Josna Rege

Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

263. Quiet

In Inter/Transnational, Nature, Stories, travel on April 20, 2014 at 4:46 am

 

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Sometimes it’s best to be quiet, best simply to be.

During this month of traveling, between the endless security checks at airports, the efforts to make oneself understood in a new language, the encounters and introductions, and the excited reunions with old friends and relations, there have been interludes of quiet.

This morning is one such blessed time. Outside my window, under an overcast sky, a breeze freshens the leaves and branches of the tall garden hedge, setting them all astir. A fine rain slants down like grace.

Today, instead of more words, I offer images. Wishing you peace, and the quiet through which renewal can arise.

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127. Going Up the Country

In 1980s, Family, Stories, United States on November 12, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Winchendon, Massachusetts

I’m gonna leave the city, got to get away
I’m gonna leave the city, got to get away,
All this fussing and fighting man, you know I sure can’t stay
Canned Heat, Going Up the Country

For seven years in the 1980’s we lived on a farm in the country, just one-and-a-half hour’s drive west of Boston. Nikhil was born and spent the first five years of his life there, until we moved a little further west and south to the Connecticut River Valley, where we still live today. But although I think we have a winning combination of rural and urban life in this college town, I don’t kid myself that we are living in the country. Here in Amherst we have town water and sewer, trash and recycling pick-up, a public bus system, three public libraries, two colleges and a university, a movie theater, a weekly farmers’ market, and a choice of four different supermarkets within a five-mile radius. In Winchendon we had a well and septic system, hauled our trash to the town dump (excuse me: sanitary landfill), managed without public transportation, were forced to travel more than 10 miles to the nearest movie theater (and fully 25 miles to the nearest bagel bakery), and—ironically but typically for a rural community—had just one supermarket in town that stocked a meager supply of dubious-looking meats and wilted produce at exorbitant prices. We did have the magnificent Beals Memorial Library, though, which was an oasis for us while our children were young, especially during those interminably long, snowy Winchendon winters. We also had 60 acres of land to spread out in, so that when we moved to Amherst, Andrew in particular felt quite cramped in our suburban half-acre lot, even though it is large by city standards.

                                   Farm Kitchen (pastel sketch by M.A. Rege)

We had had some homesteading experience before moving to Winchendon, especially when we lived on White Pond in Concord, where we shoveled our long driveway by hand, kept our food fresh in an icebox, heated the cabin exclusively with wood, and did most our cooking with wood as well. But the farm was another order of magnitude bigger and more challenging, even though we had three more adults working cooperatively to maintain it. The house was an old farmhouse, neither original nor updated, “a thing of rags and patches” (to quote Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks). The large kitchen had both a woodstove and an electric cookstove, both of them old and inefficient, and wide, worn deal floorboards, which, sweep and scrub as we might, we could never keep clean. Of course Nikhil and Eric, being babies, delighted in dangling and releasing miscellaneous items of food from their perches in their respective highchairs and watching them land with a plop at the North End of the table (as Charlie, our bachelor housemate, called the perennially sticky spot where the children sat); but a still-more-intractable problem  was posed by all the adults who clumped in continually from the fields, tracking in large quantities of mud. Eventually Andrew’s ingenious solution was to rip up the floor in the back entrance shed and install a wooden walkway with gaps between the boards, so that people could scrape their boots as they walked in. The finished product, functional and beautiful, looked like something you’d see in a high-end Vermont holiday cabin in the L.L. Bean catalogue or Country Living magazine.

In truth, the realities of our everyday lives bore little resemblance to the rustic elegance depicted on the glossy pages of Country Living. On first moving to the country, we had imagined that our children would be able to roam free, without the dangers of cars and crime. But we soon realized that country roads had no sidewalks and cars bombed along them with utter disregard for speed limits or pedestrians. Furthermore, the farm was organized on an old New England model with the house on one side of the road and the barn and woods on the other; so we were continually having to cross the road, to collect the eggs from the chicken coop, to empty the sap buckets at maple syruping time, or to go swimming in or skating on the pond. Since every one of those trips was a life-or-death enterprise, we had to make it a cardinal rule for the children that they were never, ever, to cross the road on their own. As soon as they were crawling we had to fence the front and side yards, which soon ran into difficulties because each one of us had a different preference for the location of the garden gate. In the end, we installed not one, not two, but four gates, turning the project into a major operation. But the children were as safe as houses.

It also turned out that roaming freely in the woods was out of the question for the children. Our land abutted the 7,400-acre Birch Hill Wildlife Management Area, a favorite destination for hunters from miles around. Since it was near-impossible to fence and post the entire perimeter of our land with No Trespassing or Hunting signs, it was not illegal for hunters to cross over into it, which they frequently did, guns at the ready, making our own woods practically off-limits during hunting season, even to us adults, let alone the children.

There was another feature of country life I had not anticipated: cabin fever. Before we moved to Winchendon Andrew and I had lived in the Boston area, in Somerville, distinguished by being one of the most densely-populated towns in the United States, and so we welcomed the bucolic peace and quiet of the country. However, we had reckoned without the exceptionally cold and snowy climate that seemed to favor Winchendon over just about every other town in the state. Our first killing frost regularly struck in the third week of August and it wasn’t safe to plant until after Memorial Day, the first weekend in May. In-between, we were effectively snowed in and entirely dependent on private cars, since there was no public transportation whatsoever and a lone bus, plying its way between Boston and Rutland, Vermont, that passed through the center of town once a day. Stuck on the farm with an infant in the dead of winter and my husband in Boston with our only car, I found myself desperate to commandeer any car, burn rubber, and blast onto the open highway, Kerouac-style.

flickrhivemind.net

Don’t misunderstand me: I loved living in the country, and will always be grateful that our son spent those crucial early years of his life on a farm. Despite the inevitable hardships and frustrations,  despite the unleashed men with guns and the unavailability of fresh bagels, our lives were rich and full, the air was clear (if bitterly cold), and the wide open spaces were Paradise. I will never forget one late-winter afternoon when Andrew, Maureen, and I took the two children out for a walk in the woods. It was that magically twilit time of day and the temperatures had risen above freezing when the sun was high but had fallen again as it sank in the winter sky. Reaching a small clearing in the woods, we  gasped at the sight before us. The snow had melted into a shallow pool of standing water, then frozen smooth and hard as glass. The waning light filtering through the trees overhead and reflecting on the ice gave the entire scene a silvery glow.  We raced home for our ice skates, returning to glide among the trees in the gathering dusk.

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