“You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.” — Mary Oliver

It’s been two months; that seems like a long pause to me. Even though those two months seem to have come and gone through me like a deep breath. Each day has been long and patient and full in the living of my moments, and in looking back they have so sweetly melded into such a beautiful medley, like how lasagna gets better with time. All full of emotion, exuberance on the spread of the spectrum. Three nice days in October. One of them was the 17th and we pressed apple cider.

Charles McLaughlin, my lifetime neighbor just a quarter mile north of my Dad’s place was an absolutely wonderful host. He is 91. An agrarian his entire life, an avid conservationist and visionary – helped author the CRP program, was a founding board member of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, has walls full of plaques and awards and a life full of admirers and love – and a great many more who have never met the man, but yet hold him in the highest of regards and respect. And me, I have the dumb luck to have been raised as his neighbor. As a child we were allowed in the milking parlor on our best behavior, and we drank fresh Jersey milk out of red plastic mugs, and twenty years ago we pressed cider and it was a special event to feed the apple mush to the younger cows and Daisy and Folly, the horses.

So many wonderful people shared in that day – even some not physically present, but we carried them in spirit. Seth, Tim, Mom, Mary, Lisa, Lydia, Gabe, Sammy, Jana, Rachel, Tom, Andy, their dog Nelly, Paul, Daryl, Claude and Shelly. My close friend, Sarah, we held there – we used the paring knife she sent me for my birthday. I used a beautiful bowl that Tiffany had made to hold cinnamon and sugar for dipping apples. I wore the earings that Christen gave me for my birthday. We used the rooster plates from Dad’s. Chuck didn’t come out to press cider, but studied for his upcoming INHF board meeting, so we all took turns to visit and share our gratitude with him.

Tim and Sam recharge with hot chocolate – they were ace hopper tenders. Gabe presses. Seth took the charge of making sure all life, limbs and extremities were preserved and in tact. Andy filled jugs. Chuck, legally blind, but fervently in tune, watched Nelly fetch. Claude and Gabe climbed apple trees. Mom and Shelly caught apples. Tom and Paul brought apples with them to share. The trees we pulled apples from on Chuck’s farm have been there longer than my memory allows – they were only numbers at the time they were planted – experimental varieties from the University of Minnesota. I was again reminded of how good it is to be the “kid” even at 31, but always in Chuck’s eyes, as no one else has ever been allowed to PICK apples off the tree – it has always been off the ground, because that’s how you know their ripe… and I had forgotten this, and somehow in small towns word gets round, and counterparts to your parents pass this word on that they might be a bit (good naturedly) envious to your parents, and you get that word and fill up. With good. With pride. With love. There was so much wonderful on that day. I got to Dad’s to dump my truckload of apple mush on the compost pile and to share some of the very freshest cider with Dad, and he immediately asks me, as was his tendency for the statistics, how much? I have no real idea, as I’m not much of a numbers gal for a finance major, and I said enough for everyone, which was all I needed to know.

October was full. November started out that way. Dad’s health was failing. The garden was neglected. Potatoes. There are still potatoes frozen hard into the ground – in-garden-compost – I should find the Latin for that and coin it, use it in speeches of managed practice. I troubled to bring in sugar pumpkins and some spaghetti squash and a Garden Way cart full of potatoes – Blues, Yellow Finns, La Ratte fingerlings. Tom came to visit and brought bulbs. We planted them along the south side of the house. They will be beautiful in the coming year.

Dad passed away on the 7th of November. I couldn’t have chosen more fittingly a father who I will carry with me always. I know Seth feels the same. We are so blessed to have had so many wonderful years with a man who knew about filling his. We carry on his projects and his love of the land, his sense of good stewardship, his connection and bond with his community. His presence missed by us, but by the whole – so many kind words of condolence from friends of his, of ours, from family, but we all know we will all miss. We are all the better for having shared in this journey with him.

Yet another project inspired a bit by Dad. He planted a pumpkin patch this year – six hills – it yielded 70 pumpkins – good fertile soil in that composted cattle lot. We went out last Sunday and hacked open half of those frozen pumpkins and with equally frozen hands dug out the innards to take into the house to sort and thaw. Tuesday, before the big blizzard came to fruition I was out there with my ax and hand trowel cleaning up the rest of what was salvageable. I roasted pumpkin seeds for two straight days! Vinegar and sea salt. Cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Soy sauce and ginger. Coconut and curry. Dark chocolate and chili. Bloody mary seeds with fresh horseradish. Plus, some seeds are being saved and dried for next year’s pumpkin patch. I love this idea of saving Dad’s seeds and planting a patch in his memory and each year harvesting and saving seeds to repeat the process.

I want to say thank you to everyone. To everyone who has supported or doubted or participated or rolled their eyes, because really, the only reason you do any of these is because you care. I am constantly surround by, bathed in and overflowing from all of the love you give. My patience, my strength, my humbled moments come from this wealth of companionship, care, community. I am, for lack of a word that more fully encompasses the enormity, blessed. Endlessly. Ame de la Terre will continue postings as the garden venture evolves. I am moving to the Twin Cities in January to pursue my certification in massage therapy. I will be living with a friend who has a back yard, a small garden and a need for plants… hmmm… 🙂 I’m ordering my sweet potatoes now.

“The father wants the girl to be a weather girl on television, or to marry and have babies. She doesn’t want to be a TV weather girl. Nor does she want to marry and have babies. Not yet. Maybe later, but there are so many other things she must do in her lifetime first. Travel. Learn how to dance the tango. Publish a book. Live in other cities. Win a National Endowment for the Arts award. See the Northern Lights. Jump out of a cake.” — Sandra Cisneros (The House on Mango Street) (my regards to Aurora, CO, to living off Colfax, to Mr. Hofsess on this one).
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