Creating a Home

Creating a Home. via Creating a Home.

“Soon Julia’s house was filling up with lost and homeless creatures of every description.”

“The dragon made toast and the mermaid washed the dishes. The folletti tended the fire, the goblins mopped up, the ghost was in charge of dusting and the troll picked out the music.”

Julia’s House For Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke

Fictional Problem Solving

Dandelion girl whirled and twirled through the field. Sunlight glittered on her dress.  She danced from flower to flower until she reached the pond. The cattail and the frog were waiting. Cattail was nice, just like dandelion, but frog could be mean. Dandelion didn’t know they were waiting…

Georgia considered her story for a few moments before deciding she liked it. The final version had to include all of the Latin names for dandelions and cattails, and at least three uses for each plant. The rest of the class would be writing boring scientific journal entries, but Georgia had pestered and begged until Ms. Becca relented, allowing her to submit the same report, with the same requirements, in the form of a fictional story.

“No more than four pages, ” Ms. Becca had warned.

Georgia grumbled with annoyance. It was more than the two page requirement given to the rest of the class, but it was less than the 10 she’d asked Ms. Becca to approve.

Tapping her pencil on the notebook, Georgia considered the list of requirements. The latin names would come later. Right now, she needed to explore the environment of the dandelion and the cattail.

“A dandelion can live almost anywhere,” the frog croaked. “But a cattail can only live along the water’s edge. Very restrictive.”

Cattail smoothed her long soft coat and stood as straight and tall as she could. “Frogs must live near the water.” She stated, matter-of-factually, and walked away without explaining herself. Sometimes that was the best way to deal with frog.

“Or other kids,” Georgia muttered to herself. Cattail would find a way to deal with frog and, maybe, that would help Georgia deal with Riley. Walking away hadn’t worked this time.

“CATTAIL!” Frog croaked in his loudest voice.

“Don’t shout at me!” Cattail growled back.

After a moment of silence, frog replied “now that I have your attention…”

Georgia stared at the page. The story was going well, but now she was stuck. Was it possible to say or do something that would make frog change? She very much doubted it.

She chewed on her last conversation with Riley and, briefly, considered using it exactly as she remembered it. The only problem was her memory was full of holes. She was so angry with Riley, she couldn’t remember what was said…exactly.

“…you made me a promise and it’s time for your to pay up.” Frog said, hopping back toward the water. “A promise is a promise.

It was very frustrating when she couldn’t help her characters. It was even more frustrating when she couldn’t help herself.

Summer Solstice Mourning

Summer solstice crept over the horizon like a cat stalking a cricket. Move too fast and the moment will jump and flutter away on noisy wings.The sun peeked over the trees and hills on the far side of the neighboring farm. The driveway momentarily moved from night-shadow grey to a deeper black as the entire world adjusted to the flow of light.

Georgia sat on the porch, glancing over her shoulder from time-to-time. Searching for adults had become a habit so ingrained it seemed more like a reflex. Watchful vigilance was something akin to blinking or breathing.

She was supposed to be in bed, like all the other children, but today was the first day of summer and Georgia intended to see it from beginning to end. She’d told her mother this over dinner the previous night, but the only response was a long sigh and a wordy lecture about things ‘they’d talked about.’

This was important. Her mother didn’t agree, but Georgia was convinced she knew better. Besides, what was so wrong about watching a sunrise and a sunset? There was no school and chores were always the same.

The first day of anything was special because it was different. Summer was special because it was…summer! The first day of summer? That was something extra special and Georgia was going to see every last minute of it. Even if she couldn’t convince a single adult to bake a cake with the words “Happy Summer!” in green and blue frosting.

The sun rose higher in the sky. The birds began their songs long before the sun showed her face, but now there was a loud chorus. It was the bird version of a traffic jam, with all of them fluttering about, chattering away, and occasionally diving down after a bug or a worm.

The last star was still visible in the sky. The smell of coffee floated out on the air from the nearest Wild Raccoon neighbors. Lights were slowly flickering on in different windows across the community.

A buzzer went off in her mother’s room a few moments after Georgia watched the last star disappear from the sky. As quietly as she could, Georgia slipped back into the small house she shared with her mother and younger brother.

It was a small building, much smaller than the one they’d had when daddy was alive, but the Wild Raccoon farm was an entire world just bursting with things she’d never seen before. Safe in her room, sitting on the bed and watching the sky through the open window, Georgia closed her eyes and remembered her daddy. Remembered everything. His voice, his smell, the way his face turned red when he was angry and even more red when he laughed.

“Good morning daddy.” She whispered. “I miss you.”

As long as she could remember him, he was here with her. That was what they said at the funeral – and every opportunity for many weeks after. Georgia practiced remembering every time she found something amazing or beautiful. She wanted her daddy to share it and she wanted to make sure she never forgot.

The Wild Raccoon had many things to discover and, as long as she kept finding little things like he sunrise, she would never lose her daddy. Not for real. Not for forever.

Farmers Market

The first day of the farmers market was filled with expectation, excitement and disappointment. The Wild Raccoon had a wild plants, wild mushrooms, farmed mushrooms, dandelion wine, goat milk, goat cheese, meat and a few jars of honey.

Comparatively speaking, the Wild Raccoon was simply bursting with produce. Most of the other farmers had jars of honey, jars of jelly, and lists of produce expected to arrive later in the year.

An Amish family, whose booth represented an entire Amish community, was equally full with homemade pasta, quilts, breads, jars of jelly and honey.

Practically everyone had honey.

There were a very small number of customers, most of whom were looking for tomato plants, hostas, flowers and other things for their yards and backyard gardens. Three greenhouses, the local master gardeners society and one CSA made a point of preparing for the summer gardens. After July 1st, the CSA would return with produce for members-only. One of the greenhouses would also return, with pots of flowers for sale- and racks of cards describing services offered to people planning weddings, funerals, birthdays, and anything else that might involve a lot of people, catering, and some form of extravagant party.

Bobbi sat in a folding chair and watched people milling around. A few regulars stopped to say hi, some neighboring farmers chatted about the usual things, and the kids providing the music clumsily clawed their way through a ‘performance experience’ under the watchful eye of parents and music instructors.

In July, the market would be crowded, the music would be lively and near-professional, and the produce would be in large supply. Somehow, the launch of the market always felt more like a dress-rehearsal, with the actual performance occurring several weeks later. Bobbi had religiously visited opening day at the farmers market for many years before joining the Wild Raccoon. Even while living in large metropolitan areas, she would seek out the market and browse the booths in the cool spring air.

It was the moment when she felt…really felt….the change from winter to spring. It was wonderful and anticlimactic. Every time, she would leave, empty-handed, thinking the market should be something bigger, more vibrant, filled with people. Something truly marking the passage of the season and the anticipation of markets to come.

Sitting in her chair, watching people interact, she wondered if markets used to be places where farms hired summer help and made deals with other farms and local businesses.

Probably.

Yet, it wasn’t the job fair atmosphere that was missing, it was the oh-thank-gawd-winter-is-over celebration. It was the release of energy that comes from finally being free of cold weather confinement. Live music and old fashioned dances. Brightly colored clothes. Showing off…

A violin hit a particularly ear-splitting note as the kids finished their concert and Bobbi flinched, despite sincere efforts to mask her reaction. The crowd of relatives and fellow students clapped, took photos, and started milling-around, making small talk and generally breaking up to leave.

Ah well.

Perhaps, someday, she would find someone who agreed with her. Maybe the market would become more lively on opening day. Or, maybe, the market would always begin the year like a seed in the earth: small, quiet, unassuming and fully prepared to create something entirely different in a few weeks or months.

Writers Block

There were enough people at the farm to rotate through the chores, allowing every adult at least one day of home-work per week, in addition to days of leisure. The majority of residents at the Wild Raccoon had private pursuits and ambitions, usually in the areas of writing or the arts, so home-work was a near-sacred practice.

Bobbi had two home-days per week, primarily because her work in the orchard and farm-forest could be done alone during in long stretches of work. Outside of pruning during the winter, addressing damage year-round and picking in the fall, trees have no real schedule. Therefore, Bobbi evaluates the work needing to be done and schedules long days up on the hill, where she just digs in at sunrise and works until sometime after sundown. The chores in the barn are a nice break in the routine, but those are required of everyone and, therefore, rotated through all able-bodied adults.

Thanks to the damage caused by a particularly powerful storm and all of the orchard work it created; Bobbi was sitting at her desk, staring at her laptop, thinking about how nice it was to have three whole days of home-work time. Three whole days to really focus on her novel.

The clock ticked, the birds chirped and the computer remained untouched. Three whole days.

Running over all of the story lines that she’d been playing with while working in the orchard, Bobbi scrolled down the text-dense page. All of this writing was done, late at night, after a hard day’s work, knowing she had to get up and do it all over again the next day. All of it just flowed out of her finger tips while a portion of her brain worried about getting enough sleep and losing ideas while completing chores and…

Nothing. Right then and there she had nothing except three days. Three whole days.

Sighing, Bobbi picked up her cup of tea and went to sit out on the small porch area outside the only door to her tiny home. It wasn’t as nice as the big communal porch, which provided entry to the farm kitchen, but it was outside and away from the desk.

Fine. She thought. If my brain won’t write, I’ll just let it sit empty for a while.

Sitting on the porch swing, she focused on her breathing and used classic meditation techniques to empty her mind of all thought, just absorbing the world around her and trying…really trying….to stay in the moment.

It was blissfully peaceful for a few moments, then the thought-banishing game began as words and images started creeping their way to the forefront. After 15 minutes, the thoughts turned creative, but Bobbi kept banishing them to silence. 20 minutes later, she was sitting at her desk, typing away.

Just had to tell myself “no, you are not allowed to do this.” Bobbi thought with a chuckle. Works every time.

Mentoring Georgia

The farm forest had a lot of debris that needed to be cleared. Bobbi worked steadily, moving fallen tree branches into piles along the edge of the orchard. She’d already located, cut and stacked the larger items. Now she just needed to clear out the smaller stuff in preparation for moving the entire stack down to the woodpile behind the barn.

She also collected fresh wild edibles and stored them in a large cooler. Foraging wasn’t the objective, but wild plants provided a steady income for the farm. It was best to be prepared for anything nature just happened to hand over.

With her head down and her mind on wood and low growing plants, Bobbi was unaware of Lisbette and Georgia climbing the hill – until Georgia shouted a greeting. The shout caused Bobbi to jump and hit hear head on a tree branch. Rubbing her head, Bobbi returned the greeting as she walked down to meet them at the cooler.

“Georgia loves the books,” Lis said with a smile. “She can’t stop talking about them.”

“I’m glad,” Bobbi replied, silently noting one of the smaller books sticking out of Georgia’s back pocket.

“You didn’t have to leave them on the porch,” Lis teased. “We will answer the door.”

“It was late,” Bobbi stumbled. “I didn’t want to wake anyone up.” Or find herself dragged inside for a cup of coffee and another hour (or two) of conversation when she was already dead tired. Late night social visits were common around the farm – and something Bobbi simply did not enjoy. Thankfully, Lis appeared neither surprised nor offended.

“Georgia asked if you could be her mentor.”

Lis was known for being direct,  a trait Bobbi admired; but this caught her off guard.

“You’re the only person she’s requested.” Lis added in a manner common among the parents on the farm. It was a gentle, firm, this-is-final, implied-decision tone that Bobbi found equally perplexing, fascinating and annoying.

Mom voice aside, the request for a mentor was a big deal. All of the children living on the farm had to have one. It was one of the few hard-and-fast (actually written down) rules the farm had. For families, it was one of the primary reasons behind decisions to join, or not join, the farm.

Georgia had been through four mentors already. It was clear she was not going to work well with any adult she did not choose herself, which was something Bobbi silently admired. The entire family had been under a lot of pressure to help Georgia choose, because she couldn’t run around the farm, unattached, indefinitely.

Which brought this around to the real issue – being a mentor. If Georgia was assigned to Bobbi, she would also be assigned to chores on Bobbi’s watch. No more hopping around from person to person. Georgia would be expected to follow Bobbi around and learning what Bobbi knew, until it was time to either change mentors or begin working on her own.

“Are you sure you want to work up here in the farm forest?” Bobbi asked Georgia. “I don’t spend much time down by the pond.”

Georgia shrugged. “I like trees,” she said, unconsciously placing a hand on the book in her back pocket.

It was only three words, but Bobbi had a strong feeling that it wasn’t about the trees, it was about the conversation in the barn. Georgia liked talking about the frogs, myths and possible stories that came out of those ideas. She liked the books.

“Yeah. Sure. It works for me.” Bobbi said. “But I’ve never done this before. Do we have to fill out a form or something?”

“In blood.” Lis said, deadpan, nodding her head as though this were common knowledge. Then she burst out laughing. “I have no idea,” she admitted. “I’ll ask around. Georgia, it’s time for you to get to school. Thank you Bobbi, we really appreciate it.”

As Georgia and Lis walked back down the hill, Bobbi noticed Lis was unusually…relaxed. Georgia seemed to be a little lighter too. Trying to find a way to connect with, and fit into, a new community was tough; particularly when the kids were having a hard time.

It will work out, Bobbi thought to herself, firmly banishing ever present doubts, and returned to gathering wild greens.

Moon Over Home

Everyone needs time away, time to do his or her own thing, without chores or errands to worry about. That’s what town-time was all about, just getting away from the farm for a few hours and doing…whatever. A truck full of adults (and one teenager) were now headed back to the farm after an evening away.

The truck was quiet. The truck was always quiet. There was something about the drive home after town-time that left Wild Raccoon-ers silent, contemplative, and strangely respectful of one another. Bobbi often found this communal quiet to be eerily similar to the temporary, polite silence often found in a very early morning church service.

The truck pulled off the paved road and started down the dirt path that acted as long, dusty and bumpy driveway for the Wild Raccoon and two neighboring farms. The moon provided enough light to drive without headlights, but the truck followed it’s own artificial path, heedless of the power of nature.

Parking the old tanker of a farm vehicle and cutting the engine, Rick leaned on the steering wheel, nodded to himself and muttered “Home” with noticeable satisfaction. The spell was broken. Everyone tumbled out, started chatting about the evening, said goodbys, offered one another coffee, and generally dissipated across the farm.

It was late. Bobbi knew she needed to get some sleep. The to-do list hanging over her desk was always longer than any reasonable human being could hope to accomplish in a month, much less than a day, but it was there and the sun would be rising soon enough.

Yet, the moon was so bright that it almost blotted out the stars. Breathing deeply and closing her eyes, Bobbi welcomed the feeling of just being there. Opening her eyes, she took in the sky full of stars and breathed, deep, again.

The first time she visited the farm, it had been a night similar to this. Looking up at the sky, she’d seen so many stars, shining brighter than most suburbanites and city-folk knew possible. It was not the first time she’d seen a night sky free from the greedy upstaging of street lights, but it had been a long time. So much light spread across so much space could be both frightening and awe-inspiring.

Now, she relished the sight of the stars whenever the clouds were polite enough to move out of the way. The stars wrapped around the entire farm like a glittering blanket. This drew her back and welcomed her in after every voyage away. This was home.