October,5 1971 + Saratoga Springs, NY
Linda was definitely in labor at our Park Street apartment, Doctor Carrasavos attending. We had done La maze training together and planned a secret home delivery, so my dear Mother would not worry, or worry less. Linda was very stoic and composed through her pregnancy. She, of course, was fasting to ease delivery. I fasted too, in solidarity. I got sick, queasy, faint. Not Linda, me. What a sorry display! "Eat", she said "Eat. I need you with me." So I did, feeling like a guilty mouse nibbling cheese meant for someone who had earned it.
Sarah Dylan Gill was born at home, a little after midnight, October 5. Linda was incredible, like an ancient peasant woman: strong, resourceful and natural. I did my part, but it was all Linda. Sarah was perfectly formed, healthy, robust, and beautiful. Linda and I felt very proud and we were filled with joy. The love between Linda and I got deeper and deeper.
I was a student at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs. In the spring of 1974, I received my BA in Biology Education. At long last, after 12 years, 30,000 miles, an honorary discharge, and marriage, Frog got his vindication, of sorts. This BA turned out to be very important in years to come and helped open doors I could never have imagined in 1974.
April, 1977 + Wellington, Maine
It was a glorious early spring Maine day: sunny, crisply chilly, and cloudless. Wellington was suffering yet another interminable mud season. Where ever thick lawn or deep grass was not, mud was. Oozy, slippery, slick, and unmanageable mud in every shade from light brown to brown to dark brown to black. Mud found its way everywhere. There was mud on shoes and boots, mud tracked all over floors downstairs and upstairs and on stairs, mud in kitchens and pantries and bathrooms and bedrooms and living rooms and dining rooms, mud in barns and sheds and garages and stores and schools, mud on back seats and front seats and tires and wheel wells and windshield of cars and trucks and buses and skidders and motorcycles and four wheelers, mud in garden and orchards and greenhouses and cold frames and hot houses and ice houses and cemeteries, mud in deciduous woods and coniferous forests, mud in front yards and back yards, mud in driveways and causeways and hay fields and pastures and stables and corrals and folds, mud along rivers and lakes and streams and creeks and springs. There was a lot of mud.
Some select locations, such as each and every dirt road, including Taylor Cememtay Road had mud six to eight inches deep in placers. No vehicle could make it to our home, except maybe an Army tank. We were exactly one tank short and neither we nor Sarah's school bus driver would ever entertain the idea of trying the trek. I would hoist Sarah onto my shoulders and walk alongside our road through the mud to its end where the bus would stop for her, about a mile from our house.
I was relatively young and very fit then and Sarah was six and easy to carry. We chatted of wizards and talking animals and dwarfs and elves and the natural things we saw. We were attuned to the beautiful panorama around us as Maine began coming out of a hard winter into a gentler spring.
Our neighbor and friend Sergent Mike lived at the end of Taylor Cemetery Road. He loved all manner of untamed critters, as he would say, not including hornets, mosquitoes and the like, of course. This tough career Army man in his mid fifties and his lovely mate Caroline had retired and settled down about as far from the military as they could get, excepting the Yukon, perhaps.
Day by day, slowly and patiently, Sergeant Mike had won the trust of two chickadees that lived near his home. When they were around and about, Mike would utter a distinctive combination of a low whistle and a sharper click-click sound. One or both of the sweet gentle birds would invariably fly to him, perching on his outstretched finger for a bit of bread or other snack. This was a Normal Rockwell painting of the first order, a slice of Americana.
I was impressed, to say the least. Sergeant Mike taught me how to do the same. What a treat, to have one of these exquisite little chirpers sitting on my finger, its tiny heart beating rapidly, its head bobbing up and down, and its beak pecking at the gift I always brought.
On the day at hand, Sarah was on my shoulders as we plodded along Mudville Road on a breezy, typically chilly morning. We made our way out of the deep woods, past Taylor cemetery, past the unnamed creek that flowed under our road, past the clearing Sergent Mike had made for his one-horse logging business, up the steep incline of the hill where water flowed freely on the bedrock surface, and onto the flat about one hundred yards from the school bus pick-up site. It was always an adventurous challenge to get Sarah to our beloved community school during mud season.
When we approached Chickadee Lane, I set her down on the rocky road near Sergeant Mike's expansive one-story log house. We mysteriously stopped. I produced some corn crumbs I had hidden and mimicked Sergeant Mike's whistle-click call.
One of the darling birds flew to my outstretched finger, perched there, and nibbled away at the bread crumbs in my palm. Sarah was speechless, hardly able to believe what she was seeing. She gazed at my like i was Saint Francis the Bird tamer. I urged her to give the call a try. She did. Sue enough, the other delightful, trusting little creature landed on her six year old finger with its delicate bird feet gently clutching onto her. She was transfixed with wonder and awe.
She had become a child like Lucy of our beloved Narnia, Princess Sarah Bird Charmer. What a truly marvelous experience to share between father and daughter. The bond of love and family grew even stronger. She asked me to promise not to tell Mom.
Immediately after jumping excitedly from my shoulders onto the ground when she returned from school, she ran at top speed straight to the house. "Mom, you won't believe it!" With that, she breathlessly told the whole story to her wide-eyed Mom. Sarah's eyes shone with pure delight. Her hands moved furiously as she expressed her joy and wonderment.
April-May, 1977 + Wellington, Maine
As we've seen, 1977 brought my life's nadir. My September fall had radically changed my life, once and for all. Linda and Sarah's lives, too, would never be the same. That year also brought an epiphany and, in its way, had lifted me to the zenith of my homesteading days.
Linda, Sarah, and I had made it through the long, tough winter of 1976-77 in our small frame cabin. We considered this quite an accomplishment, being as we were, without a car, electricity, running water, telephone, and washing machine. We had passed many irritable days inside, listening to the howling wind, holed up in very close contact, too close at times.
By March most homesteader types suffer with an aptly named 'Cabin Fever', aka the 'March Crazies'. This was a period of temporary insanity, induced by months and months of being cooped up in small, drafty, and claustrophobic houses of all descriptions: sheds, shacks, tents, huts, garages, tee pees and yurts.
Otherwise solid citizens released pent-up energy by having affairs with the most improbable and incompatible neighbors, some of whom they didn't even like. Folks drank and drugged as if Armageddon were imminent, and hustled hither and yon in a frenzy of bizarre behavior. Everyone expected this, mostly of others, because raw emotion and physical constraints were common and shared among us. Generally speaking, the damage was usually not catastrophic or long lasting. The affairs didn't help much though. Linda and I made it through relatively unscathed.
In April, morning and evenings were cold and mid0days were warmer. We shook off winter lethargy and came out of hibernation. I began composting again. This meant gathering and laying manure, leaves, greens of all varieties, coffee grounds, hardwood ashes, and old hay into a compost pile, which was covered with black plastic. The pile soon heated up as our unseen, anaerobic microbe assistants went to work turning those raw materials into rich fertilized soil.
Every few days I would lift the plastic off the pile to mix, turn, and aerate the contents. Forgetting what had happened the six previous times, I would dramatically throw off the covering, like a magician unveiling his mysteriously appearing partner. On these occasions, I would suddenly encounter the same Freudian nightmare. In the stark daylight, ten or twenty writhing snakes of all hues and sizes slithered from the pile in all directions. Each time, I would scream in terror, drop the sheet of plastic, and run away. I would go about ten feet or so and catch myself up, saying, "Hey, I'm not afraid of snakes." At this point, feeling stupid and cowardly, I would cautiously steal back to the pile to be sure my non-venomous intruders were safely gone.
I'm still not afraid of snakes.
By May, winter was normally gone and mostly forgotten. Spring showers had, indeed, brought May flowers, and much, much more. Our wild neighbors, big and little, tall and short, thin and fat, flying, creeping, slithering, running, and swimming were close around us, re-energized by the warmth and abundance so readily available. It was like Dorothy falling asleep in Kansas only to awaken in the and of Oz (minus the witches).
We were very busy, composting, as I say, gardening, mowing, grafting, building, clearing, cleaning, and clipping. The days were utterly beautiful: sunny, warm, breezy, moist, and oh so promising. Green was everywhere: grass, tree, bush, stalk, flower, vegetable, weed, and vine were coming back to life after a harsh deep freeze of almost five months. Life was pulsating with rebirth. The annual jubilee was in full career. So it was with us.
A footpath wound its way about fifty feet past the outhouse, small trees and dense brush on the left side and the grove on the right. One magnificent morning, as the sun was, to quote Bard, 'firing the eastern pines', I gazed in wonder and awe around me, entranced. "I am living my life's dream", I thought. "How many people get to do that?" Joy and gratitude flooded my being. After all those years of rootless wandering, I was home at last. I now had roots and purpose. Epiphany.
Wheelchair life and an end to what had brought such gifts to our lives were but four fleeting months away. The Zen phrase, 'Life comes without warning' and the Boy Scout motto, 'Be Prepared' had been my touchstones up to that point. I was to be severely tested whether I could live up to either or both.