It’s a late spring evening, or maybe autumn, and the window is open to the night, humid warm air spilling into the room in Cannon–or maybe Thor–or the Brick–or Athena–one of the corners of the campus that was mine for a few months at a time. The usual evening sounds float through the window: insects, the quiet hush of cars passing up and down the hill, a snatch of conversation from other students walking below. The flickering street lamps glare orange with a familiar buzz (until without warning they go out, one at a time, only to flare back to life a few moments later.) Within the room the lights are bright and white as we study or read or type or do any of those other sundry student-evening tasks.

The rooms were always boxy, stacked a dime a dozen ten wide or three high, strange cubicles that looked identical from the outside and contained so much that was vibrant and varied within. Even in sleep we were in community and the buildings swelled and sank with the combined breath and release of their slumbering occupants, a shared unconsciousness wandering into dreams to the chorus of falling night on a college campus.

So close in miles yet so far removed in time and mental space. How different now from this icy hollow, surrounded by sturdy walls and encircling pines, caught in the embrace of the earth itself, yet silent and cold as a solitary tomb.

Winter evenings

The dusky hour evades me most days; I see the far-reaching effects of the sunrise daily on the hills above the house but at best on the average day I see a smear of lighter black to the west and nothing else. Today I received the rarest of treats, an hour of sunlight at the end of the week with no reason to fill it in busy-ness and endless circles, miles and miles in the saddle with no ground covered at all. Instead, I split firewood. I swept the floor. I treated myself to the simplest creature comforts of peanut butter on crackers, a cup of tea sweetened with honey. The sun retreated slowly, the last patch of light sliding off the edge of the porch and fading into evening, dusk, twilight now as one last gradient of color melts its way across the sky, promising another day growing just perceptibly longer tomorrow.


Despite the calendar date the doors are thrown open and the fresh air circulates, wind setting the foil stars stirring that hang from the ceiling. The upstairs, like any self-respecting forest, has its spring scent of clean wood and clear air and though the sky is gray and heavy and low it all feels lighter, the sounds of moving water drawing me to the window, facing westward.


The flames in the wood stove have the ability to suck me in, like moving water, transfixing my gaze until my back aches and reminds me that I’ve been standing awkwardly bent at the waist, my face blushing and warm from the heat of the fire while my feet grow slowly numb and cold. I am fascinated by this alchemy of tree to heat and its terrifying power.

I noticed the rising full or nearly-full moon in my rearview mirror on my drive home and I wondered idly if it would be clear tonight so that the lunar radiance could be fully appreciated reflecting off the many inches of fresh snow; maybe I’d work up the grit to go on a nighttime moonlit snowshoe hike on the miles of trails just beyond my back yard. Then again, it’s also the coldest night of this winter so far, the temperature down in the single digits, and I am tired after a day of feeding the horses and trudging through the snow and feeding the horses again.

So instead I press my hands to the glass, cupping out the light of the cozy room behind me, to admire the silver world outside, the snow silent and waiting illuminated by moonlight.

And there over the spotless white expanse of the backyard, I see the shadow of my wood fire smoke, drifting like a dark phantom across the blank canvas, fading into nothingness as it dissipates. From here it looks like a ghost crawling endlessly over the same patch of pearly yard, running to a place it can never reach, caught between this world and the next, captured only by the moonlight.


It’s so easy to get sucked into student and staff complaints about the weather, especially when the weather turns cold and rain turns to snow and the roads turn to ice and the air turns into something so thin you feel you might shatter it by passing through. Though there may be moments unpleasant or touch-and-go passages on the hilly unplowed roads, I really don’t mind the winter. I don’t suppose that it’s my favorite season, but it’s not the end of the world that so many seem to believe.

Not being a native western New Yorker, I wonder how much of my renewed sense of wonder each winter relates to a childhood where snow seemed like a rarity–we were good for perhaps two or three “big” snows each winter, the atmosphere in the hallways of school turning frenetic as students crossed their fingers and performed other such adolescent voodoo magic in hopes of an early dismissal from school; outside as students sprinted helter-skelter to find their buses in what to my teenage mind was a near-whiteout there was no worry of things like slippery roads and other concerns of the adult.

Now in the hill country of western New York, just on the easternmost fringes of lake-effect territory, a school-closing snow occurs every other day or so; we had a real snowstorm over the past 24 hours that left us with a good dumping. I’ve learned the difference between the powdery, light and dusty lake-effect flakes and the heavier, thicker, slippery storm snow. I can mostly control my drifting car and I can work my way out of being stuck. Yet perhaps some childhood fascination with such transformed precipitation still lingers; while shoveling the driveway today I stopped to watch slow flakes drift easily down like feathers on the wind.


Early in the morning in the silent cold, I awake and am not sure why. And then I hear the slow, heavy beat as though a boot-shod man is walking a slow death march across the peak of my roof, one step for every second of elapsed time, moving slowly along the ridge, now directly overhead, now passing towards the stovepipe. I lay frozen in my bed in the darkness, my eyes straining with only the faintest reflected light from the snow to stare at the rafters which of course tell me nothing. I am not afraid but I am rabidly curious, hearing the boot steps turn back around and work there way, heavy and slow, back overhead, the roof timbers creaking now, making me wonder for just a moment if the entire roof is about to cave in, and then, slowly and then in a great rush, the entire snowpack on the roof goes sliding and crashing down to earth, a hiss like a breaking wave.

Then silence, again–the kind of cold winter silence that rings in the ears and presses on the eyes and reminds you that everything again is ice.

In which we become hipster food bloggers

I narrate scenes in my head at times, practicing the combinations of words and phrases in the hope that I might hit on something really good, one of those lines in the novel or memoir I’m too lazy to write that young women will quote on their Facebook walls and Twitter feeds and make into memes and all that. (What does it say about writing that we need to consider social media? Am I aiming for the wrong audience?)

This morning I thought about the scene as Erik mixed up a batch of crepes and I divided my time perched on a stool by the stove between knitting a scarf and stirring the cinnamon-apple filling. We cook together on lazy Sunday mornings–Erik flips crepes in the pan while I stir the bubbling cinnamon-apples, the warm scent filling the rustic cabin kitchen! All I needed now was to photodocument every step of the process, making the cooking of this meal twice as long and half as fun.

“We’ve done it!” I cried out loud, dropping a knitting needle with a clatter on the floor. “We’re becoming hipster food bloggers. Look. We cook together on lazy Sunday mornings.”

Erik raised an eyebrow and flipped another perfect crepe with a flick of the wrist, then silently returned the knitting needle to my hand.

Now I don’t actually have anything against food bloggers–I steal their ideas and recipes all the time to reproduce in my own charmingly-rustic one-woman kitchen, making do with maybe a sixth of the tools I actually need (thank goodness Erik actually gave me a mixing bowl for my birthday so I can stop using stockpots to whip up more zucchini bread.) Trying to sustain myself with as little processed food and as much homemade goodness has become my latest food goal; I figure with the amount of calories I burn each day combined with a (mercifully, albeit probably temporarily) fast metabolism that it’s probably healthier for me to eat homemade butter-and-sugar pastries where I know exactly where each ingredient comes from than a factory-processed cereal-granola-bread-yoghurt thing where who knows what kind of chemicals, processes and wastes go into my simple breakfast.

But I don’t think I need to photograph and describe the life out of my daily food processes; it won’t enhance my enjoyment of the cooking, baking or consuming process and I feel no need to jam my culinary dogma down anyone else’s throat, claiming my way is the only way. You eat what you like and I’ll eat my apple-cinnamon crepe breakfast at noon on a Sunday. It was made with love, and that’s really all any of us actually need.


We’re well and truly into autumn now–it’s only a little after seven in the evening and it’s already dark out, the sky just a shade or two closer to navy than black, dark enough that the starlings have settled down but not so dark that they’ve fallen silent. I still have the big doors open a crack so I can hear the flock nestling into the treetops, the rumble of the occasional car down the dirt road, imagining the headlights piercing through the falling night as I wish them homeward for the joys of a well-lit kitchen.

Fall here means that more than half of the leaves seem to be fallen; some part of me still expects Thanksgiving to be just around the corner with the retardation of the seasons (so it seems) in my childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania. Our Thanksgivings now are usually coated in snow, not fresh-fallen leaves. The peak of the colors was weeks ago, and this week to be honest has been just a little bit drab.

It also means that my cluster fly breeding farm is in full swing with the stinkbugs moving in right on their buggy heels. A stinkbug roughly the size of a golden eagle just buzzed past one ear, sending me flailing.

I’ve begun stockpiling for the winter already, my natural tastes shifting on their own with no help from modern advertising to winter squash, crockpot recipes, stick-to-your-rib things like potatoes and gravy and venison roasts, red wine, cider for mulling. I want soups, thick hearty breads, the smell of cinnamon and spice.

This afternoon was devoted to gathering stovewood, an operation made simultaneously easier and more difficult by wishing to do more of the process myself (and therefore spend no money to pay someone else to do it.) Justin and I roved about the barn today in the RTV, eagle-eyeing standing dead timber, Sage balanced in the back with the chainsaw. Justin expertly dropped trees and buzzed them into manageable sections which I tossed into the back, stacking three separate loads of wood that we then dumped into the trailer which I then pulled home. Now there is a bunker of small logs on my porch, waiting for another day in which I will split them into more practical sizes, as though perhaps by constructing this outer wall on the edge of my porch I can keep winter’s blowing snows at bay just a little bit longer.

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Starlings have been gathering in the hedges at the edge of the yard for the past week, first in unnoticeable small clutches and knots of peppery-dark birds in treetops and then in greater and greater numbers until the hour before dawn and the hour of dusk are an impossible cacophony of the entire flock, hundreds of them, chattering away at once. This evening just as the sun behind a thick soup of thunderclouds dropped away they fluttered from treetop to treetop, a noise like a rustling of a library in which all of the pages of all of the books were turned at once, mysterious and eerie in the falling darkness.

In the gray morning through mists too thick to see the vibrancy of the colors of the autumn trees, I will hear them begin again, calling to each other for purposes I know not, until somewhere in the hubbub they reach an accord and take off all in one rush and pass away over the forests and vanish from view. They will come back by nightfall. They always do.

Even now, hours after darkness, the hour in which most of their flutterings should be past, one or two of them still call out, a piercing flute of a cry, the sound normally heard to herald the sun. Even in darkness the starlings keep calling to the light.


“Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.”

Persuasion, Jane Austen



For a few minutes the cabin was illuminated as though the very posts and beams possessed an inner light, the angle of the sun just over the ridge enough to reflect upon the white walls of the little house, shining upstairs and downstairs filtered through the amberredgold leaves all down the hillside into the hollow, just this one moment or two and only during these days of autumn–not that the sun never angled quite the same way the rest of the year, but it was only on this autumn Sunday afternoon that I happened to be paused for a moment just long enough to see it.

The quarter-life crisis

Transcription of an online conversation between my college roommate (S) and myself (K):

S: Ever have one of those days when you wonder how you are ever going to make it through the life you’ve chosen for yourself?
K: Yes!
K: Welcome to being a grown-up, I think.
S: That is soooo encouraging to hear!
K: These are the kinds of days in which I try to speculate if it’s sustainable for me to raise alpacas and knit for a living.
K: It’s only slightly more ridiculous than what I’m actually doing for a living.

This alpaca farming thing has been kicking around for a few months now. I can tell when it’s a slow work day for my former “hitch bitch” or draft-driving TA (also, uncoincidentally, my boyfriend’s twin sister) when I log into my inbox and find another email from her with the subject line “ALPACAAAAAAAAAAAAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Now, really, there’s nothing wrong with the regular day-job-and-a-half that I actually have. I work a lot of hours, sure, and the pay isn’t comparable IF you’re comparing it to basic nine-to-fives, but since it’s a horse job and those are harder to quantify I’m not going to ask too many questions about it. I had a small moment of panic when I looked at my bank account recently (but to be fair I did also decide to splurge on such necessities as a new laptop AND smartphone in the past month, so shame on me.) There’s really no reason for me to complain, whine, look for other jobs or have small brain meltdowns (do I do all of these things? Doesn’t everyone?)

“Sustainability” is a pretty hot buzzword right now, in describing everything from the energy crisis to farming to engineering to my personal mental state. I’ve been throwing the word around a lot recently, in all of these contexts and more. Truly, I don’t know what’s sustainable in the long run in terms of my own career, having never done anything else in my life. Is that a sign I should stick in this career path? Or does that mean I need to try something else, or a few other things, to know if I’m really making the right decisions? Once I leave, can I get back in? How hard will it be to pick up where I left off if I abandon ship for awhile? Why am I asking so many questions?

Alpacas–sustainable? Probably not, even were I to see them as little fiber factories rather than the pyramid scheme that got so many people in western New York hot to trot for the idea of breeding alpacas because other people would want to buy them. (What? Does that even work?) I have a ball of alpaca yarn at my feet with a half-knit fingerless glove on needles (also, uncoincidentally, for the boyfriend’s sister, to help soothe her alpaca yearnings in the middle of the day–I figure she can stroke her own wrists and pretend she is snuggling on her very own cria. ((She was very excited to tell me that baby alpacas were called crias. Alternately this could be some sort of small Peruvian two-doored sedan.))) This, to me, seems slightly more sustainable, as long as my eyesight and finger strength last. Still, there are only so many alpaca mitts to be sold in the world–so perhaps, really, unsustainable then.

Still, I’m happy knitting in my free time, and it’s fun to plan my theoretical alpaca farm (they HUM to each other when they’re pleased!) I don’t really need to take care of more things in my life–I have a hard enough time keeping up with a dog, a cat, a car and a rented house, as well as the horses at work and all the other various things and creatures and people needing my time. I’m tired at the moment, thinking back on a long day in which I only feel like I just barely scratched the surface of things requiring my attention, even down to the half-knit alpaca mitt at my feet, knowing that downstairs there’s a sinkful of dishes (despite my earlier attempts to beat down the stack, culminating in water all over the front of my sweater) and the house will be dingy for the week I suspect (there is a veritable symphony of dying cluster flies in surround-sound all around me) but ultimately, if you asked me right now if I was happy, I wouldn’t need more than a moment to look up at you and say without hesitation, yes.