Ode to Dirt

While my youngest cleaned out her chicken house, I kicked apart the compost and did a little ‘reorganizing’ of black earth — that chocolate for plants — mushy sunflower stalks from last October, paired with last week’s old rice.

Outside all afternoon, I remembered why I love living in this house, on this village hillside, in Vermont — especially when I found a cluster of heart-shaped leaves on the south side of our house, tucked up against the foundation wall, soaking up sun. The blossoms were the purest of white, the tiny petals streaked with deep purple. Common violets.

In this season of growth, four teens in my kitchen…..



Good Humor

My dad had this phrase when I was a kid — a high-entropy day — a confluence of crazy, falling-apartness. All those years we sugared, March was high-entropy: we endured ice storms, broken machinery, illness, unexpected expenses.

In snowy and muddy Vermont March days, I always fooled myself into believing June was nothing but sweetness.

June, yesterday, green and gorgeous, and around us: chaos — all the factors of work and extended family, wound through with the golden chicken who got into the neighbors’ garden. At the end of the day, I stood in our upstairs glassed-in porch, threading through a work problem on the phone, watching birds dart around our house. Little tiny birds I didn’t know dove into an enormous, flowering mock orange tree.

When I came downstairs, where my girls were at the dinner table, they showed me a three-line text from their MIA parent, the one who hasn’t so much as given his girls a piece of bread in years — travels with father — and I laughed. Here’s the epitome of family life, maybe of human life: a baffling and incredibly painful mystery. What the heck does any of this mean?

I write this not so much because it’s my story, but because I see this reflected over and over in the families around me: that the harder years of parenting through adolescence, through parental desires met and unmet, bring to the forefront those tensions between what’s best for the one, and what’s best for the family.

My girls and I kept eating and talking. I fed our cat a bit of bacon from my fingers. The windows were all open, and the scent of the roses drifted in. We kept talking about the day’s chaos, and then we kept laughing and laughing. It’s the only antidote I know — laughter — to the hardness of family life, to just the plain-out strangeness of what might seem so simple.

Then we went out to talk to the chickens, too.



In the next week, my older daughter will graduate from high school. My younger ends her elementary grades in the beloved red schoolhouse. I will sell one house and buy another; my daughters and I will move seven miles or so from one county to another, all our earthly belongings packed up in cardboard boxes and transported by friends and relatives. I will shut the door one final time on a house my former husband and I built, and metaphorically step away from that marriage. Friends from long ago are coming to visit. My daughters and I will come to know how and when sunlight enters our new house, what the water tastes like, where on the horizon the moon rises.

My daughters good-naturedly roll their eyes when I talk about houses being alive, but our house now will pass into hands better able to care for its keen needs. In the sky over our new house, graceful and eternally patient turkey vultures spread their wings in spirals of air currents. All life is change; we’re in the spin of confluence this week – and likely the next – but then I intend to have a good long summer, listening to the birdsong, swimming in Vermont’s cold lakes, and studying those vultures, our new neighbors.

Sometimes when we lose, we gain, and when we gain, we lose. Our fears and joys are bound up inextricably, pleasure in pain and pain in pleasure. Our efforts to untangle and isolate human experience can leave us confused and depressed. Happiness means choosing to be productive and optimistic, recognizing despair for the ancient parasite that it is and outsmarting it.

– Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer, The Farm in the Green Mountains