It wasn’t so much about painting flowers in a vase as it was about learning what paint could do.
I didn’t want us to make an outline and fill it in, like coloring. I wanted to show the people in my class at The Mansion that there are different ways of using paint.
I tried to encourage watering down the paint so it was less opaque. We also splattered paint as a starting point to make flowers and give up some control. We used different-sized and shaped brushes. Although I gave a demonstration on how to use the paint and brushes, what I really wanted was for everyone to experiment with paint.
To find a way that worked for them.
I was trying to get everyone to relax and enjoy what they were doing. One woman was so nervous about making a mistake she was afraid to touch her brush to the paper. I wanted her to feel free to make mistakes.
Claudia had so much fun making dots with her paint, she covered her paper with them. And I could see that Art was more interested in painting circles than flowers.
Jane, who is a talented painter, paid no attention to what the rest of us were doing and focused on her art.
It doesn’t matter to the sheep and donkeys that there is no green grass to eat. As soon as the snow melted on the south-facing hill in the back pasture the animals were out looking for anything to nibble on. They always find something.
Today Asher and Merricat came back with thorny branches stuck in their wool. I pulled them off, but even if I didn’t, they usually work their way out eventually.
I never paid attention to how pigeons fly before. They’re kind of a “Here I am!” bird. They make a lot of noise and are hard to ignore. They’re much less skittish than many of the other birds that live on and around the farm too.
The pigeons are exploring the barn. On Friday they were hanging out in the polebarn and it looked like they were building a nest in the hay barn. I don’t mind them being in the hayloft, but we don’t want their dropping on the hay.
When we moved to the farm, half of the barn ceiling was covered in some kind of pressed cardboard sheets. Thinner than sheetrock, I imagine someone put it up to keep the hay from the loft from falling through the floorboards. Maybe they used the barn as a garage to keep or work on cars.
I’ve been wanting to take the boards down since we moved in, but I knew it would be hard dirty work and I just wasn’t up for it. Until yesterday, when I saw the pigeons fly into the space between the boards and the flooring. We don’t want them nesting there.
So I put on my sweatshirt, a hat, and mask, set up the ladder, and using a crowbar, pulled down the boards nailed to the barn beams.
There were plenty of old nests. I found part of an egg in one, but they also looked like mice and rat nests. The board came down easy and after pulling the nails out, Jon and I made a fire and burned it all in the barnyard with some of the branches from the maple that fell last summer.
Some of the barn beams were a little punky on the surface, but are solid an inch in. I loved revealing the beams and the barn looks so much better without the warped board nailed to them. It’s also cleaner not to have all those old nests rotting away in the ceiling.
And so far it looks like the pigeons are keeping to the hay loft. It’s the first time in days that I opened the barn door and they weren’t flapping around looking for an easy way out.
I unzipped my coat and pulled off my hat. Though the thermometer out the kitchen window read 20 degrees, the sun was strong.
Once the animals were fed and the barn mucked out, I went back to the house and put on the teapot. I pulled out the tin of mint leaves I harvested from my garden and dried last year. As the water boiled I brought Minnie up from the basement and opened the back door. She ran out into the sunshine.
Then I joined her.
I sat on the cold slate of the back porch, my bare hands wrapped around my teacup, my boots resting on the snow covering my garden. I breathed in the minty steam from my cup and out of the corner of my eye I saw the mint, growing in a bunch next to the steps. The squared red-tinged stem and green textured leaves, a few starting to sprout small purple flowers.
The tea still had that gentle freshness that I’d never tasted in mint tea from the store.
When I closed my eyes I felt Minnie rub up against my back as she does when we meet on the back porch three seasons of the year. The snow under my boots melted and the garden bloomed around me. Bees gathered pollen on their legs from the coneflowers, wasps drank from the birdbath and flies hummed around the mint.
The sun on my face, I opened my eyes to the sound of a red-winged blackbird trilling from the high thin branches of the big old birch. The snow was back under my boots and I listened and watched as the blackbird made a series of sounds I’d never heard before.
I wondered who he was talking to, what he was saying, and what kind of response he was receiving.
As I finished the last of my tea, a flock of Canada Geese circled the farm, low enough for me to see their white bellies and hear the creak of their wings. Three times they flew around each time getting closer to the neighbor’s cornfield where they would land.
“It’s coming,” I said to Minnie as she climbed up on the wicker chair that Flo slept in all last summer. Spring will soon be here.
When Jon and I got home from our trip, all the animals were resting in the barnyard. Even Fanny and Lulu were laying down, which is unusual. One of them often stays standing keeping guard.
It was such a pleasure to see. And different from the winter months when they spend most of their time in the pole barn.
I sense that the sheep and donkeys are feeling the change in weather and even though there is still some snow on the ground, they knew the warmer days are coming. And with it green grass to graze their days away.
The corn came first. A perfectly shaped single kernel in shades of yellow and white with a touch of pink at its root. It was under a pine tree in the woods. A squirrel or chipmunk must have brought it from the neighboring cornfield and dropped it as if foreshadowing my walk.
Maybe it gave me the idea to head out of the woods and step over the low, spindly barbed wire fence into my neighbor’s abandoned cow pasture. The pasture that is covered with tall grasses, stocky bushes, and rock sprouting a variety of pale green and gray lichen.
I always feel like I’m on top of a mountain when I walk there.
Fate and Zinnia roam freely, but I stay on the deer trails as they climb up the hill, then wind back down it. Soon I’m stepping over a crumbling rock wall into the cornfield. I leave my boot prints in patches of melting snow and mud between rows of cut corn stalks on tepee roots.
When I get to the big old shagbark hickory, I see the nuts. They’re still their shell casings. But unlike in the fall, when the casings are green and impossible to crack open, now they’re brown and fall apart in four thick even wedges when I pick them up.
Inside is a hard, beige, intact hickory nut.
I don’t know why no other animal has claimed these, but I pick up as many as I can find and put them in my pocket. Then I make my way across the cornfield, through the woods, and back to the farm.
When I get home Jon is at his desk writing. He stops to ask if I have any stories from the woods. I reach into my pocket, pull out the nuts and put them in his hand. I show him my story.
“What are they?” he asks. With a smile, I tell him they are hickory nuts and we’ll feast on them tonight.