No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass. On either side, smitten as with a spell Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass, Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush. But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate, Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush, Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late. Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun5 A silken web from twig to twig. The air Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still. ~Lizette Woodworth Reese “August”
This poem written decades ago
by a poet now long departed
describes in detail
what I see outside my back door today.
Yet an unknowing detail of her foresight
includes a truth of this August:
her flaming river
is flowing across thousands of acres
only a few dozen miles away,
leaving behind ashes,
and little else.
An essence of August:
drying to dust – only a little
remains of the day.
Seventeen years ago we were in the middle of a hot August like this one. With no air conditioning then, as now, we use fans and at night hope for comfort from any cooling breeze drifting through the window curtains. Sleep is elusive when one is very busy sweating.
I remember waking suddenly from a fitful sleep in the dark of night, startled by a sound I could not readily identify. I lay still, my eyes wide open staring into the black space of our bedroom, discerning the sound of intermittent splashing in the adjacent bathroom. What the heck?
Our five year old daughter’s bedroom was the next room in the hallway on the other side of the bathroom. I called out her name, wondering what she could possibly be doing in the middle of the night, making splashing noises in the bathroom.
No answer. More splashing.
Now I was worried. I got up, walked into the hallway, peered into the dark bathroom, unable to see anything amiss. I flipped on the light switch. As my eyes tried to adjust to the sudden illumination, I was able to see one thing that most definitely did not belong in this picture: a rat’s hind end and long tail disappearing back down into the toilet. I gasped, shut the bathroom door quickly and gathered my wits. There is nothing that will turn one’s stomach quite like seeing a rat in a place it absolutely should not be.
I checked my daughter’s room, flipped the light on quickly to scan the floor and her bed, and she was soundly sleeping and all seemed fine. I shut off her light and shut her door quietly.
Then I woke the man of the house, the only reasonable thing to do in such a situation.
I’m not sure he believed me. Maybe I had only imagined I’d seen a rat? Maybe it was all a dream? Maybe the heat was getting to me?
I went and got a broom and handed it to him. He opened the door to the bathroom a crack, and saw little puddles on the bathroom floor and dirty wet marks on the toilet seat. He quickly closed the door again and looked at me. There definitely had been a grimy little something in that bathroom. But where was it now??
He opened the door again and went in, getting the broom handle ready to clobber the varmint. He peeked into the toilet and there was nothing to be found except some scummy debris floating in the water and scattered on the seat. He flushed. He flushed again. Nothing.
It was really hard to believe that a rat would voluntarily dive back into a toilet bowl and swim into the pipes …. unless it was headed for another toilet bowl. We quickly closed the toilet lid, piled books on top and went to check the other bathrooms–no signs of disturbance, wet paw prints or other ratty evidence of invasion.
There is little rational thinking that goes on in the middle of the night when a rat has swum up your pipes into a toilet. I admit to being a little emotional. That’s when we went for the bleach and poured a gallon down each toilet bowl, flushing a dozen times each, thoroughly disrupting all the healthy bacterial flora in our septic drain field. It did make me feel better momentarily. We closed all the toilet lids, closed all the bathroom doors and didn’t sleep a wink the rest of the night. When we inspected the toilets in the morning, one of the other toilets had been “visited” as well, but with the lid shut, the rat had disappeared back down the pipe.
In the morning, we coolly told lies to our three children. We told them two of our toilets were plugged up and they had to use one only, and always put the lid down afterward. We decided if we told them about a rat in the bowl, they would never feel safe about sitting on the toilet again. There is the potential of a real psychological PTSD (post-toileting stress disorder) entity. I certainly didn’t feel safe about sitting on the toilet and kept furtively looking down, which doesn’t make for a very relaxed bathroom visit. It can be positively constipating.
We did a search under the house, around the house, trying to figure out where rats could have found access to our septic system. Finally, we discovered that a pipe previously connecting the septic drain field to our temporary single-wide trailer living quarters during our major farm house remodel the previous year had never been completely sealed off when the trailer was removed. It was an open invitation to rodents seeking a cool dark (and wet) place to hide during a hot summer.
It wasn’t the end of our rat woes, but it was the last time they breached our plumbing. We later had a major invasion of our barns, requiring the ongoing services of expert exterminators as well as super duper cat defense. I’m proud to say I’ve not seen evidence of rats or their homely furry selves for years now.
We never told anyone about this little middle-of-the-night episode. In fact, our children thought for years we had sudden massive toilet failure at our house.
Until I blogged about it because it is a good tale (tail??) to tell…
C.S. Lewis said, “Most of us miss our cues repeatedly.” Or, as Sherlock Holmes commented to Watson: “You see, but you do not observe.” Artist Thomas La Duke noted: “Some things are so common that they disappear. They’re all around us, but they vanish.” Missing our cues, we fail to notice the fingerprints of the Creator in the ordinary textures and phenomena of living because we are distracted by daily urgencies, by things we consider more important, which in the end may prove to be both trivial and transient. Mary Oliver wrote: “If you notice anything it leads you to notice more and more.”
~Luci Shaw from Breath for the Bones
How is it I see more at 61 than I ever did at 20, 30, 40, or even 50?
It is like being ten again when everything was a discovery; everything is worth notice.
There are philosophies as varied as the flowers of the field,
and some of them weeds and a few of them poisonous weeds.
But they none of them create the psychological conditions
in which I first saw,
or desired to see,
the flower. ~G.K.Chesterton
The news is filled with poisonous weeds,
disguised as something palatable,
but one taste, one look
and I am toast.
I seek a beauty that is more than petal thin,
weed or not,
where roots reach deep
and colors so vibrant
it renews my heart
and fills my retinas full.
(to my three good friends from down the road who love our big leaf maple tree, and who always request this song when I’m playing piano for Sunday School at Wiser Lake Chapel)
I’ve got roots growing down to the water, I’ve got leaves growing up to the sunshine and the fruit that I bear is a sign of life in me, I am shade from the hot summer sundown, I am nest for the birds of the heaven, I’m becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be.
A strong young tree…. ~Ken Medema from “The Tree Song”
God is not infinite;
He is the synthesis
of infinity and boundary. ~Coventry Patmore
He chose the boundaries of the finite;
to be helpless as a baby,
to love flawed parents,
to be dusty and tired and tempted,
to be hurt, bleeding, bound by nails,
dead and buried as man,
to await rising as God.
Living and dying within such boundaries as ours
show us His infinite Truth:
He knows what it means
to be finite,
It’s that bean-snapping time of year again — preparing them fresh-picked for blanching and freezing, with visions of winter-time green bean casserole dancing in my head.
Bean snapping is a quintessential front porch American Gothic kind of activity. Old black and white Saturday matinee movies would somehow work in a bean snapping scene with an old maid aunt sitting on her ranch house porch. She’d be rocking back and forth in her rocking chair, her apron wrinkled and well-worn, her graying hair in a bun at the nape of her neck and wearily pushing back tendrils of hair from her face. As the sole guardian, she’d be counseling some lonely orphaned niece or nephew about life’s rough roads and why their dog or pony had just died and then pausing for a moment holding a bean in her hand, she’d talk about how to cope when things are tough. She was the rock for this child’s life. Then she’d rather gruffly shove a bowl of unsnapped beans into the child’s lap, and tell them to get back to work– life goes on –start snapping. Then she’d look at that precious child out of the corner of her eye, betraying the love and compassion that dwells in her heart but was not in her nature to speak of. If only that grieving child understood they sat upon a rock of strength and hope.
Just as I sat with my mother snapping beans some 50+ years ago and talked about some difficult things that were unique to the 60′s, I too have sat snapping beans together with our children, talking about hopes and disappointments and fears, listening to them grumble that I was making them do something so utterly trivial when from their perspective, there were far more important things to be doing. My response has been a loving and gruff “keep snapping”. Of course we really don’t have to snap the beans, as they could be frozen whole, but they pack tighter snapped, and it is simply tradition to do so. We enjoy that crisp satisfying crack of a perfectly bisected bean broken by hand–no need for knife to cut off the top and tail. We prepare for a coming winter by putting away the vegetables we have sowed and weeded and watered and cared for, because life will go on and eating the harvest of our own soil and toil is sweet.
We must do this. Indeed it is all we can do when the world is tumbling down around us.
Truthfully, though no one wants to eat a rubbery bean, there are times I wish I would be more rubbery like a bean that won’t break automatically and is more resilient. I have a psychiatrist colleague who I’ve worked with for years who counsels “be like a willow — learn to bend under pressure.”
There is an old Shaker Hymn that I learned long ago and sing to myself when I need to be reminded where I too must end up when I’m at the breaking point.
I will bow and be simple,
I will bow and be free,
I will bow and be humble,
Yea, bow like the willow tree.
I will bow, this is the token,
I will wear the easy yoke,
I will bow and will be broken,
Yea, I'll fall upon the rock.
As people of resilient faith we seek to wear the yoke we’ve been given to pull, bow in humility under its burden and know the freedom that comes with service to others. Even in the midst of the most horrific brokenness, we fall upon the rock bearing us up with love and compassion.
It is there under us and we’ve done nothing whatsoever to earn it.
Time for us to get back to work and resume snapping–life does go on.
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
~Thomas Chisholm “Great is Thy Faithfulness”
Same scene of our barn weathervane,
through the years
through the seasons
through the changes
of children growing up
of children flying away
of our heads getting grayer
our steps now slower.
Morning by morning
this manifold witness
to such steadfast love
to infinite mercies
to unending faithfulness.
“May the hair on your toes never fall out!” — J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)
It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to such a blessing. But I like the idea of being blessed starting from the bottom up, encompassing my most humble and homely parts first.
The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves. They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought. Benedictions can extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings; wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.
But let’s start at the very beginning: let’s bless our hairy toes. A very good place to start…
May you always have… Walls for the winds A roof for the rain Tea beside the fire Laughter to cheer you Those you love near you And all your heart might desire
May those who love us, love us;
and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles
so we’ll know them by their limping. Traditional Irish Blessings
…one of man’s purposes is to assist God in the work of “hallowing” the things of Creation.
By a tremendous heave of the spirit,
the devout man frees the divine sparks trapped in the mute things of time;
he uplifts the forms and moments of creation,
bearing them aloft into the rare air
and hallowing fire in which all clays must shatter and burst. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
The setting sun,
trapped and swallowed by a seed puff ball last night,
was released aloft this morning to rise unfettered
hallowed and holy.