Everything I love about the hour around dawn has coalesced. The chill, silent breeze embraces the deck where I curl into a futon, glad for my sweatshirt and jeans. A blank notebook, the first after a too-long hiatus, is propped against my knees. A thump echoes behind my right shoulder. The tree just missed my head. I pick up the lumpy green apple, salute the tree and the rising sun peeking from behind the hill, and take a bite. Clicking my pen, I begin to write.
The tree threw an apple at me, so I thanked it for my snack. The lambs have awoken the hillside, bawling their cotton ball dreams to their mothers. The cows respond with the bass line from downslope. Light is peering between the hills across the valley. Its bleary eyes chase a jet trail into the periwinkle sky.
We’re an early lot this morning, kids trickling out of tents and beds. The occasional body is still cocooned in odd places, the couch, the deck, none in the bathtub, though.
Brand new notepad for dreaming, for letting my pen slide across the lines, straying into the unknown spaces.
The apple was tart and crisp-perfect – until I went too far and got a bitter mouthful of the wormy center. I spat the metaphor into the bushes and chucked my gift from Newton after.
I have a headache born of a hard mattress and too little sleep. The moon awoke me on its path; it barged into my window, a violent, beautiful intruder stabbing my eyes with a white knife.
Instruments are everywhere, guitars gossiping in the corners and spilling onto the couch, cellos and violins in their black suits by the hearth. Here and there the oddball – the almost banjo made from a Sierra Nevada case (perhaps that’s what the guitars are criticizing in their living room klatch), a violin case cracked open in an arm chair, a bongo drum standing mute by the coffee table, Caitlin’s cello case, alone in electric blue glory in a sea of black nylon.
The writing meanders through the week at Yale Creek Farm, drifting down the hill to examine the hops climbing their poles, digging its toes into the mud of the pond with the tiny, translucent leeches, sitting at the edge of a mosquito-bitten evening, listening to campfire tunes drift from the odd conglomerate of cellos, violins and guitars who have magically formed an orchestra.
It is a week of fundamentals – the building of shelter (in the form of two straw/clay construction cabins), the preparation of food (for 30+ from produce gleaned and dug from the soil of the farm), and the gathering of community (through games and music and work). My body is tired on this first morning back at home, arms and shoulders bear testimony to hours of mixing and packing of straw and clay, legs moaning gently about the hills they encountered. Yet, the work was effortless, a form of love and play.
“Don’t should on yourself,” a friend tells us, in response to some comment about dishes or dinner prep. Her blue eyes grin beneath black brows as she waits for us to process through the other “Sh--“ word that hits the ears first. “Only do what brings you joy,” she finishes.
I have trouble with shoulds and with obligation and joy. Should is a thief, stealing the joy from basic tasks, necessities. I “should” make dinner. I “should” put down the phone and chat with the kids. I “should” do some laundry. My shoulds have been particularly toxic and self-critical of late.
But, with clay beneath my fingernails, the sun on my shoulders, and the songs of strings drifting up from the pond, the shoulds are beaten back into a corner. Anxiety, perfectionism, fear, and judgment can’t stand against the elemental nature of the moment. A blister has formed and burst on the heel of my hand, worn there by the corner of the chunk of wood I use to pack the straw and clay mixture into the crevices of the cabin framework. My muddy hand-prints mix with others on the shared mason jar of water one of the women has carried up the hill from the kitchen. The water is still cool and fresh; we’ve left our fears of germs and the odd stray gnat behind in our communal thirst.
I meditate sometimes at home, on a cushion gazing into a candle flame, or eyes closed on the mosaic bench at the front of our house. Yet, in those cultivated places, thoughts chase like amphetiminized squirrels through my brain. In the basic acts of building, of chopping vegetables, of feeling my arms cut through the murky water of the pond, the brain centers into a deep stillness.
Thump. Thump. The feel of the stick ramming the straw and clay vibrates up my arm and pounds the blood inside my ears. I swirl a sudsy sponge across the never-ending mountain of dishes in the sink. With over 30 hungry and thirsty people, the chore is Sisyphean. Slicing carrots into awkward sticks, joy wells inside me as a worry dashes through my head and is pushed out. “This too,” I tell myself quietly, echoing the meditation phrase as I keep chopping. “This too” and the should is gone.
Back home, it’s easy to feel the shoulds and self-judgments piling up. The lists and worries started lining up at the back of my brain, demanding entry on the drive south. I’m not quite sure how to keep them in their place. ‘I should clean the algae from the water pitcher.’ ‘I should go for a run this morning.’
“Only do what brings you joy.”
The green scum on the paper towel, still smelling slightly of vinegar makes me smile as I rinse and fill the now clear filter pitcher. Once I hit SAVE and upload this post, I’ll put on my running shoes. Thinking of the feel of my feet lightly slapping the pavement, of the hard-earned strength of my legs gives me joy. I find myself planning dinner tonight – not as an obligation, but as an act of love.