Rediscovering My Inner Farm-Girl

When I was a young child, perhaps four or five years old, I spent hours playing with the water from the hose that soaked my mother’s flower beds, using a trowel to draw channels in the soil to direct the water to particular plants, and shaping earthen dams to capture the flow. Once when my grandparents came for a visit from their faraway home in Florida, my engineer granddad watched me play, and then bent his tall form to my level.

Using a stick, he drew various channel designs in the dirt, and gave me a short lesson in fluvial hydrology, showing me how a curve could slow the water down, a deeper channel would hold more flow, and how “stacking” a series of curves would create meanders to reshape my miniature river. Before my grandmother called him into the house, he also demonstrated how to use pebbles to strengthen the downstream face of my dams, and how to curve the dam to better cup the flow. (My proper Scots grandmother did not approve of her only granddaughter playing in the dirt. She wanted a girly-girl, dressed in ruffles and patent-leather shoes, with flyaway strawberry blond hair neatly confined by the bunny-shaped hair clips she brought me.)

I was fascinated by Granddad’s lesson, and practiced it assiduously after he and grandmother left. I learned how to sculpt a channel so it would keep itself clean and flowing at just the right volume and speed to not flood the plant. And to shape a dam to spread the water out, as well as retain it.

I had forgotten that part of my childhood until I found myself walking the main hayfield at the farm the other day, using the toe of my rubber irrigation boots to clear debris from the shallow channels that carry water from the irrigation pipes across the field. I heard my mother’s voice in my head calling me “Farmer Susie,” and saw her shaking her head with a loving smile as she and my dad wondered where my passion for channeling water, tending plants, and digging weeds came from.

Back then, with a child’s naivete, I thought I would grow up and live on a farm or a ranch, and work with water and plants and horses. How that was going to happen, when I grew up in the suburbs, and neither of my parents had ever worked in agriculture, I never considered. I just knew I would. In my teens and twenties, I worked in a stable, taught riding, helped out with friends’ farms and ranches, and even for a brief time, had my own little acreage and a few horses. Until I went to graduate school, and fell in love with Richard and Molly.

Richard, Molly, and Susan on our front porch in Boulder, 1988

My life turned in the direction of step-motherhood and writing, and tending our little household as we followed Richard’s academic career through nine moves in 14 years, eventually settling in Salida, Colorado, where we bought and revived a half-block of blighted industrial property. Not exactly my dream farm, but it afforded space to replant a swath of native mountain prairie, cultivate an enormous organic kitchen garden (my friends called it my mini-farm), and restore a block of urban creek, reviving its green ribbon of native shrubs and trees and returning its healthy sinuosity, thus applying my granddad’s lessons in fluvial hydrology.

And now, 60 years later, here I am spending spring and part of the summer on the Guy’s small grass-hay farm. My forgotten farm-girl is thriving, happily learning the irrigation system and managing water, digging out and controlling invasive weeds, censusing frogs in the pond, planning pollinator and songbird plantings in the woodlot, and even mucking the dry lot. (Four thousand-pound horses times a bale of hay each day equals more horse manure than you would think!)

“Why do you care about this place?” the Guy asked one night a few weeks ago as we were walking back across the hayfields in the evening after moving a whole slew of irrigation pipe. He was tired, and feeling a bit cranky. I considered as we walked through fragrant grasses, listening to the “pee-nt!” calls of invisible nighthawks as swallows fluttered overhead. I watched the sunset fade over the distant line of Grand Mesa.

Sunset over Grand Mesa, reflected in the farm pond, whose peeping chorus of frogs lulls us to sleep every night.

“First,” I said, picking my words, “I admire what you’ve done with the place. You took a chunk of played-out land with tumbledown buildings, and turned it into a healthy  farm, with a lovely and well-built house and barns, productive hayfields, and habitat for songbirds and other wildlife.” He nodded and I went on, trying and failing to keep the emotion out of my voice, “Second, the place speaks powerfully about who you are, someone who not only nurtures the fields, but who also tends the rest of the community, human and wild. I love that about you. I want to help.”

He switched on his headlamp and was silent as we walked in the cone of its the light. Finally he said, “Thank you for showing me how you see it.”

The deer love this place, and the Guy loves them. 

There is more I want to say, but he’s not ready to hear it. He’s cautious, slow to trust. So I’m being as patient as I can be. Someday, I’ll add this: “I love the place because it’s yours. I want to belong here, with you–for as long as we have.”

For now, I’m content to irrigate, work with weeds, and plan native plantings to expand the existing wildlife habitat. The orioles are chattering in the towering elms, the catbirds foraging in the garden, and the robins are singing. He and the herd have gone to Wyoming to work, and he trusts me to tend the farm while he’s away.

That’s enough. For now.

Sunset, and I’m still irrigating. The view more than compensates for the long days. 

Six Years: Remembering Richard Cabe

Richard Cabe (July 16, 1950 – November 27, 2011)

Tomorrow marks six years since the love of my life, my husband, partner, and companion in all things for nearly 29 years, and father of Molly Cabe, died of brain cancer. He was only 61 years old, and very much engaged in exploring his practice of abstract sculpture, the work that expressed his terraphlia, the word we coined for our species' innate love of this earth and all who share this planet with us. 

Richard proudly carrying the first basin he ever carved. (That's about 50 pounds of rock in his hands, and it is now the sink in the guest bathroom of the house he built for us.)

Losing Richard sucked. It always will. 

Yes, I've built myself a solo life that is fulfilling and makes me happy. Which proves that it is possible to live well with a hole in your heart. But it does not mean I don't miss him. Always. We walked hand in hand through our days from the night we first met when Molly was just three years old. 

Crazy in love from the start–our backyard wedding reception in Laramie, August, 1983

We weren't prefect–we argued and fought and wounded each other just like everyone else. But we always returned to holding hands, and in the end it was that enduring love for each other, that cell-deep connection, that mattered most. No matter what, we both loved AND liked each other. 

We were blessed to have the years we did, and to be able to nurture the rich love we shared with Molly. I know that. I also know we didn't have enough time together. But we had what we had.

Yet, I am thankful to be able to find happiness as Woman Alone. Life is nothing if not contradictory. 

Here, in Richard's memory, are some photos of the man I loved, Molly's dad, sculptor, brillilant economist, juggler, the guy with the beautiful smile who loved life. 

Mr. Raymond, his proud father, holding Richard at a year old, the first winter he lived in Salida, Colorado (1951-2).

With Molly and her grandparents, Mr. Raymond and Miss Alice, Arkansas, in about 1990. 

Building the interpretive sign kiosk he designed for Monarch Spur Park, Salida, November, 2008.

With another sink in the making, Salida, Colorado, 2006 

Carefully shaping the steel fire-bowl for a granite firepit, September 2008. 

The finished firepit, one of my favorite of his functional sculptures. 

With Molly on her birthday, February 2010 (after his first brain surgery, and radiation and chemo).
Juggling for his niece, Carolyn Myrick, and great-nephew, Oliver, June, 2010.

Celebrating his 60th birthday with family, July 2010. (Back row: Molly, my brother, Bill Tweit, me and Richard; middle row: great-nephew Connor Roland, niece Alice Tweit; front row/ my parents, Bob and Joan Tweit).

Relaxing on the deck during a working residency at Carpenter Ranch, northwestern Colorado, August 2010.

At Devil's Churn State Wayside, September, 2011, on The Big Trip, our belated honeymoon two months before Richard died. 

Cherishing a sunset at the end of our time together… 

May your spirit continue to soar, my love. My heart will always be with you. 

The Best Gift: An Abundance of Love

One of my rituals between Winter Solstice and New Year's Day is to "listen" for the word that will serve as my intention for the coming year. I don't consciously think of a word; I tune in to my inner voice for what word presents itself. This year's word, "abundance," came to me as I was journaling one December morning.  

As I wrote in this blog, I resisted the word at first, confusing it with giving, which I am as guilty as most women of overdoing. Until I looked up the definition, which includes the words "plenty," "plentifulness," and "prosperity." 

Oh, I thought, duhAbundance as in "plenty": plenty of joy, plenty of time, plenty of ideas and words and readers, plenty of money, plenty of fruitful opportunities, plenty of energy and vigor, plenty of love… 

And in fact, this year is yielding all sorts of abundance, including many that I imagined when I wrote those words: Opportunity, joy, ideas, words, readers. Not so much abundance of energy (my Lupus has definitely been more challenging this year) or money (ditto for life on the financial plane), but I am managing well anyway. 

The form of abundance that has been the biggest surprise–and gift–is the last one on the list above: love. Specifically, love from Molly, my 37-year-old "kid." (As biology sees it, she's my step-daughter; seen through the lens of the heart, she's mine, and has been since I met she and her daddy when she was three.) 

Richard and Molly on her 31st birthday, when he was recovering from his radiation treatments.

In early January. when I was off on a personal writing retreat in Santa Fe, Molly texted one night to ask if we could talk. It's been difficult for both of us since her daddy died, and she had been incommunicado for weeks. I knew something was wrong.

I had felt angry and hurt by this latest withdrawal–the longest since Richard died–but I put my feelings aside. If she needed me, I needed to listen. 

We talked. I learned that she had just separated from her partner of 12 years, a decision that took enormous courage. 

"I'm sorry I've let this come between us," she said. "I miss you."

In that moment, nothing else mattered. "I love you, and I always will. Sometimes I don't like you very much, but the love is always there."

We talked through some difficult stuff, cried, and by the time we ended the call, I felt like our healing had begun. 

In February, Molly flew to New Mexico to join me in Silver City during my Write & Retreat workshop. Those four days together were precious time. 

Me and Molly in the wind in Mesilla, New Mexico, visiting old haunts. 

Since then, it's rare that more than a few days go by without us being in touch via text, email, or phone. She says "thank you" and "I love you" often. I do too. 

Which brings me to the photo at the top of the blog post. On the way home from my regular end-of-the week run yesterday afternoon, I impulsively stopped and shot a photo of the storm clouds blowing in over distant peaks. I texted it to Molly with an "xoxo" message and then ran on. She responded with, "Beautiful. Thank you. xoxo"

Later that evening, she texted the locket photo above with this message: "Was just organizing the bathroom and found this." 

"Love it and remember dearly the moment when you guys gave it to me." 

I had forgotten the locket entirely, but as soon as I saw her photo, I remembered picking it out, finding the photos of her daddy and me, and fitting one into each tiny compartment. 

Today on the phone, Molly reminded me of when we gave her the locket: "It was for my first period. You made a celebration of it. Such a gift in a time that was very difficult. You made it special, and made me proud of myself as a young woman."

We had moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for Richard's university position. Molly went from grade school in a Midwestern town to middle school in a much more difficult social and cultural environment. And then she got her period–it was all scary and stressful for her. So I came up with a celebration of that passage into womanhood. 

"I loved you then and I always will."

"I know that," she said. "That's my miracle."

It's mine too, Sweetie. Thank you for this abundance of love–the best possible gift of this year of abundance.

Molly and my sister-in-law, Lucy Winter