Friday, May 25, 2012

A Vocal Chameleon

I was feeling a bit reflective yesterday, and I started thinking about my social habits.  This was triggered by a neighbor commenting to me that I don't have much of a Southern accent.  He was probably the 4th or 5th person to note this in the last week.  Last week, when I told one woman I was from Georgia, she said, "Yes, but where have you been living?  You've obviously been away because you don't sound like you're from Georgia."  The fact is, they're right - I don't have a Southern accent...up here.  Put me in my Mom's kitchen, or better yet, a seedy bar anywhere in Georgia, and I'll sound just like the Southern girl that I am.  The thing is, I've noticed over the last few years that I unconsciously tend to talk like the people around me.  I shape my voice to sound like theirs.  I don't necessarily sound like a native, but people certainly aren't asking me where I'm from all the time because I sound foreign to them.  This happens to me in other countries and other languages sometimes as well.  I also pick up people's speech habits and mannerisms.  I do this automatically, not because it seems like a good idea, but because I have a personality that wants to fit in, to blend in, and to make friends.

In a larger context, I've observed that I do this with all kinds of things.  When I go to a new place or meet a new group of people, I automatically observe their habits and their attitudes about the world, and I emulate them.  It's easy for me to meet people.  It's easy for me to make friends.  I enjoy moving and getting to know new places.  And part of this is probably because I have this tendency.  When I go to a new place, I get right out of my house, knocking on the neighbors' doors, scouting out the places I like - thrift stores, libraries, bars, coffee shops - and introducing myself to people all over town.  I listen to what they say, listening for clues to their general worldview as well as the words they tell me.  I'm not afraid to put myself out there, and then I automatically fit myself right into whatever group culture already exists.  I take that culture, and I reflect it right back.  In a way, this can be a blessing.  People are generally nice to me, and I tend to find it easy to make friends and feel welcome in a new place.  This tendency, however, can also be a challenge.  I have to pay attention to myself to make sure I don't get carried away.  I have to remind myself of who I am, of my deeper goals and values, to keep from getting off track. 

"Getting off track" - that's one way to characterize the 10 years of my life between 17 and 27, when I tried very hard, and mostly unconsciously, to fit myself into the group known as our dominant Western culture.  I acted like the stereotype of what is desirable in that culture.  I said the right things, got the right grades, got the right job, house, boyfriend, whatever...but it wasn't me.  And I had no idea.  I was unfulfilled and confused, but I didn't know why.  When I finally realized that I was living a life I didn't want, and that I could just leave and go live a different sort of life, it was an epiphany.  And after I left, when I looked back and realized that I had been trying to "fit in" and that I had been living a rather superficial sort of life (for me), I was mortified.  I felt like a fraud.  I would have told you that I highly valued authenticity and honesty, but it seemed that I had not been modeling those values.  I had valued conformity over authenticity, albeit unconsciously.  This realization shocked me and embarrassed me, and it took me a while to fully accept.  When I did accept it, my first reaction was to swing the other way.  I no longer wanted to talk to people who didn't share my values!  I had little patience for the dominant culture and would cringe in pain anytime anyone mentioned a TV show they watched, expensive clothing they wanted to buy, or anything else that I deemed irrelevant to life.  I would go home and agonize about the state of the world.  Whereas before, I would let demeaning or derogatory comments (about groups or classes of people or about myself) roll off my back as I smiled and nodded, now I either confronted people, or more often, left - immediately.  I had grown up with more tolerance than was helpful, and now I had none.  I struggled to find people I could truly connect with, and since I'm a pretty social person, this isolation was maddening.  I sequestered myself at home, reading and brooding about how our society was going to shit.

Fortunately, I eventually started to find some balance in my life.  I met a great community of people (you beautiful Coyotes) who DID share my values, who I could connect with on a deeper level.  Having this need met softened my harsh judgement and low tolerance for people who are different than me, and for myself.  I started to open back up again, to trust people and to try to connect with them even if they were different than me.  I accepted the fact that I am a beautiful, flawed, sometimes-contradictory-but-trying-hard human, just like everyone else.

So now, I seek balance.  I don't always make my choices about conforming or not consciously - I still have automatic habits.  But now I try to pay attention, notice my habits, and keep my general direction in mind always.  I sometimes compromise by not bringing up my true feelings for the sake of peacekeeping in social situations, but I don't let it get out of hand.  I occasionally create conflict where there needn't be any.  I'm like a little pendulum, oscillating around that point of balance, but no longer wildly swinging from end to end.  If something truly offends me, I try to find the courage to address it in a non-violent way, a way that models vulnerability so that people can hear my message.  And fortunately, since I've started farming and doing nature connection work, these situations are few and far between.  Now as I start to fit myself into the new groups, towns, and families that I meet, I look around and notice what I'm doing, and then I smile inside, because it's me - really me - that's fitting in.  Well, besides that whole accent problem!  I just don't know how to make myself not do that.

I hope that as I move forward in my life, I will find this adaptability to be an asset for connecting with people, especially people who are different than me.  I hope that I can find a way to use these habits, not in a manipulative way, but in a way that softens, smooths, and helps people, including me, to really see one another, even in their differences.  And I hope that I will remember to stay true to my values and that my judgement will be true, so that I can stand firm on the things that are really important and bend when I need to bend.  Thanks for reading my ramble.  As usual, I intend no judgement on others' lifestyle choices (nor my own), these are just some thoughts and observations.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Roller Derby, BioDynamics, and Mowing...

Hello guys!  It has been a busy week, but I'm taking a day off tomorrow, so I think I can stay up and write a little.  Plus I slept almost 12 hours last night :)  I had a crazy full weekend.  On Saturday, we went to the Roller Derby in Ithaca to support our fellow farmer friend who lives down the road.  She was fantastic, and the roller derby was really exciting.  I've never been to one before!  The rules were a little complicated, but I started to get the gist after a bit.  Our farming friends also have an apprentice, Eric, who I got to meet on Saturday.  He seems like a really nice, thoughtful person, and it was good to get to know him.  We do potlucks with them once a week, and we'll also be doing some workshops together this summer.  We skipped the afterparty (it was already almost 10, way past our bedtimes), but we stopped for milkshakes on the way home.

On Sunday, we went to our first big farm potluck.  It was just my kind of party - tons of good food, music (they listen to Gillian up here too!), and people milling about.  Wine and walking tours to see the guinea hogs (adorable!).  We didn't actually play any music on Sunday, but I'm hoping that will happen next time. I went home full, happy, and sleepy - again, way past my bedtime!

On Monday, I went to my first CRAFT session.  CRAFT stands for the Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training.  Donn and Maryrose are mentors in the CRAFT program, and I am a member through them.  They host farm tours and workshops throughout the season.  This session was a tour of Remembrance Farm, which is a biodynamic farm outside of Ithaca.  They are part of a multi-farm CSA, and they focus on salad greens, which was interesting to me.  The afternoon was a workshop on biodynamics, which I found fascinating.  I only had a vague notion of what biodynamic farming actually entails before the workshop.  We talked about the preparations and practicalities, but Nathaniel, the owner, actually gave us a good perspective on the bigger picture too.  This included some explanation of how biodynamics asks you to view the whole farm as a living organism, to minimize inputs and waste outputs, and to think about the health of the farm as a whole.  He also talked a lot about contemplation and taking the time to sit, observe, and be open to changing your practices.  I really appreciated his perspective and it definitely inspired me to learn more about biodynamics.

After all of that, I have been exhausted this week!  I passed out at 5:30 last night, woke up at 7 to eat dinner, and then went back to bed.  I think I might be caught up now :)  This week we've done some work in the shop, taking apart mowers and various other machines.  I love working on mowers.  It's like working on a car, but without any electronics, small compartments, or fuel systems.  Okay, it's not really like working on a car at all!  But it's fun, it's much easier than working on a car, the tools are the same, and you get to get greasy.  We've also done some driving, and I'm learning how to drive a mower.  I'll have to post a picture soon.  These things are kind of crazy looking.  It's basically a little wheeled cart pulled behind to horses, with a mechanically driven 7 foot long mower blade hanging off to one side.  I got an introduction a few days ago, and I was suitably intimidated (the blade is REALLY sharp).  I tried it but didn't mow for very long.  Today, I took a second turn, and I was much calmer, more relaxed, and ready to pay attention.  I felt pretty good about the whole experience, and I'm starting to really enjoy driving.  However, I still have a lot to learn.  My reaction times are still slow, and I suck at steering while trying to do anything else.  Whenever I have to pay attention to the mower blade or anything external, my steering goes to shit and I start mowing in a crazy line.  Today I accidentally shaved off some of an ornamental and knocked over two potted plants!  It got a little hairy, but Donn was right beside me the whole time, and I didn't panic.  Overall, I had a great day, and I felt like I learned a lot.  I can't wait to practice some more.

Okay, sorry if this has been a little rambling...  Tomorrow I'm going to chill, run some errands, and maybe go riding with new friend!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Very Full Day Off

Well, today was my day off, and what a day it was!  I slept in this morning until a gloriously late 9 a.m.  Then I made myself some buckwheat pancakes and waited on my friend Meghan to arrive.  Meghan, who is one of my best friends in the whole wide world, was my roommate when I lived in Albuquerque.  She had to come to Albany for work this week, and when she realized she was going to finish a day early, she rented a car and drove down to see me for a few hours!  I was so excited to see her and catch up - it's been almost 2 years since my last visit out west.  I lent her some boots and we tromped around in the pastures, chasing sheep and horses.  We managed to catch one little lamb who was very patient and cuddly while we passed her around.  Then we went to the Three Bears Inn, which is an inn with a restaurant in nearby Marathon, for lunch.  We had yummy sandwiches and some sweet chilled wine called  - Labrusca? Lambrusco? I'm not sure which - for lunch - Megs is a fan, but the locals supposedly think it is a terrible substitute for wine.  Apparently the grapes are not very high quality.  It was a little sweet for my taste, but if I thought about it like juice, it was kind of nice!

After Meghan left to go catch her flight, I decided to go to Ithaca to explore.  Well, the first place that I went was the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  This magical place is the home of fantastic bird research, and they have a great website with all kinds of resources on birds and bird songs.  I've used their recordings of bird audio at home when I'm trying to identify a new bird, and I use their eBird application to record birds I see around the house.  When I realized how close they are, I almost started jumping up and down.  It's 35 minutes from my door to the visitor center.  When I got there, I felt like a pilgrim arriving at Mecca.  I just wandered around with my mouth open for a while :)  I told the receptionist that I just moved here from Georgia and I was so excited to be there, and she was really friendly and helpful.  When I asked her about a bumper sticker I had seen in the parking lot (it said "Do you eBird?"), she called 3 people until she found someone to go track one down for me and bring it down to the lobby!  There's a sanctuary there called Sapsucker Woods, and there are lots of trails through it.  Unfortunately, I got there kind of close to closing time.  I know where I'm going to be bright and early on my next day off!  I almost couldn't resist the pull of that trailhead...  Apparently they also have a sound lab where you can play with audio tools, and they have a few webcams on nests that are right there in Sapsucker Woods - I saw the herons in person! (  I got a CD in the gift shop, and I tried to buy Jon Young's new book that just came out, What the Robin Knows, but they didn't have it in stock yet.

After that I wandered around downtown Ithaca, which is a cute little town.  I played around in a music store, went to the health food co-op and bought all kinds of yummy stuff that I probably didn't really need, and drove around near the lake.  Looks like there are some really nice hiking spots around here, so I'm going to have to check them out too.  Overall, I had an awesome day.  I feel very blessed to have good friends and to be in such a beautiful, culturally and naturally rich area.  Hope you guys are well...


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Well, it rained most of the day yesterday, and it looks like that's going to continue on today and maybe tomorrow. It felt nice yesterday, but now it's getting a little old! We were supposed to have a group of kids come yesterday, but they canceled because of the weather. We can't really work the horses when the ground is wet. They are stuck inside too and looking a little restless. Yesterday I worked on some harnesses and then ran a bunch of town errands. "Town" is Cortland, about 10 miles away. It's a pretty good size, and I managed to get to the bank, post office, library, Tractor Supply, etc. I finally caved and bought some okay gloves at the Tractor Supply. I have been looking and looking for some decent reenforced gloves for working in. Here's the problem: the men's gloves are too big for my hands, and the women's gloves are not very heavy duty. In fact, that's an understatement - they're mostly pink and frilly looking! I lucked out yesterday and found a small pair of men's medium duty hidden in the bottom of a bin, and I decided that might be the best I was going to get. I'd already looked at about a half a dozen stores on the way up here. For some reason, they only stock the heavy duty gloves in L and XL. Surely there are some men with small hands out there!

I mailed a few letters at the post office, including a letter to Joanna Macy and a letter to a blogger that I like and sometimes follow named Dan Pearce (Single Dad Laughing). What a weird thing it is to write a letter, particularly to someone you don't know! I'm exploring what it's like - it feels way more personal than an email, and a part of me hopes that I might get responses because of that. Of course, I wouldn't be that surprised if the one I wrote to Mrs. Macy never even makes it into her hands. She is a busy woman, after all. But that's okay - I'm not attached to outcome with my letter writing - I think of it more as a gift, a small token sent out into the world on its own.

Yesterday afternoon I pulled out the riding tack to take inventory and clean it up. Looks like I'll be able to get up a full set of English tack, as soon as we track down some reins. Whenever it stops raining and I have some free time, I'm going to tack up Lady and see if she remembers how to ride! She's the only one who has any saddle training - if it goes well with her, maybe I'll get to work with some of the others later in the summer. I'd like to put a saddle on Guy - he's a giant Percheron gelding that I have a big crush on. He's an interesting horse - his mom is here too, and he's really attached to her. He'd never had any training until last year, and he's 9 now, so he's quite a bit behind the other horses. He reminds me of an 8 year old kid - big and goofy, but sweet. If I have time for it later in the summer, I think saddle training might be good for him.

Maryrose and I managed to turn and plant quite a bit of the garden earlier in the week, so the rain will be good for that at least! Hopefully when the sun comes back out we'll have plants coming up. I'm a little silly when it comes to gardening - I like to walk by all the time and look for the little sprouts coming up...starting about 8 hours after I plant them! What can I say - I'm an optimist :)

Hope you are all well...

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sheep in Costa Rica

Good morning friends! I'm making breakfast and getting ready go pick dandelions for some dandelion mead I'm planning on making this week. Today, I was thinking about the first time I worked with sheep at a farm in Costa Rica. What a hilarious experience that was! In case you weren't following the blog at that point, here's the link to the story: Soap and Sheep You'd think after that experience I would have given up on sheep, but my selective memory totally blocked it out. BZ just reminded me last night :) Remind me to tell this to you in person sometime - I'll act it out and you'll laugh your butt off!

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I'm farm-tending today! Lot's of little animal chores, and I'm about to go plant our spring/summer garden. Maryrose turned all the beds yesterday, so hopefully I can get them smooth enough to plant in. Here are a few pictures of the farm...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Driving, sheep, and a Barn Raising!

Well, I feel like I need to write every day here!  So much is happening, and I am learning so much information so fast that I think if I don’t write it down I will forget what it was like. 

Yesterday morning Donn and I did some horse work even though it was still kind of wet.  We cleaned out the barn, I practiced harnessing, and we took two horses out with a forecart and the manure spreader.  Donn drove them out to the field, and after the spreader was empty he let me try driving them back in to get the next load.  What a rush!  It was really fun, so we did it a couple more times :)  I really liked driving, but I realized that I don’t quite have the instinct/quick reflexes that I have when riding – when one of the horses spooked a little, I hesitated a few seconds too long because I wasn’t quite sure what to do.  In fact, the first time one of the horses just balked a little (I wasn’t driving) I noticed myself having this weird urge to bail – just jump off the wagon!  That, of course, is not the appropriate instinct, and my brain quickly realized that.  I could feel the connections starting to form, so I think with some practice it won’t be hard to get my reaction time into a good range.  The horses settled after the first time around, and it was smooth, although I also need some practice driving something so large – it’s a little like driving a truck and a trailer, which I am not so good at. 

It was cold and blustery and sprinkling yesterday.  I think I should have brought a few more warm clothes!  In the afternoon we spent some time indoors and I helped Donn with some stuff in his shop.  He does welding and mower repair, and he showed me how to use the blow torch to heat and bend metal.  It was cool, but a little intimidating.  I was amused at how much more scared I am of fire than 1500 lb. horses.  I didn’t watch the welding, but he explained how it worked, and I’ll probably get to watch at some point once we find another hood.

Last evening I went into the town of Cortland to pick up a couple of things and explore a bit.  I found a grocery store, library, wine store, and a big Salvation Army.  I’m pretty much set for the summer!  I went for wine and chocolate and came back with wine, chocolate, olives, fruit and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.  So much for the no sugar resolution!  I’ll just head in that direction and get there eventually, I suppose…

Today, we got up and did chores and Maryrose gave me a little lesson in looking at the sheep and pasture to determine when to move them.  It’s going to take some time to get the intricacies, but I think it’s really interesting to think about.  I had a big breakfast that included a slice of homemade honey-sweetened rhubarb pie (rhubarb from the garden).  Donn made it, and I have to say, it was pretty incredible.  Might be the best pie I’ve ever had.  Afterwards, I decided to go down the road to our Amish neighbors’ house with Donn.  They were having a barn raising, and he was going to help.  I was a little nervous – I didn’t know if it would be okay for me to help, or if I should hang out with the women, or if I would just be standing around.  But I wanted to at least go see it, and I figured I could walk home if I got bored.

I ended up staying all day.  They let me work right along with the men, and it was absolutely fascinating.  We raised the walls.  I carried TONS of boards in from the cutting area, because that was an easy task that I could see how to do.  I started a bunch of nails in siding.  I talked to some of the men – a few of them were really friendly.  They fed us a HUGE lunch.  I did try to meet some of the women once, but they were young, and I clearly made them uncomfortable, so I just went back to working.  By the time we left, the barn was mostly finished, roof on, doors on.  It was probably 3500 sq. ft., and two stories, although the bottom level was mostly done ahead of time.  It is something to behold.  I can’t even describe what it was like, really.  Everything just flowed and worked, and we built this huge amazing structure!  It was really beautiful.

Now I’m home and I am beat.  I’m covered in pine pitch from carrying all those boards, my brain is mush from trying to deduce what was going on all day with the pieces of the barn and stay alert so I didn’t get a board dropped on my head, and I am physically exhausted.  I might have the energy for a shower.  And another piece of rhubarb pie.  Then I’m going to bed!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Skidding into Northland

Wow. I'm here! What a whirlwind the last couple of weeks have been, continuing on through today. I arrived yesterday evening, and my hosts, Donn and Maryrose, had dinner waiting for me. We chatted and caught up and then I moved all my stuff into the apartment and unpacked, which only really took a couple of hours. Now I feel pretty settled in, with the exception of a somewhat random supply of foodstuffs. There was some stuff left here by the previous tenant, and Maryrose had partially stocked the fridge, so that's good. I had fried eggs and local organic yogurt for breakfast :)  Had sardines and quinoa for lunch, and took some ground pork out of the freezer for dinner.  I'm basically starting from scratch, so I'm going to start out gluten-free and sugar-free and see how I do. It will be good to clean out - my diet has been abysmal the past few weeks.

I spent the morning getting oriented with Donn to the farm and then the horses. I had a great time - he is a good teacher and you can tell he is passionate about what he does. We did some ground work with Polly, which I really appreciated as an exercise, and it was a good way to start to get back into my horse groove. Then we drove her up and down the driveway on foot. I think I'm going to like it! Very similar to riding, but you have to use your eyes and external senses a little more to stay aware since you can't feel the horse underneath you. The lines felt natural in my hands and I didn't have to fumble to find the right amount of pressure. It's the kind of work that has the potential to be meditative - you have to stay aware and alert and focused at all times, but you also need to be calm and mellow.

This afternoon I'll be doing some work with Maryrose and the sheep, I think. I'm really excited about the sheep too! We went and saw the ewes and lambs this morning, and they are about the cutest things I've ever seen. I can't wait to just go sit and watch them in my free time. I mean, my eyes can't get enough. The new flock of yearlings is right out in front of my house, so I'm getting to see them a lot too. What else...the horses stayed in last night underneath me, and I liked hearing their sounds. A little robin lives close by and keeps coming by to sit on my porch and check me out. I heard a towhee in the field this morning. It's beautiful here, I mean really beautiful. I can already see that I will be hard to leave, and I only just got here.

More soon! Love, Aura