where i’ve been

let me preface this post with a recognition of all those that live to the north of me. folks that get buried in snow from late fall and don’t dig out until the spring. you are hardy souls. maybe you have snow shoes and cross county skis and snow mobiles and all kinds of gear that help you enjoy the stark beauty that a long, cold, white winter can be.

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we live in kentucky. we dwell in the land of mild winters. we farm fields that provide us food well into winter and usually allow us to work the earth in march. with high tunnels, hoop houses and row cover we can eat from our gardens year round. really. we are temperate folks, heck, some of us even fled home places in Michigan and Illinois and Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

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the conditions of the past week have been, shall we say, a challenge around here. in a day long blizzard one week ago we saw one full foot of snow on the ground. the accumulation was something we had never seen in our 16 years here and a most unwelcome surprise to our visiting relatives from boston (most of you know boston is nearing record snow fall this season and our dearest family was none too impressed with kentucky’s records falling on their mid winter vacation!) we could have settled into the extreme beauty that followed such precipitation, the bluest of skies, the snowy reflection of the sun when she returned the next day. but, the temperatures dropped, and i mean dropped. the rest of the week saw daytime highs barely above zero and back to back night time lows in our hollow of minus twenty.

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we suffered some losses with the extreme conditions. in the midst of it all, we had a mama pig give birth and despite our best efforts she lost more than half of her litter. our wool warmed sheep made it through (so far) but we lost some of the most fragile lambs on those blistery nights. such losses are hard to bear and you lay awake at night wondering if there could have been more done.

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mainly,  the week can be summarized as a series of extreme challenges met and many powerful positive lessons learned.  cousin love is dear. high tunnels are a wonderful playground for young and old alike. we are very blessed.

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most importantly, we learned we are secure. we had absolutely no reason to venture out on unsafe roads. our life and life’s work is all right here. despite the shoulder pain from hauling hundreds of gallons of water for the livestock, forget the sore muscles from packing bale after bale of hay, we felt so good. our pantries and cellar are both still stocked, the greens in the high tunnels still thrive. our wood pile, although dwindling, still has some depth. our overall anxiety as conditions remained challenging, was truly, relatively, minimal. the forecast calls for more bitter weather ahead. we are getting a bit of cabin fever admittedly, but how could we not? luckily, cabin fever is  easily cured. board games. knitting. hot cocoa. the other ills, ultra dependence on a remote food supply, long daily commutes.children in centralized schools. public transit failures. these ails don’t touch us.  for that, today, i am very thankful.

snowtunnel

 

 

frozen, on thin ice

Let me preface this post by saying that I am not a neuroscientist. Neither am I a big Disney fan. I’m more like the opposite of both of those things. My only explanation for what I’m doing, writing about this, is that its a coping mechanism, both for the long chilly snowy week we’ve had at home, and for the phenomenon of the Disney film Frozen.icicles

It’s amazing that all of our farm daughters have caught the bug. These kids don’t go to movie theaters. They don’t have much media access at all, but Disney nailed this one so well, it only takes one little dose, and the spell is cast.

Each time our girls see each other, they start to work on the next performance. They perform the story of Frozen – or as much as we give them time to. They know the words to the songs – a lot of them, by heart – and what’s even more disturbing to me – they get it. It nearly brings me to tears to watch them. They are so beautiful, and so innocent, but they bring the emotional intensity of the songs into full play.IMGP0246

So, let’s look at Elsa. The eldest sister – destined to be queen. She has a power to freeze. While having some fun with her abilities as a child, she accidentally freezes her little sister, Anna.  After that, she lives in fear of her power and sequesters herself from society so as not to be dangerous to her family and her people. No one knows about her power except her parents who die in a shipwreck (anyone else see that coming?) and the trolls (more on them later) who first helped heal little Anna.

Then, when provoked by her sister on the eve of her coronation, she blows her top, and all the ice comes pouring out. Elsa goes into “fight or flight” mode. As I see it, she represents the workings of the sympathetic nervous system. She lashes out as much as she needs to, then runs away. The kingdom is plunged into an endless winter and she heads out for the mountains on her own.

But it works. The sympathetic nervous system is a key part of our survival. Once Elsa has made it to the mountain, things turn around. She builds a beautiful ice palace and embraces her power. She sings this emotionally, musically, and vocally compelling song (“Let It Go” in case you haven’t heard) and transforms from a scared young woman to a sexy snow queen.

The overall message: a woman who engages her personal power is beautiful. I dig that. I just don’t dig Disney’s version of attractive (big eyes, big boobs, low neck dress, tiny waist, and so on.), especially in the context of aggressive sales to pre-teen girls, including our daughters. elsa-in-disney-frozen-wallpapers

Part of the job of the sympathetic nervous system is to remove us from danger. Once we survive, we can grow. Elsa couldn’t grow until she broke out of her fear and restriction and came into her power.

Funny how some distance makes everything look small,

and the fears that once controlled me

can’t get to me at all….

let the storm rage on.

The cold never bothered me anyway.

(Sing it, sister!)

Let’s go back to the little sister Anna, now. She was too young to remember the unfortunate ice incident that sent her sister into hiding, so she has lived a lonely life, wanting friends. For the sake of my thought stream, I’m going to equate Anna’s activities with the parasympathic nervous system, which is more deeply related to the “rest and digest” and “feed and breed” activities.Hans_-_Anna_Heart

Anna seeks connection. She falls head over heels for that wretched Prince Hans over the course of a single song. She’s so sure she’s ready to marry him. But sometimes “Love Is an Open Door” that leads to nowhere. (Again – this is an important message for maturing girls – I’m not convinced that it’s appropriate for the 4 to 10 year old crowd.) Fortunately, Elsa, the sympathetic nervous system, dampens Anna’s party by forbidding her to marry him before she freaks out and calls in the big ice.

The parasympathetic nervous system does what it will do, though, and as Anna heads out to find her sister and reason with her, she tosses carrots to Kristoff and Sven (man and reindeer), befriending her way up to the ice castle. Even though the meeting with her sister does not go so well and she ends up getting a shard of ice in her heart, her natural impulse toward communication and connectivity does not fail her. The kindness she has extended toward others keeps her afloat during difficult, and cold, times.

elsa anna

The deal is that these two elements of the nervous system are not antagonistic. Even though they are very different, they are complimentary. They work together, and we need them to work together to keep us safe and healthy. Either one left on it’s own can create imbalance and havoc. Hence, Anna’s poor romantic choices and Elsa’s fear and isolation. The troll characters – magical, wise, and earthy – are my favorite part of the movie, by far. In their song “Fixer Upper” they say it pretty clearly:

People make bad choices,

if they’re mad or scared or stressed.

But throw a little love their way

and you’ll bring out their best.

Ultimately, the love of the sisters IS the true love needed to save the day. Love, true unconditional love, is the balm and the glue that heals us and makes us whole.

I have no problem with that message at all.