"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

January 6, 2012

Epiphany: What We Need

Haying time in June on our knob mowing.
There has been much hype about the world ending this year on December 21st. What we do know is that the Mayan calendar ends on that date. Some reports say there will be an unusual planetary alignment which will place Earth right into the center of the Milky Way galaxy for the first time in some 20,000 years (at 11:11am, to be precise: 11:11 is a whole other thing with me as I've been seeing it regularly since 2000). We are––contrary to what my grade school science teacher told me and despite my third grade protestations––already a part of the Milky Way galaxy. It is so vast that it encompasses our entire Solar System but we are not in or near its center (it is thought to be a spiral galaxy and is 100,000 light years across). Therefore it is impossible to even photograph it as a complete galaxy.

The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to us, but still over 2 million light years away.
When I am overwhelmed and need perspective, I just look to the heavens and realize we are but a speck.

I was raised by an amateur astronomer and geographer, professional banker and numbers man, and a brilliant organist all rolled into one. My father had an inner compass and always knew where we were in the world just as much as he loved to watch the weather and the heavens–or a good old-fashioned disaster movie: double feature matinee of The Day The Earth Stood Still or The Amazing Colossal Man, anyone? There are also other mathematical theories and ideas about why 2012 is "it." My father and I would have discussed them all, with just a dash of sarcasm and levity in case "they" all happen to be right. Either way, for a bit of reason, here is NASA's take on the whole 2012 thing.

This was widely circulated on the Internet this winter.
Prophecies of the End Times have been around for centuries. I don't need to list them here or the historical precedents of burning one's farm to await the Rapture, which, according to the Bible, no one is supposed to know when it hits, "not even the angels in heaven." I'd like to think that 2012 will be the beginning of better things for the world: of how we relate with each other as citizens, neighbors and individuals. More tolerant, perhaps. More sharing of what we have or what we know or have learned. Less prone to fits of anger if we don't get our way. Less envy. Less aggression and more compassion. More connection in real time and less via texting on Facebook or Twitter. Instead of blocking or unfriending someone on Facebook or in Facetime (unless they are truly toxic beings), perhaps opening our hearts to the possibility of the knowledge and love of each other. Or just listening to different opinions and ideas. One can hope. We all struggle with these things in our modern world. I do know that connection, tolerance and being neighborly begins at home. Or through good karma [these Twenty Ways to Get Good Karma by the Dalai Lama are applicable to any person or religion]. Or on a blog! [Believe me, I've been grappling lately with why I blog and if I should even continue and I've decided, for now, to do so. Someday I might share more about why, or why I considered giving all of this up.]

This winter I have realized, quite plainly and perhaps for the first time, that the only things that I can really control in my life are what goes into my body and what comes out of my mouth (or my pen). I can also control my environment to some extent (and sometimes not at all: but that is a choice, even though I live with two boys and a husband who, for the most part, are neater than I am). I can also control how much time I spend connected with the world via the Internet (gladly, I do not have a cell phone). I can control when I move or when I am still. I can take joy in the quiet, or, as one of my great-grandmothers wrote to each of her nine children: "Remember, loved ones, the ruthlessness to rest." She didn't just mean for the body, but for the soul.

I occasionally dream of the house that we used to live in and the houses of my past: fine and glittering places. "Palaces" of family or of the stuff of generations but all places of memory and homeplaces because of the people in them. Christmas especially conjures these places and the sorrow that they are no longer in our lives. But they are places, not people, and even the loved ones with whom we shared those homes are no longer in our lives. So what would those places even be without them? "You can't go home again," echos Thomas Wolfe in my head, always, like a sonorous, yet clanging, temple gong.

Now we are here on a ridge in Kentucky, on a farm that we've made in four years and that continues to grow in terms of what we are trying to do. So here I can create a loving home. I can shape a fine home, cottage or even a doublewide with what we have. I can focus on my writing and time with my children and my husband. Real time where I am present and not distracted. I can provide nourishing and delicious food for my family from our ample pantries and freezers. I can spend less, especially now that we've stockpiled much. I can read more and start with the books in my own home library (even though much is still in boxes)–or go to the library more instead of bringing in more books. I can be a better friend and neighbor. I can sing and dance more, just because (and OK, Santa brought Momma an iPod Shuffle this Christmas...). I can pick up my knitting needles again and have-at that yarn box!

I half-joked with my husband and some friends that this year, apart from monthly bills, I would only be spending money on gas, seeds, local produce and the occasional bottle of milk. We have so much on hand that really, apart from occasional clothes for the boys (my husband and I have clothes in several sizes and in classic styles and aren't fashion victims so we'll be fine), we don't lack for much.

In fact, we don't lack for anything.

I have this Wendell Berry quote under my header photo but it bears repeating again:
"It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey...And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here."
Yes, what we need is here. Now. Perhaps one day in Heaven, too. But for now, today, this is all I know. And this is all I need.

You come back when you're ready!



  1. Whether the world ends today, tomorrow or a 1000 years from now...we have no control over it....we have today. Let's live it.

  2. What a beautiful post. We have just come off a series of awful years -- husband laid off, struggling financially, trying to sell our house (which we finally did after a year at a loss of $50K), and living apart while husband started a new job in the Midwest and I stayed behind in New England to sell that house.

    Now we are all here, in a new home where I can garden and have chickens, with wonderful neighbors, and our family is finally together. What I need truly is right here.

  3. Okay, it's time for a smart-ass comment. I think the Mayans just ran out of prepared stone on which to carve their calendar and they said, "Let's stop here. We'll be long gone by then." Such is the nature of man because there are too damned many people out there who care little or not at all about what we are doing to our ecosystems, global warming, etc., because "we'll be long gone by then". Damn, I do ramble.

  4. I was wondering how your vanilla turned out? I have ordered some beans and just wondering.

  5. EG: Vanilla. I don't think it is quite there (it's been almost four months). I'm planning to make the same sugar cookie recipe for Valentine's Day and use each kind of vanilla and do like a taste test. I will certainly post about it! I'm just hoping that I used enough vanilla beans in each jar. Thanks for asking, Anon.


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