Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Feeling It: Getting Back in Touch with the Weather

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.  --John Ruskin

Some of the best gifts of the new life we are leading have been the least expected ones. One of those surprise gifts is the chance--no, the obligation--to become intimately familiar with the weather. Doing daily farm chores means being out in the weather--pleasant weather, miserable weather, calm weather, turbulent weather--at least twice a day every day. Although I have always made a point of "getting some fresh air" for at least a little while every day, until recently I have been able to pick and choose exactly when and how extensive such breaths might be. Not so now that I have chickens and goats that must be cared for each and every morning and evening. So I find myself going out at times I would otherwise choose to stay inside, hovering over a first cup of coffee or taking a relaxing end-of-the-day shower.

And it has been a gift: to know that it is cold, not because I saw the forecast or because I got a little chilled dashing in and out of the car, but because my fingers are too stiff to hold the muck bucket without dropping it on the way back to the house. To feel the grace in the touch of the sun gently warming the icy air. To absorb the wetness of the dew and the rain, and then to carry it around in the mud on my boots. To see the miniscule but dramatic changes in the plant life around me as the each of the seasons emerges, matures, and fades into another. Being more in touch with the weather and the natural world, I have found, makes me feel more alive. Perhaps that's partly because it makes me feel more connected to other living things. And a little less hooked up to the gadgets and the bells and whistles that make up so much of daily life in the modern world.

There are only two other periods in my life when I have been intimately familiar with the weather. The first was during early childhood. My sisters (and later my brother) and I spent a great deal of our first years in this world out in the world--hiking in the woods that surrounded our home,  swinging from vines, wading in streams, playing various kinds of "ball," pretending to be cowboys and Indians and cops and robbers, and even doing a bit of gardening with my dad. Our own opinion about the weather seems to have been been very like Christopher Robin's: we didn't much mind what the weather did as long as we got to be out in it. In fact, I don't remember ever minding the cold, the rain, or the heat. But I do remember minding getting called inside for dinner (to be truthful, that probably only lasted until I caught the scent of my mother's fried chicken or blackberry cobbler waiting there for us).  Looking back, I now realize that most of my fondest childhood memories are set outside.

The other time in my life when I have lived much of my days "out in the elements" was during the several years I spent in rural Haiti as a young adult. Dwelling in a mud hat far away from paved roads, electricity, and other forms of urban development, I came to cherish being more in touch with the cycles of nature than I had ever been. There nearly everyone spends the majority of their waking hours outdoors. In fact, the center of the household in rural Haiti is not the living room or the den, but the lakou, the yard. It is in this simple packed-dirt space, often surrounded by fruit- or coffee trees, that people carry out most of their daily chores and do most of their visiting. It is there that children are raised and elderly parents are cared for. It is there that feuds erupt and get settled. While living in rural Haiti, then, I never had to look on a calendar to know what phase the moon was in; I knew it because I lived under it, because it impacted my daily life. Just as I knew how wet or dry the land was, how long the last heat wave had lasted, or how strong the winds of the latest storm had been. Upon returning to the U.S., I found myself often feeling disconnected and "boxed in." I marveled at the fact that most of us spend most of our time in boxes. We sleep and eat in a big one, and then go out and get in small mobile one, which takes us to another one larger than the first to spend most of the rest of the working day, and then perhaps to a few huge ones to shop afterwards before bringing us back home to the box we left in the morning. It all felt so claustrophobic and isolating to me during my first few weeks back home. But of course, I quickly got used to it. And I soon forgot to wonder about whether the moon was new or waning, or whether spring had finally given way to summer, or how much rainfall we had had the night before.

Farming has given me the chance (the push) to leave my boxes behind a little more often and for a little bit longer than I have most days of my life. And what an invigorating and liberating--if sometimes uncomfortable and messy--gift it has been.

      "Noise," by Pooh (or rather, by A.A. Milne)

      Oh, the butterflies are flying,
      Now the winter days are dying,
      And the primroses are trying
      To be seen.
      And the turtle-doves are cooing,
      And the woods are up and doing,
      For the violets are blue-ing
      In the green.

      Oh, the honey-bees are gumming
      On their little wings, and humming
      That the summer, which is coming,
      Will be fun.
      And the cows are almost cooing,
      And the turtle-doves are mooing,
      Which is why a Pooh is poohing
      In the sun.

      For the spring is really springing;
      You can see a skylark singing,
      And the blue-bells, which are ringing,
      Can be heard.
      And the cuckoo isn't cooing,
      But he's cucking and he's ooing,
      And a Pooh is simply poohing
      Like a bird.

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