Tag Archives: trees

The view that clears my head

Conversations in my Head

“Man keeps looking for a truth that fits his reality. Given our reality, the truth doesn’t fit.”
―Werner Erhard

It is amazing to me how I always find confirmation for the conversations I have in my head about myself. Cleaning today, I had just enough distance in my brain to really listen to the “complaint” that was going on. The Watcher was listening. A series of events was analyzed and compared by that pattern-seeking-predicting machine in my head and absolute proof found for all the negative things “it” thinks about me. All of those things are “proof positive” that I am – – fill in the blank. Something about cleaning lets my mind free to go over everything time and time again. Maybe that is the reason I am always in a bad mood when I clean.

And suddenly it hit me what I was saying to myself and what that was doing to my mood and maybe my body. Negative thoughts have great power over you physically (there is this a kinesthetic test that shows it really accurately that I do with my students all the time) and I have been feeling unwell lately. How much is it because of the running complaint in my head? And I know from the classes I have done with Landmark Education that what you think, how you interpret a situation is not necessarily the “truth”. You can change your viewpoint and your interpretation is totally different.

With the sun shining through the golden fall leaves, I decided to change my point of view. Instead of cleaning I am going walking with the dog.

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beech treesThe beech tree forest by my house

Into the Woods

We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.
― Richard Louv

The house I grew up in was near a small river surrounded by some woodland. It was actually called Turtle Creek but in Southern Minnesota no one would every pronounce it creek and we always just called it „the Crick“. We skated on it in the winter when it froze – my younger brother lost his front two teeth playing hockey there – and I remember playing in the long grass and on the bank in the summer. There was even a swimming hole in one bend but I don’t remember ever swimming there. I think my mother thought is was dangerous. I just remember thinking it was too scary to swim there and watched other kids do it with the hair standing up on the back of my neck.

We never played down by the crick at night. There were animals in the area, mice and deer, I am sure, opossums, I think. I know there were at least grass snakes because I kneeled on one once and got my sock all full of blood. I promptly burned my sox because I was in the long grass smoking my mother’s cigarettes – I must have been about 8 at the time – and I didn’t want her to know I had been there. Somehow she never noticed the missing sox. At least I don’t have a memory of getting yelled at.

I remember climbing trees and playing hide and seek and watching the water. I think we spent quite a bit of time there, at least when we were younger. At some point the marsh and river lost their mystery and we played mostly in other peoples yards – kick the can, capture the flag and war were the usual choices. I only remember that we didn’t go down to the crick anymore. No real idea why not.

Now I live again near a woodland, this time with a small stream. Again there is wild life in the woods, foxes and deers. There is also wild boar but they mostly sleep all day. And mice and snakes but the snakes aren’t poisonous. There are also large toads and salamanders because there is a marsh around the stream where they breed. And all the other miriade of creatures that populate nature. What there are not is children. In the five years I have lived here, I have never seen any child playing in the woods. Not a single one. And I walk in the woods a couple of times a day.

Some of the teenagers in town go into the woods to drink but rarely. I sometimes see their garbage laying in out of the way clearings. Maybe they don’t need to hide their drinking from their parents as much as we did. Underage drinking seems to be tolerated in Germany maybe in part because they can only get a driver’s license when they are 18. At any rate, of all the children in this little town who are the age we were when we spent virtually every free moment outside and racing through the woods, none of them do it.

Has the world changed that much? Are the things you can do at home, watch TV, play on the computer, talk on the computer, are all of these things more interesting to children these days than they were all those years ago? Is the fantasy and mystery of nature something you only see from the comfort of your living room even if the real thing is just outside your door?

Or is parent’s fear of what could happen to their children if they are not within sight gotten so great that they don’t allow their children to play in the woods? There are „dangerous“ wild animals and the local hunter seems to hunt pretty often but still. I never see them at the edges of the forest, exploring the stream, looking for salamanders, catching toads. Never. It might be a cultural thing. German housewives (can you use that term anymore?) are very conscious of dirt. Actually, I mean OCD about dirt. Our neighbor behind us hoses his dog down in the yard every time he takes it for a walk because otherwise it would bring in too much dirt. (Imagine that in an area where it basically rains every day so all the paths are mud tracks and you know how much work that man takes on!) Maybe the kids aren’t allowed in the marsh because they would come home covered in dirt – God forbid!

It is for me a „puzzlement“. But maybe the world has just changed so much I don’t recognize childhood anymore. Could be.

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Our Firewood from 2014 with older wood behind

Making a Fire

People love chopping wood. In this activity one immediately sees results.
Albert Einstein

When we bought our house, Wolfgang’s cousin Amin, a carpenter, suggested that we buy a wood burning stove to help with the heating. Our heating system uses a gas heater to heat the water that goes through the system and heats the radiators. The idea was that heating the water with a wood burner would reduce our heating costs. We ordered an Italian stove with ceramic plates over the water pockets through which the water flows and Wolfgang said he would like to chop wood every year. So far so good.

The first problem came up when we found out that the chimney that is in the house couldn’t be used because at some point former renters punched out the walls and put an iron beam right through the chimney. It made it so narrow that even putting a stainless steel chimney inside it would not be accepted by the inspector. So even though we already have one chimney on the side of the house, we had to put up another stainless steel chimney on another side.

We hired someone from the internet to connect the word burner to the heater system. We were in the middle of renovating the house and were pretty much running around. The heater guy would show up and the first thing he would do is drink a coffee and smoke 3 or 4 cigarettes on the balcony and chat with Wolfgang. At least a couple of times, I would come out and say with lots of agitation, “Don’t we want to get started?” This guy told us he was about to buy a million Euro house and yada yada ya. He was supposed to be the head of a big service but he drove a van without a name or emblem off of it. This guy made me nuts.

In the end, I had to get my Italian speaking student to translate the instructions for the heater – which came only in Italian, really thinking internationally there guys! – and the heater guy stared at the instructions for what seemed like hours. Eventually the thing was in but then there was this piece that needed to be changed to make it better and then that piece. The cost of it all was half again as much has he told it would be in the beginning. We continued to have problems with the system and were trying to get him to come and fix it and then his wife called and said he had a stroke and would be out of commission for a while.

We still have problems with the system. Apparently the gas heater was put in wrong, or at least that is what the 5(!!!) different heater companies have told us that have come to look at the system to get it right. They have all said that they would think about how to fix it and send an estimate. Only one company actually sent an estimate. The rest seem to have just given up on ever getting it right. We have decided to kind of make do until we need to replace the gas heater. It is already ten years old.

That being said, the focus of our lives from January to April has become getting the wood “in”, that means out of the forest. We order about 10 cubic meters of wood every year and it has to be out before the wild animals start to give birth in the spring. The Forester has the trees chopped down for the people who order them and then the purchasers have to cut them into smaller pieces and transport them from wherever they are in the woods to their house. In the beginning we didn’t have an all-road vehicle but the car with a trailer worked pretty well. Then one year the wood was on a very steep slope far away from a drivable path. Wolfgang bought a large bag and carried over a ton of wood down the hill and over the brook on his back. Then as the time was getting short, he asked me to help. I “helped” one day and I said, “This is crap! We are buying a Quad if we have to rob a bank to do it!” The Quad makes the work significantly easier but Wolfgang got a name in the village after that year of “the Sufferer”.

We also have a reputation for having the most wood in the village because we heat the water all year with wood and have to have up to two years of wood drying and we store it all in our yard. Others tend to store it in the fields around. It has all paid off though. Our heating bill is less than half of our neighbors. And wood heat is somehow “warmer” than gas. At least it seems so.

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Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!
– Robert Browning

Last November with the first cold snap there was silence in the woods. I had never really noticed it in previous winters. Maybe because this winter has been so mild the chorus of bird song that greets me every morning when I walk the dog up the nearest hill never seemed to die down, it was just suddenly gone. It was kind of a shock. One of those, you never miss it till… things.

I cherish my morning walks (even though sometimes I trudge up that hill like an old steam engine although it is really not that high). There is hardly anyone about. Those who have to work are already gone into the city; those that don’t have to work so early are still in bed. We are often greeted by the remnants of the wild boars nightly feast – the ground torn up and pushed around – or by a few deer trying to feed before the woods fill with dog walkers or nordic walkers or lumber men. The animals in the forest seem calmer this year. Maybe because the hunt that usually happens twice a year only happened once this year. Apparently, with the weather so mild it is hard to get the animals to run. When the hunt comes, the energy in the whole forest changes and it disturbs me. Maybe it is just in my imagination but I try to not be at home on those days and take the dog with me if I can.

But the thing is, here it is only the end of February and the walnut tree and the other early flowering trees are starting to bud. The bird songs are in full chorus. I can see a hint of green on some of the bushes and it isn’t just moss. Something lifts my spirits and opens my heart. There is something wonderful in the change of seasons. Let it come.

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Fairytale Land out my window

Finding a Fairytale

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
William Butler Yeats

The world – as seen from the window where I write this – is a fairytale land. There is a series of ponds in front of my house where the grey heron spends his time. I often see him gracefully swooping to find a landing place among the tall reeds and sometimes the storks join him for a rest on their long journey back and forth across Europe. In the fall, the buck bellows his lovelorn call and in the spring, the deer give birth to their fawns in the tall grass of the swamp just a few feet from our front gate. The woods are full of wild boar and I even saw a badger once waddling down the street. The woodpecker staccato greets me in the morning, the hawk cries over the fields in the daytime, and owl hoots at night. Yes, it is quiet enough to hear all of these things even though we only live about a half hour from the biggest airports in continental Europe. I walk out the door and in less than a minute I am surrounded by trees and wildlife.

Even the people here seem somehow out of a fairytale. I can see my neighbor down the hill as she brushes her long, beautiful blond hair at her window every morning like Rapunzel. There is local guitar builder who builds bass guitars for some of the great players in the world who I see almost every day looking like a homeless man walking his dogs. You would never know how successful he is. Like a lot of small towns – we have under 600 residents – this one is full of characters.

We found this house sort of by accident and a curious synchronicity of events. Wolfgang inherited some money just at the time of the Lehman crisis and went to a State certified investment counselor to ask how he should invest it. She said, buy property; you don’t want to be investing in the stock market at the moment (which turned out to be a mistake but who knew when it seemed like the economic world was crashing down around us). That day literally our landlady called and said that she had to sell the house we were renting from her to fulfill death duties and would we want to buy it. It was a row house in the city in a not great neighborhood but with all the conveniences so we considered it in part because she named a very reasonable price. A few days later she raised her price – friends of hers had told her she should ask for more – and we noticed that there was structural damage in the house. And besides we never really wanted to live in the city, so we went looking elsewhere.

We had lived for a short time in a small town outside of Frankfurt and had felt very comfortable there, so we went looking there first and found something in our price range. The house wasn’t particularly nice and the rooms were a funny shape and organization but other houses in that area were much more expensive so we thought it was the best we could do. The only issue was that it was a prefab house from the 70’s. At that time in Germany, they used formaldehyde on the wood slats and asbestos on the outer walls and so we had it all evaluated by an expert for toxins. While we were waiting for the report, I suggested that we continue looking. To tell you the truth I didn’t like the house but I was willing to take it if we couldn’t find something else. I had however seen an ad for another house that peeked my interest. They only showed the view out of one window, but that view was only of tree tops. I wanted to see the rest.

A real estate agent made a plan of several houses for us to see including the mystery house, which turned out to be the first one we saw. I don’t know why but 10 minutes in the house and I knew I wanted to live there. The owner told us that someone else was working to find the financing but he would still accept a bid. We saw the other properties but they just couldn’t compare. We made a bid, it was accepted with a little haggling and we got the keys just a few weeks later. We had to do some renovation – most of which Wolfgang did by himself – including putting in a hardwood floor in the living room and antique terra cotta tiles in the hall but we made it in before we had to be out of the other place. We are still working on the renovations four years later but we’re doing it as we can, when we can.

Some of our friends and my students think we were crazy to move out here. I drive into Frankfurt nearly every day to teach, about a 40 minute drive and when the weather is bad coming up the hill to us its not so easy. A couple times I almost didn’t make it. But when I am here, my soul opens up and my head is clear. And then it is all worth it to live in fairyland.

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