I wondered last month whether I’d be writing this month from my old house or my new one. Well, the answer is neither. I’m in my office at Dartmouth, because things are chaotic at home — home still being Foundation Farm for another week. Actually my office there is still functional, except that I’m beginning to pack up books and filing cabinets. (LOTS of books and filing cabinets!) The house itself is still functional. There We Have Not Yet Begun to Pack. We have spent the past 3 weeks working on the tractor shed, the barn, the garage, the attic, the basement.
That’s part of the chaos I’m escaping by coming to the office today. If I were home, I would be pulled to the basement, where I’d be sweeping the floor and vacuuming the spider webs and trying to figure out what to do with my egg incubator. (Hatched out 18 ducklings from it once and never used it again, because it took much more electricity than a sitting duck does!)
The basement chaos will be still waiting for me when I get home. The rest of the chaos will be gone. Jim had a birthday party yesterday that involved, as Jim’s parties do, a large number of hungry loggers and a happy-go-lucky unplanned menu. (Consisting mainly of beer and chips. I added two roast legs of lamb I was clearing from the freezer. Someone brought ice cream and pie. They wiped out two loaves of sourdough bread I’d just made. That was the menu. Everyone loved it.) Jim’s guests always sleep over — I can never figure out where he puts them all — and the next morning they eat a lot of eggs.
They helped out a lot; they lit another bonfire last night. It was our second bonfire of the month, probably not the last. I mean BIG bonfire, wood pile maybe 15 feet high, flames shooting up way higher than that, and sparks topping the highest trees. Old lumber, rickety furniture, pallets, sawhorses, mangers, shutters, you cannot believe how much junk wood we had around here. Way cheaper to burn it than to throw it into the dumpster, which we’ve already had to haul away three times with OTHER kinds of junk.
For the first bonfire, earlier in the month, my cousin Eddie was here. Eddie and I grew up having every Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter together, and have always been buddies. He lives in Kansas, though, and he had never been out here to see the farm. So, bless his heart, he flew out to help for a week. I really needed the help, so he ended up wading through the crummiest jobs (the ones in the basement). He’s a total sweetheart, and I enjoyed having time with him, even under strenuous circumstances.
His last night here we ignited the burn pile for the first time. Amanda and Michael had a guest too, who brought out a set of African drums and rattles and other noisemakers. We sat around the fire with the first snow crystals of the year filtering down as the sparks flew up, and we beat out throbbing rhythms. Some of us were inspired to dance, seized by the beat, transported by the orange light flickering on the trees and the echo of the crackling twigs bouncing back from the forest. Hey, it was a good atavistic discharge after a day of hauling scrap metal and sweeping spider webs.
Whew! This place! For 27 years I have been keeping 10 percent of it scrubbed and orderly, while 90 percent was descending into entropic disarray.
Hundreds of old windows. Someone was always going to build a greenhouse.
Waste oil. In 55-gallon drums. And in gallon bottles stashed away everywhere.
Fabric and yarn. Enough to keep me sewing and knitting for 250 years if I did nothing else. Some I brought back from India 30 years ago.
The onion planter Scot made from a discarded pingpong table.
Two boxes of Indian spices left by Narayana.
A high chair and playpen for when Chrissie’s nephew and niece came visiting.
Braided rugs Marcia picked up at a yard sale.
Dennis’s Cub Scout badges and high school athletic letters.
A samisen (a Japanese stringed instrument) given me by my high school steady.
The memories! The dust! The unconsciousness!
I thank the Universe for sending Michael and Amanda right when we needed them. I hired them for the month to help me deal with all this, and they have been troupers. Michael fixed a transmission fluid leak in my old truck, so we could keep it alive to haul stuff. He has made many trips a day; to the Hunt farm with keepables, to the scrap metal guy with recyclables, to the dumpster, to the burn pile, to the church barn where they store up stuff for the rummage sale. Amanda worked her way through Dennis’s 3000 bottles of different sized nails, and through the 30,000 Mason jars Kerry and I accumulated, and through the 300,000 planting trays and pots. (<= slight artistic license in those numbers — who was counting?)
For 27 years I have been way too permissive in letting people bring and drop junk here. And people have been way too eager to build walls of junk around themselves, to protect them from their fears, to build up possibilities for their hopes. We are such mindless, mindless creatures, when it comes to acquiring stuff from the earth and leaving it to accumulate in disorderly piles.
Scraps of pipe from every plumbing project that ever happened here.
Can after can after half-full can of dried up paint.
Two headboards, one of brass, one of wood, no sign of the rest of the beds.
Vast sheets of old plastic — hey, we might need it to cover something up someday.
Old bicycles that someone was going to fix.
Many pairs of skis — no idea whose.
Lampshades without stands, stands without shades.
Cooking pots without lids, lids without pots.
Bowls and vases and trays and coasters and knicknacks from all over the world, presented to me by foreign visitors, with grace and affection. I never used them, but their presenters were dear to me, so I stashed them into some unconscious place.
All this stuff constricting the spaces of this farm, so we had less room to move and more hideouts for spiders and mice and dust. Back when Dennis was living here, I gave up on the basement. I could never find anything, I always had to clear junk out of the way, and it was always dirty. Huge wonderful workshop, no useful space.
Why do we DO this to ourselves?
A case of Tanglefoot I bought, anticipating a bigger orchard than I ever planted.
Jars of pickles from 1993 and 1991.
Ancient car batteries.
Green streaks of spilled liniment from Sylvia’s horses.
Mummified cat feces.
Mummified mouse feces.
Rusted woodstoves. Rusted stovepipe.
As you can see, I’ve been working up a rage, fortunately with lots of physical opportunities to discharge the energy. I’m making great resolutions for the new farm. NO ONE parks junk in common space without permission, labels, and dates. EVERY YEAR we sweep through every space, haul everything out, clean and de-cobweb the space and put back only stuff we have actually found useful over the past year. NO MORE JUNK-PERMISSIVENESS! NO MORE UNCONSCIOUSNESS!
Boy, aren’t you glad you don’t have to live with me?
So here’s where we are at the moment.
– The attic (photographs from India, old camping equipment, computer packing boxes, a complete set of early Mother Earth News) is clean and clear.
– The tractor shed is clear except for one big stack of windows and some of Stephen and Kerry’s horse stuff and a bathtub they want to wash veggies in.
– The barn is miraculously (thanks, Amanda and Michael) clear of old lumber and tangles of wire and fencing. It contains only the two baby calves (Hazel and Willow, have I introduced them to you?) and their equipment.
– The chicken house is so far untouched. We couldn’t move it, and we haven’t managed to build a new one. So we’re going to have to move 75 chickens into the old silo shed at the Hunt place; then we’ll have a massive cleanup of the old chicken house. (Which I hate to leave behind — it’s the world’s greatest chicken house.) Michael had the good idea of building the new house on a trailer with wheels, so we can move it around. That’s something we’ll have to do when we get over there.
– The back porch (outdoor furniture, canning equipment, a gazillion freezer containers and lids) is cleaned out except for dog beds and bowls.
– The mud room is done except for skis and freezer. It’s piled up with recycling.
– The basement is about 2/3 cleared out, and that’s some sort of a miracle.
– The garage (bottles of antifreeze, electric sheep fence, pieces of chain, pieces of bicycle, cords of dry firewood) is clear except for the really big stuff — the chipper, the crosscut saw, the wood splitter, the woodstoves). We’re using its bays as a staging area for rummage sale stuff and more recyclables.
– The tractor and much farm equipment is over at Cobb Hill, where Stephen and Michael have been readying the fields for spring planting.
– The inside of the house is basically untouched.
We’ll have 15 people here for our last Thanksgiving at Foundation Farm. Then we have Thanksgiving weekend to pack up the house. Kerry and Stephen plan to transfer the cows and horses that weekend. We pick up the U-Haul the Monday after Thanksgiving and load up all we can. Professional movers come on Wednesday, December 1 (while I am at the closing, officially selling the place) to pick up the piano, the freezer, and any other items we can’t handle on our own.
That’s it. Then it’s a matter of putting it all back together in the Hunt house. I will be shrinking my effective domain from a 3000 square foot house (not counting outbuildings and basement) to a 150 square foot bedroom. So I am divesting massively. Some day I will be glad of it. It is what I wanted.
One divestiture I never anticipated until it hit me with utter clarity this month is of my remaining pets, Emmett the goofy big yellow dog, and Kitty the sweet timid black cat. I had been worrying about how they will do at the Hunt place, with two other big dogs and three other cats. That’s too many animals in any case. Kitty will be terrorized. Emmett has been driving us crazy chasing chickens. (Though he also chased away the fox that had been killing even more chickens than he had.) One day this month, as I was sweeping out the back porch, I was ruminating about the Cobb Hill Pet Policy (about to be drafted). I was picturing the rest of the community being as dense with pets as the Hunt house contingent. Four households, three dogs, four cats. Now ramp that up to 22 households!
Suddenly a few possible clauses struck me, such as:
– If you can possibly manage to move in without your present pets, please do so.
– We shall establish a carrying capacity for outdoor pets. Once that capacity is reached, no new pet shall be brought in, until an old pet leaves.
– Owners are responsible for all damage to common property caused by pets.
– Three strikes (killing other animals, hassling small kids, engendering complaints from the neighbors) and your pet is out.
Emmett is delightful in every way but chickens. There he has already failed the three strikes policy. So I gave him to Jim, who loves him, and who will go on living at Foundation Farm until May, when Scrib and Susan move in. I threw Kitty in with the deal. Emmett and Kitty will rule Foundation Farm, there will be no chickens to tempt Emmett, my heart will be broken — but I’ve retained visiting rights.
Just part of the cleansing and completion process!
Some day I’m going to look back at all this turmoil and laugh. Meanwhile I am losing sleep and dropping all balls at the office. Also meanwhile — the worst part of this month — I’ve been negotiating with Dennis about the farm closing. He is still half owner, though he has had nothing to do with upkeep or improvements over the past 11 years.
I won’t go into our argument; it was awful. It was a chance for cleansing and completion of the last big items about our divorce, and I really hoped we might use this opportunity for closure. But it was not to be. Whatever it might take, it requires willingness on both our parts and a very tough third party to facilitate. Our discussion has been going on for months, ever since Dennis knew I was selling. It has not been pretty, and of course it got more intense as the deadline neared. Emotionally it was doing me in. I finally realized that I had to put my energy into more positive directions. So I just let go, as I have always done with Dennis. I had hoped to learn to fight the way he does — with utter determination and strength and unshakeableness and a remarkable ability to hear only what he wants to hear — but to my great disappointment, I just don’t have it in me.
Well, anyway, I felt a lot lighter after I let go. I was strengthened by the following, sent to me by Vicki Robin. The Dalai Lama says this to himself every day of his life:
With the determination to accomplish the highest welfare of all sentient beings, I will learn to hold them supremely dear.
Whenever I associate with others, I will learn to think of myself as the lowest amongst all and respectfully hold others to be supreme from the very depths of my heart.
In all actions I will learn to search into my mind, and as soon as a disturbing emotion arises, endangering myself and others, I will firmly face and avert it.
I will learn to cherish ill-natured beings and those oppressed by strong misdeeds and sufferings, as if I had found a precious treasure.
When others treat me badly, with abuse, slander, and so on, I will learn to take all loss and offer the victory to them.
When the one whom I had benefited with great hope hurts me very badly, I will learn to view that person as an excellent spiritual guide.
In short, I will learn to offer to everyone without exception all help and happiness, directly and indirectly, and respectfully take upon myself all harm and suffering.
I will learn to keep all these practices and, by understanding all phenomena as illusions, be released from the bondage of attachment.
P.S. News bulletin: the name of Chrissie and Scot’s new baby, who is as pink and sweet as a rosebud, is Hallie Grace Zens.