Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I am proud as a mother hen.

I proudly announce the birth of a new baby chick. She was born about a week ago, and her wing-feathers are already starting to come in. They look like butterfly wings right now, flat, stiff, and glossy-bright. Over the course of the next few months, more and more of these stiff, bold feathers will peek through in patches, and the fluffy down will disappear. I love watching the new feathers grow. I think that I cannot stand the waiting. I need to see what she will look like.

The baby chick and her mother, Eva. Eva is not her biological mom, but she is the one who sat on the egg so now she has the responsibility for its upbringing.
I am optimistically calling the chick a girl, but there is no way of knowing for sure until I see an egg. Or hear a crow. I have promised her to Michaela when she is old enough to leave her mother, because I have too many chickens, and besides, my flock needs new blood. Many of them are related to each other now.

Peanut Butter Cup, the presumed mother. The baby has feathered feet and five toes like her.
Theodore Roostervelt, the presumed father. He doesn't let any of the other roosters get near the women.
Below is a video so you can get a taste of some of the cuteness. The chick is amazing, but it is the mother, Eva, who I really feel for. She is everything a chicken-mother should be: soft, attentive, single-mindedly devoted. Her life is centered around whether this chick is safe and healthy. I don't know of course, but I feel fairly confident that Eva would give up her life defending this baby. I can hardly even get a picture of the baby because even though Eva trusts me, she doesn't trust my camera sticking in their faces.

In this nearly rain-free winter, the birth of a new chick seems appropriate. So far this year, the idea of winter is just a suggestion, more like a diminished spring. Lilies offer their snow-white blooms, and our first strawberry finally ripened, months after I gave up on the plant. Yes, the garden gently bows, and its colors have dimmed. And I see that the tomato plant is tired, but now and then I still pick a few garishly red plum tomatoes for the chickens. The boundaries between winter and spring have been smudged. In this warmth I can be more productive, but still, my body reads the light and begs for hibernation.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I attempt to study.


A few months prior to starting school at Pacifica, I moved into the yurt. Mostly, when I think of the yurt and studying, I think of incongruity. It's too hot, too often chaotically messy, too...dizzyingly round. I stand in the center, and I'm standing in the kitchen, the bedroom, and the living room all at the same time--I'm overwhelmed and easily forget where I intended to be. 

Studying is hard here for more than just logistical reasons. Here, I have been categorically unable to read textbooks on psychological theory. For that I abandon ship and head for the safety of a cappuccino. Neither can I seriously think of practical words like 'traineeship' and 'Board of Behavioral Science.' The real world does not exist tangibly enough here. It is too much like a dream in this porous, quiet place. Imagine trying to go camping and do your taxes at the same time.

In the midst of my complaining about not having a good place to study, I didn't have time to notice that I was in fact (relatively) easily taking to Jung and Freud here in the yurt. I like to sit outside with the chickens while I read. Nature seems to mirror the psyche, bringing to life the strangeness of the words on the page. I hear the witchy calls of owls, the disturbing yelps of coyotes. A fat book of strange tales could be written about my chicken flock alone. I can hardly believe the diversity of the expression of life--from the 300-year old oak trees to the one-year old exploring puppy. I look across the field and watch the trees stand still. 

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Jung wrote, “Plainly the urban world knew nothing about the country world, the real world of mountains, woods, and rivers, of animals and “God’s thoughts” (plants and crystals)”. I too live in this real, country world, but the difference is, I did not know it was real. I saw it as a reprieve, something to be abandoned when my 'real,' adult life finally begins at some point, an epoch I will remember romantically as I cook in my fancy kitchen and live out my successful career.

At night I often dream of walking on steep hillsides, about to fall off, but too entranced by the panoramic views to turn back. I dream of beautiful feathers streaming from my mouth as I smile. In The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo wrote of our "secret deep and vast psychic heart" and encouraged "free expression out of a supreme inward silence." The yurt reminds me of my creatureliness, my vulnerability, my smallness. I do my studies and I love my cappuccino, but I come home to animals, fresh air, the moon.

Our ceiling. And a full moon.
Stella a few minutes later

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I drink instant coffee now.

Out beyond ideas of good kitchens and bad kitchens, there is the yurt kitchen. I will meet you there.

Apologies to Rumi.

The kitchen in the morning. The window overlooks our garden, a field, and the neighbor's kiwi orchard.
Our kitchen is simpler than it's ever been. I'm constantly paring it down, continually letting go of wanting it to be like my old apartment kitchen. Storage consists of a cupboard for food, two small shelves for dishes, and four stacked plastic bins. The bins contain, respectively, tea, spices, office supplies, and miscellaneous items I can't quite toss like old nori and cake frosting. We cook on a single-burner hot plate to save space. The water source is outside, on the other side of the yurt from the kitchen.

I've learned the hard way that our food must be protected from both mice and extreme temperatures. The yurt becomes an oven when the days are above, say, 75 degrees, which is a common occurrence in Ojai. I know it's hot outside when the chocolate has to be kept in the refrigerator. Oil is a challenge, because refrigerating it makes it congeal of course, but keeping it out makes it rancid.

I swooped into the yurt thinking I could continue to cook everything the fancy way. I'm horrible at keeping it simple in the kitchen. Simple equals boring. Or more honestly, simple means I can't follow the guidance of recipes; I have to trust my own instincts. Normally, I even complicate oatmeal, using no less than three pots (one for toasting the oats in butter, one for the actual porridge, and another pot for a stewed fruit topping).  Now I sometimes pour instant oats into a bowl, followed by hot water. And I'm not complaining. It's a relief to learn I can feed myself so simply, without devoting the entire morning to oats.

This morning, I ate a bowl of granola with fresh papaya and maple cream-top yogurt. I only needed a spoon, a bowl, and a cup for my coffee. And it was sinfully, sensually, decadently delicious.

Coffee--there's another area where it's been easier just to let go of all pretension. No more fresh-grinding organic, fair-trade beans and then putting them in the french press. That's too much precious space wasted, too much to wash. Our dishwashing practices deserve their own full post later. I hope you won't judge me, but I'm drinking instant coffee this morning. I console myself with the thought that this is rancher/cowboy style coffee. Cowboys have to start work on the ranch; they have no time for grinding beans...then my coconut milk creamer reminds me who I really am.

Airag, the drink of choice in Mongolia. It is fermented mare's milk. (from Travel + Leisure)
The kitchen is what it is. It simultaneously frees me and limits me. I modify my habits accordingly and take the good with the bad. My friend Uschi tells me about her kitchen on India, where she cooks over a stove that looks like a camping stove, and sits on the floor to do it. I'm pretty sure I'm not exaggerating. If she can do that, I can do this.

I want to find out about cooking in Mongolian yurts. So far, I've learned that yurt roofs are a great place for aging cheese. And Mongolians love to drink airag, a vodka-like substance made from fermented mare's milk. Traditionally, the person who gets the last sip from the shared bowl tosses a few drops into the air to bring good luck to the yurt.

On that note, tulgatsgaaya! Cheers, in Mongolian.

Ben's cowboy hats hanging next to the door somehow lend an air of authenticity to the place.

Monday, January 2, 2012

I noticed so many nice things today.

Nice things about the yurt this morning:

Breeze coming in through the screen windows
Yoga mat fit precisely on the rug
Sun spot landed next to yoga mat so Molly could sunbathe while I did yoga
A sense of harmony and communication among dogs and people
Ethereal-looking dried out mustard plants shining in the field
Lots of quiet
A sense of permeability between the inside and the outside
Steam rising from the tea kettle
Collected 3 big eggs
Food to eat in the fridge, bought for me by Ben
Windows open, heater off
Warm sunlight on wood
The sound of one of the young roosters learning to crow for the first time (mixed feelings about this one)
Time spent wondering why roosters crow so early and so loud
Even the chickens seem relaxed
Beautiful new Christmas gifts
Glistening green grass

Endless to-do list forming in head
Woke up feeling anxious
Overdrafted bank account somehow
Out of cereal and bread
A hen (Eva) is brooding but I don't know whether I can handle more chicken poop
Want to go on walks but worried about coyotes and leaving Grushka behind
Only one more year left as a twenty-something
The ever-present challenge of wanting to be a better yoga teacher
No bathroom

I am proud that hardly any of the items on the "challenge" list are yurt-related problems. If I had made a list last week, the entire list would have been yurt-related. I feel satisfied that I have been able to take on the responsibility for my own happiness by fixing what bothered me. Having a comfortable home is more important than I've ever realized. Perhaps cleaning and decorating are not the banal domestic chores I've always thought they were. My mind feels decluttered and my breath is more relaxed.

I think I'm being honest when I say that my worries don't feel quite so overwhelming when they are contained in this spaciousness. I am in love with the yurt right now. It feels like a safe haven. Protected, yet open.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I cleaned the yurt.

I had the time and inspiration to clean the yurt this week, with the idea of preparing myself for the new year. I moved into the yurt with much more stuff than I needed, which created clutter and frustration that I could never find anything. I'm storing and giving away a lot of things, which feels incredibly freeing. With less stuff, there is less choice about what to wear or read or do. For me, who often gets paralyzed by choice, less choice equals less stress.

Starting with the kitchen, we made big changes. We ordered two clip-lamps to make it look less like camping. We ordered a bigger refrigerator to replace the previous dorm-sized one. I put a teetering pile of dishes into storage. It is much easier to improvise with few dishes than have excessive dishes collecting dust and taking up space.

In the yurt, the key to staying sane is to embrace the challenges. I've learned this lesson from the field mice. When we first noticed their scampering, I was dismayed and a little revolted. We cleaned everything, and they came back. So we cleaned again, deeper this time, and still they returned. Finally, I set out to buy traps--I had enough mornings waking up to little drops of poop.

When I got to the store, though, I couldn't bring myself to buy the fatal traps. Luckily, Ace Hardware carries a trap with the persuasive name, "HavAHeart," that captures them alive. I've caught three cute field mice like this three nights in a row and we've driven each one about a half a mile away, hoping they won't be able to find the yurt again. In the trap they look so scared and innocent that I can't feel disgusted anymore.

Now, I appreciate the mice. Their presence just means that we are living very close to the outdoors, with less separation between us and nature. They find the yurt warm and inviting, just like we do.We can have a clean, pleasant space yet still coexist with these creatures.

Here are some pictures so you can see our warm, cozy home:

Stella, Molly, Grushenka...and our first Christmas tree. I'm usually too cool for Christmas trees and Christmas music but something about the yurt required both. We decorated with hydrangea blossoms. A rose hair clip was the star on top.
The yurt looking very much like a cottage in a storybook. Doesn't it seem like there should be talking animals somewhere? Foxes carrying baskets and rabbits who drink tea?

Stella and Molly resting together today after the festivities. May your New Year be this heartwarming.