This Water Lives in Mombasa

April 19, 2016

DH and I have always loved the movie Out of Africa. One of my favorite bits is an exchange between Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) and her servant, Farah (Malick Bowens). Early in the film, Karen is overseeing the damming of a river for her new coffee plantation. Farah shakes his head, warning her, “This water lives in Mombasa.” She pays no attention.

However, near the end of the film, her dreams destroyed by fire and then sudden flooding, Karen finally gives up and puts her hand on Farah’s arm to stop his effort to repair the broken dam. “Let it go,” she tells him. “Let it go. This water lives in Mombasa, anyway.”

I have always thought it was a perfect expression of the idea that nature will win in the end.

Three years ago Damon and I spent a sweaty day with a chainsaw and cut all the small trees off this slope except the white birches. I burned truckloads of black cherry saplings and balsams. Since then I’ve had no time to pay the slope any attention.

This land wants to be balsams.


Last summer I had planned to transplant many of the balsams to other places on the farm and pull the rest, but as usual my list was too long.


I have always known that the minute I no longer have the energy to combat nature’s intention, these hard-won, cleared acres will start to go back to trees. Maps from the 1940s show my land as pasture. When I bought the two pieces in 2003 and 2005, the towering forest was so thick it couldn’t be walked.

For the moment I have a perfect little balsam nursery. Again my plan is to move many of them this spring and summer.


It’s on the list. We shall see if I can be successful — even temporarily.

This water lives in Mombasa.


April 18, 2016


For several days the weather has been bright, sunny, and in the 60s. Perfect for working outside. Everything is still brown and dormant. It’s easy to see all the problems.

The frost-heaved fence posts. The fallen trees and broken branches that have to be collected and dragged to the burn pile. The sagging snow fence that has to be pulled, rolled, and stored away. The mud holes. The overgrown gardens. The rocks everywhere!


Every year at this season I long desperately to have a solid week to spend outdoors, getting a jump on the chores before the land turns green and the weeds and blackberry brambles swarm up to take over, hiding and complicating everything.

But I am Tantalus and no matter how much I yearn, this vision always eludes me. Every year I face the reality that spring is my busiest teaching season and I have no time. Now, with the need to walk the dogs for an hour after work, I have less time than ever.

As the dogs and I cross the back field to the state trails, I do my best to take mental notes for my list.


Now that it’s light so early, though, I’m considering trying to squeeze in the dog walk at 7 AM, so that in the afternoon I can buckle down.

Seven Months Away? Really?

April 16, 2016

I hadn’t realized so much time had passed.

Last fall nearly broke me.

A house move, mostly done by me, mostly alone (a few days in, Kyle was hired away by the husband of a colleague), under intense pressure, while working. The exhaustion and grief of dismantling sixteen years of living, revisiting reminders of lost loved ones and lost optimism. The realization that I had made a mistake with college visits and raised hopes that were financially impossible. Finally, an attack on my teaching, and by extension, an attack on my moral self. To have all this on the heels of a terrible winter of intense cold and death and change and loss brought me to a low ebb.

I felt alone and completely beaten, as if every decision I had ever made in my adult life had been a mistake. I would look around the farm, my dream, and think,”What a stupid dream.”

It’s safe to say I was depressed.

However, since Christmas I have slowly turned a corner and climbed back out of the black hole.

We had a freakish, almost snow-less winter. It was terrible for skiers but a rest for me at a time when I had little energy. Naturally, this was the first winter I had invested in and installed snow fences. This gave me a small smile.

Stash, my bouncy standard poodle puppy, required long walks most days all winter to stay sane. Stash, Toby, and I went out in ice, snow, wind, and rain. It was good for me. Who can stay glum when a dog is capering with happiness?

Having fewer animals in the barn (8 ewes instead of 14, 2 steers instead of 10, and 2 cows but no calvings) meant less work and, with the warmer temperatures and some luck, zero sleepless emergencies.

During my March break from school, I had the first days of real relaxation I could remember in five years. Several times I lay on our bed and read a book! A small voice in my brain said, This is a good thing. Take note.

Now spring is here. The farm is waking from the long winter. The robins are back. Soon the dead brown fields will flush green and the buds will be out on the trees. I look around and in my mind I see all the chores ahead.

I know I’m better when I realize I can’t wait to start tackling it.

A lot is up in the air for me right now. I was warned in January that my job might be cut due to budget constraints; I should learn within the month. I knew moving to this lake house that I would have to move us out in the summers; we may cram into the farm for eight weeks and then return, or we may need to move somewhere else entirely — that, too, is unclear. I’m working with a builder to see if I can come up with an affordable house plan for the farm and with a financial advisor to see if I can come up with a plan to pay for it. Nothing is obvious or easy, but one step after another.

I have my yellow pad and I’m making my list. I’m back!