Many of the people you meet in the Upper Valley come from somewhere else. Not many live in their childhood home, like DailyUV blogger Joyce Amsden. So we thought you'd be interested in learning more about a writer whose words and drawings rise from her roots.
You live in the house where you grew up, which is unusual and cool. How has that influenced your life and work?
Returning to my childhood home has been rather like taking a potted tree, scoring the root ball and planting it deep in fertile soil then sitting back to see what happens as the roots begin to spread and the leaves soak up the fresh air and sunshine.
I have about 2 acres of flat farmland, a woodworking shop, an entire house in which to spread my roots. I enjoy the richness and support of a growing circle of local friends and neighbors, not to mention my big brother who lives in the next town. I grow and preserve much of my own food, pick blueberries as well as cultivated and wild raspberries, keep bees, sleep in a tent (well, not right now). I walk in my neighbor's endless woods, and with permission harvest wild food and herbs. I keep my camera always at hand to capture moments and phenomena and sightings of birds and wildlife.
In retrospect, returning to this place has been a return to my favorite parts of my childhood – wandering the woods with my dad - and rediscovering the foundation of my spiritual connection with Nature. When he was very old my dad told me he liked taking me for walks in the woods with him because I was willing to walk quietly and to sit with him and wait and watch. When I step into the woods now, it is deep in my being to let problems fall away from my mind and just be in the pleasure of the sensory world. From that place arise solutions, inspirations and a profound sense of peace.
Living in this early 19th century house has honed my carpentry skills in some unexpected ways. For example, you can't skim coat lumpy plaster walls to a degree of smoothness without learning something about working with the tools and methods of that work. Taping drywall joints becomes child's play. Yet I have chosen to shift my work into life coaching and find the return to this lifestyle provides a very grounded world for my work of being very present for others.
You’ve shared a few cartoon sketches in your blog. How about one of your house?
This is a simple pencil sketch I made several years ago.
You have 10 grandchildren, and when they come over you call it Nana Camp. That sounds like fun! How about a Nana Camp sketch, too?
Three of your posts have been about ice -- after a freezing rain, on your windows on a cold winter morning. What’s your favorite Nana Camp movie? Frozen?
My grandson Connor (6) and his sister Moira (3) were visiting during the recent cold snap. After breakfast we went to the room with the best window ice, armed with games on the ipad and phone to amuse the kids while I did my photo shoot. From under the fluffy down comforter, I heard Connor's voice rising up in wonder, “Oh Nana, it's so beautiful! It looks just like Frozen!” From that interest, Connor learned how to use the remote shutter release on the camera and chose the photos for one of my blog posts.
I must admit I have not seen Frozen. When I asked about a movie, Lego Batman won out, but generally we tend to watch something they haven't seen before (on VHS, no less). The only important part is making a huger than huge bowl of popcorn. Really we don't tend to watch much TV. Drawing, crafts, tea parties, baking and playing with the doll houses are our favorite winter activities.
In summer, we spend most of our time outdoors. I have been telling them a goofy story about an underground world inspired by a tree that has a hole going down into the roots. They love that story and want to go see the tree when the snow is gone. We visit a huge pine that has an “eye” that seems to follow you as you pass, hunt for unicorns, wild berries, have treasure hunts and picnics by the brook.
I rather see it as my purpose to present them with a lifestyle they don't typically experience, both in honoring the past and giving them a taste of country living. Connor recently noticed a stack of 45's in the guest bedroom and said, “I know what those are, Nana! CD's!” And last summer's Nana camp had them purple around the mouths from wandering the boundaries of my property picking all the blackcaps (wild raspberries) they could find.
By trade you’re a life coach, and I feel like I could use one just to get through winter. Any advice?
Ah, yes. Getting through the winter. I used to hate winter. I felt cold all the time and everything seemed such a struggle. I find the secret to it, and actually to most problems is to 1) stop resisting it and 2) find a way to enjoy or make use of it.
Lest that sound simplistic, let me elaborate – to Stop resisting it – Relax and really experience it. Tensing against anything creates suffering and removes any chance of seeing it differently to say nothing about enjoying it.
I do this by stepping right outdoors very first thing in the morning. I dress warm and go out for just 10 minutes of brisk walking no matter the temperature. Do I ever skip a day? Yes. And if that goes on for several days, I feel less well, less energized.
If it is windy, you have to protect your skin, of course. It wakes me up and there is nothing so fresh and crisp as a cold winter morning. I go back indoors feeling very much alive and warm that I often delay turning up the heat. It is a complete shift of the experience of winter and a discipline and builds internal strength, self-esteem and courage.
And second, on finding a way to love it. I go snowshoeing and cross country skiing whenever possible. There is no experience that quite measures up to snowshoeing under the light of the full moon. It is an act of will to get out there as clear, moonlit nights in winter are typically very cold. But even if you are not up to that adventure, if you create some experience that you love in winter, your entire perspective can shift. At the end of the first winter with my xc skis and snowshoes, I was a bit sad to see the snow go and could be seen skiing around my field in my denim jacket on the stripes of remaining snow packed down by my skis.
But perhaps the most critical thing of all is to be willing to see things differently. You may be thinking, you can't make me love winter. No I can't. And am not trying to. But I am just saying – Winter Is. And asking you. Who are you in relation to it? How will you respond? Suffer? Or enjoy it? You pick.
And remember, spring is right around the corner. A long sweeping corner, but nonetheless not so very far away.