I woke up to sunlight and birdsong today. I let myself sleep in, as it was nearly 7AM when I slowly made my way down this old house’s narrow stairs. My ankle is the worst first thing in the morning. There’s a now moment of sweet/dark camaraderie between Gibson and I as we hobble down the staircase together, him making his own careful descent on wobbly weak hips, and me balancing my weight to the left and grasping the handrail… He’s now 13, and I’m 40 with a busted ankle. Together us old timers make our way slowly to the first floor.
I let the dogs out, fed the cats. I made my morning pot of coffee in the giant French press, and then ventured out into the light, mug in hand. Walked out to a surprise, Brigit witness and pity me...
The rain last night took down the sheep's fence and they were in the front lawn eating, my giant goat Cade just staring at me like I caught him smoking with bad kids behind a shed. Gibson herded them back. I close the gate behind them and sipped my coffee.
He's still got it.
We walked through the sunny, rain-soaked woods. Morning walks through my forest are adding ten years onto my life. I was hoping, like a fool, that THIS would be the morning I find my first morel out in the old apple orchard. I did not. That's okay. It's never disappointing, because it means you still have something to look forward too.
The morning forest walk wasn't just about mushrooms, I wanted to reflect on yesterday. It was something to be both proud of and seriously grateful for.
I slept in today because yesterday I hosted a community Beltane celebration here at the farm. There’s a small group of us that are making the eight holidays more of a community event. We take turns hosting the Solstices and Equinoxes and the big cross-quarter holidays in between. It was an honor to host Beltane, and I did my best to do it justice.
If you’re not familiar, Beltane is May 1. In the ancient European (our group leans heavily Celtic) tradition, it’s a celebration of the true beginning of summer. The day falls directly between the start of Spring (Ostara) and the full summer glory fo the Solstic (Litha) in June. Beltane’s kind of a hype festival, getting you amped for summer.
Might seem odd today but in our agricultural past, when EVERYONE’S lives revolved around the growing seasons, nature, and animals - May 1 was the start of not just the warmer weather, it was the start of WORK. There was so much to do bringing in new life to the world, in the form of lambs, calves, foals, and farrowing. There are crops to plant, gardens to tend, fences to mend, and big plans. Back then, you not only had to do the work but you had to make sure what you were endeavoring would carry you and yours through the cold winter months ahead. You could look at this hard hot summer of work as drudgery, or you could focus on the fact you aren’t huddled by a fire praying to old gods you were out sunning on a rock in the river after a day of back breaking work on the land. And if you’ve ever had to keep warm by huddling near a fire (not that I know anything about that…) you can understand being entirely thrilled that summer is officially starting.
So, there's a lot to get yourself excited about. May means choosing to celebrate life instead of focusing on labor. I need more of this, like in my very soul. All I do lately it seems is worry about work and money and losing things, not spend the time I need to being grateful as hell about what I have and another summer of farming to fight to keep.
I made a small Maypole out of a fallen locust sapling. I stuck an old sheep skull on the top, a reminder that everyone involved in today’s celebration of life, most of us shepherds, also is responsible for the entire cycle - including the death of animals we harvest for food. Keeping mindful that the celebration of light is also part of the whole year and wheel of the farm.
I also wanted to groom and adorn Merlin with flowers. He’s 30 now, and gray all over, but he still has some kick in him! I wanted to offer the kids pony rides through my little path in the woods. But before I allow friends to put a child in the saddle, I needed to make sure my steady boy was his usual self. So I brought him to the front yard and groomed him, placed a wool blanket and saddle pads over his back. I got a garland of fake flowers that would stay in one piece and set it around his neck like a collar and asked him if I could ride him down the road a little. He obliged. We maybe went a ¼ mile down the road when I saw the first car coming around the bend. It was Jessie and her family of three boys. This was her first time attending one of our gatherings, and I was so excited to share the spring farm with her boys! She slowed her Subaru down and through and open window I waved hello from Horseback. Merlin made his way right into her window, like if Jurassic Park was just giant St Bernards, and I don’t think she was expecting a snout in her dashboard but politely entertained my British son.
She made her way towards the farm and I turned Merlin back towards the homestead. He wanted to run back but I made him walk. 10 years together and he’s still testing me, always a pony. I let him have a canter and he decided to gallop and I lost my hat! Had to go fetch it, but can I tell you the THRILL of still being able to ride so fast you lose your hat?! He's still got it.
I directed Merlin to his hitching post and let him rest while I greeted the celebrants. Jessie had gorgeous homemade bread and a tray of artisanal cookies decorated with icing and hand-picked violets, a riot of May on a plate. Soon after Katie and Andrew arrived with their little daughter, and soon we were all moving the folding tables and chairs back to the firepit area behind the barn. I had set up the space for my pulled pork sandwiches (thank you, last year’s sounder) and had bought some seltzers and snowflake rolls to make a meal. Everyone else brought amazing additions like honey cakes and cookies and for a backyard brunch it was gorgeous.
Andrew took care of starting the fire like a pro. We ate and talked. When we had our fill around the fire, folk music gently playing and conversation as bubbly as the creek rolling through my property, it was time to get the pony. The kids and some parents had a short ride, and while it wasn’t long - there is something magical about walking through the sun-dappled woods on the back of a calm horse. Jessie’s oldest boy confessed to me that he felt like he was in a D&D campaign, like this was out of a story. And I will selfishly admit right now that was my favorite part of the whole day, handing that feeling to a twelve year old. That your life doesn’t have to be just dreams and stories, you can make it happen in real small ways every single day. That you can choose whatever story you want for yourself in life. If you’re very lucky (and very stubborn) it might just happen.
After pony rides (all the kids thanked Merlin) we had more desserts and then took on the Maypole! You’re supposed to weave and dance it into a braid, but we had 3 of our 8 celebrants under the age of 7 (so, let’s not get too worried about aesthetics people). What we did manage was laughing and stumbling about and kids weaving through the red and white ribbons until we did manage to make the Maypole’s diameter of ribbons smaller and against the pole, so success! Then the kids all got to carry it back to the fire area to rest aside the symbolic alter with symbols of this farm’s patrons - Brigid and Cerrnunos - on the stones. There isn’t any religious service at these events, as that’s personal and for each practitioners’ heart and hearth, but I liked having a space dedicated with flowers and light to a mythical symbol of the sacredness of nature.
After the feasting, pony, fire, and Maypole you can imagine the kids were pretty much ready for naps and so were some of us adults. We ended our celebration by 1PM. And I had everything cleaned up shortly after. There was still so much day left and I had already galloped on a horse, tended a campfire, laughed, ate, and (this I didn’t tell anyone, which is wild because I never shut up, I had repaired my lawnmower to the point of ALMOST working and so I was feeling very accomplished). I ended my holiday swinging in my hammock, still in my kilt, reading a rom com and sipping my cream soda. The sun was warm. The grass was green. The birds were all a ruckus. It reminded me why I fight so hard to stay here, in this life.
I still got it.
I go back and forth all the time about whether my life is an amazing success story or a horrible failure. Which comes down to either accepting I am living the exact life I want to, but it's the opposite of what most people consider success.
I chose things I wasn’t supposed to. I picked a life that felt the most authentic, healing, and safe over the more conventional choices I was encourage to take. And in your twenties and even my thirties, that feels brave. Now, a limping 40 year old, I worry all the time about the future. I worry more than ever. And this year, every single month is a struggle to coax sales and make the most base line of bills. And I know that is temporary. That life can change so fast, in a second really. A book deal could happen. A new opportunity. Maybe I won’t always be single and be able to split bills again. Maybe one of my freelance gigs will grow into more dependable and steady work? Maybe one day someone who never ever emailed me before will be inspired to hire me to design their farm’s logo, or paint their pets, or get a box of soap delivered, or buy a half pig… whatever I can manage to cobble together a sustained life here, that's what I will do.
I keep going back to this one thing that keeps me going. Even at 4AM, when I wake up from a nightmare, alone, sweaty and anxious. When I am certain the floors of this old farmhouse will collapse under me, or the roof caves in, or people will stop reading or buying lambs… that I will end up homeless and alone and broken…
In my heart, deep inside, the feeling that everything will work out still feels more real than the feeling that it won’t. Read that again.
If your gut, even at your most vulnerable, still can’t shake those strands of hope… That’s something to hold onto with white-knuckled fists. The truth is life here has always been hard and borderline-primitive. Those are the breaks when your budget for winter heating is $700 (a winter). But when I am so scared, and can’t sleep because the bills and bones are eating me alive…
I need to remember leading a pony through a May forest and how it stirred up magic inside a child. I need to remember how good pork tastes when you raise it yourself. I need to remember the joy of a morning forest walk scanning the ground for fungi. I need to keep my faith, as I have been following old gods and old traditions for most of my life and they brought me all this magic. And I need to know, at my very core, that hope is more real than fear.
It’s summer. We can focus on the darkness at Mabon. Right now, let’s get to work. We have a farm to dance with.
More photos of the Beltane celebration on Instagram.
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