person and feel right in the world. I wanted to save enough money to give it to my parents so that they could retire early. And I also wanted to save enough money so that I could get a little piece of land and hopefully farm one day settling down near my birth area, raising babies, and being close to my parents, fully aware that our time together is short.

The memory that I have, post-seizure, is one of terror, fear, and consolation. My father loves to watch TV and it is common that if the family is spending time together, on his terms, it is around a television which is the exact opposite of how I spend time in my own home or with others. I came home to visit and see a slew of neurologists and so I stayed with my parents for a week. Dad had on a gruesome killer war story and with everything happening in my own life the program was just too painfully real to watch. I asked him if we could turn it off but he refused. I tried to handle my mind, “It’s just television, Abby…” but, “No, these things really happen in life and it is sick ‘entertainment’, just leave the room,” was the voice that battled back. After digesting the first voice and trying, I failed, and I got up and said the latter out loud to my folks and withered away crying on the back steps. I was not proud to be as fearful as I was, or to have to ask to turn it off, but it just pounded all around me. We’re going to die. And everything, and everyone I love, at any moment, will follow this truth, and it hurts.

I knew it was a significant pain, however, and a truth of life pain. It shook me up and rightfully so. Here I had been spending my days focused on a business to pay tribute in a way that was meaningful to my parents (financial success), but in the meantime I was hours away and married to a business that I had a hard time getting away from for visits. So I cried on the back step losing my mind a little, and my mother followed me in and rubbed my back in just the way that soothing mothers do. “It’s okay,” she said. I said it wasn’t, and that I was so deeply sad. She told me that I was growing, that was all, and, “Come with me. Let’s go pick some berries.”

The sun was hot and tears were rippling down my face and she talked about how vigorous the berries were, how healthy and supple they were that year compared to others, that there were way too many to pick and she needed help. She had a little bucket for me and we sat down in front of the bush and as I plucked each juicy berry it hurt with the glory of life. I looked at my beloved mother, the sky, the berries and the healthy leaves, heard the pluck from the bush and the thud in the bucket and a terrific, heart-full pain rang through my body with the lingering taunt of death deep in my bones. She rubbed my back, but kept on picking, telling stories to try and rip that reality from my bones or placate the mind, and I knew that it was because it hurt her to see me that way and she wanted to divorce me from the experience, even if only temporarily.

And as I started to linger in the beauty of the moment, grateful as all for it to be happening there, picking berries with my mother, my father stuck his head out the window with a camera and said, “SMILE!!!” and I lost it all over again. My dad is not one to cater to emotional difficulties and nurtures in his very own peculiar Dad Way. But sure enough, he took himself away from the TV and came outside to my mother and I in the berries, set up a self timer on the camera and plopped it into the grass, ran over near my mom and I, and he took a picture of us three near the berry bushes crouched down. I was crying and sun squinting with berries in my hand, and they were kneeling down around me squinting and smiling as though this was a Normal Family Photo. Though it may not be “normal”, it is probably the most Real Family Photo we have ever taken together.

No one wanted to talk about the death in all of our bones, and so we supplemented that conversation with actual Living by picking berries and commemorating a Day Alive.

Sometimes, often times, I find myself living speedily, rushing to goals, and making sure to milk my days, because the truth of our ephemera lives like a hawk on my shoulder. These days I try to just feed the hawk, and know she is there, but take the slow time to just be, and have faith in my time alive with the truth right now that I Am Living.

It is still just as precious to be decisive about how we spend our time and who we spend it with, but when it comes to family and dear friends it is significant to always make the time to care for them and be with them. Pick berries with them. Make them something with your own hands. Invite them into your life to share time. You never know how it may change your own life or theirs. A day or two after the berry picking day with my mother I woke at sunrise to eat eggs in the back yard and there by the berry bush I thought of how that little piece of land was worked by all of us at some point in time. My grandfather kept diligent care of his gardens after his life as a farmer; my sister and I took care of the garden and yard after he had passed to help my grandmother; my grandmother took care of the yard as a means of joy and maintenance; it was in the back yard near the berry bushes where she had been working alongside my mother when she had a stroke and there began her parting with this world; and it became a sanctuary for my mother to continue her big garden and where she would find joy in taking care of the little plot with my father. All of this coalesced within me, with a burning desire to Just Live, and it made sense to me that farming and gardening was burning in my bones just as much as the taunt and reality of our short days.

When my mother took me into her garden to soothe me something changed in my brain and upon much meditation on those experiences I decided that I was no longer going to continue the dog walking and pet care business, and that instead, I was going to find a way to farm and make my way back home. Last year on Mother’s Day I came home from a farming internship in Cornell, Illinois and brought my mother fresh chicken and turkey eggs, handmade maple syrup, and a bounty of fresh lilacs and flowers. And this year, I am going to bring her fresh eggs from my own farm, flowers grown by my own hand, and a cheesecake I made from scratch in the wee hours of the night. Part of me felt the pressure to go to the Sunday farmer’s market to sell the last few bouquets and handmade goods that did not get sold at yesterday’s market, but I am tuning out of that same striving that led to my internal demise with the dog walking business – the pressure to always be there, the pressure to always do better. For today is not about making anything but time, love, food, and honor for my mother.

And making a berry compote atop the cheesecake.

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Spring is here, Spring is dear!

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Today is the first day of Spring! Little sprouts of green have begun sprawling along the fields. All that was dormant and all that was dead is now enlivening. This is the beautiful stage where budding trees color the horizon first with red, umber, hazes of yellow on willows, and pale lemon fuzzes about branches before the grand explosion of greenery. The color is an amalgamation of hibernation unfurling and it is just the very beginning, like a birthday, a new start, a baby.

The picture window I once looked out of at snow covered fields has now melted its last pile of white. What used to be a mountain big enough for myself and a child to sled down is now melted down under, its waters preparing a bed of flowers to come, or some vegetable to feed. The bees are again buzzing, flies are awake and in search of muck, and the overwintered lady bugs of my home frazzle at the window wanting out. These are the days of everything changing. These are the baby days wherein we stare out at this blank canvas and we have hints, hunches, so many dreams of what we intend to paint, but what those fields will look like come July we do not yet know.

But we hope, I hope. And I dream. And I believe.

I believe in the fertile fields, in my own sweat and hard work, and the helping hands of community and family, in the grace of the land and all of the possibility that lies within her soil. I believe it is my job to make this world a better place not by schmoozing with political figures or taking my angst to the streets but by putting my hands directly to the Earth and planting food for myself, family, and community; sowing the seeds that will unleash the greatest flower foods for the bees, and making a field for the butterflies to thrive within. My greatest goal is to make the nectar for us not to simply subsist on, but thrive – to get better with, to heal with, to go beyond with, to bring joy.

Today is not only the Vernal Equinox, but it is a new super moon, a solar eclipse, and a day of fertile menstruation within my own body. The capacity I hold within my belly is reflected in the fields. This day I bleed makes room for another cycle to take its rightful place in my body and actions. The seeds that have begun will continue to transform and grow, and the ones not yet sown will soon to be germinating, and it is the beauty in these teeny tiny steps that transforms a life, a world, a body, a day. The now minuscule leaves, or the unseen steps of germination, are the very ones that will aid in someone’s celebration, birth, grief when they come into bloom. They are the tiny steps that will feed and nourish a body, whose succulent leaves of green will fill the belly during another cycle, or feed the baby of a woman who has new life growing within her own womb.

Isn’t life the most amazing gift?

To think we can take our own hands to the soil and effect change in so many ways, to bring joy to our neighbors and partners in life, to bring sustenance, hope, and proof that what we do today impacts our tomorrow, our children’s future, and the health of our Earthly companions.

And the rest of the world will whirl on in its gruesome activity saddled with glorious miracles. And my heart will still be soft and attentive to what makes me hurt within the happenings of the world; the injustice, the inequity, the harmful and the dark. But this is the best way I know how to seed light – to take in all the harsh realities of the world and still grow a petal, craft with my hands, listen to the soft wind, the changing song of the world within the seasons and try to make better in some shape or form. This is the cycle that has no end and it truly life’s work. I lend my heart and warm shoulder for those who may need it and I will devote my time and days working with the Earth to make her, and her inhabitants nourished and joyous, heard and felt and supported as much as I can.

Within all of this lies a belief in time, belief in our time alive. I believe that our lives matter and that our days matter. I believe that what I do not accomplish this year there is room for next year, and this is where growth lies as well. No one is ready for everything at once, and so here is where I stand right now. The field is still crispy grey-brown and taken over by the looks of old daisy flea bane. My kitchen has no ceiling or insulation, the bathroom floor is sagging with rot in some locations, and the old slate siding is muddied with some vegetation growth and stains of years striped upon its exterior. But this is my sacred shelter, the place I will call my home for years to come, where I will have little babies running around. I am eternally thankful for after more than a year of floating about in different people’s homes and years of rental properties that I finally have a home where I can settle and grow. This is still something I mutter to myself on silent nights outside as I take a look around at everything that surrounds me, “I have a Home. I have a Home,” as though there is something in me that hasn’t quite settled yet out of disbelief of its reality. But here it is, my home, my field, a place for me and the babies that I have promised them, and a place where we will all grow according to our own speed. They are out with their noses to the ground, nibbling little mouths moving so quickly catching the freshest greens as they sprout from the soil, grateful to be in new season – returning from the season from whence they came one year ago. They changed my life.

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I am happy where we are. And as scary as it can be to sit in so many unknowns and so much newness, I have faith in us and faith in this place. I have faith that the field I see now will be fertile and show signs of my hard work come July. I have faith that despite whatever hardships will come I will find a way to learn from them and work through them. I have faith in all possibilities, my wild dreams, and the hands and hearts of everyone who has risen to help me along the way.

May your seasons be kind and may your seasons be bright. May there be joy in your hard work and praises within your day. May your muscles throb with the pleasure that you have lived a day with the vegetation and dirt in your bones. May you prosper in the good Earth with healthy animals, healthy family, and healthy children, and may you prosper with joy and vitality. And when you grieve, as grieve you will, may you remember the feeling which comes with the look of the still yellowing willow and hazy budding trees that possibility is bred not just at new beginnings of seasons, moons, or cycles, but in the daily steps of our in-between. Whatever ails you will eventually, like all things in nature, cycle and unfurl into something new.

Whatever the outcome, let us all join hands and bare witness to one another and this beautiful Earth, in all of the seasons of our lives and days. For what greater way is there to live than together in joy, grit, and hope?

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The Day I Planted Your Flowers

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Late in season, November,
And the first snow blessed each bulb finger pressed into
Deeper cool soil.
The fields quieted with fallen flakes
Broken only by the lamb’s cry,
Pleased and perhaps perplexed by his crown of white.
He gave a shake and laid the bridge of his face against my thigh.
The late farmer.
The novice in the field.
Thinking she had more Time
Until time itself had proved again the suspension of its own arms
To be finite.
My hands muddied with the mixture Of sweat, snow melt, and still sticky soils.
This one is for the dead,
This one is for woman unknown,
And this for my dear friend,
This one is for the breath of the Earth,
And she for the bees,
And this one is for the worm,
Another for celebration,
A hearty one for the inevitable whistle pig,
A bulb for marriage,
And she for ceremony,
And one for existence alone.
May you all stand for a world made more beautiful
By hands that dare to sow creation and hope into the soil, despite Ideal time, despite time at all.
May the Great Mother be happy to belly a new home for what is to Sprout with another Rotation.

Abby Rodriguez (November 2014)

The Day I Picked Your Flowers

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Under the waning leafy canopy of the poplar
Stars unfurl as a laced umbel of the prairie.
Cows breathe to my back among the choir of night.
Frogs and crickets voice a percussive air
While the atmosphere crisps into a dew,
Beading in the lamb’s wool.
Evidence I’ve lived pulsates through my body,
Each venous throb a reminder of the day.
The husk cherries pulse.
The zucchini, the greens and beets,
Asters and amaranth.
Resting soft lips on warm sheep’s horns,
And the little boy who fancied himself as a ram.
Laugh-crying in the field
With harvest companions.
Dancing in the carrots, feet bare to dirt.
The monarchs ambling in pasture tune,
Goats sunbathing in a sea of golden rod and lingering Queen Anne’s Lace,
All of the wild aches within the knees.
The new crescent moon curling its thread above,
My bath of sediment where the day washes from my skin.
My dawn began with a hen revealing under breast and wing
Chicks singing that Mother has Warmed them into Living.
A testament of all to come nestles
Among a satisfied belly of what has been had.

Abby Rodriguez (September 2014)

Company of the Country Wave in Wellington, Illinois

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The country wave keeps me company in these transitions of days. This morning I stood on the lawn braiding my hair and a man took it upon himself to pull over and grant me kind words about my twisting red hair before continuing his country cruise.

I repositioned the fuscia-mauve foxgloves three times contemplating  the best arrangement for passersby to catch visual hold of their spotted middle splendor. I could not succeed at pleasing each direction though they bounce now in the soft Wellington, Illinois breeze with their freckled middles bare to anyone caring enough to focus inward. Their bells are a delightful burst among the acres of greening growing corn which lays in rows at my feet. With my legs stretched outward I can see a rowed home for each of my thighs through the corn sprouts that seem to stretch on forever- even past the silos in the distance, past that other homestead, and the other; further through the prairie my body runs on. Last night we traipsed through these thigh high grasses with Sunny bouncing in between while we breathed in the sunset.

Within my hour and forty-five minute drive from Antiquity Oaks in Cornell, Illinois to Wellington, Illinois I attempted digesting where I have been, what was, and where I was headed – which, of course, was too dense of a meal to chew through in a minimal amount of time. I found it more advantageous to find a neutral space between the clouds, crepuscular rays, and the weather systems far reaching their dance among the fields. Contagious weeps of sun touched down to the fresh green fields while tornadoes of dust kicked up a previous season’s forgotten corn husks, catching and whipping against my vehicle writhing in the wind. The strength of the atmosphere threw birds backwards in flight. I watched them struggle forth before submitting to the current, but they all eventually swung back with the greater rhythm of the earth. There was a nervousness in the grip of my steering wheel and how I would swallow my saliva. It was as tenuous as the rest of my surroundings.

Each time I find myself in a new space the first week is what I refer to as The Million Year Week. Routine is null, everything is new. Exhilaration, terror, and delight co-create a stretch of days to garble time. The bruises of my body linger from the goats and awkward stumbles working at Antiquity Oaks. The indigo turned tertiary islands and continents are a physical stamping reminder of the path walked for months before arriving to this space. The hearty spinach in my bed of eggs, grown from these nearby Iroquois County fields, are a reminder of how I got to Wellington yet again. It is a place I never thought I would return to, yet is now a place where I rest my head at night. The interconnection of this life and world is sometimes too eerie and synchronicity too bold to ignore. With the pull of a heart it is absolutely why and how I find myself here today with thighs extending into the rows of corn.

For me, it is easier to live guided by the heart when there is a great pull in one direction or the other (as I am sure it is easier for all of us in this way). When the frequencies get fuzzy, however, so can the inner turbulence of the path traveled. The pressure rises to make a decision, to make the Right One. I have learned that all steps lead to another and so in this way each heel in the dirt is the correct press, even if it leads to discomfort or pain, it is part of one’s path. Sometimes all you can do is make stillness your move and listen in again for how the frequencies have settled and reevaluate direction of path. One of my quotes is from Lao Tzu, “If you are depressed you are living in the past, If you are anxious you are living in the future, If you are at peace you are living in the present.” (I know this quote is not apt for every situation, but sometimes it helps me to realize if I am wrapped in a negative mental pattern born of habit.)

My coffee shines an oil from the buttered egg that met my lips at breakfast and it swirls with me now. Each time I find my heart and mind in that space of Problem Solving I cycle through a series of questions and meditations for self soothing – back to my inner core of comfort, a consultation of the gut, focus on the present moment. Or, I engage in an externally peaceful activity like planting flowers with my fingers in the dirt, weeding, or catching Sunny’s chocolate eye color in a decisive ray destined for his face to glow outward to me and melting me in the middle. These moments of presence connect to my contentedness, even while feeling many other emotions simultaneously. These moments are my breath in the whirlwind of change.

I met a woman this week who bestowed us with flowers to plant, seeded from her own; buckets of bulbs that will be five or six feet by autumn with bright red caps, irises, columbines, and so many others I have forgotten the names of. What I do remember is her tight hug and how our bellies touched as we gripped one another like we both really needed it. Her body felt known to me, like a great Aunt who has taken me under her wing for years. She said that no church could bring her as close to God like she feels when she is in the dirt. I told her this week I bent over the soil saying to myself, “Weedin’ is good for thinkin’, weedin’ is good for thinkin’,” and that’s where I find my universal comforts – among the land and animals, and tending to Love.

I do not have any big answers right now. I have a mixture of insights and inquisitions as garbled as time. I have one foot forward and then another. Some periods of time are not meant for figuring out, but instead require only our simple observation. Stillness and observation are some of the greatest steps despite their perceived companion of inaction.

A cloud drifts across the cornfield and its shadow darkens the greening leaves and deepens the off kilter yellows. It grazes the prairie and wildflowers and touches down its blanket across the cottonwood trees. A train sounds its incoming and unfurls like a prayer flag across the prairie, antiqued with imprints of cross country travel. With its double stacked shipping containers it ribbons like the making of a quilt through the corn. Riffs from a country version of Spanish Harlem blare from a vehicle as the driver throws me another neighborly wave while I check the blooms on the newly planted flowers and smile at their hard work of blossoming overnight, or perhaps opening early morning to give us an early reward for the day. Two bees hover forth sensing new nectar, and Sunny bleats his still young song as a request for chest rubs and companionship with his mama – which I answer to with satiation. He falls asleep in my lap as a result making small nasal whimpers like he did in the rocking chair as a baby. I start soaking the lentils for supper and thawing the meat for others to eat. I cut quilt squares to prepare as a gift for the woman who gifted us beautiful flowers.

Step by step, meal by meal, chore by chore, conversation by conversation, love by love, making by making, observation by observation. Inquisitions will always remain, but simply being present in these moments is my guide for now. In the distance, someone plays a harmonica, which feels like a hug from my Grandpa Coleman, a moment in which I can just sit and sip the nectar thereof, while life continues on.