Monday, January 30, 2012

A Sheep Yarn

Today I am writing about sheep. No, I do not own any sheep. I’m not a farmer or a shepherd. I haven’t even pet a sheep since the local petting farm turned into a shopping center decades ago. What has prompted my sudden interest, at least metaphorically, is a book I just finished reading called sheepish by Catherine Friend (Da Capo Press, 2011). Friend writes about how she got involved with sheep farming and what sheep have helped her to discover about herself and living. It also gives lots of information about the animals, shearing, and working with wool. It’s a fascinating study and as a former city girl (as was Friend) quite a revelation about sustainable farming, yarn, sheep, “middles” and spirit.

My backyard isn’t large enough for sheep nor is it zoned for it but the book reminded me that despite the drastic attrition of farms here during the 80s there are still places reasonably close by that are available to reconnect with our rural heritage. Our township bought and runs the last farm within our borders to preserve, literally, our roots. Last summer we found an organic blueberry farm. For many small farms to survive, though, the price of continuing becomes an admission price for customers for hayrides, corn mazes, petting access to goats, sheep, and cows, and mini-amusements like trains, planes and automobiles for kids to ride. At least it keeps the farms working. Each spring and summer we have several areas where (reasonably) local farmers bring their produce to small, neighborhood farm markets. I like to frequent those markets – it feels good and somehow right.

The book also brought me back to one of my “middles” when I was sewing most of our clothes, knitting, and baking bread. I still have a woolen blanket I knitted to snuggle up with on chilly nights watching TV. It was in the middle of my family’s growing years and very satisfying. I am doing other things now, mostly writing, but I have a fondness for that time of my life and it has led me to where I am now. As Friend so lovingly demonstrates, every day is new with the opportunity to reassess and grow.

For anyone who would like to connect with Catherine Friend (and I hope you will) check out her Farm Tales and Sheepish Stories at You’ll learn about farming and persevering in a very personal way. Thanks, Catherine for sharing so much of yourself.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Juncos Enjoying a Meal

The Juncos have arrived – on masse. They are easily spotted against the thin coating of snow we had this weekend. They have dark upper feathers and white bellies and bustle about in search of seed. Sparrow-sized and sparrow related, these birds are often found in backyards nibbling under feeders. They prefer ground feeding but will hop up to a feeder if the pickings below are slim. Dark-eyed Junco is an overall designation for several forms that had been thought to be different species. The formerly called Slate-colored Junco is the one most seen in the east but Juncos range widely over Canada and all of North America. They are often called snowbirds down south because they appear in winter.

They scurry under the bare branches of the butterfly bush looking for a meal. They avoided the whole-grain cereal we had thrown out, leaving the crunchy nuggets for the squirrels, and discovered s stash of sunflower seeds that had been shaken free when the feeders were refilled. They are fairly common yet I find them appealing, with their lively movements and sweet chipping. I’m always glad when they show up.

Common doesn’t negate their beauty or value. Doesn’t everything/everyone have value and individuality? People are common but each one of the billions of us on earth is different, contributing in his or her own way to the energy of the planet. I read that Juncos eat ragweed seeds and as I am allergic to ragweed I am doubly happy to see them.

Their cousins, the sparrows, have come by, as have the finches. A lot of fluttering going on. Inside my warm kitchen I put on the teapot. The feeders will be refilled when we have all finished enjoying our afternoon snack.

Read up on Juncos here and for true bird enthusiasts sign up for their free monthly newsletter.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Fences are made of lots of materials: wood, metal, plastic, trees, shrubs, roses, hedges, stones, pretty much whatever a person can think of to make a boundary. The boundary exists to define an area. The area may be one that is set apart to describe its contents (a garden, perhaps?) or to keep out strangers whether people or animals, or in the case of an electric fence, to keep pets inside. Sometimes a fence is more of a suggestion than a barrier, as are the trees here, but a fence always makes a visual statement – all within the enclosure is mine.

I find fences interesting. I understand the symbolism of both protection and avoidance, of keeping things in and warning things away, of maintaining control of an environment. Yet, as with physical fences, symbolic fences often have a way of getting rusty or overgrown or outliving their original purpose. We can trap ourselves behind our own emotional fences. Years ago I lost a friendship because I constructed a fence around a perception of hurt and did not allow a discussion to clarify the situation. Now I try to at least keep an open gate in any fences I construct. It’s kind of freeing. And it gives poignant meaning to the phrase “mending fences.”

Here is a history of fences and how they influenced cultural development and thought and possibly more than you ever thought about the subject:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Quiet of Snow

The Quiet of Snow

We had a little bit of snow last week, nothing much, just a layer of flakes on the lawns and sidewalks. It was melted by mid-morning but it was enough to remind me that the season is winter in spite of the record high temperatures. More than that, though, it brought a pause to an ordinary day. I find that snow quiets its surroundings and brings an awareness of beauty with its soft, white voice. Therese Halscheid captured this in the photo, “Autumn Snow on the Wickecheoke, 2012.”

Therese Halscheid, a poet and photographer, has been chronicling her poetic journey for the past eighteen years. Housesitting has allowed her to live simply, write and photograph unusual and rustic settings. She is scheduled for a solo exhibit, The Stockton Natural series, in early February. Her photographs document weather and its effects on the Wickecheoke Creek ind its surroundings in Pennsylvania. In this photo the interplay of sun and shadow, snow, and early morning mists capture the place’s mystical elements.

The exhibition runs February 2 to February 29 at Carversville General Store, 6208 Fleecydale Road,Carversville, PA 18913. For a real treat come meet Therese at the Opening Reception, Friday February 3, at 6:30-8:30. Maybe I'll see you there.