letter to my brother

Dear little brother,

It’s happened. You’ve lived 16 years now. It’s a big time of life. I thought I’d offer some words on the subject, if you’d like to read them.cobys party1

I know it’s kind of strange, having such an older big sister, but there are pros and cons to everything. As for cons, I don’t have cute friends to bring around and flirt with you. I’m not up to date on your generation, necessarily. But the pro is that I have had twenty three years of experience past your present age to reflect on LIFE and tell you about it and I’m still your sister, the only one you’ve got. So here goes…

Things can get pretty weird in the teenage and early adult years. Just saying, if that’s the way it is for you, you’re not alone, at all. There’s stuff that goes on in those years that won’t make sense for a real long time, and might never make sense at all. Making sense of it will be up to you. Though some of the details might never be revealed to you, ultimately it will be your job to make peace with your memories. If you can learn to let some things be a mystery for the time being, you’ll sleep better and live more happily.

But living happily isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, so let’s not get hung up on that one. Sometimes life just gets rough. No way around it. Sometimes there are things out of your control that conspire to make you miserable, and sometimes you dig your own holes to fall into. Either way, it happens. But the good part is, it doesn’t last. No matter how much you commit to wallowing in misery, you will also have wonderful opportunities for joy. AND, maybe even more importantly, your rough times will somehow come to serve you, or let you be a service to someone else, down the road. So, if you can, keep your eyes open, even when stuff really sucks, and be open to whatever learning is coming at you by way of your suffering. There’s no knowing what will become valuable to you as time goes on.

One more thing about happiness. It’s great to be happy. And – you’ve got to make room for happiness. It will not just take over. This world, especially the part of it connected to technological, electronic, wi-fi gizmos, goes fast and faster. Joy moves at a more natural pace, like the wind and water, and that deep, satisfying in-your-gut happy feeling really moves more like warm molasses. As I’ve observed the rapidly spreading world of social media, I’ve not observed any real gains in that deep-gut happiness from it. Not to say it isn’t great fun, and amusing. But really – the fun is in YOU, not the machine, game, or website. Fun will come and go. The thing worth pursuing and cultivating is that deep, soul engulfing joy. Try not to forget that.

This next one is hard to hear. I’m only starting to hear it myself. I’ll share it with you in the hope that sometime it will ring true to you, maybe before you’re my age.

There are a great many experiences in life that no one can prepare you for. Having a baby is one of them. The loss of a parent is another. Falling in and out of love are up there, too. No one can prepare you for the intensity of emotion and gut wrenching personal evolutionary work involved in these basic acts of living. At the same time, lots and lots of people will try to prepare you. And you should listen. What they say won’t make sense, and you might just want to shake them off. You might think that you won’t feel the way they felt, or act the way they acted (most of us think this). You might be right. But that doesn’t mean that what people (usually older people) have to share with you isn’t incredibly valuable. No one can BE you. That’s your job alone. No one can know your thoughts, feelings, or reactions to reality, but we can all still learn from each others’ experiences, because we’re all human. It’s a great thing to have in common, and it’s really one of the best tools we have for navigating the bumpy parts of existence.

OK, one more big one. My wish for you is that you will always continue to grow. You have no choice to but change, but positive inner growth is a different matter. Like happiness, you may have to give it some attention. Always growing doesn’t mean that you’ll never hold a steady job. It just means that you can come to see your life in different lights as time progresses. It means you can adjust the way you treat yourself and relate to others according to the situation at hand. I like to think of it as a resilience of the soul.

One thing about growing is that it will keep you humble. From where I am now, rapidly approaching forty years along, I can look back at myself in many times, places, and experiences and shake my head at my own antics. There was so much I didn’t know – so many mistakes I made. I know more now. But I’m not done, and there’s little doubt in my mind that I’m still making some dumb mistakes. Later, I can shake my head about them. Hopefully, I’ll know better by then than I do now, and I’ll still be learning. No matter how much we learn, there’s always more lessons on the way.

There’s a line to walk, here, between propelling yourself forward and beating yourself up. Though there are a few choice episodes that really make me wince to recall, mostly I am able to see my younger self with eyes of compassion. It’s important not to drag yourself down in the muck of an ignorant past. Live through it, push yourself to learn from it, and forgive yourself. It’s good to practice that. With practice, you’ll get better at it as time goes on.

Jesus talks a lot about love. Dad uses the word compassion more. Don’t worry about semantics, but please, do think about love and compassion. I’m not talking about hearts and flowers romance. Cultivating a basic warmth, a solid love, for yourself, will protect your heart and mind from many potential pitfalls and heartsickness. I know you have love, because you are loved. My hope for you is that you use the love given to you from the unconditional base of our family, no matter how unconventional we may be, to build yourself a good, strong life, all your own. I hope you will be compassionate towards yourself and others, steadfast when the storms of life rage, and confident in the goodness that will come from many years of a life well lived.

Otherwise, work hard in school, play hard all the rest of the time, be patient with your folks, have fun with your friends,and always drive carefully. And even if I seem like an old fuddy duddy dinosaur of a sister, know that you ARE my brother, and nothing will change that. I’m here for you. It’s been wonderful fun for me to watch you grow up, and I’m sure that the ride will only get more interesting.Chief Coby and Coree Dec 2003

With love,


working in the round

IMG_6045I love knitting in the round. I especially love big not-so-fancy projects that allow me to go round and round and round in mesmerizing circles. Bless the soul that figured out connecting two wooden sticks with a string (aka circular knitting needles) to avoid all of the back and forth stuff. Yep, circles are where it’s at. And then, when you start connecting these circles, a few stitches here, a few stitches there, form develops. Usable, functional form (well, hopefully). Sometimes it feels a bit like magic.IMG_6047

Today, while cooking down some more maple sap (Yes, more. You must think I do nothing else at this point!) I was trying very hard to finish up a pair of mittens in between moments of stoking the fire and skimming the sap. They are still not finished… maybe because I was also preparing four pizzas (from scratch, wood-fired), tending three little people, assisting Eric with his current project, and whatever other distractions befell me. Anyhow, in my moments of actual knitting and in my moments of thinking about my knitting, I found myself pondering circles. And the beauty of interlocking circles. And the amazing creations that can occur when circles come together and expand:IMG_6059

There is an area of the farm, a small amount of bottomland that borders the big creek and which rises to a lovely little hill (we call it Persimmon Hill) that we have a vision for. It’s a terribly overgrown area of the farm that we are wanting to reclaim as more domesticated space because of the close proximity to our house, the loveliness of the site, the fertile soil of the bottom (far more fertile than our gardens!) and the magnificent view of the creek. Well, last winter Eric started clearing a bit. Cutting out less desirable tree species to encourage the timber and mast-producing species. As trees were felled, they were cut into manageable lengths and then piled up to be burned later. Then winter turned to spring; clearing project abandoned as farmer turned to his gardens.

Now, this winter the work on this long-term clearing and domesticating project has resumed to a small degree, but there’s a new twist. Handily enough, the wood that was cut last year and piled up happened to be (mostly) just the right length for the maple syrup making in our new system this year. So the clearing project has the added bonus of providing fuel for the maple syrup. Now two totally separate projects have become intertwined with the other, providing more incentive in both cases. My bell is ringing loudly here. But this circle is nowhere near completion yet, so I’ll go on.IMG_6069

So the wood was cut, gathered and brought to the maple syrup fire. That fire was stoked and stoked and kept incredibly hot. But at the end of the day, when the syrup moves indoors for finishing, we still have a gigantic bed of coals with lots of life and heat left in them. One shovelful gets transferred to the cookstove in the house to get that fire going quickly. Then, Eric shovels the rest of the coals (a mighty hot job!) into a steel barrel, drapes a thick wet cloth over, and puts the lid on tightly to seal out the oxygen. Viola! Our own biological charcoal or “bio-char”. This is a very stable form of carbon which makes a superb soil amendment and which we use in our gardens and our potting mix. Last year, our bio-char making was an isolated event requiring it’s own fire, time, and considerable effort. Now it has become an integrated component of the expanding circle of our farm and, inseparably, our lives. Did I mention that my bell is ringing?IMG_6063

(As an aside, once the coals are mostly removed from the fire pit but while it is still good and warm, Ira gets a mess of sweet potatoes for baking in the ashes. Supper gets cooked, too. That’s my boy.)

The clearing project fuels the maple syrup making. The maple syrup making creates the bio-char. The bio-char feeds the soil. The soil feeds the plants. The plants feed us, giving us the energy to get back to the clearing project… I know I’ve neglected to mention many nuances in this process, but you get the idea. Circles.IMG_6052