Country Folk

Our first week in Sebastopol, it rained so heavily that the worms and slugs could be found each morning right inside the threshold, risking desiccation just to take a dry breather on the door mat. Driving home late at night from kindergarten orientation (!), I swerved on back roads to avoid squashing the chorus of frogs seeking refuge on the asphalt. Our soil here is a mixture of sand and clay, and Fern, in her new exuberant freedom to come and go out the front door, tracked in half the muddy countryside. Each morning, I would awake exfoliated from all the grit on the sheets. Crunching across the sandy kitchen floor in exhausted stupor, invariably I would bump my shin on some corner of something, participating in my chosen hell of trying to move into a closet sized barn.

The dryer broke, the oven filled the house with smoke the first time I turned it on and we didn’t have internet for two weeks because the farm dog nipped the ankles of the Comcast guy. On Jeff’s first commute, he put unleaded gas in his diesel car and had to get a tow. On mine, I got pulled over for expired tabs and then discovered I had an expired license. We got bullied by a horse owner and spent several days in slight dystopia, and I wondered, Dear God, did we just make a terrible mistake? Maybe I should have stayed in the Lower Haight. At least then I could take a shower that didn’t feel like standing in a locker, having dull needles spit on me by a rusty, lukewarm snake.

But then, after a recent chat with the ranch owner about Ignoring Crazy Horse Owners and prepping the garden space, she asked, How is everything? Okay?

It’s AWESOME, I said. Completely awesome.

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This little stuck mower lives in the corner of our yard, and Fern rides it to far corners of the universe several times a day.

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This past weekend we reached some major milestones. We built Fern’s loft, found our fourth mismatched kitchen chair at a rummage sale, got our bed onto its frame, watched the yard get leveled out in anticipation of our new garden and got the majority of boxes out of the main room. We’ve got the big computer set up on my little antique writing desk in the bedroom and for the first time since mid-February, I’m able to wrap my head around that writing thing I used to do. I still plan on moving the blog to it’s new address, even though I’m not sure if Finch People is really an apt title. We were finch people in the city. We country folk now.

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Each morning beckons us outside before the coffee’s ready. Spring is prancing about, and the birds are busy with mating and territory and celebrating. The species count blows me away and although songbirds may be declining world wide, after 18 years in urban ecology, 10 different birds in 3 minutes makes me feel like I’ve re-entered the garden of eden.

The horses nicker, waiting impatiently for their morning hay. One of our favorites likes to run around his pen, bucking and farting at the same time. The roosters at the farm next door have been crowing for hours and the hens are already announcing their eggs. Babies are everywhere, and the early day is filled with a cacophony of kids and lambs.

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There’s a small vernal pond on the property, and it has become one of our first destinations on our morning rounds. It is teeming with tadpoles and although the farm dog likes to wade in up to his armpits and drink, I’ve had to dissuade Fern from doing the same. I have no doubt that there are worse things than Giardia that lurk in its depths. In fact, for two days I was transfixed by the multitudes on its shore.

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One of the ranch kids told me excitedly of the “tan aphids” that lived in the pond. It took me hours of research trying to identify the billions of critters before I realized I was barking up the wrong tree…not insects, but…crustaceans.

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Seed Shrimp come from drought resistant eggs that live in the soil just waiting for life giving waters. That part makes sense to me, but…this pond is not connected to another body of water, so…how did the eggs get there in the first place? In cases like this, the early theory of Spontaneous Generation makes perfect sense.

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As we settle in, we still drive into town frequently. The backroads wind through open country, with hills dressed up in slowly emerging emerald green, the oaks popping open in new frills. Fern’s new school is on one of these roads, the school yard a tangled fairy forest, with secret nooks and tree houses. We have our favorite coffee spot, a roadside stand that is decorated like a perpetual block party. We are frequent visitors to the local hardware store, where they still don’t have rainboots in my size, but they do have milk paint. On one recent visit, I looked down the muck boot aisle and instead of finding shoes I found one of my best friends from undergrad. After staring at each other incredulously, we hugged in smiley reconnection, a familiarity of 20 years linking past with present.

Our days are peppered with small miracles, like the prolific dandelions that surround our home. I laugh now at my exuberance over finding little patches of miner’s lettuce or sheep sorrel in city parks. The other evening I found Fern camped out on the back patio, with a bowl and fork. She had grabbed handfuls from the fields and was having “salad for dinner”.

Abundance is everywhere.

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Pastures of miner’s lettuce.

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Ready to pick dandelion flowers for Dandelion Cookies.

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Evenings are bittersweet, and we’re all reluctant to let another wonderful day come to a close. Nighttime brings its own magic though, and I’ve taken up the habit of moonlit walks, entertaining the horses with my sudden appearance on the paths. The frogs are deafening with their songs of fertility, an owl lives in a tree down the hill, the shooting stars have been light blue. Last night the full moon rose fat and brilliant against the horizon. I scooped up Fern and rushed outside, where we stood hushed as the pond came alive with the first croaks, the sheep bleated softly, the ever present smell of horse shit wafted by as the wind tapered out.

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After years of stagnation, our sudden move up north has truly stirred the pot. There is often a stark contrast between the magical beauty of our new life (hawks! opossums! worm bins! new friends! kindergarten!) and the troubles that come up on a weekly basis (we are selling our home in Shasta County, I sunburned my 20 year old cacti by putting them outside, life on a horse ranch is not free and easy). But our life in the city had long since ceased to be growthful and whatever pains relocation and this wild Year of the Horse is bringing, I am accepting it all. Moments of grief, of bliss, of insecurity, disorientation, giddiness and joy, I am greeting it, with humility and willingness.

I had no idea I would love Sebastopol. Both Jeff and I thought it was a compromise. Instead, each day reveals the pulling back of a veil. Our new town invites us to witness its secrets.

Invites us home.

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18 thoughts on “Country Folk

  1. Oh Mary, I’ll have to come back to read this fully later tonight, but I just wanted to thank you for sharing so well this new life of yours, in all its beauty, unexpected quirks, rough edges and mesmerizing beauty! xo

  2. Fern looks really happy! It’s a great beginning. Lovely vistas. well written. Thinking of you guys! Love R

  3. oh SEBASTOPOL!!! i know you will grow to love it so much. to me, it’s the perfect size small town. and your country life is absolutely hypnotizing. it makes me want to move out more into the country too, i mean i already want to, but this is definitely sealing the deal. ponds, horses, frogs, owls!!!! it’s just a dream. fern is glowing. your words are glowing. i want to visit you 🙂 i think some summer fun is in order this year for sure. thanks for inspiring.

  4. Imma going to read this again later when i am not just hurrying through because i have to run back to school to work some more. love you heaps and still exuberant for your move and new life….x

  5. Hello! I found your blog via Milla (of course) and have been reading for a while, but this time I wanted to actually leave a comment because reading this post made me happy. I think it’s your happiness shining through the writing, and Fern’s happiness shining through the photos. I’m loving her tractors & tutus styling! My kinda girl 🙂

  6. wow!! I love it there! When I was staying in monte rio years ago, I’d go to a co op in sabasopol and really fell in love with the town. Your place looks so lush and fun, way better than sidewalks and concrete!! xo m

  7. oh mary, this is the best. i thought your last post was the best, but it wasn’t.
    and it’s only going to get better!

    i think about fern, a country girl. always a country girl.
    she’s so lovely and happy in these photos!

    and your sunburnt plant, getting so much of what it’s missed in the last years! just. like. you!!!!!!!!! the shock! and then relaxing into that new peace. <3<3

    can't wait to see what you plant and how y'all grow!
    so much love!

    so glad your internet is back, we've all missed your words. xoxo

  8. Oh- dandelion cookies! can’t wait to make those! Congrats on your new place – looks like heaven- even with some adjustments. I admire the courage you have to make the space for growth.

  9. GOSH! what an exciting time! also fern is the cutest kid EVRRRR. don’t tell all the other kids i said that. thank you for popping by my blog again. i’m just so happy for you and your family, i know you were feeling so incredibly stuck, and as a reader of your blog, it’s so exciting to feel this next surge in your journey onward. i think it’s also good to remember that as mothers (really, as people), our biggest work in saving the planet is raising our children. it seems so quiet and un-huge, but really, that’s the thing. so you are doing great work and you are saving the world. i personally LOVE sebstopol, i can only imagine that it is simply wonderful to be wrapped in its embrace. XO

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