When Krista Tippett interviewed Michael Longley, one of the great poets of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, they had a fascinating exchange about “the mystery of place.” Longley and his family have a cottage in County Mayo that they have returned to year, after year, after year since 1970. It is remote and difficult to get to but he, his wife and their progeny have continued to return to that place, and he expressed his delight that his children are now bringing their children too.
Speaking about travel, he acknowledged that it can ‘broaden the mind’-but he went on to add that it can also “shallow the mind”; for Longley, returning year after year to this cottage, undertaking a journey that includes fording a stream by foot, and crossing a channel before hiking through fairly arduous terrain, has taught him each return “does not exhaust the place”, but rather allows him to go ever deeper into it. (http://www.onbeing.org/program/michael-longley-the-vitality-of-ordinary-things/transcript/9026)
Earlier this year, Sherod and I began to dream up a trip to Normandy in the late Spring. I felt real joy imagining us in a small Airbnb flat, with a pair of rented bikes and access to the local bus system to get around. I wanted to taste Calvados, an apple brandy of that region, in a small local cafe, having seen where the apples grew that were used to make it. I knew my husband would find great meaning, standing in the American Cemetery. But since those dreams began to take shape, some tough realities and new possibilities have emerged and I don’t think we will ever get there and we certainly won’t in 2017.
In fact, I am no longer certain how much travel we will ever do, except the trips that take us to our girl, or help us bring her to be with us, the shorter trips we’ll take to see the people we love in Indiana, in Kentucky, in Georgia, sometime soon, in Louisiana. I think each of us will be called to make the changes they can to help our fragile Earth survive a period of massive environmental deregulation and disbelief in climate change. Air travel has enormous impact on our carbon foot print; I can make a difference by staying home. I am more serious now about being self-sustaining. I don’t know how much difference it will make to put more money in savings, but I can’t shake the sense that doing that has become even more important than ever.
Over dinner tonight, Sherod and I talked about the ways in which the weeds and weather defeated our gardening last year, and what we might do differently this year. There was also something thrilling about realizing we’re going to make a really big pot of gumbo later in the week, and the tomatoes the recipe calls for were put up midsummer, freshly picked from our garden. The thyme to season it with will also come from my little herb patch. I am drooling over pictures of the flowers in the seed catalogs starting to come in the mail. You just don’t leave a farm, even a small one, at the height of the growing season.
But most of all, there is the fact that living in this little corner of the world, I totally understand what Longley means when he talks about how each return to his cottage is a going deeper into the wonder of it. Each time I drive into the farm after work, I discover something new to marvel about. There are so many small and large dreams I have for living here. I have travelled a lot in my life. Were circumstances different, I would want to keep traveling. I am content, though, to be where I am.
Early this morning, I let my chicken girls out to range, and because our office was closed at Ascension and I knew I’d be here most of the day, I planned for them to be out for several hours. After the encounter with an eagle in the spring, that resulted in the death of one of my Buffs we got very cautious and only allowed them out of their coop when we could supervise the hens. I’d decided a few weeks back to be less obsessed with keeping them safe and more concerned with letting them dig and roam and be real chickens. I’ve been trying to let them out for longer and longer periods, though Mo, the 85-lb Canine Torpedo, is mightily interested in them, so after a time, they have to go back inside when he needs to go outside to take care of business.
About three hours after I let the girls out, I went out to check on them. I started at the end of the garden that’s the farthest from Fort Yolk. No chickens. They know my voice well and when I want them to come to me, I always say “Hello Ladies, how’s it going? Y’all ready for some nice worms ?”(I keep 5-lb bags of mealy worms as a treat for them). I began the conversation as I headed back towards the coop. Nothing. (Except a tendril of anxiety). When I could see the periwinkle outline of the coop, I breathed a sigh of relief. They were all back inside, on the perch, on the roof and one with her little head tilted back, chug-a-lugging a nice drink of water.
Freedom. But not too much.