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Present & Tender

Last night was overcast and wet, the usual for this summer. The entire farm has had a gray tint to it, and that’s rough for people who live in a place that’s gray 67% of the year.

It’s something you have to fight against, like actively and purposefully meet in honorable combat. My arsenal is mostly comprised of a daily income goal, a loaded to-do list, and some sort of evening plans. I don’t have much of a social life (which is to be expected from any respectable mountain hermit) so that means making plans for myself. Which usually means a good meal I cook here with the food I raise, a movie or TV show I’m excited about, and acts of self care. I plan evening yoga sessions with peach tea and candlelight. I read the sappiest rom coms under a pile of blankets. I use the massage rollers and cork balls on my sore body. It's all stuff I can enjoy at home with the things I have. I don't know how else to put it? After dark, I crave a little tenderness to look forward to.

Last night was the usual dreary and I found myself walking the forest path behind the barn just before dark. The solar lanterns that dot the trail needed some maintenance. I had already weed-whacked and trimmed back the overgrown brush, having neglected it the last half of July. Just having a well-marked place to walk again had the rejuvenation of a mint shower and clean sheets.

This trail is so magical to me. The tended path with the small lanterns glowing. The sound of the creek and crickets, a veery’s eerie trill, the burp of a toad. Walking the path is in the name of tenderness as well.

So, I was walking the path, grabbing any lights that needed a day of charging in full sun. Every few days you need to get them out of their tree placements in the woods and get them situated on the deck to get a good dose of that vitamin D. Soon I was walking home with five barely glowing jars of fairy lights, the dogs trailing behind me, the mare and gelding snorting softly in the distance. It was very calming, surreally so.

Some nights I walk the path to just listen to the animals and try to sneak up on a deer or fox. Sometimes I walk it like this, to take note of things that need tending. But mostly, I go on the path to to talk to people I can’t talk to in real life. People that are lost to entropy or cross-country moves. People that lost interest or energy for me when I was dealing with trauma I couldn't grasp at the time, much less deal with.

I heard of Glennon Doyle's podcast that people can only go as far as they can go. It's given me a lot of peace. There are people that will never apologize to me. There are people that I don't realize are waiting for apologies. There are things holding all of us back and to task and most days we just want to keep the lights on and stay out of the hospital. So we go as far as we can.

My path is where I deal with that.

I have had epic one-sided soliloquies, heartfelt confessions, tears of anger and frustration and loneliness there. I've also celebrated such amazing accomplishments there, held women's hands in the dark and lead them back to my fire and bed. I've played music there and swung in hammocks by the stream. I’ve said things I would never say in person, or talk to people that have died, or moved on, or left me, or I left them. Anything said on the path stays on the path. It's like Vegas for Hobbits.

It's not a substitute for therapy. It's not even a substitute for actually having a real conversation. But those talks on the path aren't about anything but permission to feel things in the solitude and vastness of a fold in a mountain. That forest path is beautiful but it is also haunted. So I tread lightly, and when I speak out loud I know the dogs don’t judge me and no one can hear me over the creek’s gurgle.

So I was walking home, carrying dim lights, eyes full of tears, having just had a pretty heavy conversation with someone who has no idea it happened, and remarkably - feeling hope? Feeling like there's still a chance that everything can get easier and better again? That I will sell another book someday. That I will find someone who thinks this farm is an asset and not a prison. That I'll be valued for what I write and share and think? That feeling of "there's still time" it's better than any drug as long as you can get it to work.

I believe that path is the ultimate act of tenderness. Keeping the weeds back and lights lit is another way to keep fresh flowers at the graves, notes in the wailing wall, and admit secret hopes and dreams. It’s a liminal space that somehow became a childhood bedroom, like that favorite spot in a stairway in your high school you used to camp out between classes or the backseat of your teenage best friend's car.

I’m trying to figure out what comes next for me and this farm. It’s unclear. For years everything was so clear and now everything is scary. Try to remember that this all was your choice, and sometimes in life we get exactly what we wanted. I got exactly what I wanted, that’s for sure. But no one told me how hard it would be to keep.

I think the trick to turning everything around is to focus on the work of the day. To tend the path and keep telling it all your secrets. And let the lights charge when needed, and carefully let them back out to shine when they are ready. That’s how I’ve managed these last few hard months. I think that’s the best practice; to stay present and tender.

Wish me luck.

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