About Me

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I am a mother, a teacher, and a nature lover. I grew up on a mountain we called Owls' Knob in the Ozarks of Arkansas. The first seven years of my life were spent living in a log cabin, far from a store or streetlight, without electricity or running water and after twenty years of travel, I returned to the abondoned homestead. Now I live on a hill by a small lake and work at a public garden. These are stories about nature written from a women deeply influenced by place.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Art and Parenting

The birth of a child is not only the creation of new life; it is also the transformation of a woman into a mother. Eventually it is also the transformation of a man into a father, however, that transformation happens more slowly over time. A parent is someone you become. You are forever changed. In this loss of self-identity, there is morning, no matter how much you enjoy being a mother. Furthermore, parenting is the hardest job you will ever encounter. It is fuller than any full-time job, more demanding than any career, and there is more at stake than in the riskiest stunt.
As an artist, a writer, my biggest loss is that of my art. There is no time for a mother, especially a mother of little ones, to dive head first into art and float on inspiration for a day. All I can do is grab fractions of time here and there, between snotty noses and dirty diapers, and there is not much chance for inspiration in those fleeting moments. When the day comes to an end and the children are asleep, I often have a little time. In my exhaustion, there is little inspiration. Every mother who was once a writer or a painter, a weaver or a gardener, a dancer or a musician misses the woman who could wait for inspiration to come and then seize that beauty and bask in it for as long as it lasted.  
Nevertheless, you must grab all the inspiration you can find and steal every moment you can get. Do not forget to do what you love. Never abandon your art. Your children should see you being yourself and expressing yourself. It may seem there is no time, but really there is. It will not be easy to find, but it is there. Sure, the dishes and laundry might pile up, but you will have to make that sacrifice. In the end you will not look back and regret neglecting your chores, and neither will your kids. On the contrary, the art you accomplish will make you happier, which will reflect positively on your parenting and therefore on your children.
When you are swimming in dishes and laundry it is easy to forget that everything you are doing is important. But the tone of your voice, the expression on your face, and the way you go about your daily duties is teaching your children and influencing who they will become. You don't have to be sitting on the floor playing blocks, engaging, for the art of parenting to be taking place. Everything you do becomes art once you are parenting. Unlike any other art, parenting never stops. The art of parenting is in everything you do and everything you are in every moment you are with your children.  
There is an art to good parenting, but no one knows how to do it. Like artistic beauty, good parenting is in the eye of the beholder. No one should judge art any more than they should judge parenting methods. But no matter the parents’ methods, the creation of an amazing human is the most beautiful work of art on earth. A well rounded young person with a kind heart, nimble mind, and strong body is a reward beyond the wildest artist’s dreams.
So next time you are inspired but you have no time, or you have time but not an ounce of inspiration, just remember that those little ones ARE your art. Now that you are a parent, there is nothing more important, no greater art!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Raising Caterpillars


     Apparently I have been raising caterpillars. I left my cabbage and broccoli plants alone after their initial harvest. Over the course of the summer, a healthy population of caterpillars, probably of the cabbage white butterfly, thrived by eating the brassica leaves. I felt silly watching the leaves become dotted with swiss cheese hole and ridiculous by the time I realized they had eaten leaves down to the skeletal veins. I didn't really mean to breed insects that will eventually raid the rest of my garden. But it is hard to find time (and the heart) to kill all those caterpillars. Especially when you don't use pesticides. So I just let them be.
     Yesterday, I found a wonderful new use for my garden pests... chicken food. Bugs make chicken eggs taste great! I began collecting them in my hand while the baby slept and kids played nearby. I routinely watch children for my friends, and this was a day when the house was full. One of the little boys I was watching followed me into the garden and asked what I was doing. I explained I was taking caterpillars off the cabbage plant they were eating and I was going to feed them to the chickens. The little boy seemed very amused by the caterpillars. He gathered a few with me. Then he decided he could not bare to sacrifice his little friends. So he plucked a cabbage leaf and made his little caterpillar friends a home. For the an hour he carried caterpillars around the yard. Periodically he would say he lost one, and more than once we found it up his sleeve. Eventually he lost all of them, but I think he enjoyed their company.
     As for my caterpillars, the chickens said they tasted amazing and they would be happy to help me out any time I don't know what to do with all the pests in my garden. It is a delightful circle... the caterpillars that were eating my garden vegetables are fed to chickens who in turn create a delicious food. I think I am really going to love having chickens!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Backyard Chickens

      When I lived out at Owls' Knob full time, I dreamed about having chickens. But keeping chickens in the wilderness is very difficult. For one thing, mammals come from miles around to eat your birds and snakes gather to feast upon the eggs. But even with an impenetrable chicken coop, there is the issue of constant care. It is hard to make sure that you are home every night by dusk to put the hens up when you live 60 miles from anywhere. Without neighbors it is impossible to ask someone to drop by your house and help since it is not on the way to anywhere. However, in town the wildlife is not as desperate or plentiful. It is also easier to be home at dusk and I have quite a few neighbors who would be happy to drop by and put up the hens in exchange for some eggs.
     So yesterday we got chickens. Last week John built a chicken tractor. It has an extremely well fortified chicken hutch above and a large scratching pen below. He made it out of pallet wood and wood from an old falling down shed. Though it was built on a budget out of scratch, it turned out to be a very nice and strong home.
     Yesterday the sun was shinning and the light breeze was warm. It was a perfect day for a trip to my uncle's farm. We walked out into the pasture to visit the lambs, sheep, cows, and honey bees. On the way back we ate ripe persimmons. Then we had a picnic and Zane helped his aunt feed the Koi fish. Finally I walked down to the chicken house and picked out four beautiful hens. We packed up the hens in some feed sacks and brought them home to their new coop.
     Since we got them home, we have been trying to make them as comfortable as possible. I fed them plenty of chickweed, barley, and corn. John and I took turns coaxing them up and down the ramp that led them in and out of their cozy nesting boxes. The hens were hesitant at first and we found that the ramp needed better traction, so John nailed stairs steps to it. When the sun started sinking low the hens all found their way into their nesting boxes.
     Today, when we put up the hens, we found the first egg. I had not expected for the hens to lay so quickly after such a traumatic relocation. But low and behold, they have already begun to settle into their new home and lay eggs. To celebrate the first egg, we ate omelets as a bedtime snack.
     I am excited to have hens. Watching them roost, scratch, and peck is entertaining. More importantly I love farm fresh eggs. The garden and now the chickens brings our family one step closer towards being sustainable. It is a step towards a lifestyle that I have always wanted to live. A sustainable life. I want to teach my boys where food comes from and how to feed yourself. What lesson could be more valuable?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Country Boy

      A few weeks ago, we went to Owls' Knob for the first time in months. My husband had gone out the weekend before to knock back the initial cobwebs and work on getting the lights and water working. It is a constant battle to maintain a house in the woods. Nature is always trying to reclaim the homesteads that speckle its wilderness.
    Personally, I have been reclaiming and establishing my own values, trying to find balance and peace in my life. I live on a street inside city limits now. We have a big back yard and an abandoned wooded lot beside our house and lots of parks to explore; nevertheless, we are NOT living in the country. And my boys are NOT being raised as "country boys." This bothers me.
     I admire country boys. I married a country boy. The simplicity, community, and the closeness to the earth of country folk is to be envied. However, the city contains a wide world of conveniences, distractions, and opportunities. The city has a lot to offer in its culture, activities, and open minded acceptance. So I straddle my life between the city and the country. Internally I battle, heart against mind, over where we should live and how we should raise these boys. I have not figured it out yet and if you get it all figured out, please share!

That look in his eyes... wonder, reverence?
     Regardless, one virtue stands true. I want my boys to love nature. I do not care if they grow up to live in New York City or in the wilderness of the Ozarks. If they grow up to be rich or poor, gay or straight, ambitious or relaxed, I will be proud of them just the same. But I want them to have reverence for the earth with the same passion that a Christian wants her boys to know Jesus. The earth is our home, our mother, and if my boys do not respect her, I have failed.
     So you might be thinking why on earth we do not live in the country, close to the earth, if this is so important? Well, I do not believe that would necessarily bring forth the desired love I am seeking. A hard life struggling, alone, in the middle of no where is not always fun for a child. If my boys have a hard childhood, like so many country folks do, they might run away and never look back. I've seen it before. Therefore, I continue to cautiously juggle this balance between nature and convenience. Because we are living in a world of technology, progression, and luxury. If I deprive my boys of such temptations they will only make them want it more.   
I see love in that smile.
     This past weekend my boy, Zane, made me proud. He got dirty, he tromped through the weeds, and the peed on a tree. We went on hikes, tracked animals, and discovered both beauty and freaking awesomeness! But most importantly, Zane befriended a millipede. His grandfather found it and brought it to him. My four year old son carried the arthropod around for an hour. He let it walk from one hand to the other. His gentleness was remarkable. I could tell that he truly cared for his little friend.
     Now before you cringe and scream gross, understand that the triumph here. I read a quote by Bradley Millar once, "Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as valuable to the child as it is to the caterpillar." There is an important lesson in the quote. Now I must admit, caterpillars can devastate a garden and I have been know to slaughter them. However, the common caterpillar is to be admired because it will become a beautiful butterfly and I have tried to teach Zane not to step on bug. I also have tried to teach him to not stomp on beetles (even if they crunch satisfyingly) or spiders (but of course never touch a spider either). Many boys have a warrior instinct and a desire to protect at an early age. In tribes of our primal ancestors, boys (and girls too) hunted and therefore killed. I think for most boys, it is totally natural for them to want to stomp on insects. (I am not trying to get in an argument about gender roles here and I recognize that the stereotype does not hold true for everyone by any means. I'm just trying to say it is natural for them to do this. It is not an example of violent behavior.) So since Zane was very little I have been teaching him to be gentle and kind to all of earth creatures, even if they are a little creepy!
     After a while, Zane wanted to make sure that the millipede went home to be with his or her "mommy and daddy." So we searched for a proper place for the millipede to live. A simple pile of leaves or log would not do, even when I told him that was the creature's preferred home. My son wanted his little friend to have a special place.

He is trying to count the legs!
     First we found, as my son called it, a nest. It was a beautiful rock that sat on the border of the iris garden. I was a rock my mother had collected from a river bed and it had a deep indention in it. The indention was full of rich dirt, luscious moss, and crystals. We put the millipede in this little home and Zane proceeded to make a roof even though I told him that the little guy didn't need or want a roof. When the millipede walked out of the designated home three times, Zane decided that it was not good enough and we would have to look further.
     We finally found our way to the other side of the yard where a huge oak tree had once stood. I had spend my childhood swinging from a swing that had hung from that old oak tree. But the tree had died and because it dared to fall on the house, we had cut it down. We cut the trunk into boards that we intend to use for Zane's bedroom and the stump was turned into a thrown. Zane sat and stood on the thrown with this millipede for a long time. At one point he was hugging and kissing the arthropod with great affection. I told him that was weird. He didn't seemed to care. So I ignored his behavior, knowing that making light of it would only make his act more extravagant.
     Soon after I walked away, Zane came up to me holding out his hands. "Nothing is in my hands," he explained.
     "Where is your millipede?" I asked
He pointed to the thrown. "Over there." His voice sounded worried. Like the millipede had scurried off and left him alone.
"Oh that is a perfect home for your little friend! It has lots of rich dirt, decomposing leaves, and some good chunks of wood to hide under. Tell him goodbye and you might get to see him again. He will be your neighbor." It took some convincing but eventually Zane accepted the millipede's new home.
     It wasn't that I wanted my boys to grow up to love millipedes particularly. I don't absolutely adore them, but if I was to choose a creature it is a heck of a lot better than a spider, right? It is slower than most animals so it was easy to catch and its hard shell let me relax and know that if Zane's gentleness slipped up the animal would survive. No, it was not about the millipede at all. The millipede was simply an embodiment of the earth. It personified nature and put the Ozark wilderness into the palm of my son's hand. I beam with pride knowing that my son cared for much for it. I just hope he always keeps such reverence for all of nature close to his heart. 

Zane is hugging the millipede,
 while sitting on the back of the thrown