Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Guest Post: Mom's POV - Last Report For Now (pt 2)

 And the second half of my mother's final account. For now.

I kept a running log of miscellaneous things that occurred to me in those last few weeks…

…I acquired a visceral understanding of a saying that my family had when I was a teenager, living without electricity and only a hand pump to pull up creek water into the cabin, on land in Pennsylvania that my own family built on and cherished:  “while you’re resting, chop wood.”  I found myself taking a break from some strenuous project one day, and as I stood outside the trailer, I figured I could saw up some of the small logs piled there waiting to be cut to size for the outdoor fireplace.  I was pleased that I could be getting something done, even while I was “resting,” and then the old family saying hit me—oh! That is what my parents meant!

… Of course I listened to the language/dialect around me with an interested ear, and apparently we brought Caitlin up to do the same because she was always bringing back great expressions from her boyfriend Mike, who lives about three hours east of Burlington, even deeper into the hinterlands of NC (yes, that is possible). He would say things that fascinated me, like:  “Used to I went to Burlington for shopping”; “My dad always said that if you can throw a beer bottle and hit your neighbor, they’re too close; if I threw a beer bottle I might to hit them.”   Mike once took Caitlin to a birthday party for the one-year-old son of friends of his.  In fact, he said, he was actually related to both the mother and the father of the birthday boy, though they weren’t related to each other (by blood).  As I puzzled out how that could be, I asked Mike whether there were new or different words for all the intricate relationships people have to one another in his part of the world (aunt-in-law and grandmother in one, for example), and he said, “we just use the word ‘kin.’”  Gave me a whole new appreciation for that little word!

…As we worked to cut down trees for the electricity, for paths, and for the well-pump trench, I eventually got a feel for the different kinds of trees we had on the land through what it felt like to clip them with the pruning shears, how they behaved when we hauled the branches, or the kind of resistance they offered when I sawed their trunks.  A very different way of knowing.  Linguist that I am, it still bothers me that I don’t really even know all the names for the trees, but I do have a start in knowing the trees themselves.

…And what a luxury it was to be able to work with my body—not just in the sense of using it to do something, but in the sense of listening to it and doing the work that it could do when it could do it, rather than keeping to an externally-imposed schedule.  I learned to trust that, if I didn’t get it done today, I would tomorrow, and in the mean time, something else that I was able to do could get done today.  I didn’t have to move forward, whether my body, or soul, for that matter, wanted to or not, because I was on a time clock.  An incredible luxury that I am grateful for, and a glimpse into a very different sort of life, and sort of world.

…When I’m living with modern conveniences, like toasters, I have particular preferences—in Vancouver, I have been known to toss a piece of toast out to the birds if it got too toasted for my liking.  Before we had electricity at Stoneyhaw, toast was somewhat problematic—when the weather was nice and we were cooking over the fire outside, we grilled it, but once the weather got colder and wetter, and fires fewer, it took more ingenuity to make toast (yes, we could have bought a stove top toaster, but then I’m not sure this experience would have led to the same realization…).  Eventually I settled on making toast on a hot, dry, cast iron frying pan on the stove, and I noticed that, doing it that way, I ate it merely warm, toasted brown, crunchy dark, or seared black—it didn’t seem to matter.  As soon as I took the responsibility myself to create toast, without relinquishing it to a machine, I also took responsibility for eating it, and I enjoyed it however it came out!

…Life at Stoneyhaw evoked so many old memories, and made me realize how I always manage to find my way back to this kind of life:  the slick, cool feel of the log we sat on to “answer nature’s call” evoked that same feeling from living on our family land in Pennsylvania when I was a kid; the necessity of keeping the generator full of gas so that we could have electricity reminded me of having to fill the kerosene heater every other day or so in the winter time in Japan; luckily, the effort of getting water, and the preciousness of every drop, reawakened my superb water-thrifty dishwashing skills, learned in numerous camping trips as a kid, but honed during graduate school in Indiana when Eric and I lived without electricity or running water; the wondrous waking up with woods all around me from that same grad school life, and from my family’s land, and from so many camping trips—always my favorite way to begin the day.

And there you have it.  Yes, I miss being there dreadfully; I miss Caitlin and Zora and the lake and the chainsaw and my bed/couch and all the rest.  But something tells me I’ll get back there.  Wild horses and all that…  In the mean time, Caitlin soldiers on.

Thanks for listening!  You can keep up with developments since I left on Caitlin’s blog:  Oh, and if you really want to get a feel for what Caitlin is up to and why (and what I’d love to be up to myself better, and more than I can be just now), you can read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It captures the essence—and more—beautifully.

Take care,