03 September 2017 @ 12:00 pm
My weekend at the barn  
Saturday

This morning I woke up to a late-summer silence in the loft of a timber-frame barn. I’d slept overnight in a lush double bed, heavy with quilts, the windows open to let in the overnight chill and, as it happened, the call of coyotes. I was up before my friends, so I padded downstairs (the steps to the loft are narrow and steep) and set the coffee brewing while I soaked up the view – pastures and corn as far as the eye could see, a cow barn, the gravel path that led back toward town.

a converted barn



Soon, my friends joined me – just two of them, both sleepy and tousled – and we drank coffee and ate streuppwaffles and chatted about nothing of consequence. I didn’t read email. I didn’t check the internet. The only news I absorbed was that others heard the coyotes, too, and we marveled that they had come so close. One friend, who’d only been able to join us for an evening, left for the airport, and my other friend and I had the breakfast the barn’s owner left for us in the fridge – ham and cheese quiches, a bounty of fruit, freshly-squeezed orange juice. A feast. And then I ran a bubble bath in the big claw-foot tub and lay there, listening to nothing, enjoying the sunlight playing on the water, and meditated a little, and felt my heart-rate slow.

a converted barn


The barn is a beautiful place. It’s only twenty minutes from where I live, but it could be another world. The barn has a tiny galley kitchen, with an old stove that doesn’t have a pilot light (I’m the only one who’ll light the burners with a match). Beyond that is the living space, with a comfy couch and bevvy of rocking chairs, a dining room table, and a poker table in the corner. There’s a room at the back for recycling that you pass through on your way to the outside shower (M may brave that tomorrow; I fear mosquito bites where none should go). Upstairs, the open loft has seven beds of different sizes. Downstairs is the bathroom, with the most divine-smelling soap.

a converted barn


So far today I’ve written a poem of unknown quality, eaten an incredible blueberry muffin, drunk a glass of well water, and begun this journal of our stay. M is playing the score from The Leftovers, which is gorgeous and spare and moving, and she’s typing away at her own computer, writing about a place she lived thirty years ago. I’ve brought art supplies with me, knitting, and books. The day stretches ahead of us. It’s so lovely here.

Afternoon

For lunch we put together an indoor picnic of sorts – pears from M’s neighbors’ trees, three kinds of cheese, some leftover pasta and pesto from the night before, bread, strawberries, grapes, and chocolate-covered almonds. I drank tea, and M drank well water, and we chatted about her kids, and friends who couldn’t join us, and favorite books.

a converted barn


I’ve started rereading one of mine – The Dirty Life, by Kristin Kimball, a memoir of her discovering the siren song of home-grown food, meeting her husband (a farmer) when she was sent to write about him for a magazine, and moving from the city to go with him to upstate New York and start a farm. Kristen is a fish out of water, a middle-class woman with no real skills suited to farming, but she’s head over heels despite the opinion of her family, and willing to give things a try. (One of my favorite early scenes in the book is when her family meets her fiancé’s family, and his very 60s mom reads a poem aloud she wrote called “The Bombs Are Falling On Iraq.” Kristen’s dad is retired Air Force and a strict Republican. I’m sure it wasn’t hilarious to anyone involved at the time, but it makes for an excellent read.)

Kristen is not always likeable, and neither is her husband – they have flaws a-plenty. But she writes the most gorgeous prose, so much so that you feel the dirt beneath your fingernails, the scent of fresh-tilled soil, the bite of the frost when she heads out to do the morning’s milking. It is as close to a farming life as I ever want to get, but that’s part of the delight – Kristen is the one waking up at 4am so I don’t have to. And it’s a beautiful thing to consider food and the environment and humane animal practices and what makes for good milk while sitting in a barn on the edge of a farm, a bottle of milk from the cows in the pasture in the fridge.

a converted barn


We went for a walk around the farm we’re staying at after lunch. The prairie flowers are in full bloom, a riot of yellow and purple in the ditches and beside the river. The creek is low – not enough rain recently – but nothing is wilting yet. There’s a railroad beyond the end of the farm, and trains carrying who-knows-what cargo rush through every couple of hours. It’s a strangely reassuring sound, perhaps because trains go through town so often when I’m in my own house, and perhaps because there’s something rhythmic and soothing in the clickety-clack of the rails. We saw some houses that have seen better days, paint peeling and porches sagging, but other houses that were trim and beautiful, the front walks lined with brightly-colored zinnias, tomato plants in the side yards, weighed down with fruit. We learned that tomorrow the fire department in this tiny town is holding a fund-raising breakfast. We’d go if we didn’t have a whole lot of quiche and champagne to take care of at the barn before we leave.

The cow in the back pasture is mooing loudly. She has a brand new calf.

Over tea after our walk we talked about fandom. M is newly into the Stranger Things; I told her about the Snape Wives, and the Man Whose Wife was a Horse. I realized it’s twelve years since I wrote the first Farm in Iowa story, and sitting here now, looking out over the prairie and fields to the woods, I feel such a welling fondness for those characters, for their big, stupid, getting-it-wrong-all-the-time love. What a marvelous thing to get to write about them.

Evening

We tried to make gin and tonics after and afternoon spent writing and reading books, but the fridge didn’t have ice, and the tonic hadn’t chilled enough to carry the drinks, so we gave up. Instead we took a lovely bottle of wine outside and sat in two chairs set in the flowerbeds and watched the tiny busyness of the farm. There was a hummingbird in the patch of ditch lilies and bright red-yellow flowers that bloomed a few feet away, and big, fat bees buzzed around us before heading off to hive or work. There were hostas at the base of a tree from which tiny bugs kept rising, then hastily diving again, and a rabbit sniffed around the tires of my car. The owner of the farm sat on his own porch, 200ft away, reading a book, keeping his quiet, and we noticed the wood-burning pump house, and wondered at the tiny log cabin near the out-buildings of the farm.

Inside, we ate snacks – more cheese, some chocolate from England – and played the most amiable game of Scrabble I’ve ever played. We agreed all words would count, even swear words, and foreign languages were okay, too. It made for a very funny game, and M won thanks to some truly inspired triple word scores, and I felt completely satisfied to have played ‘box’ and earned a ridiculous number of points.

a converted barn


For dinner we peeled potatoes and chopped up leeks and simmered them in chicken stock. We both forgot to bring a hand-held blender, so we rooted through the kitchen, looking for a potato masher, or something else we could leverage to turn our veggies into soup. We found a hand mixer which did a pretty good job, and added cream and butter and lemon thyme from M’s garden, sprinkled everything with salt and pepper, and ate two bowls each it was so good.

After we washed all the dishes, we tried to watch a DVD, but the tiny, bubble-like TV and DVD player wouldn’t talk to one another, so we settled to playing cards instead. I taught M how to play rummy, which I remembered the rules of in stages, which made for silliness. We played Yahtzee, and somehow came out completely even, and poured more wine and sat on the couch and talked.

Bed came sooner than we’d anticipated, and it was glorious to climb upstairs and burrow down beneath crisp sheets under heavy quilts to fall asleep. The coyotes came to visit again in the night.

a converted barn


Sunday

I woke up early, and dozed a little while, but wanted the stillness of the whole barn to myself more than I wanted to stay in bed. I came downstairs to find the fields swathed in fog, the sun just poking through, so I wandered outside, my feet getting damp from the dew, and snapped some pictures that are unlikely to have done that beauty justice. I brewed some coffee, and sat with some gifts from a friend and opened them one by one, marveling at the things inside. And I read for a bit while M slept on, listening to the barest hint of birdsong outside.

a converted barn


I had about an hour of such things before M came downstairs and joined me on the couch for coffee, and then we conjured up another birthday feast. More quiche, blueberry pancakes that M made, Prosecco mimosas, fruit, and lots of coffee. To my delight, M stuck a birthday candle in the pile of pancakes and I blew that out, but forgot to make a wish. No matter – conversation turned to what I’d like to have happen in my coming year, and I decided I wanted to be less angry, and to recommit to Buddhist meditation. The Buddhist idea that we are the source of so much of our own suffering by becoming attached to specific outcomes makes so much sense to me, and I felt like I’ve spent the last few weeks increasingly agitated because of outcomes I couldn’t control. So I’d like to start that practice up again, and I’m also going to work on calming down when I’m stuck behind someone going 15 mph in my town (which happens with surprising regularity).

a converted barn


We ate, we packed up, M washed dishes, we each took a souvenir soap and mini-shampoo from the bathroom (they’re Beekman-made, and I have such a soft spot for the Beekman story). And then we headed out while everything was still quiet and enjoyed the slow, steady drive back along country roads. We listened to some Avett Brothers and admired the gorgeous wash of green corn with golden tassels against bright blue sky, and then we were home. While I was still feeling placid I went to Target for allergy meds and the grocery store for food for tonight, and now I’m back home with my bags inside the house (if not actually unpacked), a cup of tea, and a bit of chocolate.

One of the gifts that a friend got me this year was a Fitbit Alta HR, which (among other wondrous things) gives you a read on your heart rate. More than once this weekend I looked and it was 82 beats per minute. I have tachycardia, and even with beta-blockers, my resting heart rate is usually in the high 90s. There’s perhaps no better summation of my weekend that that – it gave my literal and figurative heart a chance to slow.
 
 
 
 
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sage: bear hug[personal profile] sage on September 3rd, 2017 05:34 pm (UTC)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY! This sounds heavenly. I'm so glad you've had a such wonderful birthday weekend! <3
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sheafrotherdon[personal profile] sheafrotherdon on September 3rd, 2017 10:29 pm (UTC)
It was so wonderful! Thank you for the birthday wishes, love!
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kass[personal profile] kass on September 3rd, 2017 06:27 pm (UTC)
Oh my dear, this sounds so very wonderful. I am so, so glad for this restorative sweetness. I love you a ton.
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sheafrotherdon[personal profile] sheafrotherdon on September 3rd, 2017 10:30 pm (UTC)
And I love you right back! ♥
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Punk: this walk in the park is no walk in the[personal profile] runpunkrun on September 3rd, 2017 06:35 pm (UTC)
What a lovely experience! Thanks for sharing it with us.
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sheafrotherdon[personal profile] sheafrotherdon on September 3rd, 2017 10:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you, love!
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Kim[personal profile] grammarwoman on September 3rd, 2017 07:19 pm (UTC)
A very happy birthday to you! I'm glad that you had such a wonderful time; I hope that you can come back to that memory and feeling when you need it. *HUGS*
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sheafrotherdon[personal profile] sheafrotherdon on September 3rd, 2017 10:30 pm (UTC)
Me too! My pond has already had some rippling since i got back, but I'm holding my own :D
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lexstar29[personal profile] lexstar29 on September 3rd, 2017 07:40 pm (UTC)
Oh my friend, the way you write. I feel as if I was there with you. I'm so glad that it was so lovely.Thank you for sharing this with us.

There is a wonderful meditation app, it's free, and I found it so useful for getting back into mediation practice, it's called Insight Timer. There is also a guy called David Ji, who emails a meditation each week, which is mantra based. Some of his are on Insight Timer, I always find them very calming.

Happy Birthday. May your year ahead take its lead from peaceful and happy way it has started.

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sheafrotherdon[personal profile] sheafrotherdon on September 3rd, 2017 10:31 pm (UTC)
I've heard of that app before! I'll have to download it and give it a try - it sounds just the thing.

Thank you for the birthday wishes, my love! ♥
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szandara[personal profile] szandara on September 3rd, 2017 08:02 pm (UTC)
Happy birthday! I'm glad you had such a wonderful weekend; it sounds lovely.

Also, I have to say that I am a huge fan of your Farm in Iowa series--it's one of my comfort-food reads, stories I go back to when I need to relax and de-stress. And I think that the second installment, Rodney's Perspective, is one of the loveliest pieces of prose I've ever read. "Falling, fallen, fell, felled..." touches me every time.

May the coming year bring you joy and serenity.
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sheafrotherdon[personal profile] sheafrotherdon on September 3rd, 2017 10:31 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you! I do love hearing that people still read those stories and think fondly of them, especially since i do too :D Thank you for such lovely birthday wishes!
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mirabile[personal profile] mirabile on September 3rd, 2017 09:42 pm (UTC)
Oh what a lovely place and time! I'm so happy for you. Also, happy b-day!
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sheafrotherdon[personal profile] sheafrotherdon on September 3rd, 2017 10:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you for helping to create the peace of mind I found out there! I send such love ♥
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here's luck: birthday![personal profile] heresluck on September 4th, 2017 08:28 pm (UTC)
Hurrah for an expansive, meditative, restorative birthday weekend! The photos are lovely, and your words even more so. ♥
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secretsolitaire[personal profile] secretsolitaire on September 4th, 2017 10:27 pm (UTC)
Happy belated! Beautiful photos.
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