Raven Flight Part 2: Fall
by Anna Maunz of PA
The pattern of winter has always been for me a season of doubt. Somehow it always seems to seep into the cracks with the cold. We are in the place we always knew we would be for this season: un-employed, business planning and building. “It was always apart of our plan,” Chris reminds me. He is right, and yet it doesn’t make the dwindling funds and the unknowing of the days to come an easier concept. The crunch of money has taken a toll on us as I watch what we had scrimped and saved for the last five years scatter into grocery stores and hardware stores, rent and bills, electricity and propane. It goes against every grain of my being. To temper myself I keep trying to reframe our lives into an explanation that resonates with my childhood self. “These are our graduate school years,” I keep saying to Chris, each time struck by the irony bestowed in needing to displace the value of what we are doing onto a higher model of education and learning. I am perplexed by my own ability to be coaxed into the assumption that it is more valid to invest our money into institutions than into ourselves. I feel uncertain of the implications. More uncertain of which direction we are walking towards, and whether or not we have the backbones to carry on. The days have darkened, and the weather has turned cold. We are in that hush, that silence between storms. Taking in the moments around us, wondering how it is exactly that we got here, why we did not get here sooner, and where it is exactly that we are headed.
At the end of September my back went out. I had felt the pain slowly inching its way up my spine- ignoring its persistence to the best of my ability. I went to bed one evening, and by the morning I was incapacitated. I tried to get up in the middle of the night and ended up splayed out onto the wood floor unable to move an inch without severe spasms from my legs to my back. Caleb crawled down onto the floor to sleep in his usual position in my arms. I couldn’t pick him up, couldn’t hold him, there was no rolling over to hold his hand. I lay on the floor all night awake and terrified by what this could mean. We had no health insurance, I was afraid the only way I would ever be able to move again was by calling an ambulance- which was a bill we would never be able to pay. The list of unfinished housing tasks compiled outside our window began taking on a large looming life of their own. Eve and Dean were supposed to be moving back into the main house within a week, and our space was still completely unfinished. My parents had arrived the day before to take care of Caleb as we made our last big push towards completing our housing project- and now here I was stuck on the ground.
As the sun rose there was still no movement. When the rest of the house awoke I begged Chris to call Eve. She came with a futon mattress and a large bag of tricks from her days as an EMT. She and my mom were able to roll me onto the mattress she brought. They tried guiding my body into a sitting position and my ears went hollow and my eyes went black. Eve encouraged me that all I needed now was rest, and that in a few days I should be able to move again. I felt like a newborn, completely unable to care for myself without assistance.
Chris became my pillar; guiding me to the bathroom, holding me up in the shower, he and my mom would bring me dinner and water, hand me books and movies, juice and treats. So much kindness- and how useless I felt amidst it all. I was confined to my bed as my father and Chris raced to finish the doors and windows, install the kitchen, and prepare the bathroom for appliances. My mom was on Caleb duty, helping to bridge the uncertainty about why his mom wasn’t moving and playing with him anymore. We had been working on the space for 2 months and it still felt ¾ undone. After two nights of this routine and many hushed conversations between my parents and Chris, they all agreed that Caleb and I should return to my childhood home so that Chris had a better chance of getting our space completed. There would be no way he could get work done while having to shuffle me from room to room and resume full parenting duties. I felt sick to my stomach leaving him, we had been in the throes of renovations, and everything was now thrust onto his shoulders. It was with heavy hearts that we all departed. Chris called his mom, and she zoomed up in her pick-up truck. The two of them seemed to work dawn until dusk, sharing living quarters with Eve and Dean as they finished up the space. When Caleb and I returned two weeks later, mostly healed, it was to the beginning of a home.
By the middle of October we were finally living in our own space. The details of having a bathroom door and stove were quickly glossed over by curtains and plug-in electric burners. We needed to shift our energies: now it was time to start seriously planning our business.
As November arrived the greenhouse, the cornerstone to our original plan, had still not been put up. We ran into complications with the Trust that the land is currently in. We had hoped putting up a greenhouse would not create any waves in the Land Trust’s opinion, but it ended up being an issue for the board. We had to make our case in writing, and thus spent a week collecting data, when we were hoping to be building end walls, digging post holes, creating supply lists and inventory. It put everything on hold. In the meantime we decided the most economical way to achieve a 30’ X 100’ greenhouse was to purchase it used, dismantle it, transport it the 140 miles to our rented land and rebuild it. The severely rusted bolts and poles that had aged themselves into a pattern unto itself were unaccounted for. We spent three long days driving the four hours down and back to New York State while working in the freezing cold- to get the greenhouse dismantled and loaded into our rented trailer. Even with the help of my mom and dad we were only able to retrieve half of it. For weeks half of it sat in a twisted pile of steel, under a dusting of snow in the field where we had dreamed it would be standing. The other half stood in an old lot in New York State, waiting for more hands to retrieve it.
A few weeks went by, and we were unable to fathom a situation where the three of us could go down and load the 20’ pieces of steel into a trailer while Caleb was ducking in and out of the remnants of greenhouses past. Neither Chris nor I would consider ourselves overprotective parents- but the logistics of this particular juggling act felt like one better left untested. We talked to our friends Hillary and Lincoln, and Lincoln agreed to make the long journey with Chris to pick up the pieces from our last trip. The two of them left at 6 a.m., and by 2 p.m. they had the truck loaded and were headed home. Having it all in one field was the confidence we needed: we may actually be able to do this.
I stood on the doorstep of an old farmhouse, a can of peaches clutched between my fingers. Chris was next to me and Caleb in my arms. We had come to pick apples. I knocked on the screen door and we were greeted by Millie still dressed in her pajamas- an astounding artist and storyteller. She guided us through her kitchen- the walls covered in painted treasures of skillets and cutting boards, flower pots and sap buckets, leading us straight toward her bed. “ Come in – come in – have a seat.” There was no choice but to agree. She gathered up the cat in her arms and settled herself into a chair. “Let me tell you about where I grew up, not so far from here…” and she did. She started weaving images through our brains like the artwork on her walls. She told us of old riverbeds of amethyst and gold, the creek beds they had played in as children, the mills that had been replaced, the farms that had been lost. She told us of the farm we were on, and how she used to sell her art at the stand, how her husband had worked for years pruning and picking without a single farming bone in his body. ‘Just for the love of apples.’ She told us of the pies she had baked, the farm stand they had built and grown in. She went round and round- a traveler in time sitting right before us. “And now there’s no one to take care of this old place.” She looked down at her hands. “Of course you can pick the apples- go pick them to your heart’s content.”
Louisa sat. Huddled at the bottom of an apple tree. Book in hand and a tired old quilt tucked in all around her body. Only her tiny hand peeked out from the warmth, a worthy sacrifice to the act of properly turning a page. She sat, legs crossed, interweaving herself between the roots of the tree. Finding comfort in both the words in her hands and the gnarled roots that surrounded her and held her up. It was a strange and beautiful day. The mist had not yet entirely risen from the mountain. It seemed to sit, uninterested in yielding to the morning sun. It created a white hue over all things, like sitting in a field of smoke with no threat of fear or fire.
So many sounds as she sat. The sparrows tittling over the grape vines – Crows cawing over fresh meat- neighbors dogs howling in the distance- great kathump kathumps of bulldozers as they muscled their way through the forest grounds – wind as it whipped over the fields and through the trees- her absolute favorite: the sound of the trees’ tops as they clinked and clacked together. Always seeming to find good conversation with their neighboring branches. These were her symphony to read by on any given morning.
The tree Louisa had been sitting beneath was in the oldest part of the orchard. The slopes were steepest there. And more than once- as she sat reading- she thought she had caught the glimpse of a tree nymph or druid as it floated by. Shapes, flitting across the landscape – that seemed to her- to be completely unexplainable by any other reasoning. She liked to think of this part of the orchard as that of the ‘ancient apple trees’. As though all the spirits of trees past had found a resting place right here within this wood. Never again to produce fruit, but to always stand as guide to those younger generations.
This was where we found ourselves that day. In the midst of a story I had started three years earlier. We entered a magical world- opened a door to a place that had not existed moments before. And suddenly there we were surrounded by the largest and oldest apple trees I had ever seen. Their canopies were so expansive and so bare they could have been mistaken for weeping willows. These were tunnels and houses, fortresses and castles. We ducked and played amidst their branches. We gathered knapsacks and baby slings filling them with apples. We bounded from tree canopy to tree canopy climbing and shaking the apples down. We were filled to the brim with life- with the goodness and wholeness- and the rightness of all that surrounded us.
It was right- and we knew it was right. How long Chris and I had talked and grumbled about being done with ‘growing food for people.’ We wanted to start teaching people how to grow their own food- so they could share the burden of the farmers. And yet here we were- and in both of our souls we now knew- we wanted more than anything to grow apples. How quickly I had forgotten the transformation of being as soon as we climbed into the trees. We were free. The orchard was filled with the beauty and ancientness that only old trees can inspire. It felt like the sadness of the world had been planted, interspersed between those tree rows. Every bit of her crawled into our consciousness. There was no denying her. I dreamt of the orchard all night long.
“I knew you’d be back.” Millie said smiling. And there the three of us were gathered in her kitchen again. Chris smiled, “Millie, I really think we can restore this orchard.” “I think you can too, but first you must talk to my daughter Ricki.” So we did. We told her how Chris had grown up on an orchard in Pennsylvania and had worked with apple trees for the better part of ten years. We had no money, but were hoping that in exchange for pruning and mowing, they may be interested in sharing some of their crop next year. Ricki suggested that it would also make sense for us to re-open the old farm stand on the well- trafficked road. Those two days were nothing short of magical; tree nymphs and druids withstanding. Plants in spring, blueberries in summer, apples in the fall; a plan had begun to take shape around us.
It is December. There are three inches of snow on the ground and the world whitens around us. Chris spent the beginning of this week pounding posts into the still unfrozen ground. Yesterday we dug two 100’ ditches 18” deep. The snow cover warmed the earth beneath it and the wet ground was like butter to our shovels. Our bodies ache and feel useful once again. On Thursday the propane line will be placed in the ground to heat the plants in the late winter cold. Hillary and Lincoln have called multiple times reminding us that when it is time to erect the greenhouse structure their hands are there to help. We keep returning to the orchard, and each time it feels just a tiny bit magical.
There is community here like we have never experienced before. Good souls seem to be abounding, and in this white snow of December – winter suddenly feels much less filled with doubt, and so much more filled with the comforts of fire and woodstoves, good conversations, and once again hope of the spring to come.
When I close my eyes now at night I see branches. The barren wood of blueberry limbs waiting to be pruned. We tell Caleb we are giving them haircuts, and he attempts to saw through their arms with pieces of discovered mulch, leftover from who knows when -from however long ago. The life and delicious berries, which surrounded us in August, have long fallen along with their leaves. With each bush we encounter, we are astounded at the crop the bushes were able to sustain in the season past. Setting out to prune sets us in a flurry of bundling and scarf wrapping, booting up and tool gathering. Caleb brings his wagon, and the three of us do our best at entertaining one another, while also getting the bushes in a place where they can be manageable by the spring. Pruning with analmost two year old- can be even less productive than one may imagine. There are moments when a branch or a bird, or a pinwheel will catch his attention, and Chris and I are off clipping down the row until he reels us back in. One bush at a time. We have only been at it for days now, and we are proud of our seven rows completed. We will finish with the blueberries, then climb into the apple trees and saw through their branches. As the days grow longer we will order our seeds and begin to plant them. The catalogues have already begun arriving, filled with possibilities for the spring. We are walking on.