Weaving Life and Death at Midsummer
Its almost midsummer here on the farm, and I've been thinking a lot about endings, transitions, death, loss, grief, and how the many threads that make up our lives are woven together in certain patterns. Some of the patterns get very complicated in places, then become more simple or plain at the edges. Adolescent moments, forging our way in the world as young people, mid-life moments of raising families and career devotion, times of crisis, times of illness and stress, are the complicated portions of the weaving.
When we are living in the midst of these complicated segments we don't really notice how this moment fits together with all the other portions of our life- we are laser focused on the intricacies of what we are dealing with at the moment. If we could zoom out and look at the entire "tapestry" of our lives, we'd see how that very detailed and complex moment fits with all the other threads, colors, and patterns of our time on earth. The whole of the cloth tells a story that we can't understand if we are only looking at a tiny portion of the larger pattern of our lives.
Midsummer, 2023 is bringing me so much to mull over and process. Today is the 23 year anniversary of the death of my husband, my children's father. Although we were estranged at the time of his death, it doesn't make the anniversary any easier. It gets more, not less, complicated as I age.
I also received some sad news last week about a fiber artist and fellow shepherdess whom I admired greatly. Jessica Green was a young weaver, artist, educator, homesteader, shepherdess, and mother who died in May, way too young, from a rare aggressive cancer. I have shared one of her videos illustrating her work on my social media in the past, but I will share it again here, https://fb.watch/l9TEYsJKTo/ and also link to her website "A Little Weather" here, https://alittleweather.com/
I encourage you to look at her body of work and all of the lovely things she has done to create community amongst those in her orbit. Her mission was to bring people together in a creative space so that they may make the world just a little bit better with communal beauty and artistry. She was a master weaver, whose story inspired me to begin exploring working with sheep for my own fiber journey. Much of the work she had achieved in her artistic North Carolina mountain community and later in rural upstate New York is similar to what I'd like to achieve here in the Midwest. I have such a strong vision for creating a wellness farm space where people can gather to create together, find connections to nature, and reach some measure of healing from past trauma. Sheep, fiber, weaving, herbs, and wholistic healing for mind/body/soul are all part of this long-term vision.
Seeing someone who seems to be reaching similar creative, earth-based goals (like Jessica) makes this dream seem possible for others too. When we lose that person, it feels like a wound to the entire community of like-minded souls. 😢
So, cancer, and an early death, takes another person from this plane of existence.
I also found out last week that my beloved "well guy", Bruce, the Well and Pump expert who has been servicing my deep water well system for 17 years (through 2 pump replacements, relining the house to pump water lines, 1 hydrant replacement, a new bladder tank, and a well casing replacement) passed away suddenly from liver cancer in late May. Bruce was the kind of man who was old school honest, hard working, and a straight shooter. He NEVER talked down to me, never tried to sell me things I didn't need, and always gave me the straight talk about what was wrong, and how much it would cost. He didn't keep extensive records on paper, but if I called him with a well-related question he had all the information on my well and system, stored "in his head" as he said. Being a woman running a small farm alone, I need all the trustworthy folks I can get to help me out when needed, and now I've lost a critical member of my farm "support team". Bruce was only in his 50s. Just like me. 😢
In January I also lost one of my best friends. It was sudden, and completely unexpected. We had summer plans for adventures together. She was set to retire 4 months before she died. I am still devastated, and miss her every day.
Now, cancer is rearing its ugly head with my father. Diagnosed with lung cancer in February, with all of the "by the book" treatment, things are not so good now at midsummer. Midsummer. The longest day of the year. How fitting. A time of limbo. Limbo, and then the hardest struggle of your life, that's what cancer can do. Not knowing, uncertainty, then messy emotions, fear, anxiety, and most of all pain. I have never been good at witnessing the suffering of others. Its one of the hardest things to do. Feeling helpless in the face of other's suffering is the worst feeling. I don't even do well with my animal's suffering, let alone my human loved ones.
Midsummer. The season of high sun, long daylight, burning brightly, hot, humid, and seemingly never-ending. I long for the deep, dark, cold, hibernation of winter, the shortest day of the year on the winter solstice. A time to curl up by the fire and rest. But, it is not winter, it is midsummer. Grief and loss somehow sting more when you're surrounded by the lush, verdant, fecund greenery of high summer. Somehow being surrounded by the positivity and hopefulness of the elderberry blossoms, showy in their white lace, and the dark purple plump mulberries on the trees begging to be picked, in the face of your own personal darkness, feels like an insult, a slap in the face.
But, the seasons do not follow human emotions. The natural world does not bow to our human desires or our very mundane (in the framework of the natural world) act of dying. A thunderstorm contains no judgement, it just passes through with power and noise. It just is. If devastation happens in its wake, so be it. The rabbit killed for food by the coyote becomes food for the turkey vultures and the organisms in the soil after the coyote has fed her family, no judgement, no emotion. Bright new growth, and dying, decaying matter is just part of an endless cycle in nature. On and on, it just is.
It just is.
But, we are nature too. We are interconnected to all living things, woven into the cloth of the universe. So, why is it so hard for us humans to accept these cycles? I have no answers. I only know that midsummer is here, its bursting at the seams all around me, and I feel like deep winter inside.
As "this too shall pass", I will no doubt move forward, into the next season, following the next turn of the wheel, completing the season-based tasks on this little farm that need completing. It will soon be time to pick the walnuts in their green hulls to store for making wintertime Nocino. It will soon be time to bring in more hay for the livestock, safely tucked under the tall barn rafters, in the hayloft. The hot humid days of late summer will bring more vigilance in checking the sheep for parasites (who thrive during this time). It will soon be time to harvest fresh tomatoes from the garden at an ever increasing rate, soon time to make sure there's enough canning jars and freezer bags for putting up the summer bounty, then time to prepare for a new ram to come to the farm for fall breeding season, time to harvest goldenrod for strong winter medicine, protection from colds and coughs. Soon it will be time for school books, backpacks, and college students arriving to my fall classroom, full of apprehension and questions about how they will complete the semester's work.
Sigh. It continues. Always it continues. I suppose now, at midsummer, when work on the land is needed, I should be grateful for all of that greenery forcing me outside, to pick up a hoe, a shovel, cutting and pulling weeds, looking at the sky ever hopeful for much needed rain, walking on the trails, observing the fledgling birds, picking the garden regularly, and just being, just existing.
Maybe its better this way, maybe I need to pay more attention to the cacophony of midsummer, maybe nature is trying to tell me that those we lose are still here, whispering in the tall grasses, singing in the wind blown pine needles in the tops of the trees, or in the eyes of the deer startled along the trail. Maybe they leave traces of themselves along the muddy banks of the river, or in the wildflowers in the clearing, and in the memories and the lessons learned about living that they imparted to those of us still here.
What tiny fragment of them can we carry within us, and how can we pass it along? I suppose midsummer will show us the way. I suppose midsummer will help us pull that fragment along with us, weaving it across the warp of the next season, and on and on.