country living: are you ready?

SNOW DAYS—MUFFLED, TUCKED-IN, NO-CAN-DO DAYS—drove me stir-crazy when I shifted to fulltime residence in Nowheresville three years ago. I wasn’t ready for the country; I resisted the surrender that forces bigger than myself imposed on me. Now days like today are among the sweetest. I am stranded, delightedly so. And I have a new old song to help me revel in my peaceful powerlessness.

As if to reward me for exhaling a little, this morning I discovered a new version of an old anthem, part of a Neil Young tribute in the current issue of “Mojo” magazine. Forty years after Young first recorded “Harvest,” an album I have probably played 40,000 times, the magazine has commissioned a “re-working” of it, all cover versions–including Phosphorescent’s take on “Are You Ready for the Country” (play it up above; volume control on the far right of the top white panel).

You know I love music: It’s a muse, constant companion—and a character in my upcoming book, which I suppose is all about the letting go that I’ve had to do to finally be ready for the country, whatever the heavens bring.

(Thanks to Largehearted Boy, the music-and-books blogger, for alerting me to the Phosphorescent cover on Twitter today.)

  1. Bob Scherer says:

    Thanks Margaret. I’m an old Neil Young fan (equal emphasis on old & fan). I’m pretty well snowed-in here in southern/coastal Maine. Me & my cat Theo (not a demon but extremely loquacious) – wife escaped yesterday for five days for a rug-hooking retreat. Keep posting good stuff. I don’t always comment but I do always read. Now I’m gonna listen to your book soundtrack.

  2. Monica says:

    I’m music professional who moved from the World to the Woods. I love the soundtrack to your book! I’m going to adopt it, with your permission!

  3. Margaret says:

    Adopt away, Monica, and Bob, Jack’s a talker, too. We have been up since 4:30 (his new favorite wakeup time), when he began the day’s insistent vocalizations that I can hear all the way upstairs.

    I can’t wait for the book to come out so the soundtrack makes sense…hard to explain about the “voices” that helped guide me in the first year or so here, including the one-liners from the wi-fi radio, but every one of the “soundtrack” songs has a message in it for me, or so it seemed. :)

  4. Tricia says:

    I too am digging out in coastal Maine. One of the joys of living here are those big surprises from the sky. My Neil Young story: my mom met Neil and his wife Pegi on a cross-country train trip twenty years ago, when Mom was about 70. She had no idea who he was until a college-age kid hissed in her ear, “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO THAT IS?” She confessed she did not.

    She ran into them again and apologized, telling Neil that she knew she had bought his albums and concert tickets for her kids (mainly me). But she also said she really didn’t know what his music sounded like.

    So Pegi said, “The only album of his that MY mom really likes is Harvest.” They ended up hanging out together all the way across the country. My mom and the rock star.

    And when they all got home, Pegi and Neil sent my mom a package of cassette tapes(!) of Neil’s. My mom has been a fan of his ever since. We all just call him “Neil” now in the family. True story about some nice people.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Tricia — and with a very charming “Neil” story indeed. I have more shoveling to do — to the sheds and stuff, and widening the walk a tad if I can — but first a bowl of lentil soup and another of mashed potatoes, both of which cooked up this morning. :) See you soon.

  5. Just back from a long, brilliant, sweaty snowshoe hike — in the country! This is a great song to come home to. It took me a while to be ready for the country myself, but on a day like today, I wouldn’t be anyplace else. Rock on, Country Girl!

    1. Margaret says:

      @Katrina: No, that’s *another” Neil Young song, isn’t it? “County Girl.” As in:
      Country girl I think you’re pretty,
      Got to make you understand,
      Have no lovers in the city,
      Let me be your country man.

  6. patricia says:

    Great song, we aren’t snowed in but there are depths of snow covering the boxwoods that fill my front and back yards as borders, now if they are just not showing damage then i will be happy come spring. We now have three cats all strays last one arrived just recently.

  7. Marie Nickerson says:

    Hi, Margare et. al… I, too, went from World to Woods, on property purchased in the 70’s. Finally moved to our five acres and independence in the 80’s, and took my “Harvest” vinyl with me, along with lots of other treasured tunes. Moved again, now somewhere ‘tween the two. Posted your link on my FB the other day, and LOVE Andre’s gnome. Thanks for always a great read.
    Watching the birds fight the winds at the feeders and drifting snow in southern NH. At least the sun is shining. Think I’ll make some comfort food. Mashed potatoes, maybe?

  8. Sheila says:

    Still snowed in in Connecticut. Surrounded by dogs who are loving their time by the pellet stove. Reading … and waiting for THE book (fledgling gardener that I am). Listening to music and feeling very content. Through the wonders of cyberspace I even managed to do enough work for the office that i don’t feel guilty about not actually being at work.
    Life is good!!!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Marie, and yes, I endorse the mashed potato cure-all. I made a batch for breakfast today, with enough for many more meals to come. I am heartened by your kind words, and hope to see you here again soon.

      Welcome, Sheila. Sounds peaceful there indeed. If I had a pellet stove a certain cat who shall remain nameless would never budge. Thanks for the good words, and don’t be a stranger.

  9. mindy says:

    margaret, my very fav mashed potatoes of all time – are garlic mashed potatoes from julia child, and published in the Victory Garden Cookbook. i use her energy efficient method for ‘roasting’ garlic and keep a batch of it, pureed, in the freezer, to add to dishes as needed. Hope you try them!

    (Savoir Faire Recipe adapted from Victory Garden Cookbook)

    JULIA’S GARLIC MASHED POTATOES, adapted from The Victory Garden Cookbook

    1 ½ lb Potatoes, Yukon Gold

    2 ou. Peeled Garlic

    1 T unsalted Butter

    1 T Flour

    ½ C Light Cream

    kosher salt and coarsely ground pepper to taste

    Cube potatoes. Steam* over low boiling water until very tender when pierced. Drain. In small heavy, covered sauce pan, simmer the garlic and butter until tender,about 30 minutes. Beat in flour and cook for 2 minutes, to get ride of raw flour flavor. Whisk in cream and seasonings, bring to a boil and simmer for 1 minute.
    Puree this mixture or mash smooth with a fork. Add to potatoes and mash, either with masher or in mixer with paddle attachment. Add cream, butter or S and P to taste.

    These can be reheated in a microwave or over a bain marie on the stove. While I freeze almost everything, these do NOT freeze well.

    * I use an aluminum tiered and domed-top Chinese steamer obtained in an Asian store. I steam any vegetable that calls for boiling because this method retains nutrients.

  10. I think I am ready, waiting to get used to more snow, more sun, and more room. We have had this Muddy Boot dream for over 10 years, and now, this is the year it is going to come true. Yes I know it will be a huge change, but I am up for it.

    Looking forward to so many new things…..

    Great post.

    Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

  11. Julie says:

    I bought my first house, at age 50, on the edge of a 60-acre forest in Michigan. It is surrounded by a million maple trees. I thought – “Oh how fun it will be living almost in the country (the nearby town is only a couple of miles away) and dealing with nature.” I was excited about having my very first garden. After two years of being up to my neck in moles; dry, sandy soil; bulbs being eaten by various critters; squadrons of mosquitoes; a hawk that chose to feed on the birds eating from my bird feeder (I wondered why the birds had abandoned me until I saw the sneak attack that alerted me to the hawk’s presence); and so many leaves I just can’t describe it (I had only a rake and my own steam doing the work). I wondered if I had made the right decision to try to be closer to nature. But when my cousin came to visit (she was reeling after being given a diagnosis of MS) I had an epiphany and realized I was in the best place in the world! I would see her out among the trees, picking up twigs for the firepit, looking at the flowers, listening to the tree branches knock together in the wind. My neighbor’s chickens softly clucking made beautiful music in the background and the occasional bleat of my other neighbor’s goats made her smile. “I am so jealous of you but this is just what I needed,” she said to me a couple of days into her visit. “Now I know what I need to do, she added.” Seeing her so relaxed and happy gave me new eyes to see my surroundings and appreciate what nature does for us if we just stop and listen. Now I get frequent phone calls from upstate NY, where she lives, and she tells me about the plot of land where she planted tall grass, had trees cleared, and got permits to build. How she left the old apple tree standing because the deer rest in its shade.” She sounds better and more optimistic. I don’t know what her future holds as far as her disease but I know that she is spending her days with a bright outlook and looking forward to getting back to nature. There is healing power in nature if we just open our eyes and ears to it… P.S. Love your website and blog!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Julie. What a good tale — for both of you. I know it was just what the doctor ordered here, so to speak — to just grab some quiet, to putter and reflect and be closer to the outdoors with te sounds and sights like you describe.

      Jen: Wow — you are about to have a great adventure. I’m happy for you. And of course that’s what the book’s about — the transition time, liftoff and just after, and trying to find the new rules, rhythms. Will love hearing how you go as the year unfolds. Kudos!

  12. TC says:

    I didn’t know you were into music that much Ms. Margaret. One of my favorites from Neil Young off “Harvest” – Out On The Weekend. (Have you noticed that on most song titles listed on albums/CDs the first letters are usually capitalized? Even “the.” Why do you think this is so?)

    Do you play an instrument or sing?

    1. Margaret says:

      @TC: No, I don’t play/sing — my sister and her husband are musical, and my niece, but I’m a mere listener. :) Nice to hear from you here.

      @JUdy: Who knew my friends here ad so many personal Neil Young tales to tell? Love it! Thank you.

  13. Judy says:

    So here’s my Neil Young story. I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area, dreaming about moving to the country with my husband and young daughter. A girlfriend and I went to a Stephen Stills concert at Stanford University in about 1976. It was indoors in the basketball stadium. About an hour into the concert an impromptu guest showed up: Neil Young. So we had half of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for the price of one. The crowd was so excited by not only his appearance onstage, but the great music that followed that we all started jumping up and down. The floor of the stadium had springs in it and the huge speakers started swaying to and fro, until they had to quiet us down. Which is what we all are now that we live. . . out in the country.

    Thanks for rekindling this old memory.

  14. Candylei says:

    I love the country and it’s calm and quiet. And if it gets too quiet just invite everyone over!

    You are so much more aware of all the subtle changes of the seasons when you live away from the big city. You can work in the garden and get muddy hands and feet and feel giddy like the kids. The benefits list goes on and on I realize,

    It was fun reading all of the Neil Young comments, too.


  15. Alene Valkanas says:

    Like you, we settled into a country-like life in Michigan three years ago, after a 24/7 life in Chicago arts administration. Winters are the hardest, not just the coldest and the most isolating. But we’ve found companionship. My husband and I are part of a progressive group of Chicago ex-patriates working for the same causes in the country as we did the city. Soul – full companionship is the best.

    We are project managing the building of our dream home – economically – which means constructing IKEA cabinets and painting the walls. Creating a haven for ourselves and friends and family from here and abroad. The trees, particularly giant white pines and Norway spruce – why we bought the property – are comfort at all times of the year. Thanks for the music, thanks for the blog, thanks for the many ideas to make our world better here in MIchigan.

  16. Tricia says:

    Great song! Do you know where I can find the ‘Harvest Revisited’ CD that came with the February Mojo? They are out of it, and I can’t find it anywhere, although many mentions on the web. Music has been one of the my greatest allies in my city to country transition, my dear comrade and bridge between the worlds. I am in upstate NY near Hudson, where we have snow snow snow – looking out into my garden in the icy morning, dreaming of spring and making upbeat trance-y playlists for inspiration.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Tricia; I think the only route if as you say they’re sold out is probably Ebay. I bet it will become a regular item there and other such places. Lots of snow here across the county, too. And brrrrrrrr…….

  17. Tricia says:

    Thank you, Margaret! The link still has some available. I will add some of these songs to my chanting for Spring compilation. The light is changing every minute now. Soon snowdrops.

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