Is there anything better than the taste and smell of citrus on a cold February morning? One slice in and my whole kitchen is instantly filled with a blend of sweet and sour, melding into a zesty combination that is pure sunshine. I have been fortunate for much of my adult life to have fresh-squeezed at the start of my day. Certainly this is a privileged luxury in my northeast corner in winter. For the last decade of my mother’s life, one of her first tasks when she arrived in Jupiter, Florida, each January, was to order a big box of honey-bell oranges and ruby-red grapefruits straight from the fruit grove to be mailed to us. Despite the constant snowy vista beyond our window, this liquid gold is the certain elixir that keeps us believing that Spring will come, eventually.
The whole of my external world would fit every Frozen location set if need be. Snowbanks line my drive, icicles hang from the eaves, and everything is stuck in stillness. A weak sun battles the fairly constant cloud cover, as we dash about in fairly constant flurries. The temperature this past week fought to even reach single digits, and the windchill only added to the instinct to hibernate. But venture out we must. Adding layer upon layer folks find a way to get outside, to ski and take advantage of the snow in any possible way. The woods are filled with trails and ring with voices even as that north wind bites through our insulated gloves. Northerners have a well-earned hearty reputation, and I find inspiration being among so many who get outdoors regardless of what weather one must contend with.
To keep one’s mindset in the positive it is important to keep fueling yourself with all sorts of activities, outside when possible, and inside when not. There is something about moving that just makes you feel better. “Endorphins are only one of many neurotransmitters released when you exercise. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood” (healthline). The science of the brain spells it all out, but the real trick is finding movement that makes you smile while doing it. For me, time on the mat or in the pool are just as uplifting as a swift run. Daily, I set my schedule to include something physical, with enough time to feel fabulous afterwards.
And then there is what you put into your body. Even during the winter months we try to fuel ourselves with as much local and nutritious food as possible. The farm up the road sells eggs, another is a four-season veggie provider; keeping green in our diet, keeping seasonal and local a priority, and planning our meals, all work together to maintain health. The proverbial saying ‘You are what you eat‘ is just truth. In winter it is easy to eat heavy, and while that might feel comforting, we do include some extra summer-like salads to lighten too.
I am lucky to live with a brilliant and ambitious illuminator. Every December our home gets a chance to shine in the darkness, and we leave those lights going well into January, which just makes me happier at the end of a long day when I drive up the hill. I imagine all the weary travelers feeling the same way, and that just adds to my joy. It isn’t about flash or show, it is only a little sparkle, a subtle twinkle, and then, you take an easier breath.
Don’t forget to treat yourself too. There are days when looking out at the wind, and deciding to curl up with a book and some cocoa would just bring all the rest and relaxation of a spa day to your house-bound day. Take good care my dears. Fuel yourself for those long summer days by living well right now. With marshmallows too.
Growing up in suburban New Jersey, our open places were mostly golf courses, an occasional park and a random old graveyard. Of course there were patches of trees or cliffy areas that broke up the continuous housing or industry, but little open land like those I have grown accustomed to in rural Vermont. My dad was a man who needed to roam a bit, especially after a day in surgery and the hectic commute from New York City to our suburban New Jersey town. He walked the nearby golf course daily, even in the winter months, cutting through under the clustered oaks and evergreens which formed a respite from the sprawl. On occasion I would tag along, and it was here, in these mini-woods, that he taught me to sit in silence. Not the kind of stillness that one finds in Vermont forests, but at times, as the wind picked up, you could be transported momentarily into a peace. Now, as I leave my work place in the afternoons, I too look for that same solace from the natural world. So much of our open land is in jeopardy. For once these small and struggling family-owned dairy farms are gone, so will the grazing pastures, the hay fields, even the acres of corn that have shaped our iconic New England landscape.
The art teacher and myself, along with a young woman from the Lamoille County Conservation, brought a bus load of students to visit four farms, the first that has been in the same family for generations. We stood watching as the mist settled down low and the spine of the Green Mountains appeared and disappeared and appeared again. As the farmer talked about his favorite part of the day, starting at 4:00 am, he described walking the cows out to pasture just as the sun rose and the whole sky filled with light. It was a daily gift that he prized, for decades and decades, seven days a week, and, when he described it, his face lifted with sublime joy. There was no one listening who would deny that was indeed a gift.
He talked hardships too. Eight children but maybe not a one who might be able to take on this life style once he is gone. Hundreds of acres all open, all cleared by his herd, and his labor, might be lost. Last winter, one of his barn suffered a roof collapse after a massive snowfall followed by heavy rain. We saw the broken rafters split and still laying helter-skelter in disrepair. Money is tight. Actually, money is nonexistent. We saw that reality etched across his brow too.
We left him smiling as he set to continue his daily routine and boarded the bus to our next farm just a few miles away, in yet another million dollar location. This dairy farm has been run for eight generations. Imagine? Organic milk and maple syrup. At least 1,000 of those taps are into buckets, so that sap is still collected by hand. We heard all about the herd, which are all named. Generations of them too.
Here too there is worry about the future. For a while organic milk seemed to be the answer to the low prices, and many small farms made the switch, but now, with all the nut and other varieties of “milk” these farms are struggling each day, each eighteen hour day, all seven days in the week.
No matter where you looked while touring the local farms, you saw labor. In the very pregnant cow waiting for her delivery, and in the continual raking and haying and cleaning and milking and feeding this life demands. Once again, we listened to these (female) farmers talk about raising children on the farm, the happiness they felt having their children working along side of them, the pride they have in the work, the endless hope they have, despite the way the numbers are always sliding into the red. One of the women talked about her drive to create the best quality organic milk, from the happiest cows, cows that could just live like cows. As we drove from one farm to the next, the farmers began to echo each other. They all voiced how they just wanted “to create the best of the best.”
“It’s not an easy way to live, but it’s a good way.”
“If you can be happy enough, you can carve out a good life.”
“Driving a tractor outdoors on a beautiful day, you just can’t beat that.”
So, how do you thank a farmer? For starters, find out where they sell what they are producing, and buy local. Perhaps pop in and see what a barn looks like, and what it takes to keep that whole enterprise standing, along with all those acres required to feed their herds. After that, think of them when you vote.