Mending Fences


An old voice from the past came to me as I mended fence between our dry field of scant pasture and our apple/pear orchard after the Haflingers decided that no amount of voltage in the wire would deter them from  pushing it down and reaching for the sweet fruit they could see and smell just a few yards away–

“Good fences make good neighbors”

This wasn’t referring to hot tape and wire, but a stone wall in New England. Robert Frost wrote “Mending Walls” in 1913, a poem that I studied when I was 14 and which has stuck with me these 35 years.

Mending Wall (excerpts)
By Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.

He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

I maintain wood rail and hot wire fences, in my haphazard and ineffectual way, pondering the necessity for them and marveling at the Haflinger ability to overcome them. Fences to keep the pines and the apple trees separate, as Frost muses, seems ludicrous. Frost didn’t know about Haflingers though. Fences to keep greedy horses from gorging on apples and pears and getting sick makes complete sense. Fences to keep my “happy wanderer” Haflingers from exploring the road and the neighbor’s fields is imperative!

As one travels across the plains and mountains of North America, fences are everywhere to be seen. Fences that are impressive and tall, stretching for miles, built to keep deer and elk off the roads. Fences that are old barbed wire, falling and decrepit, no longer effective, but still testimony to a determined farmer’s desire to section off his barren land from another’s barren land, or perhaps the requirement borne of the homesteading laws of the time. Frost’s poem spans the balance between man’s sometimes irrational desire for barriers, and the acknowledgement of the order that they bring to an uncertain and sometimes unpredictable world that lays beyond our walls.

Fences continue to exist in many parts of the world today, created out of political conflict and fear. New walls are going up between Israel/Palestinian settlements (even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon quoted Robert Frost’s poem in his justification of a new barrier). Much celebration accompanied the fall of the Berlin Wall after its years of imposing testimony to the lack of trust and understanding between people who were once relatives, neighbors and friends. The Great Wall of China still stands, now primarily tourist attraction, no longer serving any other useful purpose other than to illustrate the lengths to which man goes to barricade himself off from others.

So why maintain life’s fences, even if there may be no hungry horses to keep in, or predators to keep out? Even if the neighbors are best of friends and get along famously? Even if the building and maintaining of these fences seems a futile and foolish task when they are pushed down, blown over in the winds, with trees fallen over them, and overgrown with brush and wild blackberries?

Fences, like rules and laws, define order, and structure. They can bite back if they are breached. If crashed and broken, they are hazardous in and of themselves, not withstanding the potential dangers that lay beyond them. Remove them altogether and we risk chaos.

So, in the best of times, we are mending walls out of continuing need for contact with our neighbors. We meet across the barriers to shake hands and visit while we repair the fences together, leaving the barriers standing and strong. In the worst of times, we fortify and hide behind the walls, making them taller, wider, deeper, creating greater and greater gulfs between us and eventually losing touch forever as the walls themselves deteriorate without the necessary mutual “mending”.

So we must not love walls themselves, but must maintain them with our neighbor. We don’t worship the walls themselves but respect the foundation they rest on. We must accept our boundaries with humility, recognizing their necessity is due to our imperfections.

Now I just need to teach my Haflingers to do their part and put the insulators back on the posts and stretch the wire and tape tight. I know their teeth are good for something other than secretly smiling and constantly eating.

Reflecting the Light


It was a treasured late summer evening when temperatures hover around 70 degrees, there was a slight cooling breeze, clear starlit skies, and barely a mosquito buzzing.  We had just returned from a lovely evening outdoor wedding for two special young friends,  with a special message from our pastor about the profound mystery of marriage, not just for newlyweds, but also for those of us married for many years. As we approach our 28th anniversary next month, we are blessed in the knowledge we depend on God’s grace every day, trying to reflect it back to our children, our community, to each other.

We decided to hike up to the top of our hill after dark to catch the best view of our neighbor Mars before we brought our Haflingers in for the night.  Mars was there to see all right, orange and bright in the southeast sky. But the Haflingers seemed to be afflicted by strange Martian fever, or perhaps it was simply because we rarely wander out into the field in the dark with flashlights in hand. There was no moon yet when we were out –simply starlight and the far-off lights from Vancouver,  British Columbia to the north and Bellingham to the south.

The Haflingers started running in the dark, kicking and snorting and bucking with the joy of a starlit, Martian-lit summer evening. Only all we could see of the Haflingers were their ghostly white manes and tails moving across the fields, jumping and twisting and cavorting.

I’m sure over the generations, in the alpine meadows of the South Tyrol, there must have been some starlit moonless lights when the Haflinger herds would run together, and all you could see in the dark were floating disembodied white manes and tails.

Perhaps that is what enchanted the mountain peasants the most about their sturdy reliable golden companions—at night they become spirit and light. They shine like the stars, even from the ground, reflecting back the lights from the heavens.  And so, in our companionship with each other, and with God, do we glow with His light.

Song from a Snowdrift

emilyleaDear One,

Your rolling and stretching grew quieter that stormy winter night, but no labor came.
A week overdue, you still clung to amnion and womb, not ready.

The wind blew wicked and snow flew horizontal, landing in piling drifts.
The roads became impassable, nearly impossible to reach the safe haven of hospital if labor came.

But your dad and I tried to make it down the road, worried about being stranded at home. Our little car got stuck in a snowpile, so we prayed you would wait, our tires spinning, whining against the growing snow. It took a neighbor’s bulldozer to dig us out to freedom. You floated silent and still, knowing your time was not yet.

After creeping slowly through the dark night blizzard, we finally arrived to the warm glow of the hospital.

You slept. I, not at all.

With morning sun glistening off sculptured snow outside our window, the doctor arrived to start labor but your heart had mysteriously slowed in the night. You were jostled, turned, oxygenated, but nothing changed. You beat even more slowly. The nurses’ eyes told me we had trouble. The doctor, grim faced, announced delivery must happen quickly, taking you now, hoping we were not too late. I was rolled, numbed, stunned, clasping your father’s hand, closing my eyes, not wanting to see the bustle around me, not wanting to hear the shouted orders, the tension in the voices, the quiet at the moment of opening when it was unknown what would be found.

And then you cried.

A hearty healthy husky cry. Perturbed and disturbed from the warmth of womb, to the cold shock of a bright lit operating room, your first vocal solo brought applause from the surrounding audience who admired your pink skin, your shock of damp red hair, your blue eyes squeezed tight, then blinking open, wondrous.

You were okay.

You were brought wrapped for me to see and touch before being whisked away, your father trailing behind the parade to the nursery.

I closed my eyes, swirling in a brain blizzard of what-ifs, knowing if no storm had come, you would have fallen asleep forever within my womb, no longer nurtured by an aging placenta, being cut off from what you needed to stay alive. There would have been no pink skin, nor husky cry, only the soft weeping of your parents knowing what could have been if we had only known, if we could have been sent a sign to go for help.

Saved by a storm and dug from a drift: I now celebrate each time I hear your voice.

Love, Mom

Unfinished Business


Written for my brother-in-law,  Mike Casey
husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, friend, musician, carpenter

written August 25, 2007

Unfinished Business

We always assumed there would be
another day
for the next remodel,
the next project,
the next concert;
plenty of time
to explore how
to bring people joy
and help them feel at home.

You rebuilt the old
with tools in your hands,
both people and houses
molded with encouragement and humor
created through wood, music
and friendship

Your four grandchildren
-brand new construction-
sanded and shaped
reflecting your love and skill.

You are in their hands,
their eyes,
their hearts
forever more
your knowledge
becoming theirs.

It is much too soon
to be called upon to move on,
leaving behind unfinished business;
yet you are building afar
a new song
a new foundation
a new hope
new construction
for the rest of us to come home to

Blackberry Cobbler

blackberriesWe’ve often been asked about the origin of our farm name, BriarCroft, as it is a bit unusual. I point toward our back field when I explain: banks of blackberry bushes and vines on the periphery of our woods, covering an old barbwire fence, and literally becoming fence itself in their overwhelming growth. So that is the “briar” and the “croft” is our little Scottish “farm on a hill”.

The blackberry vines seem like trouble 90% of the year–growing where they are not welcome and reaching out and grabbing passersby without discriminating between human, dog or horse. But for about 3 weeks in late August and early September, they yield black gold–bursting, swelling, unimaginably sweet fruit that is worth the hassle borne the rest of the weeks of the year.

Today I was on a mission. I wanted to make a blackberry cobbler for a family dinner to serve warm with vanilla ice cream–a true once a year treat to offer up.

It has been an unusually dry summer here in the Pacific Northwest with little rain at all since July, so the fields are brown and even the usually lush blackberry vines are starting to dry. The berries themselves are rich from the sun, but a bit smaller than typical. The Haflingers have been fed hay for the past several weeks as they are turned out in the fields in the mornings as there is not enough pasture for them without the supplement–we are about 6 weeks ahead of schedule in feeding hay.

I had grown a little suspicious the last couple nights as I brought the Haflingers into the barn for the night as several of the mares turned out in the back field were bearing purplish stains on their chests and front legs, and one even had a tell-tale purplish mark on her muzzle with a short blackberry vine still painfully stuck in her lower lip that I extracted for her. Hmmmm. Raiding the berries. Desperate drought forage behavior in an extremely efficient eating machine.

So this evening I headed down the path to the back field, not seeing the mares until I rounded the corner of the woods, and headed toward the berries. They had heard the Haflingers in the other fields talking to me as I passed, and were already headed up to see what was up. When they saw the bowl in my hand, that was it. They mobbed me. I was

So with three mares in tow, I approached the berry bank. It was ravaged. Trampled. Haflinger poop piles everywhere. All that were left were clusters of gleaming black berries up high overhead, barely reachable on my tip toes, and only reachable if I walked directly into the vines. The mares stood in a little line behind me, pondering me as I pondered my dilemma. I looked back at them and told them they were berry thieves and they weren’t getting a single one from me.

I set to work picking what I could reach, snagging, ripping and bloodying my hands and arms, despite my sleeves, determined that I was not going to give up on this vision of steaming blackberry cobbler and vanilla ice cream that I’d entertained all day. Pretty soon I had mares on either side of me, diving into the brambles and reaching up to pick what they could reach as well, unconcerned about the thorns that tore at their sides and muzzles. They were like sharks in water–completely focused on their prey and amazingly skilled at
grabbing just the black berries, and not the pale green or red ones. Three plump Haflingers and one *plumpish* woman willingly accumulating scars in the name of sweetness.

When my bowl was full, I extracted myself from the brambles and contemplated how I was going to safely make it back to the barn without being mugged. Not a problem. I adopted that “look” and that “voice” and they obediently trailed behind me, happy to be put in their stalls for their nightly grain, a gift from me with no thorns or vines attached.

Thorns are indeed part of our everyday life. They stand in front of much that is sweet and good and precious to us. They tear us up, bloody us, make us cry, make us beg for mercy.
Yet thorns did not stop salvation, did not stop goodness, did not stop the promise of sweetness to come. We simply can wait to be fed: a gift dropped from heaven.

Anyone ready for blackberry cobbler?

Seven Ducks in a Muddy Pond


Perhaps it was his plain talk about the Word of God.  Perhaps it was his folksy stories tying that Word to our lives.  Perhaps it was because he was, like the rest of us, so fully a flawed and forgiven human being.  Pastor Bruce Hempel ministered to thousands over his lifetime of service, yet the simple act of climbing the steps up to the pulpit was nearly impossible for him.

Bruce had one leg.  The other was lost to an above the knee amputation due to his severe diabetes.  He wore an ill-fitting prosthetic leg that never allowed a normal stride and certainly proved a challenge when ascending stairs.  He would come early to the sanctuary to climb the several steps to the chair behind the pulpit so he would not have to struggle in front of the congregation at the start of the service.  As we would enter to find our pew seats, he would be deep in thought and prayer, already seated by the pulpit.

He often said he was a difficult person to live with because of his constant pain and health problems.  His family confirmed that was indeed true, but what crankiness he exhibited through much of the week evaporated once he was at the pulpit.  Standing there balanced on his good leg with his prosthesis acting as a brace, he was transformed and blessed with clarity of thought and expression.  His pain was left behind.

He came to our church after many years of military chaplaincy, having served in Korea and Vietnam and a number of stateside assignments.  He liked to say he “learned to meet people where they were” rather than where he thought they needed to be.  His work brought him face to face with thousands of soldiers from diverse faiths and backgrounds, or in many cases, no faith at all, yet he ministered to each one in the way that was needed at that moment.  He helped some as they lay dying and others who suffered so profoundly they wished they would die.  He was there for them all and he was there for us.

One memorable sermon came from 2Kings 5: 1-19 about the healing of the great warrior Naaman who was afflicted with leprosy.  Pastor Bruce clearly identified with Naaman and emphasized the message of obedience to God as the key to Naaman’s healing.  Like Naaman, no one would desire “Seven Ducks in a Muddy Pond” but once Naaman was obedient despite his pride and doubts, he was cured of the incurable by bathing in the muddy Jordan River.

Even upon retirement, Bruce continued to preach when churches needed a fill in pastor, and he took a part time job managing a community food and clothing bank, connecting with people who needed his words of encouragement.  He was called regularly to officiate at weddings and funerals, especially for those without a church.  He would oblige as his time and health allowed.

His last sermon was delivered on a freezing windy December day at a graveside service for a young suicide victim he had never known personally.  Pastor Bruce was standing at the head of the casket and having concluded his message, he bowed his head to pray, continued to bend forward, appeared to embrace the casket and breathed his last.  He was gone,  just like that.

He was not standing up high at the pulpit the day he died.  He was obediently getting muddy in the muck and mess of life, and waiting, as we all are, for the moment he’d be washed clean.

Fair Weather Farewell



For the first time since 1992, we are not preparing this weekend to spend the week displaying our Haflinger horses at the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden.  BriarCroft has been a consistent presence at this fair for almost two decades, promoting the Haflinger breed in a well  decorated display, providing 24 hour a day coverage for the horses for the 6 days of the fair. We begged the Fair Board for 5 years to allow us to display at the fair, and they finally said “okay, here’s the space, build it yourself” and we did! We were not there for classes, competition, or ribbons. We were there because people enjoyed our Haflingers and we enjoyed the people.

But this year, it was not to be.  Our faithful trick riders Kelsy and Chesna who performed daring feats on their Haflingers in front of the grandstand crowds are busy with their horse training in Tenino, our adult sons have headed off to work in Tokyo, Japan, and college in Chicago, leaving us short of the crew needed to man the display for the week as Dan and I have to work our day jobs.  It was a painful decision to make, but it was simply not going to be possible to do it this year.  I will miss spending time with our dedicated young helpers–my daughter Lea, and the Vander Haak family–Emily, Christopher and David.  Over the years we’ve had many young helpers spend the week with us, now many of them grown with children of their own.

Every year since 1992, we evaluated whether we had the energy and resources to do it  again–for the initial 6 years when Dan and I were the sole farm doing  the display, it meant a week of vacation from work, and very very long days, juggling our small children as well as several horses. Then, with the help of 3R Farms and Teaglach Farm as well as older children, we were able to rotate shifts, still work at our “real” jobs part days, share duties and expenses together. The older kids watched the younger kids, the inbetween kids did most of the horse stall cleaning duty, and the adults sit and shoot the breeze.

Did this sell horses for us? Not really. But it sure did create good will for the fair visitors who depended on us every year to be there with horses that they and their children could actually pet (and sit on ) without fear, who enjoyed our braiding demonstrations, and our various Haflinger trivia contests with prizes.

Most of all, why we continued to do this so long, was that we provided what  dreams are made of. I’m not sure how many times a day there would be a bright eyed child who approached our stalls, climbed up on the step stools and reached up to pet a Haflinger nose or neck and looked deep into those big brown Haflinger eyes, and lost their heart forever to the breed. They will not forget that moment when a horse they had never met before loved them back. Haflingers are magic with children and we saw that over and over again.

Our first year, in 1992, a mom and her 6 year old son came up to our stalls, as do some  10,000 people a day, and spent a long time petting the horses and talking to them, and enjoying them. They walked off, with the little boy looking over his shoulder at the Haflingers until they turned a corner and went out of sight. An hour later they were back and spent more time with the Haflingers. I offered the little boy a chance to sit on a Haflinger, and he agreed readily, and sat and sat and sat, playing with the mane and petting the shoulder and neck and was simply in heaven, quietly dreaming his own dreams on the back of a horse. His mom told me that they lived in a suburb near Seattle, but always spent this particular week in August at a local beach cabin, and the fair was one of their favorite activities each year. Her son Gary had never had an opportunity to sit on a horse before.

Next year, they were back, and Gary was a little taller, but still a quiet boy, and he kept dragging his mom back to the Haflingers, and she’d sit and visit as he’d sit on the Haflingers. He watched as we watered the horses, or fed them hay, or cleaned their stalls, and pretty soon he was asking if he could do the scooping, or dump the buckets or brush the horses. So he became, out of his own initiative, a helper.

By the time he was 8, he was spending several hours at a time with us at the stalls, taking his turn at the chores, and his mom, trusting that he was in good hands, and that he certainly wasn’t going to wander away from the Haflingers, would check back with him now and then to see if he wanted to go on rides, or see a performance, and his response was always “no, I can do that anytime, but I don’t get to see Haflingers very often!” He would talk a little about his hope someday to have a farm where he could raise Haflingers, and one year even said that his folks were looking at property to buy with acreage, but apparently a job for his dad didn’t materialize, so he remained a city kid in reality, even if he was a future farm kid in his heart.

He was one of our regular kid helpers every year until he was 12 when he started turning out for junior high football, and the football summer camp coincided with our fair week, so we’d only see him briefly on Saturdays as he got into his teens. He’d stop by to say hi, pet the horses, catch up on the Haflinger news, and because he only had a few hours to spend at the fair, he’d head off to other things. I really missed him and his happy smile around the stalls.

When he was 15, I missed seeing him because I was working when he stopped by. When he stopped by at age 16, he strolled up to me and I found I was looking up at this young man who I had to study to recognize. I’m a tall woman of 5’10”–he was at least 4 inches taller than me! He told me he wanted to come by because some of his best summer memories were of spending time with the Haflingers at the fair and he wanted me to know that. He thanked me for welcoming him and allowing him to “hang out” with the Haflingers. He told me his hope and dream someday was to live somewhere where he could raise Haflingers, and he was working hard in school so he could make that happen. He was a  4.0 student and the first string quarterback on his high school football team. I was as proud as if he was my own son.

This young man received a full scholarship to play football at a major university, and over four years waited his turn to be the starting quarterback.  Once he had his chance, after only a few games, he was tackled hard, sustaining a neck fracture which thankfully resulted in no permanent damage, but his college football career was suddenly over.

I hope someday to see Gary again–it would be great to see this tall accomplished young man who so recently was a shy quiet little city boy of 6, draped across the broad back of a Haflinger, and lost in his dreams of a “someday” Haflinger of his own. This is why we’ve done what we have at the fair all these years. It was for people like Gary who made a connection with a horse and never ever forget it. I’d like to think that a little bit of who Gary is and what he is becoming is because he had a dream of a horse farm that he held onto all these years.

Perhaps we’ll be back again at the Lynden Fair in the future if we can organize enough helpers.  We do hope the fair-goers miss the friendly golden horses with the big brown eyes that help make dreams come true.

The Solace of Slugs


After a long dry spell, with the lawn dried to a light brown crisp and the garden crying for water, it rained last night.  It continues to rain today, each droplet slurped up into the ground without hesitation.  The world was very thirsty, which is a rare event here in the Pacific Northwest where waterlogged is the typical chronic malady.

Heading out to the barn for chores was a hazardous journey,  slipping and sliding on hordes of slugs that had surfaced everywhere like pimples on a teenager’s back, seemingly overnight. They crawled out from under every leaf and every stray piece of wood to bask in the rain, replenishing the moisture lost over weeks of hot sun.  Somehow I always suspected there was a secret world of organisms out there, oozing and creeping in the dark of the night, but preferred not to think about them if I didn’t have to.  But they would confront me regularly to remind me of their existence.  At dawn, the cat food bowl sometimes contained clues that parties were being thrown at midnight by the back porch, with glistening slime trails in and out of the bowl and in concentric circles all around.  When I would grab a handful of green beans in the garden, some of them would be slippery with slug slime and neat little chunks would be missing.  The tidiest stealth invasion was a tomato that looked invitingly red and plump from one side, but when picked, was completely cored, hanging in a dangling half shell from the vine with mucus strands still dripping.  There was some serious eating going on right under our noses.

Actually the chewing is under the slug noses, all four noses to be precise.  With that much sensory input, no wonder a slug knows about the transparent apple peelings lying on the bottom of my tall compost bucket outside the back door.  I think they traveled for miles to find this particular stash, climbing up the bucket sides and slithering down into glorious apple orgy.  The party lasted until morning when I discovered them still congregating and clinging, gorged and immobile in their satiety on the sides and bottom of the bucket.  I had unwittingly provided the means of their intoxication, having now become an accessory to minors in possession.

In my middle years, I now appreciate slugs for what they are.  No longer do I run for the salt shaker as I did in my younger, more ruthless days.  Instead I find it strangely reassuring that a land locked amorphous invertebrate can survive days of 100+ degree heat, weeks of no rain and still thrive to replenish its kind.  If something so homely and seemingly inconsequential to the world can make it in spite of conditions that conspire to dry it to dust, then maybe I have a chance as well.   I too may not be presentable at times,  and sometimes leave behind evidence of where I’ve been and the havoc I’ve created.  But then someone puts out a sweet meal for me to feast on, allowing me a celebration of life, and spares me when what I deserve is the salt shaker.

It is solace indeed:  if the slugs are loved, than so am I.

Wholly Weaned

personaluse_8445264-FBThe usual peace and quiet on our farm has been anything but the last few days. The time has come to wean foals from their mothers and they are all protesting loudly about the separation, day and night. This is always a difficult time every year, rattling my senses more than usual because I am in the process of being weaned as well. Their cries echo deeply in my unsettled heart. As the mares stand at the field gate calling to their babies stowed safely in the barn, I know they want them back for their own comfort–mostly to relieve swollen painful udders. They also need to know their babies are safe and content. This feeling I know all too well.

We’ve recently delivered our second child back to college, even farther from home than our first child chose to go. It was a difficult leave taking in many ways, primarily because I wasn’t as prepared as I hoped to be. I still want that comfortable feeling of knowing my children were tucked safely under my wings. It just doesn’t seem possible they don’t fit there as easily as they used to. My children certainly understand that better than I as they are the ones feeling crowded and anxious to leave, ready to embark on independent adult lives.

An unexpected preparation took place recently when we took several of our Haflingers to a regional fair for a week’s stay. We moved into covered outdoor stalls that stand empty 51 weeks of the year, but for this one week, the stalls are decorated and built up with fluffy shavings, and the horses shined to a gloss. The night before the fair was to open, I was sweeping the area in front and discovered a barn swallow’s nest had been built in the rafters right above where the public would be standing to pet our horses. The pile of bird droppings had heaped high on the cement and the nest was full of chirping fledglings all prepared to produce more where that had come from. It was an inconvenient and potentially messy spot for a nest’s front porch so I carefully lifted it and its chirpy contents from the front rafter and placed it on a back rafter above one horse’s stall. It was a minor move of about 10 feet, but that proved to be a major obstacle for two dedicated swallow parents who had five noisy hungry mouths to feed. I hoped I had not completely disrupted this little family’s world.

It took about an hour for the swallow parents to decide they couldn’t bear to listen to their displaced babes’ cheeping any more, so they swooped into the stall with insects to feed five gaping mouths, putting aside their indignation at the semi-eviction and the objectionable human and horse smell all over their home. They felt compelled to care for those offspring, no matter what the dangers may be.

It became quite the show stopper during the week as people leaned over the stall gates to pet our horses and a swallow would swoop right past their ear on its way to the nest. We watched those five babies grow fluffier over the course of the week, and several times had to rescue one or another from a horrible fate under a horses’ hoof as the birds bumped and jostled each other out of the crowded nest. By the end of the week, they were not yet flying but they were able to sit independently next to the nest on the rafter beam and a few days later when I went back to check on them, they were already gone, the nest feather-lined and poop filled, looking a bit forlorn and terribly empty, no longer a comfortable fit for a family that had outgrown it.

A barn swallow is more resilient than I am about letting their offspring go. Even my mares are slowly settling into the knowledge their youngsters are now on their own and perfectly capable of taking care of themselves in the big world. I am not nearly so settled with my children’s transition to adulthood. Yet I know it must come. It’s not just about the inevitable resolution of the uncomfortably swollen udder, but in time to feel the calm and quiet fullness in the heart of the wholly weaned.