Pieces

 
A square of metal wainscoting. Thin, pliable steel mesh that used to cover the open eaves at the top of the barn, only serving to shelter the starlings’ nests instead of keeping them out. Hardware; bolts, screws and washers. The stout tree stump we used to chop firewood on. Gouged and marked by the ax and maul but, somehow, unburnt- now resting 60 feet from where it should’ve been. 

 

The rim of the old tire we used to anchor the bucks’ water bucket in during the winter.  Bubbled, warped and devoid of a single scrap of rubber. Repurposed and reused. Called into service again and again, but finally useless. A survivor of time now destined for the landfill. Finally allowed to rest. 

  
Things I’d taken from my husband’s toolbox in order to fix a kidding pen gate less than 36hrs before the flames. I’d tucked them back into the butt pocket of my overalls with all the best intentions of putting them right back where they belonged but, as usual, I forgot. One fell out of my pocket and ended up stamped into the ground to the side of where the barn’s west wall had been. A brief survivor still destined to join its brothers in the landfill. I don’t think I did it any favors.

 
 The slide from the doe pen door. I used to curse it as I slammed my shoulder into the wood frame in order to open it around the packed straw our does were always kicking in the bottom track. Staring at me like two round eyes, accusatory. Reminding me that I’d never have to battle with it again. 

  
The old rubber horse mats that had been on the ground when we signed the purchase papers. Tripped over and despised, but ridiculously heavy. Tolerated, always just for now, until we could get more hands to help us move them. 

  
The massive support beams and weight-bearing posts that held the structure in place for so long. Treated, to withstand the elements and the weight of their burdens, turned to charcoal by the 1200 degree inferno that consumed the lesser pieces completely. My reflection stared back at me in some places. Useless grass that insisted on growing, stubbornly, where it really wasn’t wanted. 

  
A tangled mess that almost resembles goat hair, and stops my heart for a second. Just fiberglass, brave inspection assures. A piece of something I can’t place that will go to its grave without a name. 

  
Shards of bone, unrecognizable and unclaimed. Found in a place where none of the animals had been, probably carried there in the treads of the bobcat. I picked them up, five in total, and carried them to the resting place in the pasture. Inadequate, shallow, but the best burial I could offer. Wishes for peace, for sleep, for wide green pastures in the sky. 

 
The wooden cable spools in the doe pasture, close enough to the tree to bring the low hanging branches (and their delicious leaves) within reach. The most coveted place to claim for the littles and yearlings, now covered in a sticky layer of fine ash. A beautiful day that would’ve seen all the babies fighting for a place to lay in the sunshine; instead they’re buried just behind it. 

  
 
The frame of the doe pasture door. Twisted but shining, seated more comfortably in the mud, ash and blackened earth than it ever was in its intended place. I waved goodbye a full three days before its departure, eager to forget it ever existed. My shoulder, however, will always know.

  
Fiona’s collar. The eldest of her stunning blue-eyed triplets, Gael, liked to climb on his patient mama’s back and launch himself into the deep straw. I was so worried that he’d catch his leg on the way up that I took it off. It had been sitting on one of our chest freezers the night of the fire, and somehow ended up out beyond the western wall too. It managed to survive. It’s owner, and her beautiful babies, did not. 

  
I don’t know why I needed pictures of it; this mess, this open pit of mud and sadness. It still hurt so much to even glance at through the window. Maybe it was because it would all be gone in a few days. Maybe because I needed to chronicle the last little pieces of what had ended before something new could begin. I don’t know. I just needed to see it. To lance the boil and let all those festering screams out while I still could. To take a deep breath and tear off the bandaid while I still could. It doesn’t really matter- it’s all gone now anyway. But now I have a way to remember. A stark reminder of how little the universe really cares about destruction, about mercy. An epitaph on the grave of what was eaten by fate when I least expected it. In tiny letters beneath it says ‘Move on now, we’ll allow it. But don’t you ever, ever forget.’

 

Playing in the Aftermath

  
I don’t know if it’s global warming, chemtrails, El NiƱo or answered prayers. It could be voodoo for all I care. All I know is that it was 70 degrees that day. The sky was full of birds and I had to swat some insects. I could barely get Alarik into the house long enough for me to put on actual pants once the preschool bus dropped him off; it was nice out, and he needed to climb some trees. Immediately.   

A trip to a dairy in Zeeland on Saturday resulted in two little faces taking up residence in the kitchen. Two Alpine doelings, dubbed Ginger and Sienna, are tiny little sisters born in a set of triplets. A week old today but already part of the family. Our daughters, 10 year old Sadie and 9 year old Ivy, cried happy tears when I agreed we could take them home. I outfitted them in sweaters and brought them outside for some sunshine and their first taste of life without walls. 

  

   

We followed our usual circuit of climbing trees, the swings and then the trampoline. I left them playing on the slide to go make the babies a quick bottle. When I came back out I found both boys and both baby goats standing at the exact place where the huge doors of our barn used to open. They were silent, motionless. The crunch of my feet in the brittle grass startled them; they knew they weren’t supposed to get close to the burnt, muddy square where our huge pole barn once stood. Alarik spun around and smiled the sheepish, gap-toothed grin that could only mean he’d been caught. “Just looking at it, Mom. See?” 

   

I parked myself on the dead grass to get the baby goats fed. A wet butt was a small price to pay for the warmth on my face and the chance to get all 5 of us out of the house for while. The baby goats (who, as always, fought for the bottle like they’d never been fed) while my own babies continued pointing out different objects sticking up out of the rubble. Huge pieces of hardware that used to brace the massive beams in the roof were now twisted, jagged crescents half buried in the mud. I could almost see the wheels turning in Alarik’s brain. He loved to climb to the top of the stack of hay bales and watch the birds nesting in the rafters, stretching up on his tiptoes and reaching his little hand high in an attempt to touch the massive beams. Those simple metal triangles had been as unattainable as the moon to him; now he stood taller than they ever would again.

Alarik pulled an old rubber garden hose out from under the porch. He dragged it up to the edge of the wreckage and aimed it into the center. “I’m a fire fighter!” He cried, smiling. 2 year old Eivin picked up the other end and copied him. 

  
I wanted to snatch them up and get them away from there. I could barely look at it, the portrait of so many of my dreams that had been eaten by the flames. I didn’t want to look at the spots where the bodies of my mama goats had been scraped up from the blackened dirt. The whole area still stank of burning hay, melted plastic and scorched metal. I wanted to hide my face and cry without my boys seeing me. 

  
Alarik threw the old hose aside and declared that the fire was out. He dusted his little hands on the seat of his jeans, planted them on his hips and surveyed his handiwork. Ginger the baby goat wandered over to him, butting his calf and nibbling a fold in his jeans. In the blink of an eye he had scooped her up and carried her away down the gentle slope towards the house. “I saved the baby!” he told me proudly. “I saved her, Mom. She didn’t burn up in the fire.”

   
Images of our other babies- their nine precious faces, all of whom I’d held and kissed and tucked into my coat in the moments after their births, each with a distinct personality and a few who had already been chosen by new families- flooded my mind. I stood up, told the boys we were going inside and started towards the house. Alarik immediately screwed up his face, clenched his fists and stomped his feet; the prelude to an epic tantrum, the last warning shot before he unleashed all the fury his 4 year old self could muster. 

“We didn’t clean it up yet, Mom!” He howled. “We gotta clean it up so we can build a new one!”

  
So we stayed outside. I marked an area on the edge of the spot with the toe of my shoe after inspecting it for metal, and ordered the boys not to cross it. When I sat back down in the grass I positioned my body at an angle that allowed me to keep watch over the boys out of the corner of my eye rather than directly facing the scorched mess where so many good memories had been. Eivin’s beloved wagon, which had been left in the garden the night of the fire, was pushed up to the edge of the site and quickly filled with debris; charred fragments of wood, bits of the concrete the corner posts had been embedded in, clumps of hay that hadn’t been consumed by the fire. A team of local guys had brought out a backhoe and trailer two weeks before and removed almost everything else. Alarik brought me four landscaping bricks that we’d used to hold plastic water founts out of the shavings when we’d raised chicks. They were blackened, but intact, and exactly where we’d left them the following spring. 

  
The boys kept working, filling the little wagon again and again. They were fire fighters, baby goat rescuers and clean up crew twice more. Then Alarik lifted a piece of wood and found a small bone underneath. 

He picked it up and brought it to me. I couldn’t take it from his outstretched hand; my heart instantly sped up and sweat broke out on my forehead. Memories exploded through my head again. It was our mama goats this time, two of whom I’d delivered myself before helping them pass into their own motherhood a year later. 

He placed it on the grass against my knee. I picked it up and turned it over in my hands. Such a sad remnant of a creature so cherished by our family. Alarik reached out for it again and carried it to a big hole left by the concrete footing of one of the beams torn up from the ground by the backhoe. Slowly, reverently, he laid down on his stomach and placed it at the bottom. 

  
His little hands pushed dirt from the outer edges down into the hole. He worked silently, meticulously, his bright blue eyes sad but calm. Slowly the bone disappeared, laid to rest by a solemn little boy intent on fixing the heartbreak that had struck our family that night like a tornado. My tears had already started and the impulse to run away, to go inside and bury the memory of my son burying that bone, was surging through my body like electricity. That was when he started singing. 

It was a song I often sang to Eivin at night, a lullaby. I couldn’t remember ever having sang it to Alarik, or even around him. I swallowed the lump in my throat, sat on the edge of the hole and helped him. He started the song at the beginning, and I joined him. 

“Sleep, little baby, sleep ’til the morning comes.

Mama will keep you from all harm. 

Sleep, little baby, under the western sky

I’ll sing you a desert lullaby.

Sleep, little baby, sleep on your mama’s knee

Don’t call the wolf or coyote

Sleep, little baby- hush, baby don’t you cry

I’ll sing you a desert lullaby.

Dream, little baby, dream of a valley green

Far over mountains by the sea

Dream, little baby, one day no more you’ll roam

Then you’ll awake and find a home. 

Sleep, little baby, sleep ’til the morning comes. 

Mama will keep you from all harm. 

Sleep, little baby, under the western sky

I’ll sing you a desert lullaby.”

  
When he was satisfied with our work he dusted his hands again, his face pleased. Ginger, the more inquisitive of the two baby goats, bounded over to inspect things. Alarik scratched her head and booped her nose, sending her hopping back towards her sister. He returned to the old green hose and the sound effects began. Imaginary water putting out imaginary flames as a little boy recreated a terrible event that had brought so much sadness to his family, only this time he was saving the day. 

  
A history of trauma has left me with the instant urge to withdraw or lash out in anger at the first sign of emotional distress. That’s my coping mechanism, imprinted as firmly in my DNA as my thick, wild hair and my mother’s dry wit. I didn’t stop to consider that maybe my children, even the youngest two of the tribe, would be compelled to face their own heartache head-on. That they’d need walk through that horrible night step by step, but with a different outcome. That they’d need to face what had made them feel helpless and play the part of the heroes in order to put their own pain to rest, like the goat bone we’d tenderly buried beneath the place its owner had once called home. Finding their own peace through repetition and ceremony, laying their pain to rest along with with it. 

 
The irony of our new baby goats playing in the aftermath of what should’ve been their home made my heart ache, but brought its own peace. An ending and a beginning in one snapshot, death and life sharing common ground. I’m amazed at the strength of my little sons and their insistence on facing what I had refused to; their intuition to heal in their own way, so much more positive than mine. 

  
Alarik decided it was time to go inside for apples and jelly beans, not necessarily in that order. I gathered the baby goats’ bottles. As we walked back toward our house he wrapped his arms around Ginger and held her to his chest, whispering into her soft fuzzy ear; “I’ve got you, baby. Everything is gonna be okay. I’ll keep you safe this time.”

   
 

In A Flash

  

  
When I’m coming home, I turn onto our bumpy country road once I reach the cemetery. That’s the first sigh of relief. I pass old farmhouses and brick ranch style homes, cows and chickens in pastures and yards and the occasional cat darting across the road at the sound of my vehicle. It’s all comforting; slipping back into the zen of my ‘happy place.’ The place where the humans and creatures I love so dearly always return to. That enveloping calm begins at the beautiful old cemetery, but it doesn’t fully take hold until a hill dips down and our barn comes into view. 

On Saturday, Feb. 20th I spent the day in Battle Creek with two of my best friends. One of their older does appeared to be going into labor, and an extra set of kid-turning hands were needed. We followed Glinda around for most of the afternoon, scratching our heads while she ignored us or darted around our attempts to catch her and check the positions of her kids. For such an old girl with such a huge belly, she’d suddenly developed ninja-like reflexes and super speed.  We finally admitted defeat, declared a successful fake-out, congratulated Glinda on upholding The Doe Code of Honor and I headed home. 

It was 9pm and dark when I turned right at the cemetery. I couldn’t see our barn when I crested the hill and the landscape parted, but my soul knew it was there. The chores had been done in my absence and everything was quiet; 16 inquisitive chickens, one flamboyant rooster, 7 annoying ducks and a several fat barn kitties. Our pair of Great Pyrenees guardian dogs had decided to be buttholes and were asleep on the porch instead of out with their charges. The main residents, 24 dairy goats, were fed and fast asleep. 2 stinky (but lovable) bucks, 1 cantankerous wether, 3 resting does, 3 expecting does, 1 yearling doe, 5 mamas and their 9 bouncing fluffy babies. They were between 1 and 3 weeks old; a set of triplets, two sets of twins and two fat, spoiled singletons. 

  
At some point during the night, 4 year old Alarik followed his usual habit of wandering downstairs to sleep on the couch. He told us that he woke up to the sound of loud knocking on the front door. Being 4, as well as quick to disregard pretty much every cautionary lesson we try to instill, he unlocked the door and let his new friend in. She asked for his parents, and he led her up the stairs. Justin and I were startled awake by pounding on our bedroom door and an apprehensive voice calling “Hello? HELLO?” 

He answered her, while I tried to open both eyes. Her response jolted us both completely awake and had us leaping out of the bed simultaneously; “Excuse me, your barn is on fire.” 

 
Everything after is a blur. I ran to the window and pulled the curtain back, to the sight of flames lighting up the skylights in the roof and licking out from the edges at the base of the barn. Smoke poured from every crevice and crack. I threw yesterday’s clothes on and informed Justin that I was going out there. 

The mysterious woman was gone. The appearance of a strange voice in the house at 4am had awoken our daughters in their downstairs bedroom. The sound of three horrified screams met me at the top of the stairs. Justin had since looked outside and ran after me, told me to call 911 and let him go out instead. He told me later that he knew with one look that nothing in that inferno was alive, but he understood me well enough to know that if I went out there I would be going into the barn regardless. 

Calling 911 was made even harder by our sketchy cell reception, but the pertinent info made it across. Our rural township is serviced by a volunteer fire department, and the operator had to keep assuring me that they were indeed on their way. All 6 kids were now awake and clustered around the window in the upstairs hall, sobbing. 10 year old Sadie and 9 year old Ivy had shared my immediate reaction to run to the barn, to save our precious animals, and had been firmly commanded to stay put. 

I was standing in another window watching for the fire department when a deafening squeal of metal on metal drowned out the 911 operator. I dropped my phone and ran back to the south-facing window, just in time to see the roof of the barn collapse. The house shook and the flames leapt up into the dark sky. From out in the hallway, the kids screamed; a haunting, tortured sound that dropped me to my knees. The north wall of the barn folded inward with another hellish scrape. 

  
Dropping the phone had cut off the call to 911. I raced down the stairs, planted my feet in my rubber boots so fast that I didn’t notice they were on the wrong feet, grabbed my work jacket and flew out the door. Justin met me at the bottom of the porch stairs; he’d taken our old railroad lantern out to the mailbox and set it to flash, a beacon for the firemen. I pushed through his arms and raced for the pasture. The blast of heat and blinding cloud of smoke knocked me sideways, but didn’t slow me down. I’d caught sight of a few of our doe goats clustered at the farthest corner of the pasture fence. They were wide-eyed with terror, almost trampling each other to somehow scale the fence and get as far away from the flames as they could, but they were alive. 

  
I threw myself over the fence, shredding the leg of my fleece pants (and the skin beneath) on the strand of barbed wire at the top. 6 goats surrounded me, shaking. I tried to think of who had been put to bed where, and if any other survivors could exist. I looked at each terrified face and took note of who had made it out. There had been 5 females in the main doe pen who had access to that pasture, and each had escaped. The numbers were wrong and I was counting heads again when Justin reached for me through the fence, pulled me to my feet and helped me back over the barbed wire.

  
The fire department finally arrived. The sun was just starting to come up. Justin went back to the front yard to talk to them and 16 year old Cailin appeared behind me, grabbing onto my arm as we used each other to stand up. The same thought struck simultaneously and we set off at a run, circling the pasture at the outer perimeter. The little herd of terrified does ran with us on the other side of the fence, screaming, begging us not to leave them. 

The south wall of the barn was ready to fall, a jagged sheet of metal swaying with each blast from the fire hoses. The buck pasture was smaller; a perfect rectangle extending just past the barn walls on either side, completely shadowed by the tall wall in the early mornings. If any of the boys had survived, they were in danger of being crushed at any second. 

Cailin and I ran though the blinding smoke, holding each other by the elbow while I dragged my hand along the hot metal fence of the pasture to keep our bearings. In the very back corner of the fence we found Charlie, Roscoe and Leo. They were crouched on the grass with their faces together, backs hunched up to create a barrier to the smoke. They coughed with each breath and shook so hard the fence was quaking. I pulled Cailin around me and out of the path of the smoke. We thrust our hands through and held onto their faces in an attempt to keep them calm; goats are prone to shock and even heart attacks at extreme levels of stress. I dropped my face to Roscoe’s and touched his sweet, stinky nose with mine. The metal screamed again. I mustered a calm voice and told Cailin to hold on, but she’d read my mind already. We reached further and grabbed their fur, digging our nails in and bracing against the wire. The wall folded, the top edge almost touching the ground, then the metal split apart and hit the ground. It sent a shower of sparks and billow of smoke into the air, and a waft of cloud of dust and debris into our faces. The smell of burning wood and plastic, hay and straw and hair, as well as something else; the smell of the goats trapped inside, our precious newborn babies and their mothers, cooking in the flames. 

  
That was the end of coherent thought for me. We left the boys in the corner of the pasture, the smoke already clearing under the relentless streams from the fire hoses, and circled back around to the front of the house. A crazed chicken wound through Cailin’s feet and almost tripped us. Justin stood with the fire chief and a police officer, watching the firemen. I broke into their circle and was immediately grabbed in a big hug by the officer. I spent the next 5 minutes with my face buried in his coat, blubbering and gasping and getting spit, snot and tears all over his uniform before i looked up and recognized him as our family friend, Mike. 

  
Justin assured me he’d checked on the kids. They had remained rooted in place at the upstairs window, holding each other and watching in shocked silence. Mike led me inside with a firm arm around my shoulder, grabbing Cailin as well. He sat me on the couch and made a pot of coffee while I relayed the news to the kids, that everything inside the barn was destroyed and all of our mama goats and babies were gone. 

Mike took the 5 youngest kids to their grandparents’ house. I sat on the couch, drinking my coffee and absently petting the two snoring mounds of white fluff who were curled up on the couch beside me. Hunter and Piper, our Pyrenees pair, had been pulled into the house on Justin’s initial exit, and quickly discovered the couch. They were muddy and dusty and smelled like smoke, but I let them sleep. 

  
The same friends whose farm I’d spent the previous day at volunteered to take in our surviving goats. Frank arrived in a pickup truck to help us transport them. He greeted us with hugs and tears and the words we were all thinking- “What the fucking fuck, man?!”

We cut the fence and let the remaining does out into the yard. They darted out and then back in; confused, desperate to get away yet reluctant to leave their last remaining piece of home. As we rounded them up to load into the van I remembered, and counted them again. Six does had survived. They had been five in the doe pen at chore time he night before. It didn’t make sense. Looking at each of them, it suddenly hit me. Rosie. 

  
Rosie was one of the first two goats we got. The tiniest Nigerian Dwarf I’ve ever seen, she stands barely knee high. Being so little, she was always on the lower end of the totem pole amongst the does in our herd. She was pregnant and often got butted away from the grain, so I’d been letting her stay in the central part of the barn with our yearling doe, Scarlett. The pair often let themselves out in the morning to graze in the yard. Rosie had gone to bed where the fire was the worst, and somehow managed to get into the doe pen and then out into the pasture. Not even two feet tall, very pregnant, the smallest goat in our herd… And somehow, she scaled a 4 1/2ft wall of plywood-covered pallets in order to get to safety.  Had there been a way out of the main doors, crafty little Scarlett would’ve found it; she’d done just that many times before. 

  
We loaded everyone up into the two vehicles.  Two bucks, Roscoe and Charlie. Our other Nigerian buck, Bombur, was out to stud. Our lovable jerk of a wether, Leo. Our Alpine does Cinnamon and Hazel, both pregnant. Our mini-Nupine doe, Pixie. Three Nigerian Dwarf does- twin sisters Tuesday and Toby-Mae, and Rosie, the goat with wings. 

  
The ducks survived, and 8 of the chickens. They went to stay with the daughter of a neighbor. Our friend Mike took Hunter and Piper to his house in Benton Harbor since he has an outdoor kennel not being used right now. We’ve caught glimpses of one barn cat, the others reappeared briefly but haven’t been seen since. The cleanup process began. Two days later, the news of a friend’s sudden death resulted in an impromptu road trip to Kentucky. As heartbroken as I was over my own misfortune, a lot of things came into perspective. The fire was devastating, but it could’ve been so much worse. So much of my world was gone in a flash that night, but the very center of it had remained untouched- my family. 

  
The fire inspector was able to determine where the fire started, but not exactly how. Everything was destroyed. The corner of the barn where it must’ve originated had several rototillers, a push mower, a snow blower and two electrical outlets. The circuit breaker box was there as well. No heat lamps were on; it had been 55 degrees the day before and the overnight low was a balmy 35. It’s possible the unseasonably warm weather cooked off a damp spot in the hay. I’d been horrified to realize several of the mama goats’ charred torsos were visible in the wreckage when the smoke cleared and that I was powerless to bury, or even cover them. Sheets of twisted metal still stood balanced on perilous beams, creaking in every breeze and crashing into the ashes one by one.  We couldn’t enter the area until the fire inspector came anyways. I joined Justin out by the ruins for his verdict. He looked me in the eyes and said he wanted me to know that, in his experienced opinion, none of the living creatures taken by the fire had survived the first five minutes. The smoke would’ve taken them so quickly that they probably didn’t even wake up. Scarlett, who knew how to open the large sliding doors, doesn’t appear to have tried. Many of the chickens could’ve easily escaped, yet didn’t- it happened that fast. The bodies of the mothers were curled around the ashes of their babies, in the exact places they usually slept. 

  
The skeleton of our barn is almost completely cleaned up now. The crew used their backhoe to dig a grave out in the doe pasture and we laid 15 tragedies to rest under the tree. We plan to rebuild, and to bring our survivors home as soon as possible. We have insurance, and so far they’ve been wonderful. We’re taking things a day at a time. 

The kids came home later that night, once we’d gotten the goats relocated to Frank and Emily’s. We talked, we hugged, we cried. I tried to emphasize the fact that some had survived, including three pregnant mamas. I asked the girls about Rosie and Scarlett, since I hadn’t done chores with them the night before. They confirmed that both had been fed in the central part of the barn. We marveled at Rosie and the miracle of her survival, all except for Sadie. “Well, of course she made it,” Sadie told us. “Rosie was Nana’s favorite goat. Nana knew what was happening, woke Rosie up, and gave her a boost over the wall.” Nana, my mother, passed away suddenly in 2013. 
Thank you, Mom. 

  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

So You Want to Get a Goat…

  
I really, really love goats.

Ours, everyone else’s, pretty much all goats. Big ones, small ones, even the goats who aren’t especially fond of people. When visiting other ‘goat folks’ I’m like the old spinster aunt at family gatherings who would rather sit in the corner and snuggle the cats than socialize. I have to conduct a smell-check and inspect my hair for hay before attending any sort of social event.

I spent a lot of time researching before bringing our first pair of fuzzy babies home. A lot of what I found was repetitive, the same info on basic care and keeping. Grooming, health issues, feed and uses for all classes and kinds of goats, ect. What was missing from most of the articles was straightforward, off-the-books info from actual ‘goat people’. The people interested in buying their first goats from my herd often ask the same questions I had in the beginning, and I’m happy to answer them, but I ask quite a few questions too. There are individuals who really don’t care about the who, where and why as long as they get their asking price for the goat they’re selling; I’m not one of those people.

I’ve only been ‘in goats’ for a few years, but have encountered quite a few issues and situations that all the research never came close to touching. I’ve had to write my own stock responses. I’m far from an expert but, in my humble opinion, there are some considerations that anyone considering goats needs to take an honest look at in the very beginning.

  • You really can’t get ‘a goat.’ Goats belong in herds. They’re emotional, social animals who rely on others of their kind for companionship and basic needs like warmth and security. A solitary goat will get depressed, possibly to the point of no longer eating. Goats can live happily with gentle horses, llamas, alpacas, and sometimes sheep (although there can be issues there… Google ‘geep’ and be afraid, *very* afraid…) Even the most attentive human can’t replace the need for a herd.

 

  • Goats and dogs just don’t mix. With the exception of carefully bred and trained livestock guardian dogs, its just not a good idea to expect goats and dogs to share the same space unsupervised. Goats instinctively run, dogs instinctively chase; draw your own conclusions. I had an inquiry on a baby goat from people who planned to keep him in a fenced dog run… *with* the family dogs. They assured me their dogs were sweet, would love the baby goat and would never even think of hurting him, but I wasn’t willing to bet that baby’s life on those assurances. You cant expect an animal to change its base nature just because you want it to; they still are what they are at their core. Forgetting that fact generally doesn’t end well.

 

  • Goats don’t belong indoors. I’ve seen the adorable YouTube videos. Hell, I’ve made a few; we’ve raised quite a few baby goats indoors for their first few weeks. A newborn baby requiring bottle-feeding every 4 hours and can be contained in a dog kennel is one thing, an adult goat that’s expected to live like a dog or cat is another. Goats aren’t trained the same way as domestic house pets because they’re not people-pleasers by nature; the term ‘stubborn old goat’ is rooted in the deep inclination of pretty much all goats to do whatever they want exactly when the mood strikes. They also can’t control their bodily functions the same way a dog or cat can. Goats don’t have control of their bowels, and defecate as their bodies digest. Hay goes in, poop comes out, repeat repeat repeat. Repeat. I don’t care how well you’ve trained your other pets, you will not be getting a goat to use a litter box. It’s muh more likely that you’ll find yourself chasing the aforementioned goat with the aforementioned litter box/puppy pad while he or she poops on your carpet… probably while eating your curtains.

 

  • Bottle babies are a lot of fun… for about three hours. We’ve raised quite a few babies indoors that were either rejected or so weak/small at birth that they’d have no chance of survival without intervention.  I love taking video of little big-eared fluffballs bouncing through my living room and dancing with excitement at the sight of their bottle; what those photos and video don’t show are the hours of cleaning up, washing bottles, mixing formula/preparing real milk and doing laundry that accompanies every baby that’s raised that way. Bottle babies are adorable, but they’re exhausting. I only take them on if I absolutely have to. They’ve bounced out of sight and peed on my couch, they’ve chewed up ridiculously expensive charger cables and gotten stuck in tight spaces. They’re basically puppies that can’t be trained to do their business outside. Every single year I get at least one call from someone, usually girls in their late teens or early twenties, who want to buy a baby goat from me and keep it in their apartment/townhouse/suburban rental. When I start my usual round of questions, every one has assured me that they didn’t plan on keeping the goat into adulthood. They wanted to raise it as a bottle-fed baby, because they’re SO CUTE, and would find it the best home ever later on (once it stopped being SO CUTE and started being SO DESTRUCTIVE, I’m guessing.) One became pretty hostile when I explained that I wouldn’t sell her my baby goat, demanding to know how I could refuse sale. My answer? Because I can. Because I get to choose what homes my goats go to and, frankly, people with that mindset would be much better off with a Chihuahua. Or a plant.

 

  • Goats really don’t belong in suburbia. The rise in popularity of backyard chickens has resulted in a huge number of people determined to take things a step further. Unfortunately, goats just aren’t suited for people’s backyards. A tiny fenced enclosure will be reduced to mud in a matter of days, and you’ll be left with unhappy, chronically ill goats who ingest parasite eggs every time a blade of grass finds its way through the hardpack of manure. Suburban goats also tend to get very  bored, since they can’t roam and browse and explore the way they need to, and they get into trouble. The damage a bored goat can do to a property, especially your generic suburban McMansion and the manicured yards that usually surround it, is astounding. They’ll climb on cars, break windshields and eat wiper blades. Even the smallest breeds can cause large dents in a vehicle. The beautiful landscaping? consider it eaten. A roaming goat that causes property damage or a car accident will do so at its owner’s expense, as homeowners insurance rarely covers livestock, especially if your property isn’t specified as agricultural on your policy.

 

  • Goats escape. There’s an old saying, that a fence needs to hold water if its going to hold a goat. Agreed, 100%.   We’ve had 80lb goats find their way through a hole the size of a roll of toilet paper, and over the top of our 5ft fence. Our tiny Nigerian Dwarf buck Bombur holds the title of supreme ninja in our herd and has bypassed any and every gate, fence, panel and enclosure we’ve tried to contain him with. A goat that is bored, lonely, hungry or just ‘the adventurous type’ will find a way to get out, period. Horny bucks are notorious for tearing down fences (sometimes sustaining major injuries) in order to get to does in heat. Rounding up and re-containing the escapees can be a daily job and it gets old really fast.

 

  • Goat vets can be hard to find. Very, very few general practice veterinarians are trained to care for caprines. Even most equine (horse) vets don’t see goats.

 

  • Goats are living beings, not a status symbol. Fifteen years ago it was potbelly pigs, ten years ago it was teacup dog breeds. Five years ago it was backyard chickens. Now goats are the trendy animal accessory, and that really isn’t a good thing. As cool as it would be to launch a YouTube channel featuring daily commentary from Joe Hipster and his pet goat, complete with matching beard and man-bun, it still doesn’t mean its a good idea. Unless Joe Hipster happens to live somewhere that has the acreage and accommodations to keep his pet goat (and several buddies for him) healthy and happy, as well as the patience and knowledge and everything else said goat would require of his human, then Joe Hipster really doesn’t need a goat. The fact that an animal is in vogue doesn’t change the basic necessities of the animal. If Joe Hipster is that set on flooding Instagram with #GoatSelfie and #Twinning photos, then he could always go spend an afternoon with someone else’s (properly cared for) goat instead of expecting an animal to magically change its nature in order to boost Joe’s social media cred. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if the goat Joe poses with decided to rip out his nose ring mid-selfie at the indignation. 

If you love goats but don’t have an ideal environment to keep your own, go visit someone else’s herd. Commune with some new cloven-hoofed friends and then go home to your McMansion with your landscaping left untouched. Take some pictures, bring some animal crackers, wear shoes you can wash and live it up for a few hours. Goats are intelligent, endearing, amazing creatures that have something to teach pretty much everybody, but they do things their own way. In order to share your existence with a goat (or twelve) you have to be willing to accommodate them; they will never accommodate you. It’s just not in their nature. Part of loving them is accepting them, in all their weirdness and annoyances and aggravation, exactly as they are.

  
 

 

 

 

2015

  
If it’s possible for something to be both a clusterfuck and a blessing, then that was my 2015. There’s really no other way to describe it. Miserable at times, but every bit of it brought some degree of enlightenment. A means to a much better end; a catalyst, catharsis. Not quite how I would’ve liked to go about things, but now that the year is over there isn’t much I’d go back and do differently. 

  
Most of all, I wish I would’ve cherished every moment of my pregnancy. I was so sick, so exhausted and still not completely sold on the idea of a 7th child for most of it. I wish I’d talked to my little belly more often, and embraced my little boy in my heart much earlier than I did. If there is some greater purpose for River’s brief walk with us, I haven’t figured it out yet. I just know that despite the health issues he would’ve faced, I would’ve traveled every step of his journey with him. Surgeries, recovery, every single moment. A place in my heart will always have a hole in it, because it was his; and because he was loved. I don’t regret loving him, even if it means carrying the pain of that love for the rest of my days. 

  
I should’ve started therapy much earlier than I did. I should’ve been more proactive and let my illness rule me less. The people who told me how much life can improve with enough effort and the right support were absolutely right, and I wish I’d believed them sooner. The difference is like black and white, like night and day. This wasn’t a fight I could win by myself no matter how much I wanted to. I had to swallow my pride and do what was necessary, even though it was one of the most difficult decisions of my entire life. Parts were agonizing; yet every single bit was worth it. I’ll be finding my way up this mountain, slowly but surely, until my days are done. 

  
I wish I’d listened to my instincts. I should’ve trusted my gut and walked away from fake people much faster. At the same time, I don’t regret that experience as a whole. It taught me to advocate for myself, and that I have value despite my illness. It showed me that an inflated ego and massive sense of entitlement are a toxic combination that I never should’ve touched with a ten-foot pole; that spiritual impotence, profound apathy and perpetual tunnel-vision aren’t anything I want in my life. That some people are parasites at their very core, determine to suck every last drop from each person they latch onto. Physically, emotionally, financially… and spiritually. I’m grateful to have learned to look harder at the people I get close to, and to hold myself to a higher standard for my loved ones. I’m determined to actually live, not merely exist; that ‘fuck it, who cares, everything is an illusion’ is the anthem of an absolute coward. I want to do something with my life besides oxygenate, excrete and ego-stroke. I refuse to require enablers in order to survive, like some sort of oversized child. My family is worth more to me than that. 

  
A lot of incredible things happened this year as well. I got to spend extra time with my Dad and baby sister from Colorado. We discovered new resources right on our property, and worked hard to make good use of them. We learned new skills, and are now heating our home solely with wood. I put my feet in the Puget Sound, another item scratched off the ol’ bucket list. Our high schooler is driving, volunteering, earned her second academic letter and has the opportunity to start college early. Our middle schooler is excelling, interested in sociology and has become extremely passionate about mental healthcare reform in America. Our two elementary schoolers are reading at advanced levels and were described as ‘unusually intelligent, mature and empathetic to their peers’ by their teachers. Our preschooler has managed to stay out of trouble and loves his daily bus rides, thinks girls are the best thing ever and always tells me (in painstaking detail) what they had for snack that day. Our two year old is… well, he’s two. An adorable little terrorist who chases his sisters with the toilet plunger and drinks my coffee every time my back is turned; who gives the most adorable boogery kisses and still climbs into bed with us to snuggle. Even while I was sick, struggling or so deep in my pain that I couldn’t be there for them emotionally the way I needed to be, they kept right on growing. They’re becoming such amazing, capable, badass people and I’m beyond blessed to be their mother. 

  
2015 was an uphill battle for our family. Windows closed- but doors opened, many of them. I’m glad I chose to write about it along the way. Countless people have reached out to me after reading these entries- some strangers, some who I’ve known for over a decade- to tell me that they’ve also struggled with a mental health diagnosis. That they’ve been marginalized by friends, dismissed by healthcare providers, even discarded by their partner or spouse on account of their ‘crazy.’ I’ve connected with other mothers who have lost babies in the ‘gray area’ of very late first trimester/early second trimester, some of whom I’ve known for years but who hadn’t felt able to give voice to their loss. Our babies were barely miscarried, but not yet stillborn; they had faces, fingers, toes. Names and identities. Caught between two classifications and not quite sure which to file our pain under, we still have each other for support. It doesn’t lessen the hurt, but it’s a comfort all the same. 

  

I’m thrilled to have met some truly incredible people this year. Other homesteaders, ‘sustainabillies,’ goat folks and big thinkers. Musicians, artists, writers. Survival skills weirdos, salvagers, foragers, fishing addicts and amateur photography nerds. We’ve met a lot of other parents who would rather raise their children on a farm than in a McMansion, encouraging life skills over video games. Dreamers, free spirits and malcontents. People who love a challenge and embrace the opportunity to be the architects of their future. I couldn’t ask for a more amazing family and I’m so grateful to be part of such a motley, hilarious, beautiful and brilliant tribe. 

  

I’m really excited for the possibilities this year. I’m going to keep pushing myself to live around my Bipolar; to do more, to be more, to be learn more. Last year, a brief friend informed Justin and I that we needed to face reality- that I won’t survive this illness. That sooner or later I will drop too far down, and end my life. That my eventual suicide is inevitable. To that person, if you’re reading this: I’m not weak like you are, not anymore. Getting better and being everything my family needs is more important to me than my pride. So fuck your prediction. Fuck your inevitabilities, and fuck your self-serving armchair psychiatry. Fuck your ridiculous ego and fuck your grandiosity. The reality is that I’m already surviving, and I’ll continue to survive- because I’m not afraid of working for something. Living- not just consuming, absorbing and existing- is worth it. 

Arsonist’s Lullaby

  
“When I was a child I heard voices… Some would sing and some would scream

You soon find you have few choices… I learned the voices died with me

When I was a child I’d sit for hours… Staring into open flames

Something in it had a power… Could barely tear my eyes away.
All you have is you fire… And the place you need to reach

Don’t you ever tame your demons… But always keep them on a leash.” 

  

“When I was 16 my senses fooled me… Thought gasoline was on my clothes

I knew something would always rule me… I knew this sin was mine alone. 


All you have is your fire… And the place you need to reach

Don’t you ever tame your demons… But always keep them on a leash.” 

  

“When I was a man I thought it ended… Well, I knew love’s perfect ache

But my peace has always depended… On all the ashes in my wake. 

All you have is your fire… And the place you need to reach

Don’t you ever tame your demons… But always keep them on a leash.” 

                                                                                           -Hozier, ‘Arsonist’s Lullaby’

Hozier ‘Arsonist’s Lullaby’


Beautifully Broken: Finding brilliance in Bipolar

I am not my diagnosis. 
I faced my reflection and repeated that sentence at least a hundred times, probably more, over the course of several months. At first it felt ridiculous. After two weeks, it felt like pointless repetition. After a month it had become a habit and was oddly comforting. After two months I was shocked to realize that, sure enough, I finally believed it. 

  
  

Receiving a mental health diagnosis can feel like you’ve been assigned an enormous fault; akin to being presented with a boulder, shackled to your neck with an unbreakable chain, to carry through each day until your back threatens to break under its weight. My research began in the parking lot and did nothing but fuel the denial. I didn’t think I could possibly be Bipolar- I’m moody, quirky and a little strange, but was I really *that* crazy?! 

  
 

It’s hard to see so much of yourself listed as a symptom of illness, a definition of malady. It’s so difficult to have to choose between being open about your struggle, knowing you’ll possibly face judgement from a black-and-white world that will discount you on the basis of it, and foregoing support by keeping your ‘label’ a secret. Being immediately lumped in with those who commit atrocities- despite the fact that they are few and far between- is absolutely devastating. Stigma doesn’t discern between those of us living normally with common, manageable diagnoses and those unfortunate few who make headlines. 

   

Over the next few days I read so many articles and studies based around Bipolar II, and all they did was depress the hell out of me. According to the Psychiatric Times, roughly 15% of those diagnosed will commit suicide, and that number is assumed to be quite a bit higher due to the fact that many go undiagnosed. 50% will attempt suicide, and 80% report contemplating taking their own lives. A person with a diagnosis on the Bipolar spectrum has a decreased life expectancy of 9 to 20 years. 

  
I was already depressed when I was diagnosed with Bipolar II. Everything I read only held me there more firmly. Chronic, recurrent, debilitating, on and on and on. Each article listed the current protocol to help the afflicted live as normal of a life as possible; after the nightmarish few months before, that sounded fantastic. As time has gone on and the extreme highs and lows have leveled out, I’ve started looking for what none of those bleak, clinical articles described: something positive. 
  
 I changed my search criteria. The results that returned were much fewer in number, but convincing: there’s an undeniably strong link between Bipolar disorder and extreme creativity, even creative genius. Artists like Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch. Robert Schumann, composer. Brilliant authors Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf and Edgar Allen Poe. Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Vivien Leigh. Florence Nightingale. My favorite philosopher, Fredrich Nietzsche. Kurt Cobain and Robin Williams, both of whose suicides brought extensive media coverage in the aftermath. 

   So many of those memorable people had difficult lives and tragic deaths. That can’t be coincidence. Still, what is left for those of us who are newly diagnosed and looking for a silver lining? 

  
   I’ve made a conscious decision to stop trying to hide my diagnosis and start finding appreciation for it anywhere that I possibly can. The prognoses, the mortality rates and the long list of associated physical conditions aren’t going to disappear regardless of which side of the coin anyone chooses to look at; but for those of us who have been handed that boulder to carry, why shouldn’t we search for positivity wherever we can find it?

  
  There are days when I feel like the Bipolar parts of my brain are totally running the show. Bright and abrasive lighting setting off my anxiety, a sudden downward swing making simple tasks almost impossible, the medication making my head pound. Irrational fears, crushing sadness, unable to eat or struggling to get out of bed. Then there are the other days. Inspiration to crochet elaborate intarsia pieces without a pattern, completely out of the blue. The urge to cook big dinners using only my mother’s old recipes that I thought I’d forgotten a decade ago, suddenly remembered in detail. The need to write or take photos, sometimes both, that will remain a maddening itch until it’s been sated. Interest becomes compulsion, again and again. These little pieces are so much easier to handle, their edges much more blunt and inviting, but they’re still parts of the very same dysfunctional whole. 

     I still have so much that I want to learn. My writing and photography are amateur at best, but both have been such an incredible outlet through the past year. I can’t crochet as often as I’d like but but as my children grow, those opportunities will grow as well. Part of accepting my diagnosis has been acknowledging that some of the things that truly make me ‘me’ are, at least partially, rooted in my illness. It’s the medium I plant my seeds in, and the water that brings them to life. There are triumphs amidst the tragedies even if they never make headlines. 
I am not my diagnosis, but we’re definitely on speaking terms now. 

  

 

Lay Your Head Down

  “Beautiful sleeping baby… Don’t let it pass you by

When the leaves on the autumn trees all die… What do you find?

What do you find?”

  

“Lay your head down… Lay your head down

Lay your head down… Lay your head down.”

  

“Beautiful sleeping baby… Sail on the river wide

When the leaves of the autumn trees all die… Baby don’t cry

Baby don’t cry…”

  

“Lay your head down… Lay your head down

Lay your head down… Lay your head down.” 

  

“Lay your head down… Lay your head down

Lay your head down… Lay your head down.” 

                                                                                        -Peter Bradley Adams

                                                                                               “Lay Your Head Down”

  

Peter Bradley Adams ‘Lay Your Head Down’     


Pieces of Grief

     

Grief can be a tidal wave; a merciless, inescapable force. 

It lays waste to everything in its path and leaves you standing amongst the wreckage, unable to uproot yourself. 
Overwhelming, overtaking, consuming; crashing down before you can move.
The betraying water builds around your ankles and washes you back to where you never thought you’d be standing. 

 Grief can be a trickling stream; a drifting, silent miasma that fills your lungs and stops your breath.
It cuts a jagged path through every rock of your fortress and leaves you vulnerable, unable to protect yourself. 
Ongoing, oppressing, insisting; a pervasive fog that envelops you.
The reeking slime pools around the soles of your feet and holds you where you never thought you’d be standing. 
  
Grief can be a coming storm; rolling in on your horizon, announcing its imminence. 
It seethes with your energy while leaving you so empty, unable to weather its rains. 
Thickening, threatening, looming; dark clouds that gather and build.
The drowning thunder rattles your soul and carries you back to where you never thought you’d be standing. 
  
Grief can be a steady wind; sweeping out of the North and stripping away all comfort. 
It steals away your warmth while leaving you so empty, unable to weather its force. 
Cold, calculating, relentless; a faceless, sightless truth.
The howling drone rings in your ears and blows you back to where you never thought you’d be standing. 
  
Grief can be an open wound; a painful, fractured soul. 
It holds you hostage and keeps you so broken, unable to beat as before.
Blind, bleeding, crippled; too weak to staunch the flow.
The pounding gait pulses in your head and pushes you back to where you never thought you’d be standing. 
  
Grief can be an ancient staircase; an old and well-worn path. 
 It leads you down its familiar length to doors closed tight with rusty locks, unable to guild you beyond them. 
Creaking, cracking, lingering; beauty and pain combined.
The sweet and stinging memories ache in your chest and send you back to where you never thought you’d be standing. 
  
 Grief will always be the side of a cliff; the slow ascension to an unknown summit. 
It stares you down with uncaring eyes and no steadying hand extended, unable to help lift you any higher. 
Insurmountable, inescapable, indescribable; sleepless, sharp and scarred. 
The impossible climb is the only thing that can take you away from where you never should have had to be. 

“I am colorblind

Coffee black and egg white

Pull me out from inside

I am ready… I am ready… I am ready…

I am taffy-stuck and tongue-tied

Stutter-shook and uptight

Pull me out from inside

I am ready… I am ready… I am ready… 

I am fine.

I am covered in skin

No one gets to come in

Pull me out from inside

I am folded and unfolded and unfolding…

I am colorblind.” 

                                  

                                                                          -Counting Crows, ‘Colorblind’

The Destroying Wind

  
The first time I saw a Michigan autumn was in 2011. We’d driven out for my husband’s interview, for the job he currently holds, in mid-October. After spending 26 years of my life in Colorado I really wasn’t prepared for the dense hardwood forests and their brilliant yellows, oranges and reds in the fall. We stopped by a nearby property that was listed for sale; just to peek of course, still having not heard back from his interview, unafraid of creeping out the residents since it was vacant. We walked a little ways down a path through its ten acres of woods, and I couldn’t imagine any place being more beautiful. 

  
Fall has always been my favorite season. I used to hug the pumpkins on display in the grocery store, to roll in the piles of leaves my father raked up and then shake out the slugs in my hair. Halloween was my favorite holiday, even after trick-or-treating was banned due to my mother’s religious convictions. The first time my oldest daughter was big enough to make the rounds through her grandma’s neighborhood I probably had more fun than she did, carrying her to house after house even after her legs were tired. 

  
The season has remained beautiful, but harder to love the same way as time has gone on. Tragedies have tainted it, a grim toll that threatens to add a new pain to its list every year. The death of my baby brother Jack on Nov. 11, 1994, and the sight of his tiny soul leaving his body in our mother’s arms only 2 days after his premature birth. I’ve been witness to so many deaths in my life but this, the very first at 11 years old, will never leave me. 

  
The sudden and violent passing of my childhood best friend a year later, on November 17th. My family attended her viewing and filed slowly past her casket, my mother’s gently guiding hand on the back of my neck, and I was shaken by the sight of her. The injuries from the horseback riding accident that had taken her life were still so evident under the mortuary’s carefully applied makeup. She didn’t look like the friend I had laughed with a week before. She was a month younger than I, and seeing her body made me feel so vulnerable to death. I had nightmares in which she suddenly opened her eyes, screamed out for me to help her, before falling back on the silk pillow again. I tore my hair out and poked myself roughly in the eyes, seeking pain that would prove to me that I was still alive myself. 

  
The three miscarriages that marr my obstetrical history took place in September, early October and early November. Three babies who never saw the springtime, never felt that first warmth on their tiny faces. Two were due just days apart. Three beginnings that ended as the summer breathed its last and succumbed to the bitter cold; almost as if my body sensed the presence of death around it. 

  
My mother died on November 21st, 2013. One day before my precious niece’s birthday, three days before we planned to talk for the first time in a year. The start of a lifetime ache of guilt and regret. Old hurt that was left to fester, broken bridges that went untouched just long enough. I stood beside her body, numb yet shaking, clutching my baby son. Determined to make the introduction my anger had denied. I had written a letter filled with the apologies and love that my voice should’ve delivered long before, but my hands tucked it into her casket instead. 

  
The incident that took place on November 15th, 1997. The thing that I rarely talk about but have had to finally face in order to quiet the demons that threatened to consume me from the inside. A deep well of shame and self-loathing, a septic tank that was tightly closed and buried again and again and again. A new pile of dirt tamped down daily by the biggest shovel I could lift, yet whose sewage still seeps out without warning. The smell of cinnamon gum, ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac, white turtleneck sweaters with blood on the cuffs; slow, deep breaths in the grocery store check out line over a decade later while my heart thunders in my chest. 

  
The fall colors reached their peak last weekend. My teenage daughter and I charged up our phones and drove out to a few local roads to look for photo opportunities. Ignoring the dull healing ache from the surgery following my most recent miscarriage, I ducked under branches and climbed over fallen logs to search for the beauty my soul screamed for. At any moment the wind could start again, stealing the last of the colors and leaving the bared branches waving nakedly in the wind.  

 They seem so optimistic, waving in the breeze like pennants, completely unaware that their grasp on existence is growing more and more faint by they day. They dance in their brilliance until the fateful wind blows just right, loosens their last hold and sends them gliding slowly to the ground below.  Death in slow motion, again and again. 

 

They say the trees let go of their leaves in order to blanket their roots ahead of the coming snow. Drawing in on themselves, allowing their limbs to become brittle in order to soften the winter’s brutal grip on their core. I do the same thing now, year after year. There’s just no way around it anymore. Becoming dormant in order to survive the season of death, the destroying wind that sweeps down out of nowhere to strip our souls bare before the approaching cold. Weathering the next storm, and the next and the next; waiting for chance to feel warm and alive again. The opportunity to regrow and be whole, to dance. 

 Once the leaves start turning it always begins. It gets harder and harder to eat, to get out of bed on chilly mornings. My inborn masochism screams out from within. I push myself too hard; I move too fast and too carelessly. I wander and forget. I look both ways but still lay flat on my belly in the middle of the road to take the photos I want. It’s reckless, it’s foolhardy, but I do it anyway; because things like that cut through the numbing wind and prove to me that I’m still alive. 

 
Sometimes it’s hard to be around people who have never been touched by tragedy, have never felt the Arctic wind lay waste to their very being. It feels like they live in such a state of blissful ignorance and it often makes me angry. Why aren’t they aware of just how fleeting that blessed calm is, of how incredibly tenuous and thin its membrane? That at any second they could be thrust into the dead of winter, to suffer and endure along with the rest of the damaged trees? We, and everything around us, are finite. Mortal. Everyone we love could be gone in an instant, and safety is nothing but a cruel illusion. At any second you could lose your grip and come crashing down. Covered in penetrating cold, to be chewed up by time and returned to the soil once again. That’s your reality when the relentless wind turns its sights on you.