Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fall in Pennsylvania, Warm in Florida

After about a week in New York, I turned my attentions towards neighboring Pennsylvania and a number of faces and places that I wanted to see. My first stop was in Bucks County, to visit with Mr. Ass. We went to an arts and crafts fair, where I managed to restrain myself from buying as much jewelry as I wanted to.

The family dog, Pipo, has 'hot spots' and other surgical scars that needed to be left alone and not licked or picked at by the dog...and so she got her own weird Halloween face mask.
Almost the entirety of my time on the east coast was quite temperate. I could be wrong, but it really seemed like almost all the days were a bit warmer than any of us expected. But on this morning there was a touch of frost on the ground.
I did my weird drive-by lurking thing at my old high school. Took a photo and then left. Teenagers terrify me.
Some really great fall colors at Tyler State Park.

With the weather being so generally lovely, I went out to the family field and set myself up for a bit of reading. It was lovely. Made even more so when I heard a sound behind and to my right and found...
A rafter of wild turkeys! I don't know if they saw me initially and didn't care, or were slightly surprised when I moved a bit to try and take a slightly better photo.
Neat to see them walk by.
I look strangely sleepy here, which is crazy given how much sleep I got overall on this time away from the farm. I was very glad to catch up with Mr. Ass.
Then I went a little farther into Bucks County for another round of country sojourn wonder time. Complete with fire, of course.
I also hung out with M&A's dogs Ella and Panda.
And spent more time reading in the sun. On this particular day it was so warm you can see I was rocking a tank top.
And re-reading a little Vonnegut.
And seeing some geese.
Then it was on to Philly.

I first spent a few nights with C. and R. and Brutus. That first night we went and got tacos at a new spot that opened in...I forget which neighborhood, whichever one Johnny Brenda's is in.
And perhaps the next evening we walked to Modo Mio to meet up with a solid crew and get ourselves a delightful meal. It did not disappoint.
Afterwards we went to Druid's Keep for copious beers and darts.
Thug life.
It was good to see everyone, including A. with whom I lived for my last two years in Philly. He's a solid funny dude.
It might seem as if LW, C. and I actually know that guy behind us...but we do not.
And no late beer/dart night would be complete without a drive to southernmost Philly for pho.
I've been slightly obsessed with the music of Brick+Mortar for about two years or so. My first year on the farm, I listened to their first full album many, many, many times. And their songs - old and newer - are still featured heavily in many of my playlists. They played in Seattle last summer/fall, but I was too busy at the time to see them. So when I saw that they'd be in Philly at the same time that I would be in Philly, I was determined not to miss the chance to see them live. They played at Milkboy, which is a nice and very small venue. They opened for a South African musician (who reminded me as some sort of cross of Hozier and some other man-bun wearing musician) and the majority of the crowd seemed to be there for the main act. But there was a solid group of us up at the front, singing along with all the songs and doing any sort of jumping or hand clapping that was asked of us.

I built up my courage to go tell them how cool I think they are and to tell them that many of the sheep would be quite familiar with some of their songs, due to how often I played them while milking. Then I asked if we could get a photo or two. And LW was kind enough to take them. And, ha ha, they didn't turn out so well.

The day after the show, I flew to Florida. This was a relatively impromptu/spontaneous turn of events, which initially came into being due to an invitation being extended to me. But, as with many things in my life, what actually happened was I went to Florida by myself after the invitation extender had last minute unavoidable work problems and commitments that made it impossible for him to actually go.
I could have just canceled, and really I probably should have, but I didn't, so Florida. The first day I got there was muggy but very rainy. I went to a place that advertised stone crabs, and went to sit outside at the bar even with the rain.
Crabs were pretty good...though I have had better....more tender? Maybe less cooked just by a few minutes?
I think this was my dinner that first night....SHRAMP.
The sun did come out just in time to come down that first day.
The next day was far sunnier and nicer. Bathing suit/swimming/sunning/walking and picking up shell weather.
All these shells had weird snail like things inside. Later in my trip I'd land my foot wrong on one of these shells while swimming, and it would dig a huge gash deep into my heel, which did not heal for weeks after my time in Florida came to a close.

I basically just sunned, ate and drank for four days. Often when I'm traveling I make temporary friends whilst completing these activities, but on this trip I really didn't. I think that may have been one of the reasons that I didn't totally love this trip. It just didn't really give me any interesting stories to tell past 'it was sunny and warm and that made me happy I guess.' Negative nelly over here.

But really it wasn't bad. On my way to the airport on my departure day, I went to a sunken garden in Tampa (I think it was Tampa) and saw some birds and some tortoises and some old trees and some pretty flowers.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

My Friend Stan

The first person to greet and meet me at Glendale Shepherd was Stan. He ambled down the stairs of what would soon become my apartment and amiably greeted me. No muss. No fuss. Welcome. After a tour of the farm and introductions to a few others, we went to the family home and Stan offered me some choices as far as beverages were concerned. Water? Juice? Beer? Having just completed a not insignificant cross country drive, my true desire was very much for a beer. But this was a new place, new people, and I didn’t want to accept the beer if that would somehow be a misstep, a breaking of some unknown social test or pact…but I did anyway, and while no answer was the wrong answer, joining Stan in cracking open a beer was definitely a good beginning for us both. I’ve started to write about the farm and my experiences here many times, and I often feel that I fail to fully describe the people, the work, the animals, the land. And I’m sure I’ll fail in the endeavor I’m currently trying to work on, which is just to reflect on the man who is Stan.

A few days before Christmas Stan was cutting down a tree. This is a thing that I’ve seen him do many a time over the two plus years that I have known him, his wife Lynn, their son Erik, their grandson Alden and a host of other family members, friends, and co-workers. He has been working in the woods. Working with his hands. Working with saws and hammers and screw guns and pulleys and carts and tractors and any number of other tools and machines, the names of which I’ve never even known. He has been working with all of these things for over 60 years. But on this particular day the tree fell bad and wrong. Instead of totally falling away from Stan, who himself was walking in the opposite direction from its planned downward trajectory, a portion of the tree snapped back and began crashing towards him. It did not just crash towards him. It crashed towards him and it hit him from great height and with great speed and velocity. It crashed down on him, walloping him greatly in the head and body, breaking or fracturing a number of vertebrae and rendering him wholly unconscious. I was not there that day and would not be on the farm for nearly two weeks after that event.

During the time when I knew this had happened, but was not there to see Stan, Lynn, Erik or so many others who love Stan, I worried. I was not particularly pleasant to be around, so engrossed was I in thinking many parallel thoughts. I thought about who Stan is. I thought about what Stan does. I thought about his relationships with his family and friends. I thought about what gives him much joy, and how the joy he possesses he is always willing to share. I googled information about the specific prognoses and outcomes of injuries similar to his and a heaviness fell on my proverbial heart. I thought about the big and little things he does to keep this place running. I thought about his making breakfast for Alden almost every school morning. I thought about how there was no object or device that he couldn’t create to meet a need Lynn had, whether modifying Gatorade coolers so they have better on/off spouts to building nearly every single structure one could see on the farm. I thought of his love of beer and ping pong and the way he could make almost any activity more fun, simply because he was a part of it. I thought about his creativity and imagination. I thought about the oh so familiar vision of him ambling along with a cart full of wood scraps, beer in hand, occasional throat clearing cough. I thought of his puns and his voice and his humor and his immense affability. I thought of his love of the outdoors, of working with his hands, of introducing me (and so many others) to the many wonders of this plot of land and sea. Of him crabbing and sawing and laughing and being. Of him on the stratolounger, soaking up sun and taking a nap with at least one dog or friend. 

I haven’t been back even a week, and the number of people who reflect or verbalize many of my thoughts back to me is already many.  I truly believe that if you are a person who meets Stan and doesn’t love him, there is something wrong with you. I don’t care who you are. And so, here we are. Luckily, the world still has Stan in it. But he is in the hospital. He is in the hospital with a serious injury that may or may not allow him to make a full recovery. It is likely, at least in the next months, if not longer, that he will be in a wheel chair. I have lived and worked with Stan and his family for nearly two years. I am an employee and, I would like to think, a friend. I’ve had the sad task of touching base with some people who either hadn’t heard about the accident, or were unclear about the extent of Stan’s injuries. And I see such sorrow in their eyes. A welling of pain and sympathy they direct at me, so I can then somehow give it to Stan and Lynn and Erik and Alden and so many others.  It is a terrible thing. An unthinkable thing. The full impact of which is almost impossible to see this soon after an event that will forever make us all think in terms of “BEFORE” and “AFTER.” But when I look into the eyes of these many friends or acquaintances, processing the information for the first time, I somehow wish to quell their sorrow by association  (not to mention my own and, far more importantly, Stan and his family). I somehow wish to make them see that Stan and all of us around him are made of strong stuff. That while this is nearly the worst possible thing that could have happened, we still have the man, and while so many things will have to be changed or adjusted…raged at and wept at…I want them (and really me too) not to think of all that is lost, but of all we have already had and all we can yet have in relation to Stan.

I hate phrases like ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger’ or ‘when a door closes and window opens.’ I hate phrases like this because it denies the grief or loss or reality of whatever the hard, difficult, bad thing is. It insists that we can only consider the upside, the silver lining. I hate these phrases, but I do believe in carrying on. In doing what you can with whatever you are given, good or bad. One cannot make the best out of a situation that flat out sucks. But one can move forward, persevere and not let the terribleness trump the goodness. I am probably seeming a bit contradictory here, and I am fine with that. Because I am heartbroken by what has happened. I do not want to accept that life for Stan – as far as mobility is concerned – may never be the same.  But I also believe in him. I believe in his spirit and his humor and his kindness and his stubbornness and his resilience. I believe in the possibility for him and us to find a way to ensure that he is not diminished, even if new limitations are impossible to avoid.