Living Wabi Sabi

It is not despite our problems, but because of them that our hearts hold everything we need to be joyful.” Taro Gold

iphone fencev 040 I am going to begin with some honesty today: Our barn is really not a barn. It is only a corn crib disguised as a barn.

After spending sometime with the goats and chickens yesterday, I began feeling like a disgruntled corn crib owner. All I could see were all of the problems, and began picturing everyone else’s perfect barns.  I don’t really know who these perfect barn owners are, but I know their barns are better than mine. My thoughts quickly spiraled off into images of Animal Welfare folks coming down the driveway with their take-em-away truck because they had gotten wind of the goat turds that are intermittently found floating in water buckets and hiding in baking soda dispensers.

I suppose it could be all of those farm magazines I read… If someone was coming to my house to write a story about my farm,  I guess I would scrub that sucker down too, put diapers on all of the chickens and goats, and maybe replace the chicken feed bags that keep the wind out with a real tarp. My barn would probably look pretty darn good, in kind of an Ozarks- hillbilly sort of way.

Now, let’s rewind things a bit, to an important memory.

I could barely take it all in when my daughters and I drove up the long driveway to the old farmhouse on 1500 acres of land, and there it was… the little red barn within walking distance of the house. At the time, I knew nothing about corn cribs, so it was a barn to me. We looked at the house and I was giddy, but not as giddy as when the gentleman told me that the corn crib was apart of the agreement. He slid open the heavy old door and I could do nothing but grin. It was a real old barn with its rafters full of spider webs and the sun shining and wind blowing through the broken panes of glass of the four square windows. My senses overloaded with joy. It’s almost like I could see the chickens roosting in the rafters and the goats bedded down together in the golden straw. It was perfectly imperfect.

This memory began flickering as I was contemplating my barn dilemma at the kitchen table. At that same moment, the mailman drove up our driveway, and hopped out with a package. In that package was a book from a friend titled, Living Wabi Sabi by Taro Gold. There sat in front of me a book about an ancient Japanese Buddhist philosophy centering around “…the oddities, the perfectly imperfect uniqueness of you and me and everything…the value of objects, events, and the entirety of life “as is” unpolished, unpredictable, and natural.” It is a book about the empowerment of imperfection.

The book begins with the author’s grandma telling him, ” You will grow to be even happier than you can possibly imagine today.” She was right. After reading the book that same morning, I felt tremendous joy about who I am and the life that I am living.

There is so much beauty in everything that is imperfect, including you and me. The broken window at the peak of barn is like my anxiety, or the open slats that have to be covered to keep the wind out are like my imperfect body, or the never-ending shit that is everywhere, and I mean everywhere (please be careful  where you put your hand) is like the poo of life that just won’t go away no matter how much you try to scrub it. Scrape away one giant pile of frozen shit one day, undoubtedly there will be a new one soon there after.

I guess the more I love and accept my Wabi Sabi corn crib, the more I can love my Wabi Sabi self.

I am including a video of a group of people in Paraguay, South America that seems to embody the Wabi Sabi philosophy. It’s so beautifully imperfect.

The Mouse and a Kind Stranger

“For too long in this society, we have celebrated unrestrained individualism over common community.”
Joe Biden

Deer Mouse

This is a story of a very lucky mouse, a grateful family and a very kind man…

Several years ago, when my family and I lived on our 11 acres of land, right outside River Falls, Wisconsin, we began to have a mouse problem in our travel trailer. If you have ever listened to a mouse move about in a travel trailer, it is quite different from the sounds in a house. The walls and ceilings are so thin that every little footstep taken, crumb eaten, or squeak squeaked is heard with crisp clarity.

One night, lying in bed, I heard the sound of mouse feet above me in the ceiling. The mouse was very busy bringing food from my kitchen cupboard back into the far end of my bedroom ceiling. It went like this: pitter patter, pitter patter, pitter patter…clunk-tap, scritch-scratch…clunk-tap…pitter patter, pitter patter, pitter patter… nibble-nibble. Walk across the ceiling, enter the kitchen cabinet, step on a plate that teeters and taps the plate below it, grab some chow, head back over the plate…tap, and back into the bedroom to eat dinner. It happened at least 20 times before I finally got up and decided to delicately place a live trap in the kitchen cabinet. I could see the crumbs where the little bugger had found our cereal. I went back to bed, and waited. It took about 5 minutes and 2 or 3 cycles of pitter, tap, scritch, nibble, and I heard the glorious sound of a trap door shutting.

I slowly removed the trap from the cabinet and could feel the weight of the mouse inside. I held the trap tightly, worried that it might escape if I was careless. We have had our share of mice in places they shouldn’t be; sticking my hand in a chicken feed bag and one running up my arm, watching one run across the top of the couch while I am laying on it, or opening a bin and one jumping out onto my foot. My all time favorite was when I was driving down the highway towards Hudson, Wisconsin, and found myself staring into the eyes of a little mouse clinging to the windshield wiper. It had peeked out from under the hood of the car while we were driving 60 miles an hour. He was looking straight at me as his fur whipped wildly and it hung on for dear life.

I was told once that if you let a mouse go close to your home, they will come right back in.  They can find their way back across a football field or something like that. The last mouse intruder was walked to the top of the hill and far down the driveway before being released. It was now 2:00 in the morning, and I was not hip on the idea of walking anywhere, so I decided to set the trap outside the door until morning.

The next morning, as we were getting ready for the day, I remembered our captured mouse friend. I decided to drive it to the end of the driveway, as we were on our way to town.

Halfway into town, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I saw it again. It did not register for about a minute but I then realized I forgot to let the mouse out of the trap. I had set the trap on the passenger side floor, and somehow it found its way out while we were driving. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road, which was towards the middle median. My daughters were in the back seat, and the mouse had just found its way back to them. Each time the mouse moved, a shriek would escape my lips.

I don’t know if I am stereotyping, but the Deer Mice in our neck of the woods seem very laid back and slow-moving. This particular mouse stopped several times to pick up a crumb, and nibble a bit between escapes from my gloved hands. It never really ran, rather sauntered from here to there. It left me ample time to grab it but was distracted by the screaming, plotting and laughing.

After about 15 minutes, a truck pulled in behind us. A man hopped out of the truck and asked if we needed any help. I explained our predicament to him, he got right in there and had that mouse caught within a minute. I half expected a snicker about our catch and release mouse policy, but not a patronizing peep out of this rugged looking man.

The heart-warming part of the story was that instead of throwing the mouse out into the grassy median of the highway, where we happened to be standing, he crossed the 2-lane highway and released the mouse into an open field. He joked about it finding a new home in the development adjacent to the road.

He said farewell, and off he drove with a nod and a wave. I have wished for all of these years that I could have sent him a thank you note. I am a firm believer in spontaneous acts of kindness and recognizing the kind acts of others. They really do make a difference.

Katniss the Rooster

iphone fencev 029“A sense of calm came over me.  More and more often I found myself thinking, “This is where I belong.  This is what I came into this world to do.”
―    Jane Goodall

This story begins on a cold morning in December, but not too cold, and shortly after what I consider to be early. I am standing before the sliding glass door, peering out at some of the telltale signs of winter. I am ready to brave the elements. As I walk to the barn, one thought is flooding my mind… ROOSTER; our little Katniss, the bantam cockerel with the ever-growing ego. He is not unlike the “surprise” baby that results from a moment of spontaneous passion. This rooster resulted from a moment of spontaneous shopping at Tractor Supply, without thought of the repercussions of the unsexed chicken. We lucked out and only ended up with 2 roosters out of the 10 chicks purchased, one being a peaceful and somewhat androgynous little guy.

On this particular day, I made my way into the barn without any trouble. I began my chores with the sprinkling of the scratch grain for the chickens. The grain hides in a grey plastic bin that I need to bend over to open, leaving me particularly vulnerable to rooster attacks. I have to admit, each time I lift my head triumphantly with the full container of grain, the bin’s lid securely shut, and the possible attack averted, I am lulled into a false sense of rooster confidence. This is when I begin telling myself the story that our unspoken agreement of civility and friendship, due to my watering, sheltering, and feeding him, has finally settled in and attacks are something of the past. Denial is a powerful thing.

As I began my usual struggle with the God-forsaken lock on the goat gate, the foot-tall monster overpowered me. Katniss fully seized this moment of distracted frustration with a stealthy jump onto a haystack, giving him the running start for nothing other than my head. I have to admit, I have had a head attack before, but nothing like this one. It was as if I had a saddle on my head and he was riding the mechanical bull. He hung on tightly as I shook vigorously and screamed profanities. I was wearing a knitted hat, which gave him a sturdy place to dig into.  The climax came when I noticed the goats staring at me with a look of terror. Looking into their eyes, I knew this had to end. I gave him a very powerful wallop as I swung my head towards the ground and off he flew.

You know how “they” say never discipline your children when you are angry. Well, “they” are right. I had my newly sharpened pitchfork in my hand before he had time to mutter cockle-doodly-sorry. I imagined myself doing the 1, 2, 3-pull slaughter technique, with his head on the ground, under my foot and his feet tightly gripped in my furious hands. Deep breath…

Amazingly, Katniss is still living happily in our barn today and probably will for the rest of his days. You know… he could change.