More notes from spring, illustrated

March 23rd, 2010

Kristen asked for some pictures from The Farm, and I’m happy to oblige.

Boychen and I spent the morning moving more rocks, bringing some dead plants to the Mist (I don’t know the English word for this: it’s where my brother-in-law dumps the old straw after he mucks out the horses’ stalls), and wandering around the farm. We blew soap bubbles and ate our morning snack outside in the sun, sitting on the rock wall my husband sat on when he was a boy.


To bring the rocks around to the rock pile, we’ve traded in the wheelbarrow for something with a little more horsepower:


Now if we could use this, we’d be done in no time:


* * *

About a week ago, I noticed that the moths had returned, beating against my kitchen window as I stood at the sink rinsing off the last of the dishes. Today I noticed that the butterflies, too, have returned.


* * *

While Boychen took his afternoon nap, the Small Boy (who is no longer so small and who will need a new pseudonym soon) and I played hockey in the driveway.


Between periods, he planted sunflowers.


* * *

And there was this:


and this (can you believe that sky?):


and this:


* * *

A farm country almanac

March 18th, 2010

I think it is real this time, this turn towards spring. People who know better than I – the farmers who live in and around this village – are becoming active. On the twenty-minute walk to the school to pick up the Small Boy from Kindergarten, Boychen and I saw four tractors driving down the main road and two more on the way home. Then there is the one my brother-in-law cleaned today behind the barn, hosing everything down, tuning up the engine. In the afternoon he paced off the fields for plowing. The pace of life has very suddenly quickened in this farming community.

* * *

I am digging up more rocks, making another flower bed, this one on the other side of the kitchen door. Boychen brings the smaller ones to the rock pile next to the barn in his wheel-barrow, three soft-ball sized rocks at a time. It is slow, but heart-wrenchingly adorable.

* * *

The boys save their chicken bones for the fox that lives in the woods next to our house. Its den is right next to the foot path we take to the duck pond, and the boys and my mother-in-law have protected it from the many dogs that get walked in these woods by criss-crossing downed branches over the entrance. This is the fox that made quick work of five of eight ducklings last summer, something Small Boy knows very well, but he loves it anyway.

* * *

Yesterday I strapped The Boychen into his bike-on-a-stick and ran him up and down the hills on the mountain bike course in the woods. He now thinks I am the coolest. mama. ever! 

* * *

It was a long winter. Much, much too long. The farmers are out; half the gardens in the neighborhood are showing freshly turned dirt. The bees have found my crocuses. It was a long winter, but I think we’re turning the corner.

Telling stories

March 15th, 2010

I once heard an interview with Maurice Sendak in which he said that we all tell the same story over and over. Perhaps we disguise it under different details, perhaps one year we render it in poetry and the next in prose, perhaps we change our metaphors and geography; but we tell the same story, our story, again and again.

Perhaps, even literally, we repeat the same story. I used to know a woman who frequently re-told the same story. She wasn’t a bore about it; it wasn’t a long story and she only told it when it made sense in the context of the conversation. When her story was over the conversation would flow naturally whatever direction it went in, and this woman didn’t try to steer it back around to her. She simply told her story. But if you had known her for awhile – our kids went to the same play group in the city, and I saw her weekly for about a year – you couldn’t help but notice that you’d heard that story before. Maybe even twice before. 

It was not, on the surface, a dramatic story. Some years ago she took the train through the Canadian Rockies; she met two Australians on the train; they shared the journey; they are still in touch today. Nobody got off the train at a remote station and missed getting back on; nobody woke up to find their backpack and passport had been stolen in the night; nobody got dangerously ill with no doctor for hundreds of miles. She took the train through the Canadian Rockies and made some friends. It seems to be a simple story. But it means more than that to the woman telling it. The sheer fact of her repeating it, of it being one of her favorite stories, tells me that for the woman telling it, it is a touchstone. It is one of the stories of her life: it tells her something about herself, reminds her of something about herself, it is a story that is meant to say more than it does. Perhaps it is a reminder of the life she led before she had children; perhaps it is meant to tell the listener that she is an open person, open to travel, open to making friends; perhaps, telling this story in the shadow of the Swiss Alps, she is saying something about how mountains speak to her soul. I’ve never been able to figure out what that story really means to the woman telling it, but in telling it, I believe that she is doing much more than simply sharing an anecdote: she is revealing something about the way she sees herself.

I think we all have these stories, one or two or three touchstone stories that we come back to again and again. Stories that help us explain ourselves to the world, stories that help us explain the world to ourselves, stories that tell us who we are. Dutch Friend once commented that I write about my father a lot. I suppose I do, though I write about a lot of other things as well. But I do think the poems that invoke my father are more likely to be published, and those are the pieces Dutch Friend reads. I think they are more likely to be published because they are more likely to be good. The things I write about my father are often my best pieces. They are my best pieces because they are my true pieces.

They are my story.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming

March 7th, 2010

I spoke too soon. I always do. The first warm day always does this, the first buds, the first bees. We saw bees on Monday, bees greedily visiting our pocket of crocuses by the rose bushes, and my mind turned to spring, turned sharp and sudden. It couldn’t last, of course, this is March in Switzerland; we can get – have gotten – snow on Easter, after all. I know that, after all these years I know that a warm day can be followed by snow. But that first day, that first post card from spring, always sets my head spinning.


March 2nd, 2010

I can always breathe in Arosa. After the car ride during which The Boychen refused to sleep even though we purposely left at his nap-time, after the last 40 minutes when Small Boy’s admirable patience finally deserted him and he began asking “How much longer?” every five minutes and then arguing with us over the reply, after the mad dash to the sport store for helmets and sleds five minutes before closing, after the unpacking, I can breathe. A person can breathe up there, can breathe in big lungfuls of snow and sky, can breathe in this:


Yes, a person can breathe up there.

Remembering spring

March 1st, 2010

I came back from the mountains to find the first hints of spring, spring at last after this long grey winter. Every year I forget: forget how grey the winter will be, forget the dense fog that blankets the sky, forget the dismal way the fields look when they are only half-covered with snow. This year there have been new things to learn about winter. How the gravel road leading to our house becomes pock-marked with holes. How our driveway becomes a river of mud. How our car gets covered with splatter and spray. How the boys track little grains of salt into the house however many doormats I lay down.

But this morning there are signs of spring. The snow has melted away to show the green grass. The snowbells are up under the willow tree. The bulbs I planted last fall are beginning to sprout. My thoughts have turned to the garden and the plans I must make with my mother-in-law. Today, at least, the sky is blue and the sun is shining into my kitchen and there is a bird singing out my window. Today, at least, I remember what I had forgotten, what it seems impossible to forget and what I forget every year: it ends. The fog burns off, sooner or later, and spring returns.