Crimson Coda

Bellingham Bay-photo by Nate Gibson
Bellingham Bay-photo by Nate Gibson

No breath of breeze~
Leaves hang limp, unshaken
By wisp of wind or weary bird wing.

Heat drips from every pore
Moist salty brine
Pours unbidden into pooling eyebrows.

Await the evening coda as bold brush strokes paint
A palette of rosy crimson and orange
Above the creeping gray fingers of twilight

Until no longer streams vermilion bourn,
No more suspended furnace as the fiery
Remnant drops beyond reach, irrevocable, steaming.

Red Sunset photo by Nate Gibson
Red Sunset photo by Nate Gibson
Almost gone photo by Nate Gibson
Almost gone photo by Nate Gibson
Mt Baker at dusk-photo by Nate Gibson
Mt Baker at dusk-photo by Nate Gibson

Listening to the Vetch


Hot humid summer days are barely tolerable for a temperate climate sissy pants like me.  I am melting even as I get up in the morning, and right now our house is two degrees warmer (93 degrees) than the out of doors.  So distractions from the heat are more than welcome.

For me today it started as I drove the ten miles of country roads to get to work in town, running a bit late to an important meeting.  I was listening to the news on the car radio when I puzzled over why the radio station would be playing cat meows over the news.  I turned off the radio, and realized the meows didn’t go away.

As soon as I was able, I pulled into a parking lot and surveyed my van from back to front, looking under seats, opened the back, scratched my head.  Then the meowing started again—under the hood.  I struggled with the latch, lifted up the hood and a distressed bundle of kitten fur hurtled out at me, clinging all four little greasy paws to my shirt.  Unscathed except for greasy feet, this little two month old kitten had survived a 50 mile per hour ride for 20 minutes, including several turns and stops.  He immediately crawled up to my shoulder, settled in by my ear, and began to purr.  I contemplated showing up at a meeting with a kitten and grease marks all over me, vs. heading back home with my newly portable neck warmer.  I opted to call in with the excuse “my cat hitchhiked to work with me this morning and is thumbing for a ride back home” and headed back down the road to take him back to the barn where he belongs, now with the new name “Harley” because he clearly desires the open road.

At that point, my meeting in town was already completed without me so I went out to check fence line as the hot wire seemed to be shorting out somewhere in the pasture as the mares had decided that the wire interfered with their hearts’ desire and had broken through, so it clearly was not hot enough to discourage them.  It has been a very hot few days with persistent drying breezes this afternoon so as I approached the fence line, I heard numerous snaps and pops that I interpreted as hot wire shorting out in the dry grass and weeds, creating a fire hazard and certainly potentially dangerous with the winds whipping up.  I walked closer and was really puzzled to hear snaps all up and down the fence, but could not see sparks.  I approached more closely and heard a little “snap” and a tiny seed pod burst open in front of my eyes, dropping its contents very effectively.  It was the dried common vetch seed pods that were snapping and popping, not hot wire shorting out.  They were literally exploding all up and down the fenceline in a reproductive symphony of seed release.  I put the broken wire back to together, plugged it in and all was well, at least until the next Haflinger decides the adjacent pasture looks better.

Returning to the barn,  I saw our stallion pawing furiously at his round black rubber water tub in his paddock, splashing water everywhere and creating quite a spectacle.  I went up to him to refill the tub with the hose and he continued to paw and splash in the tub and actually went down on his knees in the tub and then tried to lower one shoulder into it and his neck and face.  By this time he had created quite a mud puddle of the thick dust around the tub and his splashing and thrashing was causing mud to fly everywhere, including all over me, my hair, covering his mane and tail and belly and legs.  I took the hose and sprayed the cold water over him and he leaned closer to me, begging me to spray him everywhere, turning around so I could do his other side, facing me so I could spray his face.  I drenched him completely, and he was one happy horsie and I was laughing my head off at what he had done to me.  Both drenched, muddy, dirty, but happy and much much cooler.  What a sight we were.  This is the Haflinger that hesitates sometimes at water hazards on the cross country courses because he wants to splash and play in it.

This was a hot day on the farm indeed but with plenty else to occupy my mind.  It is never dull here.

Remember to bang on your car hood before you get in, keep the hotwire hot, and share a mud bath with your Haflinger. But especially, listen to the vetch and don’t let it fool you that catastrophe is about to happen.  The vetch is simply exploding in noisy reproductive ecstasy.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

A Lesson in Listening

(This is the middle part of a much longer story in memory of my friend Margy Anderson)

I wondered if 7:30 AM was too early to call even though I’d been up for hours. I knew Margy was not sleeping well these days, propped with pillows around her halo brace—a metal contraption that wrapped around her head like a scaffolding to secure her degenerating cervical spine from collapsing from cancer.

When she was surgically fitted into the brace, she named the two large screw-like fasteners anchored into her forehead the “Frankenstein bolts”. I threatened to give her a white lace veil to drape around the metal halo surrounding her head, so she might be more recognizable as Frankenstein’s bride. She replied that Frankenstein’s bride had frightful hair rather than being completely bald, so a veil was not going to hide the ugly truth.

After a long 24 hours in the emergency room seeing patients, I felt the need to talk to her.  I wanted to tell her how deeply I appreciated the skills she had taught me, the spirit of service she, a former nun now married with two college age children, had instilled in me. Each patient I had seen in the Emergency Room over the previous 24 hours benefited from the interviewing skills Margy had taught us in med school. We were reminded each patient had an important story to tell no matter how rushed we were. She insisted physicians-in-training remember the soul thriving inside the broken and hurting body. She told us: : “Just let your patient know with certainty, through your eyes, your body language, your words, that you want to hear what they have to say. You can heal so much hurt simply by caring enough to sit and listen…”

With a recent diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, Margy herself was broken and in need of the glue of friendship, and so I had become her friend even though we were thirty years apart in age. Despite her illness, and more over as a result of it, she continued to teach and serve her students, often from her bed at home.

Her phone rang only once. There was a long pause, a clearing of her throat. A deep dam of tears welled behind a muffled “Hello?”
“Yes? Emily? ”
“Margy? What is it? What’s wrong? Are you all right?”
Her voice shattered like glass, strangling on words that choked her.
“It’s Gordy, Emily. He’s dead…”
“What? What are you saying?”
“A policeman just left. He told us our boy is dead. Hit on the freeway sleepwalking out of the back of the camper he was riding in on the way to Mexico for a spring break mission trip.”

I sat in stunned silence, holding the receiver like a lifeline to her, completely undone by her sobs. Then I remembered what she herself had taught me only a few months before.

“I’m coming right now. I’ll stay with you as long as you need me.”

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A Dove in Search of a Cage


It took only a moment to decide.

As happens every day, as she sang to me, her arm reached past my perch through the open door, to pour fresh water in my bowl.   Just beyond her, overhead, were clusters of glistening red cherries bouncing in invitation in the morning breeze.  So I heeded, flapping clumsily over her arm as she spilled the water, her mouth an “O”.

I escaped my house, my first time flying free, awkward and careening.  I made it to a high branch and grabbed hold tightly, staring down at her asking me to come back.   Instead I listened to the cherries next to me, their sweet song of red juice pouring over the sides of my beak.

When the breeze picked up in the darkening hours, I missed the comfort of my indoor loft nest lined with cedar shavings and horse hair, with snug walls where I have spent many wintry nights, and soft summer twilights.   My mournful evening anthem was hushed by the wing swoop overhead of a clicking owl, anxious for dinner.  I tucked my head in fear, with no wire enclosure to protect me. I fell silent, barely sleeping.

At dawn, she found me picking at cat food near the back porch, with an ancient feline crouched a few feet away, tail twitching, ready for instant breakfast.  I fluttered off, returning to relative safety of the orchard treetops, alert for hawks.   For two days I explored the trees surrounding my little home, its door still open as a standing invitation.  She filled my water bowl and brought my seeds just as she always did, singing.  I listened carefully to the familiar tune, twisting my neck one way and then another to hear her better.  The cherry song no longer seemed as sweet.

The next morning, she found me in my little nest inside my dove house, the door still wide open.  She filled my bowl with fresh water and brought me new seeds, closed the door, latching it tight.

Today, joyful at dawn, I woke her with my mourning song.

Sliding to Home


Our church belongs to a summer co-ed softball league, along with 8 other churches and a few local businesses.  This has been a traditional Thursday evening summer activity for the past generation or longer.  Couples have met for the first time on the ball fields and eventually marry. Babies have attended games in back packs and strollers and now are catching at home plate.  Relatives going to different churches find themselves on opposing teams yelling good natured insults.  There are a few bopped heads, abrasions, sprained fingers and broken legs as part of the deal.  Hot dog roasts and ice cream sundaes are the after game rewards.

Yet nothing is quite as wonderful as how a team recreates itself year after year.  It is thrown together by our coach Brenda in a mere two weeks prior to the season starting, with the youngest members needing to be at least age 14 with no upper age limit; we’ve had our share of 70+ year olds on the team over the years.   Some ball players are raw beginners having never played catch or swung a bat outside of school PE class, and others have extensive history of varsity fastpitch in school or other community league play so mean business when they stride out on the diamond.  It is the ultimate diverse talent pool.

A different dynamic exists in church league softball compared to Little League, Pony League, minors or majors when you watch or play. Sure, there are slow pitch teams that will stock their ranks with “invitation-only” players, reserving the best and most athletic so there is a real chance at the trophy at the end of the summer.  Churches like ours, a mere 150 people average weekly Sunday attendance, have a “come one, come all” attitude, just to make sure we avoid forfeiting by not having enough players week after week.   We always do have enough.  In fact we have more players than we can sometimes find positions for.  And we have a whole bleacher full of fans, dedicated to cheering and clapping for anything and everything our players do, whether it is a pop-up foul ball, a strike out swing, a missed catch, or an actual hit.  We love it all and want our players to know they are loved too, no matter what they do or what happens.

I think that is why the players and fans come back to play week after week, though we haven’t won a game in years.  We root and holler for each other, get great teaching and encouragement from our fantastic coach, and the players’ skills do improve year to year despite months of inactivity.  We have a whole line up of pre-14 year olds eager to grow old enough to play, just so they can be a part of the action.

Why does it not matter that we don’t win games?  We are winning hearts, not runs.  We are showing our youngsters that the spirit of play is what it is all about, not about the trophy at the end.  We are teaching encouragement in the face of errors, smiles despite failure, joy in the fellowship of people who love each other–spending an evening together week after week.  We are family; family picks you up and dusts you off when you’ve fallen flat on your face during your slide to base while still being called “out.”

Most of all, I see this as a small piece of God’s kingdom in action.

Our coach models Jesus’ acceptance of all at the table, and embodies the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control.

Our players are the eager, the ambivalent, the accurate, the flawed, the strong, the weak, the fast, the slow: chosen for the game even if they are completely inadequate to the task at hand, volunteering to be part of each moment as painful as it can sometimes be.

The cheering from the bleachers comes as if from heaven itself:  Do not be afraid.  Good will to all.  We are well pleased. Amen!

We’re sliding to home plate, running as hard as we can, diving for safety, covered in the dust and mire and blood of living/dying and will never, ever be called “out”.

Let’s play ball.


Forgetting to Remove Our Shoes


Within the hour, sixty folks would be coming to our hilltop pasture for “campfire church” and a wiener roast.  That was when I realized there were plenty of old horse manure piles still needing to be picked up from the very spots where families would be sitting on the ground, eating their hot dogs and singing their praise songs.  I grabbed the wheelbarrow and pitchfork and trudged up the hill to try to purge the field of poop, at least superficially.

It was no use.  Manure piles don’t pick up easily out of long grass, and the number of mole hills outnumbered poop hills 2 to 1 so there was plenty of dirty stuff to go around.  This would not be a hygienic eating and worshipping experience, no matter what I did at the last minute to try to change things.

Sure enough, many of the kids and a few of the adults pulled their shoes off to walk barefoot in the pasture grass, and I’m sure a few walked in stuff I’d rather not think about.  Only one got stung by a bee.  The rest of us kept our shoes, sandals and flip flops on,  which meant plenty of the farm went home on bare feet and soles of shoes after the service was over–people actually leaving dirtier than they arrived.  It seemed a bit backwards from how it is supposed to work…

Muslim, Shinto,  Hindu, or Buddhist worshippers ritually leave their shoes at the door of the temple or mosque.  Christians wear shoes into church every Sunday, having walked in muck and mire of one sort or another all week.   We might do our best to try and clean up for Sunday, but we track in the detritus of our lives when we come to sit in the pews.  Rather than leave it at the door, it comes right in with us, not exactly hidden and sometimes downright stinky.  That is when we are in obvious need for a good washing, shoes, feet, soul and all,  and that is why we worship together as a church family.  Jesus Himself demonstrated this on the last night of His life, washing the dusty feet of His disciples.

The Lord told Moses:  “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”    He knows it is time for a good bath.



Stacking the Hay


Every hay crew is the same
Though the names change;
Young men flexing their muscles,
A seasoned farmer defying his age
Tossing four bales high,
Determined girls bucking up on the wagon,
Young children rolling bales closer,
Add a school teacher, pastor,
Professor, lawyer and doctor
Getting sweaty and dusty
United in being farmers
If only for an evening.

Basket weave
Cut side up
Steadying the load
Riding over hills
Through valleys
In slow motion
Eagles over head
Searching the bare fields
Evening alpen glow
Of snowbound
Eastern peaks

Friends and neighbors
Walking the dotted pastures,
Piling on the wagons,
Driving the truck,
Riding the top of hay stack
In the evening breeze,
Filling empty barn space to the rafters,
Making gallons of lemonade in the kitchen.
A hearty meal consumed
In celebration
Of summer baled, stored, preserved
For another year.

Hay crew
Remembered on
Frosty autumn mornings before dawn
When bales are broken for feed
And fragrant summer spills forth.
In the dead of winter