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Email Anna Alkin,
aka Big Mama,
Today marks the summer solstice. The light will reign for 16 hours and 36 minutes in Eugene on this, the longest of days. In this busy, bright, ripening season on the farm, I have only fragments of reflection to offer. May you catch glimpses of the strange beauty in your midst as you go about life on this solstice day.
"Ludwig Wittgenstein said, 'All I know is what I have words for.' The absence of words is the absence of intimacy; these experiences are starved for language." —from page 5 of my summer reading selection, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, by Andrew Solomon.
Drinking coffee outside in the mornings is a favorite summer ritual. While sitting in our big wooden rocking chairs under a white oak tree near the garden, Will and I realized that a chickadee family moved into the lime green birdhouse that Ian built last year.
This morning Ian awoke, hair standing on end, thinking first of going outside to see the chickadees. He was in luck: within minutes a chickadee flew into the small hole that serves as its front door, food clasped in its beak.
At last I opened up the dead hive to find a not-so-large population of dead honeybees, many with their heads still in the comb, seeking honey.
Low-interventionist beekeeper that I am, we did not attempt to harvest any honey in the fall, and hoped that the bees had put away ample stores for the winter. One hive did.
This hive starved to death. And I, holding the record of their demise before me, witnessed their last moments, frozen in time.
I am just wild about our year-old, ungainly 100 pound dog, Sirius. He is rough playful furry love embodied.
My spiritual "work" of late consists of being less serious. Can I ever be deeply, deadly serious, choking the flow of Life which seeks to move through me freely — riotously, even — to nothing more than a trickle.
"Come here, Sirius!" "Don't eat that, Sirius!" "Sit down, Sirius!"
Perhaps one day, my misbehaving guru of playfulness will have me trained.
Last Friday, Ian completed second grade. He is still so young, holding my hand in parking lots, asking me to read to him, sharing his wild ideas for new games. He picks our strawberries much in the same way he readies himself for bed, treating it as a race, a contest, a chance to beat Mommie at her own game.
But he won't let me kiss him in front of his friends any more, insists on carrying heavy bags of groceries into the house, helps steady his grandma on walks, and can get Sirius to mind when no one else can.
Despite eating a seasonal diet of only cherries, strawberries, melon, ice cream, and macaroni and cheese, he is growing like a weed. The time is passing so quickly; I can measure the months by the height markings on his bedroom wall.
Will and I just finished planting about 40 Gernika pepper starts in our garden, after planting about 50 in my mom's garden and greenhouse.
I grew these starts from seed my folks smuggled over from Spain two years ago, many of which descended from pepper plants grown on the farm where my Grandmother Aldave was born and raised. The rest of the seeds came from a drugstore in Gernkia.
My grandmother never cared much for farming or gardening. Ever the pragmatist, she preferred to only deal with peppers once they were ready to cook for eating.
Where I feel so much love and continuity in the simple act of growing these Gernika pepper plants in the soil of my home in Oregon, tempting me to adopt a weighty sacramental reverence for each pepper, my Abuelita would say, sensibly: "Don't eat them all. You are a farmer now. Go sell them for a good price at the marketa."
Red-tailed hawks are present in our valley in what seem to be record numbers, though I don't really know that. We have only lived here for two years this June.
Yesterday, out on a walk with Sirius near sunset, I watched a small yellow bird chase and harass one of these regal hawks, some twenty times the larger. The little bird was fearless, if not frantic, in seeking to disrupt the hawk's errand.
The hawk alighted on a fir tree in the forest above our house, and the small bird flew away quietly, successful it seems, at protecting its young.
It's the odd, unclaimed spaces on farms that are host to an abundance of plant and insect diversity. We have no idea how important these wild spaces might be in fostering the life of the land, or of the crops that we so carefully plant in rows and weed until harvest.
In the uncultivated part of our new berry orchard there is an unbidden rash of chamomile flowers. It is said that weeds show up where they soil has been disrupted, and also where they are needed.
Around here, wild mint grows in the winter creek beds. They contain oils that help to soften the hard clay soils. Dandelions, with deep taproots that bring nutrients to the surface of the soil when their leaves fall off, abound here as almost everywhere.
But the chamomile plants are my favorite "wild" crop, providing superb forage for our bees, and an abundance of flower heads that when dried, provide a potent medicinal tea. It's as if the land is saying to me, "Harvest the summer light to drink in when it's dark, damp, and cold outside this winter. And why don't you make some tea for those bees while you're at it?"
What wild spaces can you and I leave in our lives, as well as in our yards? Rows are fine, but the weedy mess is where our souls and our soils are nourished by the untamed wisdom ways of Life.
"Beauty appears when something is completely and absolutely and openly itself." -- Deena Metzger, Entering the Ghost River