Dear Folks, As you can see, I had a birthday last week. The picture is from the card Sylvia drew for me, which said “Happy Birthday to Ewe!” inside. Somehow Poppy the cat got in there with all the sheep — I think Sylvia just likes to draw Poppy, who is definitely one of the major characters of this farm.
In the last week the Upper Valley has been transformed from Solid Ice (a state in which it has been suspended for four long months) to Full Mud. The beautiful, strong March sun came out, the temperature soared into the forties and fifties, and everything started softening and trickling and running downhill. The world is now brown and slurpy. The cats leave precise little brown footprints on my desk, on the tables, on the bedspreads, on the floor. When we go outside we wiggle our noses and say, “It smells wonderful! It smells like spring!” Actually, it simply smells, something it hasn’t done for all these frozen months. Basil, who says we don’t know from nothing about smells, has been ecstatically unearthing all sorts of disgusting items from under softening snowdrifts. The chickens, moving in to rototill each new open piece of ground as it appears, are ecstatic too. They’re expressing their joy with a spring abundance of eggs.
Last Saturday under a lovely sun Anna and I began to prune fruit trees, the first outdoor step in the ritual of spring around here. The first indoor step — starting seedlings — began in February. My bedroom is full of little onions, petunias, celeries, fennels, geraniums, salvias, peppers, lobelias. If you’ve never thought of starting geraniums from seed, give it a try. I just did for the first time, and I have thirty thriving seedlings. I never would have tried it, but the seed company sent along the seed for free. It was a great ploy — they’ve got me hooked. Imagine thirty pink geraniums! I’ll have more than enough for me and to give away to friends!
We were going to finish the fruit trees this weekend, but it’s raining in sheets, thundering even. The radio says that a little north of here they’re getting more than a foot of snow. For us it’s just more mud. I spent the morning cleaning the basement and getting everything ready for lambing. The lambs aren’t due for three weeks, but it’s time to start assembling towels and ear tags, hypodermic needles and molasses, the little device for getting colostrum down the throat of weak lambs, the tool for looping over a small head or hoof when you have to pull with more than two hands at once. I don’t want to have to go rampaging through the basement at three in the morning looking for those things if there’s an emergency.
In the barnyard the ladies are slopping around in the mud, swelling daily, and lying down a good deal more than they used to. Two weeks ago the household got them ready for lambing. Don and I caught each fat, woolly, resistant mama-to-be, Don threw and held her, Anna stuck worming medicine in her mouth, Sylvia trimmed her hooves, and I cut enough wool off her nether regions so I can see what’s going on if I have to intervene in the lambing. Heather wailed. I think she didn’t approve of all the rough stuff with her friends the sheep. We all smelled of sheep for the rest of the day — it’s a smell I love, but I guess everyone doesn’t agree with me about that.
Heather is blossoming out in words, words, words. I swear that kid learns ten new words a day, and she’s beginning to put them together in bunches. You can easily tell what are the big things in an 18-month-old’s life. Supper and cereal, bath and bottle, diaper and hi and bye-bye. Basil and Poppy and Simon and Peep and Freckles. All gone. Apple. Eggy (She helps gather them every day.) Uppy! (Always a command, and it can mean downy as well as uppy — I think it has a general meaning of “put me where I’m not”.) Nose, eye, ear, head. One, two, free, FIVE! (We like FIVE best). Sleepy. Uh-oh. No. (I was surprised how long it took her to learn that one, but it’s one of her favorites now.) And best of all, ‘ook! ‘Ook at the way the crystal in the window makes rainbows on the wall! ‘Ook at the neat puddle! ‘Ook at all the birds on the feeder! ‘Ook at the flower!
What a blessing to have a toddler in the house to remind you to ‘ook!
I have progressed from the chapter on Energy to the chapter on Poverty. You’d think that would be a depressing change, but I’m enjoying Poverty much more than Energy — I’d rather write about people than about technology and machines. So far all I’ve done is the stories. (Every chapter of this book has almost as much text in stories as it does in textbookese, something that may get me in trouble with the college market.) The stories I’m putting in are mostly ones of people lifting themselves up from poverty — the Chipko movement in India, the Sarvodaya movement in Sri Lanka, the Brazilian rubber-tappers — so I get inspired by them. There are also some awful stories, of hunger in Haiti, of vast deforestation in Brazil, of horrible polluting industrial complexes in India. I think I like the way this chapter is turning out, full of pathos and passion and hope all mixed together. (Doesn’t sound much like a textbook, does it? As I say, I’m in trouble with the college market.)
The writing is going smoothly, for a change. I have more ideas than I can stand; sometimes it feels like they’re bursting out of me. Everywhere I turn there are great stories to tell. And I’ve been getting encouraging feedback lately, especially from the Landsat column.
I assume you’ve heard that Landsat has been reinstated, at least for the rest of this fiscal year. It wasn’t my column that did it; hundreds of people were working on it from many angles; but the column was a piece of the action. I sent copies of it to Bush and Quayle and the NH and VT Congressmen. The Houston Chronicle ran the column, and the astronauts read it and got mad and called Washington. Congressman George Brown of California read it in the LA Times and sent me a note to thank me — he was trying to get support in Congress for a resolution to keep Landsat funded. Someone from Hughes Aircraft (a partner in EOSAT) called me. Science magazine ran an article, and then the Baltimore Sun picked it up as a news story, and then it was on “All Things Considered”. It was fun to watch the story roll. Best of all, there was a happy ending. We may have to fight this fight again in the next fiscal year, but both the Congress and the Administration have now expressed their commitment to Landsat, so maybe all will be well.
Though life still has its downs as well as ups, of course, I have to stop every now and then and acknowledge that I’ve done what I set out to do — I’ve restructured my life to be a full-time writer, I’ve gotten access to a nationally syndicated platform, I’ve got more than enough work to do, I’m making enough money to keep going — and I now know that it was the right thing for me to set out to do. Amazing. Start with the vision, be open to any path by which the vision will be realized, be patient and persistent, be true to the vision, and things will work out. I’ve lived my life by that formula for a long time, but I’m still surprised when it works!
Those of you who subscribed to this newsletter a year ago may remember that it was exactly this month, March, storms, mud, and gray, the month when I have to notice that I’m a year older, it was March a year ago that I wrote the most depressed letter I’ve written in my life. It was during that March that I went to a therapist for four expensive but worthwhile visits, discovered Overeaters Anonymous, which was much cheaper than the therapist, and began to turn my life around.
This March, thanks to good old HP (the Higher Power of OA) and to the support of my friends, including many of you, I’m in a very different place. I’m thirty pounds lighter. I’m back at the farm. I’m not lying awake night worrying about the decisions I’m not making or the deadlines I’m missing (though I’m still missing deadlines). I’m not slowly killing myself by stuffing down my emotions with food. I’m clear in my purposes, and I’m living life again — downs and ups and all. I’m thrilled with the work I’m doing, and frustrated when it doesn’t go as I think it should, and cranky sometimes, and mostly happy. I feel like I’m me again.
No matter what the difficulty in front of me — and there are plenty of difficulties, some of them overwhelming (like finishing the book on time) — I have faith. That’s a funny word for me to use, one that doesn’t come easily to me, but there’s no other word to describe what I didn’t have last year and do have this year. OA isn’t about any particular religion, but it is about having faith. I’ve gone to meeting after meeting, and I’ve heard the language of faith spoken over and over and over. Slowly it has begun to replace the language of lack of faith that used to be all that was in my head.
Instead of thinking, “I can’t do this; it’s too big for me; I’m not good enough”, I think of Charlotte, one of my OA friends, saying “the Power behind me is greater than any obstacle in front of me.” Instead of freaking out over next October’s book deadline, I say “one day at a time”. Instead of beating myself up over my (many) imperfections, I say, “progress, not perfection.” And I hear Alexis from OA say, “when all else fails, lower your standards” — and I laugh.
The second step in the 12-step program says, “we came to believe that a power higher than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” I heard a definition of insanity yesterday that fits exactly where I was last year — insanity is doing the same thing again and again and somehow expecting different results. By that definition I was certainly insane a year ago, and I’m sane now. I can’t really explain how that happened. It was certainly through a power higher than myself. I feel immensely humble and grateful.