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homestead happenings: welcome winter

November 7, 2011

We finished Charlotte’s Web in the car on the way to Mesa Verde. The first snow of the season was falling, decorating the pinyon and juniper forests, which usually go about their greenness so quietly. The kids and I studied each others’ faces for signs of who would crack first when I read the line, “no one was with her when she died.”

Jeez. My kids are such tough-hearts. I wonder about them sometimes. Isn’t this the age when most kids realize that the sliced turkey they’re eating came from an actual animal and promptly go vegetarian? Or where parents have to skip past the howling wolf scenes in Little House in the Big Woods? Last month when two chickens died unexpectedly, Col, who discovered the 1st death, was reverent enough to whisper to me, “Emily’s dead,” before scamping off to draw a picture of a “sordfish;” Rose simply begged to see the body.

Which is to say that no one cried when I read about Charlotte dying. Truthfully, even I was more moved by the very last lines of the book, where the narrator muses, “it is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” Oh! Good writing is such excellent company; just yesterday, walking past the shelves of new fiction at the library I had to avert my eyes, because I’m currently tangled up with Ann Patchett’s spellbinding State of Wonder.

*** ** *** ** *** ** *** ** ***

It’s crazy to realize that the season of food processing is over. For months I was propping up this flimsy door, throwing my weight against it while an avalanche of over-ripe tomatoes pressed in. And suddenly, it’s over. Maybe it’s time to take up a new hobby, like cleaning the house. Naaah. I asked Dan, on our deer-butchering date, if he had any aspirations for winter.

“I think I’ll make something out of all the deer and elk hides I’ve tanned the past few years.”

I love this about Dan. While I’m teetering around under the vague and lofty goal of say, embodying peace or, I don’t know, raising children to love life, Dan will be making precise cuts into his hides and stitching them up into something useful. And then he will finish, put his feet up and relax while I’m consoling myself with ice cream because I’ve completely blown it for the day.

When Col was in the NICU for 101 days, Dan and I stayed at the Denver Ronald McDonald House. And every night Dan would roll out a tarp in the 3rd floor TV room and whittle away at a piece of pinyon while watching basketball. By the time we left, I had gained 10 pounds from numbing my fears with sugar, and Dan had carved this:

We had our first snow this weekend, our first real wintry weekend, and I couldn’t really remember what winter was like before that. I mean, I knew it was cold and dark and somewhat hard, what with all that inside time, but I couldn’t really remember what it felt like. It’s like childbirth, in that way that I know intellectually that my 7-hour labor with Rose hurt like a mofo, but I just wrote a long e-mail to my friend Donna Mae (yes, Stinky the cat’s mom! who is pregnant with twins! and full-term!) about birthing Rose and it was all wistfully full of Californian words like “empowered” and “present” and “bellowing naked goddess.”

On the homestead:

:: Last week with rumors of a low of 16F, I picked all the last stalwart garden lingerers (except the carrots, bless the carrots and their hardy hearts).

:: Rose and her friends swept snow off the coldframes, because winter is young and we all still think snow chores are fun.

:: We bought a winter pass to the local hot springs, where Rose, that nutty little Rose, likes to roll around in the snow between plunges in the hot pool.

:: Sometimes the kids need to go back “in the pouch.” I think it’s healing for everybody.

:: There was some disagreement about whether the deer skull would get painted. Col really wanted to paint it, Dan wasn’t so sure. Guess who won that argument?

~those are eye muscles drawn on Col’s face, c/0 The Human Body unit we’re still studying~

:: Pulling off Mesa Verde (which is a 3-hour round trip drive) on a snowy day is exactly the kind of weekend activity Dan lobbies for while I’m more inclined to take kids to the chlorinated soup of our indoor pool just 3 minutes away. Thank goodness for Dan. Col has a good grasp on the ancient Anasazi days where arrowheads, mud and animal skins were a part of a boy’s daily existence. Rose, whose worldview maintains that nothing much happened before she shot into the world in 2007, was nevertheless pleased with the greasy bag of bakery goods we stopped for along the way.

And sure there was a gift shop meltdown, and some complaining on the drive home, but just like childbirth, all I remember now is the magic of those ruins and the snow knitting us together on a beautiful winter day.



20 Comments leave one →
  1. November 9, 2011 8:06 am

    I too have been tempted to break down and clean now that food processing season is over. I admit, I did a little bit, then went out and aquirred a bushel, a peck and a gallon of apples that I now have to deal with. Next up I’ll be busy with Christmas gifts….anything to avoid cleaning…..

  2. Anonymous permalink
    November 9, 2011 8:35 am

    Nothing like visiting a tourist spot in the off-season! I love how you all are the only ones in any of those Mesa Verde pictures. It’s like going to Telluride in October – you can actually roam around, stop into to places for drinks and relax in the parks.

    -David Smith

  3. November 9, 2011 9:32 am

    Um…I know you think sometimes that Dan is the one who gives the REAL things to your family and you contribute only the woo woo, but I’d like to go back to this, ““it is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” Oh! Good writing is such excellent company; ”

    To have Charlotte as a mother? Worth an extra 10 pounds.

  4. Ania permalink
    November 9, 2011 9:34 am

    oh, winter… I was reading Fox’s Dream to my son yesterday and suddenly I became so overwhelmed with memories of winter hiking, the stillness and peacefulness of it, that I almost started crying. Wasn’t thinking about how I hated the chore of making something to eat when my hands were freezing. We haven’t seen the snow since we moved here almost 5 years ago, and the planting and harvesting season is just beginning in Florida, but I guess my body is still rooted around 50N.

    That was a beautiful trip!

  5. Christy permalink
    November 9, 2011 9:48 am

    Wow, snow! We are just getting our first colder weather here. And I am trying to remember that winter turns to spring. And that I love living where we have four distinct seasons. But me and winter…we’re not the best of friends. So I am trying to enjoy the remaining foliage and not dread the coming cold. I think a snowstorm would completely ruin my forced positve attitude. But it does look pretty in the pictures!

  6. November 9, 2011 11:40 am

    The way you talk about Dan always makes me smile. You two so obviously appreciate each other in a rare way.

    As always, I’m enjoying a chance to watch the changing seasons through your eyes. Thanks, Rachel!

  7. donnamae** permalink
    November 9, 2011 12:44 pm

    Full-term and SUPER excited! The boys measured 7 lbs 5 oz and 6 lbs 14 oz this morning at our “specialist” doctor appointment this morning! Rachel wrote the most amazing birthing story for me. The beauty of it makes me cry everytime I read it.

    Here’s to birthing, winter, trips to Mesa Verde, and home improvement projects…always better to remember the outcome and to let the painful parts fade into the background.

  8. November 9, 2011 1:26 pm

    Once again, I drink in your words like a cup of hot tea on a chilly afternoon. Thank you for inviting us into your stories. xo

  9. Kathy permalink
    November 9, 2011 1:32 pm

    Thank you for the gorgeous photos of the children amid the ruins. And Dan and Col’s handiwork. And yours too (the garden produce)! I am so glad I stumbled on your site and your writing.

  10. Chi-An permalink
    November 9, 2011 2:29 pm

    You know, my son was almost 5 when he read _Charlotte’s Web_, and he sobbed at the end of it, asking why I gave him a book to read when I knew that it would end up sad. I still get teary-eyed about it.

    But I believe that kids’ reactions to books are so much about what else is going on in their lives. He had just finished preschool, and on the last day of preschool also lost his favorite lovey, so I think he was feeling vulnerable about loss. Another year or so later, he skated thru the Harry Potter books with nary a sniffle about the death of beloved characters. (I, on the other hand, cried when Hedwig died).

    Have you read the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series? That was a big hit around kindergarten/first grade, and still a favorite. Also the Roald Dahl books.

  11. ike permalink
    November 9, 2011 4:37 pm

    wonderful pictures of mesa verde in the snow and all the others too.
    I think the kids will remember many of their experiences but mostly the love they receive from you two.

  12. November 9, 2011 6:07 pm

    Wow!! What an amazing adventure! How cool to be able to say “we bought a winter pass to the local hot springs”. Gonna grab our kid and throw him in a pouch this evening; he used to love that, too. :). Thanks so much for sharing!

  13. Dan permalink
    November 9, 2011 10:16 pm

    So Fun…and funny! Love U, Dan

  14. November 10, 2011 12:20 pm

    look! a dan sighting! i surely love the back-in-the-pouch moments.

  15. Steph permalink
    November 11, 2011 2:40 pm

    How inspiring that Dan carved that bighorn sheep (is that what it is?) while you were in Denver. It’s cool that he has something to show for all that time away from home, and a reminder of Col’s first tender days. Beautiful!

  16. Jen permalink
    November 11, 2011 7:37 pm

    I read Charlotte’s Web to my son when he was about 4…I remember a little voice piping from the bedroom after being tucked in “Mommy, why does EVERYTHING have to die?”

  17. melissab permalink
    November 12, 2011 5:33 am

    hey there~
    i’m a neighbor from north a ways (montrose). i enjoy your blog.
    i read and reread ‘charlotte’s web’ as a 8/9 year old and cried every time! once, supposedly home “sick” from school, i was nearing the end of the book crying in my bed as the smoke alarm bellowed downstairs. i just sat there and cried and ignored the alarm (granted, it went off frequently due to cooking, and adults were home cooking). mesa verde is amazing. we went “off season” once during the spring of the crazy winds that brought the red clay with them- the sky colors, quietness, and the parts of the park that had burned from forest fire made for an eery mood. so funny about your winter thoughts- it’s so like that! peace

  18. November 12, 2011 3:06 pm

    Rachael, I’ve been meaning to drop by and give a woot woot for the deer! Mike brought home an antelope yesterday – some of which is in the crock pot becoming stew as we speak…and the man’s out looking for elk today…we shall see. I loved charlotte’s web…and have been debating reading it to my four-year-old; the girl who ran excitiedly out to see that antelope in Mike’s truck yesterday, but who also gave a full week over to mourning her caterpillar. Hope you’re having a good weekend!

  19. barefootnmama permalink
    November 13, 2011 3:58 pm

    Okay, I visit and read your blog often but for some reason can never figure out what to say to you. I never have that problem anywhere else..haha! Well, I think your space is truly beautiful, REAL and I really enjoy my time here:) Hope you are having a wonderful weekend! Sending love your way, Barefoot Me

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      November 13, 2011 8:41 pm

      Thanks for saying hello. I do appreciate it!

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