Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day 2012 at Z Acres

by Zinta Aistars

Like all things, it is when something becomes more personal that we begin to care, and notice, on a deeper level. Not that I haven't noticed Earth Day. I have been marking it for a long time, taking notice of ways in which I can recycle more, conserve more, care more, and live on less.

Interestingly enough, living on less has a way of enriching our lives. Giving us back more.

This year, I have felt Earth Day in a different way--since taking ownership of ten of my own acres, my own little corner of this earth. Sinking my own hands in the rich earth has taken on all new meaning. I feel responsible even as I feel immensely grateful.

I am also learning new ways of stewardship, because we are all stewards of this Earth. Doesn't matter where we live, we all live from the earth. It is the ground on which we stand, from which grows our food, and it is the air we breathe. Most every human need is in some way met by the Earth. For this reason, it is particularly baffling that we are such irresponsible stewards of our own source of life.

This Earth Day, this Sunday, was the first day since moving to Z Acres that I didn't have, or could at least put off for a while longer as non-critical, some reason to go running around madly to take care of, well, all sorts of things that need taking care of when one is moving from one home to another even while adjusting from one job to another.

On this day, I could rest.

Rest on a farm isn't entirely putting up one's feet all day long, but I did start the day out this way. Sitting out on my deck, looking out over the acres stretching out to the far treeline, I felt cool sunlight on my face. A hawk flew overhead. No, not really flew ... but planed, like a kite, on a breeze, floating in the air weightlessly. The hawk was clearly having fun. He wasn't going anywhere, he wasn't hunting anything, he wasn't out to accomplish a thing. He was merely floating on the breeze, wings outstretched.

Looking out past the trees, I saw a couple of deer in the bush. A light snort of warning as they sensed my old chow pup climb up on the deck from his walk around the farmhouse, their white tails shot up like flags, and they leapt in graceful arcs, soundless, and disappeared.

I am sure of it; I will never tire of this. To live in harmony with our surroundings returns to us a feeling of peace and wellbeing. I could sit this way, watching the sky, listening to the breeze in the trees, letting my eye wander over the green beauty of my surroundings, forever. It is a balm for the heart and the soul.

Still, living in such a place as this requires its daily chores. Chores seem to imply something to be done against one's will, but I found these duties of upkeep and maintenance soothing and soul-nourishing. As I care for this land, it cares for me. I was learning its ways, its patterns, its needs, and I was accomodating, fitting my own patterns to meet the land's.

Mowing, for instance. The riding mower in the toolshed has two flat tires. I inherited it from the previous owner. Eventually, I will plump up those tires with air, maybe, but for now, I find my little eco-mower, a small push mower not unlike the one that my grandfathers used, does the job wonderfully well.

The trick is to pace myself. I don't mow the entire ten acres, far from it. Much of my land is woods, and the back fields are still awaiting my decision on how to use them. I am mowing the acre or two directly around my little red farmhouse, quite enough. I do one patch, the next day I do another, the third I mow around the pond, the fourth I mow behind the outbuilding and around the other side at the bottom of the hill that leads up to the funny little cottage on the hilltop. I rest a day, and then I start in again.

I can feel my body grow stronger as I work. Suburbia saps both body and soul; here, I find myself working harder but feeling better. Days of office work, sitting at a desk, have become balanced with evenings of physical work.

Each day, I go out to into the greenhouse, too. Not a far trek--it is built onto the farmhouse, and requires nothing but a short walk from my kitchen through my dining room. My cat Jig follows me. She loves the warmth of the greenhouse, and lies in the patch of sun coming in through the walls of windows while I look over the boxes of future garden transplants and rows of clay pots on the slatted wooden shelf.

My future salad is doing well, greens popping up all over the first box that I intend to keep growing through at least three seasons for an always fresh bowl of greens for my meals. Tiny leaves of tomato plants have just peeped up from the soil. Those I hope to keep growing through three seasons, too.

A tray for starting seedlings is germinating orange peppers, zucchini, green beans, carrots, and in larger pots I have planted seeds for herbs--marjoram, dill, parsley, and also shallots. Another pot should eventually fill with the blossoms of nasturtium, and just for fun, I have put an avocado pit from a recent lunch into a bowl of water to begin an avocado tree.

Day by day, I add more. I grow more. I move into this new life of myself on a farm.

Plants and seedlings watered and checked, my old chow pup and I go out to stroll the land. He enjoys being off a leash, and he proves worthy of my trust. He stays ever near, but if he does take a loop out further for a while, returns quickly to my call. I know even when I can't immediately see him that he is keeping an eye on me.

I take pleasure in seeing his. He rolls in the grass, belly to sky, paws pummeling air, and I smile to see him, consider joining him. When young, he was a runaway, and it was as such that I found him at the animal shelter. In suburbia, he was a barker, and I couldn't keep him outside for long without worry he might annoy the neighbors. Much of it was social, I'm sure, as he communed with neighborhood dogs, but here, at Z Acres, he is showing a different personality.

He is serene. He is joyful. He sits for long hours in the sun on the deck or at the side of the house, and watches the life around him. Wild turkeys, woodchucks, squirrels, raccoons, deer, hawks, cranes, rabbits, possum, he has seen them all, no doubt more, and he is fitting in among them.

I have wondered how it is that at only three weeks here, he has figured out the boundary lines. Perhaps from walking with me? But he doesn't wander beyond them. He knows his land already, and on the rare occasion that we have a visitor, the man that brings propane or the man who installed the satellite dish, or an invited friend, he sends up an alarm or an alert to let them know he is aware and to let me know they are coming.

He is home and he knows it. This is his piece of earth, too.

On our walks, we both stop to examine the plants, the trees, the flowers. If my dog could hug a tree, I have no doubt, he would. I have hugged quite a few. Touched the branches and new leaves and fresh spring blossoms. The apple tree in back, the pear, the cherry. The weeping willows bending gracefully over the pond and behind the toolshed. The row of pines to the north that swish with every breeze and sing in the wind.

How could we so loose touch with all this? Cramped together in our residential neighborhoods, we forget. From such places as this comes life for all. I pass the grazing cattle every day on my way to work. I see the horses on the corner ranch, down the hill. I see the greening of the fields along the horizon with new crops.

Yet I am not just talking about food. Although our bonding with the Earth by tending it for our food is an important, even sacred bond.

It goes beyond that. In this peace, we can hear the voices within us in a way we cannot in the hustle and bustle of the city. Blood slows, hearts simmer down, and a peace enters that lets us think, really think, and reach in even deeper to find the treasure there.

We have lost our communion with nature, and it has cost us. We think we don't need it, that it is a luxury, a weekend jaunt on some paved path, but we are wrong. From this, from earth, from air, from this wide open space, comes that force that is us. Without it, we suffer depressions and neuroses and anxieties and psychoses and disorders and jitters. And wonder why.

Come back to the Earth, and know healing. Better yet, work to heal the Earth we have abused, and in giving healing, be healed. Earth Day is everyday.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Into the Peace, Into the Quiet

by Zinta Aistars

Enjoying the warmth of a fire in my wood stove on a rainy evening
I hear people complain about boredom. It's a concept alien to me. Perhaps it says more about the complainer than the complaint?

Life is overfull with things to do, ideas to mull over, thoughts to follow to their never-end, adventures to be had, dreams to turn into reality. Bored? Never.

But a bit of routine ... now, that would be sweet. All things in balance. There has been so much newness in  my life the last three or so weeks. So much, too much, constant stream. So finally I am feeling the very first edges of routine seeping in.

Oh, good.

Z Acres felt like Home with a capital H the very first night I spent there, the night of March 26. Now, about three weeks later, I am starting to feel the cozy comfort of knowing just where everything is. I reach ... and my hand finds it. I am starting to move at a pace that fits my new life, my new space. I am sensing the beginnings of new habit. And it's nice.

One of the nicest things about my new job in Kalamazoo is that I can work at home a day or three a week--telecommute. Now, that I can get used to! Rather than commuting to the city from my farm to plug into the office, I merely come downstairs from my bedroom and plug in at my desk under the window with a view, looking out over the acres out back, where the grass grows and stretches to the horizon, mine. I can get right to work without wasting energy on the road, mine or the car's.

This past Friday, as I worked away at my farmhouse, the sky turned gray and cloudy, winds picked up, temperatures dropped, and the rain began.

It can't always be sunshine. It can't always be super exciting. It can't always be fireworks. And really, it shouldn't be.

Time for all seasons, you know. There's a reason for that. If all was sunshine all the time, people would hanker for rain. Change can be good, but not all the time. We need some of this, we need some of that, we need a little of everything, in its own good time.

I was ready for the new, and oh there was so much of it, and oh it was all so wonderful! And still is. I still can't believe where I am, my new life taking shape around me, and how perfect it is for me. I've come into my own. I have found my place, and it fits me. I wake up in the morning and look for the light in the window, slip into my slippers, and go stand at the window to look out over the reflection of morning sun in the pond below. I stand at the window on the other side of the room, and I see the toolshed below, the rock-lined flowerbeds, the long rectangular space where my summer garden will be, and the stretch of green land.

Every morning, I am grateful, and I say thank you to that power above.

Every evening, I say it again.

Every time, I mean it. With every amazed fiber in me.

But it's also been a lot to take in, much to learn, and I am sure I have gone up and down those stairs that lead down to my little red farmhouse, oh at least a hundred times. I am ready for the routine of being here, even as my gratitude doesn't lose its edge.

I am ready for the rain to fall. I stoke up the fire in the wood stove and listen to it rain. I can hear the wind tangle in the trees outside. I love a rainy day, and I love a good storm. I love the change, and I love the everyday. I love the new, and I love the comfort of feeling the new grow old and known and cozy.

I love the direction my life is taking.

I slip into my slippers in the morning, make my way downstairs, almost tripping over the dog but not quite, because by now I know just where he will be at the top of the stairs, his new favorite patrol spot. I let him outside while I make the coffee, and he goes out without a leash, a free dog, free to go wherever he pleases, and he always comes home.

We both know where we have it good. And it never gets old; it will never be boring to be Home. It will just come to know our step, as a house become Home does, even as we get to know its quirks and niches and creaks. Home and Owner, rain or shine, right where we belong.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Moment to Breathe, Moment to Contemplate

by Zinta Aistars

Guinnez shows his guest Buddy the way to his new home
It's a sweet Sunday morning, begun with overcast skies and soft, warm rain ... and I love these kinds of mornings, too, not just the blue skies and sun. These soft mornings make me feel a little sleepy, cozy in my new old farmhouse, and slow me down for a moment or more of contemplation.

And there is so much to contemplate ...

The past three weeks are something of a blur. A wonderful blur. A blur of miracles, of adventure and discovery, of homecoming, of connection. I've moved from one event to another almost without transition.

On Friday, March 30, I left my office in Grand Rapids, where I had worked nearly five years at a health care organization, at 3 p.m. and rushed home on this new route. I moved into this magical dream place, my dream come true, on March 26. My tires crunching and spitting gravel as I tore down my long driveway into the woods, I was already dialing in to join the phone conference with four new colleagues at my new job in Kalamazoo by 4 p.m. -- and I was on the clock as a new employee an hour after giving up that status elsewhere.

So it went, one transition blurring into the next, no time to think or wonder or review. I only knew this was all good, all like puzzle pieces falling neatly into place. The new job, I knew, would continue at such a pace until an important deadline in July. I had been given an immense project to complete by then, my initiation by fire.

Warnings had come my way, and I had nodded acceptance to them: forget about those holidays and weekends and easy evenings. There will be few such. This deadline takes precedence. I agreed to that, even as my brain steamed and melted at the edges, learning the new place, the new ways, the new routine. All those new names, and I had no time to spare in figuring out where and how I would get my information for this project. Nose to grindstone, and that's that.

First nights sleeping in my new old farmhouse, Z Acres, were those of a log. I fell asleep the moment I crept under the covers, and stayed in deep sleep until the alarm went off, pre-dawn. No such moments of waking and wondering where I am ... I am Home. In this, I felt no transition. I felt only a long awaited Homecoming. Z Acres felt right the moment I put the key into the door lock.

It was amazing, in fact, how all my belongings fit. As if the little red farmhouse had been measured just for me. Where I had wanted extra space, I found it. Where I had wanted to simplify and downsize, I now did. I had all that I wanted and needed here, no more, never less.

And the horizon, stretching out to yonder, and all these glorious ten acres, mine to wander and claim as mine. After nearly three weeks acclimation, I unsnapped my old chow pup's leash for the first time ever. He was a runaway when I got him years ago, when he hadn't yet reached his first year; he is somewhere around 11 edging on 12 now. Younger, every chance he got, he ran and would stop only long enough to look back over his ruffed shoulder with a mischievous glance: "You following? Good! The game's on!"

Now, unclipped, with a bigger back yard than he'd surely ever known, he stayed close, and only occasionally wandered to sniff at a clump of wild growth, ponder a mystery noise in the bush, dip his snout into the pond out front for a quick drink. Even he seemed to understand he was Home. There was no point in running anymore, nowhere else better to go. My rowdy old pup who never seemed to stop barking for long back in suburbia, where he lived behind a white picket fence, now sniffs the air in silence, and lies on the edge of the deck pondering his domain in serenity.

For all the rush and spin of life now, I still find those moments of peace, just like the old chow pup. Mornings, when I step outside for a moment to watch the dark swirl from the sky to reveal first light. Evenings, when I return home from a hectic office, to step out of my car and stand still while watching yet another line of deer leap across the back acreage, a hawk swing an arc overhead, a crane to draw a straight line across the sky. And on the days that I work from home, regardless of the work pace, I can feel the stress lift from my shoulders. I am where I should be, in this moment of time.

Come Easter weekend, however, there was something of utmost importance awaiting me that had nothing to do with work or even the farm. I pointed my vehicle toward Chicago and headed south, then east. My daughter is preparing for a September wedding, and there was a very special gift I wanted to give her for Easter--a wedding dress.

Lorena feeling giddy at the bridal store
We were a gaggle of giggly women gathered to help her choose. On the Saturday prior to Easter, I joined my daughter, my mother, my sister, and two nieces, both to be bridesmaids at Lorena's wedding, and we drove to a bridal shop where an appointment was in place for this important decision. Lorena's mood took swings between giddy with the fun of the moment to a thoughtful seriousness, pondering her decision. Because, after all, the final call would be her own. I was sure she would know the right dress once she put it on.

Lorena's grandmother, a bride of 61 years, remembers the wearing of the veil.
Lorena pointed out certain styles she liked from a catalog the bridal fitter showed her. Strapless and with her shoulders bare, yes, she liked that. Fitted across her slender body but swirling out like the gown of a princess at her hips, yes. Well, maybe. Maybe not. Maybe something entirely different? So many options! Cut this way or that, pure white or soft white or ivory, with faint hints of other pastel colors beneath or simply embroidered, a straight line across the bodice or something more curvaceous.

Oh heck, I wasn't good at this. Fashion holds little interest for me. With her slender figure, there wasn't a dress that didn't look spetacular on her. I assured her, there was no wrong decision. What one wears is surely of least importance ... and yet I understood that this gown would be one that she would cherish, with all the lifelong memories surrounding it. Her Derek was a fine man, their love was built on sound premises of mutual respect and understanding, a strong bond of friendship and compatibility. If I had my doubts about the institution, I had none about these two. I was sure theirs would be a fulfilling and lasting union.

Lorena watched my face for approval, but I tried to give none that would overshadow her own decision. I watched her face for that moment of knowing. But finally I gave in. Couldn't help it. She came out from the fitting room to stand against the wall of mirrors, all of us women sitting in a row as her expectant audience, and we all held our breath. Then our cameras started snapping.

That's my girl. That's my baby, first one, grown into a stunning woman. My eyes remained shining if dry even as my sister, her aunt, dabbed a tissue at the corners of hers. Perhaps I lacked the romance gene as I had come to prefer a life of living alone, or maybe just ceremony that so often in our society, at least half of the time, ended in divorce, failed to move me ... but I was pretty sure I would need those tissues at some point, too. Just not today.

On this day, I merely admired her. All that she was. Not just a bride-to-be, but a fine young woman who had traveled some hard roads in life through no fault of her own, and survived ... and thrived. She had built a good career. She had earned more than one degree. She had faced down demons and won. She had built a network of friendships, and she had given herself wholly to many good causes, fighting for what she believed in. She was a tough woman with a great, soft heart, with the stamina and determination to move mountains when needed. Of all this, of all of her, I was proud.

And then she knew. This dress, this one. The fitter handed her a bell to ring. It was the bridal store's tradition that when a woman chooses her special gown, she rings the bell and makes a wish. Laughing, Lorena grabbed for the bell and rang the heck out of it. The entire store resounded.

Derek and Lorena at their church doorway
On Easter Sunday, I went to the church service at the church where my daughter and her fiance go every Sunday, an easy walk from their condo. I wanted to be a part of this service because I had so very much for which to give thanks on this day of renewal ... but I also wanted to meet the pastor who would marry my daughter and Derek.
With my daughter in Chicago at Easter 2012
What a wonderful little church! Tucked into the inner big city, a white church with red doors and a little garden with a prayerful wishing well, even a fruit tree in full blossom. The congregation was rich with ethnic backgrounds; I heard different accents and languages, saw a rainbow of skin colors, and being a bicultural person myself, I felt right at home here. I sat beside my Chicago darlings and gazed at the streams of light coming through the stained glass windows, listening to the music, the rising voices of the congregation in song. The pastor was brimming with Easter joy, and I couldn't help smiling as I listened to him, his arms outspread in invitation.

The Easter potluck in the church basement was as rich with flavors as the congregation. Every dish was lip-smacking delicious, and I ate all my belly could hold. I especially enjoyed the Ethiopian fare.

But this holiday, too, would soon come to an end, and I returned home to Z Acres. Another week at work, another week of steaming my brain. The moments when I felt that work falling into place were rewarding, the moments of lingering steep learning curve, uncomfortable but challenging, and I was determined to make that steep climb.

This past weekend, though, would need some time away from my desk, too. I had several large pieces of furniture yet to move from my house in Kalamazoo to this one. My best women gathered, four of us, and two huge pickup trucks and one hefty Durango. I trailed along in my little Honda Civic. Between us, we hauled out the big wooden bookshelf, another, and then removed the dining table legs so it would fit through the door. The deck furniture, my blue bike, the grill and firepit and my eco-mower, and we were ready to go.

We may be little but oh we are powerful! I looked at my femme heroes lifting all that bulk and nearly laughed in pleasure ... except that it is hard to chortle when you are lifting a large bookshelf. Amy was a poet who farmed, her second year in business of a CSA, or community supported agriculture. She and Diane till the land and nurture vegetables in sustainable manner. Diane is her business partner, also a yoga instructor. And Dawn is my son's lady, a mother and hair stylist. All slim and all petite, but don't let that fool you. It was amazing to me what we accomplished in a few short hours. Then again, maybe not so much. I knew these women well enough to know they could do most anything to which they aspired.

A celebratory lunch on the patio after moving

Amy and Diane take a break by the flower beds at the farm
Buddy and Guinnez, the dogs, looping joyfully around us, we carried all the furniture into the farmhouse. The legs went back on the dining table. My boxes of books could at last be unpacked. I made a quick lunch for the women and uncorked a bottle of 2007 cabernet savignon to toast my new home and the good friends that would gather here in coming years. I don't plan to ever move again.

Evening would fall softly, softly. The women and their trucks had gone to their own homes. I had given my eco-mower a good workout in back of the house, where the grass was growing fast and lush. Guinnez nosed in the fresh cut grass, nibbling at it like salad, then lay down on the deck to watch over his domain.

Finally, I sat down on one of the deck chairs to do the same. Work awaited. It always did. With all these transitions in my life, I was falling behind in some areas, while sprinting to keep up with others, balancing priorities. But for this one moment, I would take time to draw a breath, deep into my lungs, and a moment to say thanks. I would be sure to never lose sight of what had come together in my life. A dream. At long last.

I had a wonderful family with which to share my joy. My children were healthy and crossing thresholds of their own into rich lives. I had good work to do, plenty of it, and could support this dream. My best years lay ahead.

Life is good. Life is oh so good. And I am counting each and every blessing, and saying thank you, thank you, thank you for each and every one.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Good Friday Evening Falls, Gently

by Zinta Aistars

Good Friday evening falls, gently, softly. I watch the sun slip down toward the horizon behind the far treeline and wonder, amazed, at the suffering that happened those thousands of years ago so that we could enjoy all these many blessings, free and clear. The gift of life and the ever present chance to choose rebirth.

I have been here on this farm for ... can it be? nearly two weeks already. Just a few days shy. And I am still amazed, every morning, every evening, every hour at the beauty here. The way the light changes. The varied sounds of birds and animals just out of sight around me. I am beginning to recognize them. I have come to watch for the crane, the circling of the hawks nesting in the high tree tops along the south border out back. As in my previous home I had Fat Squirrel who would visit regularly, here there is Spunk Squirrel, a spunky little rodent that will whiz right by my dog's nose to scramble up the trees on the other side, swing from limb to limb, setting off the squeaky noises of what I imagine are tiny baby squirrels watching in admiration.

I've come to expect, already smiling, the lineup of plop plop plop and plop all along the edge of the pond as I near, fast frogs diving quick into the water, sending off concentric circles of ripples that spread and spread across the surface of the pond. I have yet to straight on see one; they are that fast. I see them through the corner of my eye. I see the circles they leave behind. I see the ripples expanding.

I am learning the names of plants and flowers as they come up. Those are skunk cabbages that crowd around the stream that trickles into the pond, lusting for the moist dark soil. And here are snowdrops, and masses of wild yellow primroses. Fiddlehead ferns are growing taller by the hour, I swear they are, and the tight green coil at the tip unfolding with every inch.

In the great oblong flower bed out back, lined with gray and white rocks, some big enough to perch upon, the daffodils and narcissus are blooming their last. Violets gather along the ground and creep up on rock edges. A large bush of bleeding hearts makes mine beat a little faster ... they are so tender, so flushed with vulnerable life, tiny tears collecting along their bleeding edges.

There is so much discovery here; I am almost overwhelmed. I can't imagine ever tiring of living here, because the farm and its surrounding land and sky overhead are in constant change. Every day I see new growth. Every hour of the day I see the light change, drawing new shadows. I am constantly running around with a camera.

The leaf trees are last to show their wealth. Small hints of leaves uncurl from branches, mostly still bare. Only the willows are full already--two sky high ones out back by the toolshed and one large one out front by the pond, hiding me from the dirt road. They weep beautifully.

My first vegetables are planted. Not outside as yet, as frost still threatens, and even tonight, the temperatures are said to dip below freezing, putting fear into fruit farmers throughout the region. I, too, fear for my fruit trees out back, just beginning to blossom. But my first play at a vegetable garden is now just inside my greenhouse. First tiny lettuce sprouts have burst up from the soil, looking like tiny green butterflies, as a friend commented, waking the village. Next to them are planted cherry tomato and beefsteak tomato seeds. I may just keep growing these in the greenhouse all summer and into autumn. Quick trip from the kitchen and there they are.

Time of rebirth, time of renaissance. Time to reinvent oneself, one's own life. All is forgiven, the blood is spilt, and from the stained soil rises new growth, opening into blossom. So much has changed in my life in the past couple weeks that I still feel a bit dizzy. New home, new job, and I am feeling the onslaught of learning so much new, so much new. I sleep like a log at night, deep and sweet, exhausted from learning all that new.

But it is all blessing. I took a leap of faith, the net appeared, and I continue to trust in that net. It was put there to catch me. Trust comes hard, and I catch myself sometimes thinking as I walk this land, agape with wonder, near waiting for someone to suddenly grab me by the shoulders and give me a good, hard shake--it's just a dream, Z, wake up!

Not a dream. It wasn't easy to take that leap into thin air. Trust is hard. But I did, and the blessings have been rich. Small comforts seep into my days, the first formations of new routine. Even the dog, even the cat have already found favorite spots, inside and out. When I take the old pup for a walk down the long dirt road, he knows which driveway to turn into that leads us Home ... to Z Acres.

We are Home, and from here, we celebrate the hope that is born of Easter. After the pain comes the balm. After the wound, the healing. After death, renewed life. We do this every spring. Every spring, we remember to believe in the impossible ... because it isn't.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

The beauty of the irregular, the bliss of slowing down

Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave
Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Kalamazoo Books Center is about paper making, printmaking, letterpress, creative writing, and bookbinding, but it's much more. Zinta Aistars talks with director Jeff Abshear about preserving a technology that changed the world.
Jeff Abshear at KBAC (Photo by Erik Holladay)

Others grow flowers and vegetables in their gardens. Jeff Abshear went into his garden to grow books. It turned out to be a very good year to grow books.

"I was unemployed in 2005," says Abshear. "I called my friends to come to my garden to brainstorm."

Ideas filled the air, and one idea in particular took seed. Abshear was an artist with a dream, and his friends, a group of artists and writers, helped him grow his idea of putting to use vintage printmaking equipment he’d found. One friend, Paul Alvin Robbert, became a founding member alongside Abshear in the development of the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center.

Today, Kalamazoo Book Arts Center (KBAC) is a local treasure found at the Park Trades Center, Suite 103A, 326 West Kalamazoo Ave.--one that is fast building a national, even international reputation for printmaking, paper making, letterpress, book binding and creative writing.

KBAC opens its doors to...

READ THE FULL ARTICLE at Southwest Michigan's Second Wave.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Leap of Faith ... Net

by Zinta Aistars

Guinnez watching, listening, scenting a Sunday dawn at Z Acres
I had been circling this property since December 2011, ten acres in southwest Michigan with a century-old red farmhouse, a pond, and several outbuildings. March 26, 2012, at long last, the day to close on the property had arrived. I had already named it: Z Acres. A play on the old sitcom of a city girl moved to the country, called "Green Acres." I wasn't quite a city girl, but I was moving from suburbia, a world of manicured lawns and sidewalks and street lights and neighbors close enough to hear you sneeze.

I had been counting the months, the weeks, the days, and finally, the hours. Through a half dozen addendums marking points of negotiations, the previous owner and I had circled and danced until we had come to a place of agreement. I would never meet her. The property was a summer retreat for her from her home in Chicago, but for me, it would be a year-long Home, with a capital H, and the last one where I would ever live, if I had anything to say about it.

I was in love with the place from the moment I'd set foot on it, back when it was deep in snow. Now, the pine woods surrounding the farmhouse dotted with daffodils and narcissus and snow drops, I had a few final pings of anxiety. After all, I had chosen not to sell my previous home, the one back in suburbia. I was keeping it as rental property. Not only was I going to be a farm woman for the first time in my life, I was also about to become a landlord for the first time.

Big move. Could I handle it? The responsibility of two mortgages, two households, one big dream? I had been whispering and muttering a long prayer all the way up from Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids, where the closing on the new property would take place. Leap of faith. Sixty miles of thumping heart.

I've heard it said that moving from one home to another is considered one of life's major stressors. I had moved more than 30 times in my life. The last time had been about 16 years ago, and that was the longest I had ever stayed in one place. Kalamazoo was not my birthplace, but it was a community I had grown to love. My network there was solid and strong. I was pleased not to be moving too far away. If I had thought about moving to Michigan's Upper Peninsula for many years, one of my previous homes I loved, too, then I had finally decided to remain in southwest Michigan. I didn't want to be 600 miles away from family ...

This all made good sense. But it was not without risk, and I kept whispering that prayer as I pulled into the parking lot of the title company, where a pile of papers nearly an inch high awaited my signature. I looked at the clock on my dashboard. Ten minutes to closing. It was just then that my cell phone blinked with a new message coming in.

I reached for the phone, reaching between and across boxes stacked roof-high in my little Honda Civic. Two chairs were stacked in back with the legs sticking up into the front. Originally, closing had been scheduled for the previous Friday, and I had had seven very good people, family and friends, lined up to help me move ... but a final glitch in negotiations, the seller still needing time to move out some of her belongings, had pushed the closing out to this Monday. I had no one to help me move on Monday. I was on my own.

I scrolled through the messages on my cell phone, even while watching the clock on my dash. I didn't recognize the name. I did recognize the company alongside her signature. She was the communications director from one of Kalamazoo's most prestigious companies. Headquartered in Kalamazoo, but with global reach, and a Fortune 500 company.

"You come HIGHLY recommended ... " the message began, and my eyes widened as I read. A friend had forwarded my resume (thank you, R.C.). She had a position to fill, and would have preferred to fill it, oh, yesterday, deadlines running up on her heels, but my resume had hit her just right, and would I be available for an interview today?


I blinked. My whispered prayer. The timing of this message. A Fortune 500 company, with a reputation of being one of the best places to work, well, just about anywhere. Was Somebody answering my prayer? With the help of a kind friend?

I quickly messaged back. I wasn't available for an in-person interview, I wrote, as I was a few minutes from closing 60 miles north of Kalamazoo, but perhaps a phone interview after closing?

A message quickly came back on my cell. Yes. I was given a phone number to call at noon.

No time to think, although this was a dazzling new twist in events. I  headed toward the building, where my mortgage broker and my real estate agent were already waiting for me. Along with that inch-thick stack of documents to sign.

Maybe this would all turn out just fine. No need for nerves, I thought as I signed, and signed, and signed. I didn't dawdle on any of the documents, impossible to read them all, and now I was watching the clock for noon, phone interview time.

And then it was done. I had signed the entire inch. My mortgage broker and my real estate agent both hugged me, laughing and congratulating. Wow. Z Acres was mine! It was really mine, at last, and I was now the proud owner of a beautiful piece of land, a tiny corner of the earth, mine.

But there was no time to get daydreamy. I had a job interview waiting ...

I sprinted to my overloaded car and slipped between the upended chair legs behind the steering wheel. It was nearly noon. I pulled into a quieter corner of the parking lot, cleared my throat, took a breath, and made the call.

We talked for a good half hour, maybe longer. I liked her. Apparently, she liked me, too, because she said as much and said she would really like to meet me in person. Today.


"I can't," I sighed. "It's moving day, and I am in Grand Rapids now, not in Kalamazoo, and I have surely a hundred boxes waiting ... but I do have tomorrow off from work. Would Tuesday do?"

"I'll buy you lunch," she said. "Bring your portfolio."

 Oh dear. Which box did I pack that in?

No time to ponder, I agreed to be in Kalamazoo on Tuesday at noon, at corporate headquarters and with my portfolio in hand. But now? Now I wanted more than anything to be on the farm ...

When I turned into the golden gates of Z Acres, first time as the owner, I smiled at the beauty. Each time I came here, there was something new I hadn't seen before. This time, these golden sentinels at either side of the driveway, forsythia bushes in full blossom. They were my first welcome Home.

I slipped the key in the door and sprang inside. "I'm home!" I called out, and my own echoes chuckled at me. How right it all felt. Just the right size, just the right setup of rooms, even the vintage stove from circa 1930 an invitation.

First, I had a thank you to say and a blessing to request. I went through the kitchen, a bright room of red and white, out to the deck that looked out over the back acres. I stood out on that deck, raising my face to the sky, and said my thank yous. And I asked for this new home to be blessed and all who pass through it, visitors, friends, family, my own animals, the good soil and the bounty it would grow, present and future. The sun came out from behind the clouds at that very moment and kissed my face, and I felt tears stream down my cheeks.

"I'm happy, " I said to the sky. "I am happy. I am home. At last, after a life of looking, I am home."

I wiped the wet from my face, and turned back to the house and then up to the drive, climbing the stairs up the hill that wound between trees, bordered by spring flowers. No time to waste. I had a lot of work to do, alone with all my boxes.

Up and down, up and down those stairs I skipped, one box after another in my hands. Soon as my car was emptied, I headed back to Kalamazoo for the next load. I would not be able to move the larger pieces of my furniture, but the seller had left quite a few pieces behind. Too much bother to move, perhaps, as she lived in Chicago and perhaps had no use for them. Two beds, a sofa, a kitchen table, a small desk, all were there for my use.

I called my parents on my way to my other home. Might they have time for a drive? I didn't want them to do any lifting, forbade them, in fact, but I sure could use the space in their mini van. They could sit on the deck and enjoy the view while I unpacked.

A couple trips later, the sun dipping low, I had moved more boxes than I could count anymore from one location to the other. And, I had my old chow pup, Guinnez, and my tortoiseshell cat, Jig, at the farmhouse with me. Enough for one day.

My nails broken, my arms bruised, my legs aching, exhausted, but brimming with joy, I finally joined my folks out back of the farmhouse. My father had put together a little deck table with two chairs, and my mother was already out in the garden weeding. She couldn't resist. She had the heart of a gardener. They both looked happy, too. If they'd had a few doubts and wonderings about my undertaking this property, they seemed at peace with it now. How could anyone not love this place ...

My old pup, on a long rope that was tied to a tree, was lying in the lush green grass chewing on a twig, as if he'd been here all along, instantly at home. My old cat had curled up on the couch inside for a nap. It was as if they knew. And approved.

I waved as my parents drove away, and I got to work inside, unpacking boxes. Most of them were unpacked by the time the night had grown dark. A crescent moon had appeared in the starry sky, and the night was filled with the sounds of unseen life, insect and creature. Three deer walked serenely across the dirt road, and I remembered how I had asked for a sign of three deer when I had to make a decision to make an offer on the property. I saw them then, I saw them again now. I would see many more in the coming days.

My first night Home. I fell into deep, sound sleep, never woke once, and in the morning arose refreshed. The moment I opened my eyes, I knew right away where I was, and I was glad.

I found my portfolio, brushed wrinkles from a pair of pants and a shirt and jacket, doing my best to put together an acceptable outfit from the clothes for an interview I had brought over. I couldn't help laughing when I drove into the parking lot outside of corporate headquarters, where my interview would take place. This was less than two miles from my previous home. After five years of commuting 110 miles a day to work, might I find a new career unfolding so close to home I might have walked? Except, of course, that I had now moved quite a long distance north of town ... the irony did not escape me.

And there it was: the job offer. We talked over lunch for more than an hour. I looked at the project underway that I would be managing, and she paged through my portfolio, making satisfyingly enthused comments about various pieces of my writing. She didn't usually make job offers this quickly, she finally said, but this just felt right. She didn't have to wait to decide.

Neither did I.

Deal. It was an offer I couldn't refuse, and on the next day I would go back to my old office and let my superiors know. I had found a new place to work, and I couldn't help but feel this was exactly the way it was all supposed to be. My new home, a new job, a new life. With no time to waste, I would start working here a week from the next day.

Interview done, deal reached, I zipped back to my old house to pack another load of boxes and dishes and clothes. I had another day of packing and unpacking ahead of me.

There was another moment for me out on the back deck. It was quickly turning into my place to go when I felt my heart brimming with gratitude or a request for help. I was astounded by these puzzle pieces falling together so seamlessly. It felt like nothing short of divine intervention. If I had felt anxiety about all that I was taking on with Z Acres, I could lay that all aside now. A new home, a new job, it really was a new life. Close one door, open another.

I was exhausted from this non-stop activity, change, transformation, development, but I was also brimming with joy. Looking back on my life, I wasn't sure I could use such descriptives as happy, fortunate, blessed, but I felt all of those things now. I felt them as I glimpsed the future.

I felt the power of place flow into me, and my energy surged.

Back to work. A couple more runs from one house to the other, packing as much as I could on each run. So that they wouldn't accumulate, I unpacked each box as soon as I carried it in. Then I went back for more.

Three days later, I said a fond farewell to my colleagues at my old job. I was floating on air, and I very nearly skipped from one office to another to touch base with everyone I had worked alongside for the past five years. Not that there wasn't a taint of sadness ... there was. This had been my daily routine for so long. I had learned much at this place. I had written some wonderful stories about wonderful people. I had learned to be a better editor. I had made friends, some of which I was sure to keep even after dropping off the key to my office.

More packing, as I cleaned out my desk, my files, notified clients, signed various papers that go with the conclusion of one career before starting another. It was pouring a cold rain as I sprinted to my car one last time from my old office, a lamp under one arm, a box of personal items under the other. I had to make it home by 4 p.m. because my new supervisor had requested me to call in for a phone conference with four new colleagues to discuss a report, nearly 200 pages long, that I would have to read over the weekend.

So it went. One seam sewed into the next, no space between. I ran through the rain at Z Acres to get to my new little desk, where the report awaited me, dialing in to the phone conference as I ran, letting my rain-drenched coat drop off one shoulder as I sat down. I heard introductions over the phone line and I acknowledged them, yes, here I am, all yours now.

Life is going to slow down at some point, isn't it? It is. I think. But this threshold crossed has been one of the most remarkable I've ever experienced. I encountered no resistance. The path unfolded before me, a red carpet unrolling as fast as I could run.

Crawling under the covers in my new bedroom, my dog curled at my feet, my cat curled at my head, flames twinkling in the fireplace, a book balanced on my stomach to read until sleep, I wondered at the sweetness flowing through me. This is joy. This is life well lived, risks taken, nets appearing as I leapt, and a network of good people surrounding me like a protective shield. Yes, of course, more trials and no doubt more tribulations await. There is much about farming I don't understand. There are bound to be challenges in this new job. There will be bruises, there will be moments of sadness.

But I'm Home now. And I have learned how to trust in the process, even when it gets scary. This place is my source of strength. This land, and the power up there, overhead, will hold me when I make my next leap.