A Thoughtful Dripping Muzzle

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Scottish Watering Trough (like many American Troughs, it had a previous life)

 

Belted Galloways in the Galloway region of Scotland

Let the end of all bathtubs
be this putting out to pasture
of four Victorian bowlegs
anchored in grasses.

 

Let all longnecked browsers
come drink from the shallows
while faucets grow rusty
and porcelain yellows.

Where once our nude forebears
soaped up in this vessel
come, cows, and come, horses.

Bring burdock and thistle,
come slaver the scum of
timothy and clover
on the cast-iron lip that
our grandsires climbed over

and let there be always
green water for sipping
that muzzles may enter thoughtful
and rise dripping.
~Maxine Kumin “Watering Trough”

 

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Farmers became the original recyclers before it was a word or an expectation — there isn’t anything that can’t be used twice or thrice for whatever is needed, wherever and whenever, especially far from the nearest retail outlet or farm supply store.

The water troughs on the farm where I grew up were cast-off four-legged bath tubs hauled home from the dump, exactly like the old tub I bathed in when staying overnight at my grandma’s farm house.  She needed her tub to stay put right in the bathroom, never considering an upgrade and remodel; she would never offer it up to her cows.

But there were people who could afford to install showers and molded tubs so out their tubs went to find new life and purpose on farms like ours.

We kept goldfish in our bathtub water trough, to keep the algae at bay and for the amusement of the farm cats. The horses and cows would stand drowsily by the tub, their muzzles dripping, mesmerized by flashes of orange circling the plugged drain.

I often wondered what they thought of sharing their drinking water with fish, but I suspect they had more weighty things to ponder: where the next lush patch of grass might be, how to reach that belly itch,  finding the best shade with fewest flies to take that afternoon nap.

When it comes to sharing a tub, maybe farm animals aren’t that different from their farmer keepers after all:  they both stand dripping and thoughtful alongside the tub, wondering about the next thing to be done, which may well be a well-earned rest.

 

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Wind the Clock

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Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

….It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble.

We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
~E.B. White  in a letter

 

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We can’t claw our way out of
the mess we’ve made of things;
it takes Someone
to dig us out of the hole,
wash us off,
clean us up,
and breathe fresh breath into our nostrils.

We can only hope
hope will be contagious.
We can only hope
and grab hold as His hand reaches down
to lift us up, carry us out of the dirt,
and hold us tight.

 

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The Heart Breaking Beauty of Eggs

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And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.

In the robin’s nest there were Eggs and the robin’s mate sat upon them keeping them warm with her feathery little breast and careful wings.

….in the garden there was nothing which was not quite like themselves—
nothing which did not understand the wonderfulness of what was happening to them—
the immense, tender, terrible, heart-breaking beauty and solemnity of Eggs.

If there had been one person in that garden who had not known through all his or her innermost being

that if an Egg were taken away or hurt the whole world would whirl round and crash through space and come to an end—

if there had been even one who did not feel it and act accordingly there could have been no happiness even in that golden springtime air.

But they all knew it and felt it and the robin and his mate knew they knew it.
~Frances Hodgson Burnett from The Secret Garden

 

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Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.

But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.

It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.

It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.
~Gregory Orr

 

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We all start out an egg pierced,
broken in order to become whole…
–  each tiny part of the least of us  –
– whether brain, heart, lungs or liver –
wonderfully made,
even if unwanted or discarded or taken away.

The act of creation of something so sacred
is immense, tender, terrible, beautiful, heart-breaking,
and so very solemn.

The act of hurting this one tiny part of creation
hurts the whole world;
we risk whirling round and crashing through space
and coming to an end.

If there is even one who does not feel it and act accordingly,
there can be no happiness.

But they all knew it and felt it and they knew they knew it.

And what is born broken is beloved.

 

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When the Sun Rises

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Sunrise is an event that calls forth solemn music in the very depths of our nature,
as if one’s whole being had to attune itself to the cosmos
and praise God for the new day,
praise him in the name of all the creatures that ever were or ever will be.

I look at the rising sun and feel that now upon me
falls the responsibility of seeing what all my ancestors have seen,
in the Stone Age and even before it, praising God before me.

Whether or not they praised him then, for themselves, they must praise him now in me.

When the sun rises each one of us is summoned by the living and the dead to praise God.
~Thomas Merton from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

 

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The first hints of an orange sherbet sunrise this morning began around 5:15 AM, and rapidly stretched across the eastern horizon north and south, with the colors deepening and spreading across the cloud cover. Mt. Baker and the Twin Sisters started as dark silhouettes against this palette of rich color, then began to show crags and glaciers as the sun illuminated the clouds above them. The entire farm was cast in an orange glow for a few brief seconds as the color crept higher and higher up the cloud banks overhead. Then it ended as quickly as it began.

All at once, everything returned to gray and ordinary, with no hint of the spectacular show that had just taken place. It could be dismissed so easily but must not be forgotten in our return to the routine of every breath, every step of our daily lives.

A sunrise is His smile and encouragement when we are barraged daily with discouragement. Here, free for the taking, is startling, wondrous magnificence beyond imagination — grace that brings us to our knees, especially when we are mired in gray troubled ordinariness and plainness.

Drink deeply of this.

Hold it, savor it and know:
to witness any sunrise is a chance to praise God to His smiling face.

 

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Radically Amazed

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How beautiful the things are that you did not notice before!
A few sweetclover plants
Along the road to Bellingham,
Culvert ends poking out of driveways,
Wooden corncribs, slowly falling,
What no one loves, no one rushes towards or shouts about,
What lives like the new moon,
And the wind
Blowing against the rumps of grazing cows.
~Robert Bly from “Like the New Moon I Will Live My Life”

 

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Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement.  …to get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. 
~Abraham Joshua Hershel

 

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Simply driving to work becomes a sacramental act.  This is not the hour long dense traffic commute I tolerated in the city thirty years ago – this is thirty minutes of noticing the expanse of the land against the sky, the light as it banishes the darkness, the harmony of animals existing on the soil.

It is a sacrament to notice “what no one loves, no one rushes towards or shouts about” and never take it for granted.  It is all gift; it is all grace.

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We’ll See What We Can Do

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I wanted a horse. This was long after
we sold the work horses, and I was feeling

restless on the farm. I got up early
to help my father milk the cows, talking

a blue streak about TV cowboys
he never had time to see and trying to

convince him that a horse wouldn’t cost
so much and that I’d do all the work.

He listened while he leaned his head
against the flank of a Holstein, pulling

the last line of warm milk into
the stainless bucket. He kept listening

while the milk-machine pumped like an engine,
and the black and silver cups fell off and

dangled down, clanging like bells when he
stepped away, balancing the heavy milker

against the vacuum hose and the leather belt.
I knew he didn’t want the trouble

of a horse, but I also knew there was nothing
else I wanted the way I wanted a horse—

another way of saying I wanted
to ride into the sunset and (maybe)

never come back—I think he knew that too.
We’ll see, he said, we’ll see what we can do.
~Joyce Sutphen “What Every Girl Wants”

 

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I once was a skinny freckled eleven year old girl who wanted nothing more than to have her own horse. Every inch of my bedroom wall had posters of horses, all my shelves were filled with horse books and horse figurines and my bed was piled with stuffed horses. I suffered an extremely serious case of horse fever.

I had learned to ride my big sister’s horse while my sister was off to college, but the little mare had pushed down a hot wire to get into a field of spring oats which resulted in a terrible case of colic and had to be put down. I was inconsolable until I set my mind to buy another horse.   We had only a small shed, not a real barn, and no actual fences other than the electric hot wire.  Though I was earning money as best I could picking berries and babysitting, I was a long way away from the $150 it would take to buy a trained horse back in 1965. I pestered my father about my dreams of another horse, and since he was the one to dig the hole for my sister’s horse to be buried, he was not enthusiastic.  “We’ll see,”  he said.  “We’ll see what we can do.”

So I dreamed my horsey dreams, mostly about golden horses with long white manes, hoping one day those dreams might come true.

In fall 1965, the  local radio station KGY’s Saturday morning horse news program announced their “Win a Horse” contest.  I knew I had to try. The prize was a weanling bay colt, part Appaloosa, part Thoroughbred, and the contest was only open to youth ages 9 to 16 years old. All I had to do was write a 250 word or less essay on “Why I Should Have a Horse”. I worked and worked on my essay, crafting the right words and putting all my heart into it, hoping the judges would see me as a worthy potential owner. My parents took me to visit the five month old colt named “Prankster”, a fuzzy engaging little fellow who was getting plenty of attention from all the children coming to visit him, and that visit made me even more determined.

When I read these words now, I realize there is nothing quite like the passion of an eleven year old girl:

“Why I Should Have a Horse”

When God created the horse, He made one of the best creatures in the world.  Horses are a part of me.  I love them and want to win Prankster for the reasons which follow:

To begin with, I’m young enough to have the time to spend with the colt.  My older sister had a horse when she was in high school and her school activities kept her too busy to really enjoy the horse.  I’ll have time to give Prankster the love and training needed.

Another reason is that I’m shy.  When I was younger I found it hard to talk to anybody except my family.  When my sister got the horse I soon became a more friendly person.  When her horse recently died (about when Prankster was born), I became very sad.  If I could win that colt, I couldn’t begin to describe my happiness. 

Also I believe I should have a horse because it would be a good experience to learn how to be patient and responsible while teaching Prankster the same thing. 

When we went to see Prankster, I was invited into the stall to brush him.  I was never so thrilled in my life!  The way he stood there so majestically, it told me he would be a wonderful horse. 

If I should win him, I would be the happiest girl alive.  I would work hard to train him with love and understanding.  If I could only get the wonderful smell and joy of horses back in our barn!

I mailed in my essay and waited.

On November 27, 1965, my mother and I listened to the local horse program that was always featured on the radio at 8 AM on Saturday mornings. They said they had over 300 essays to choose from, and it was very difficult for them to decide who the colt should go to. I knew then I didn’t have a chance. They had several consolation prizes for 2nd through 4th place, so they read several clever poems and heartfelt essays, all written by teenagers.  My heart was sinking by the minute.

The winning essay was next.  The first sentence sounded very familiar to me, but it wasn’t until several sentences later that we realized they were reading my essay, not someone else’s. My mom was speechless, trying to absorb the hazards of her little girl owning a young untrained horse. I woke up my dad, who was sick in bed with an early season flu.  He opened one eye, looked at me, and said, “I guess I better get a fence up today, right?”  Somehow, fueled by the excitement of a daughter whose one wish had just come true, he pulled himself together and put up a wood corral that afternoon, despite feeling so miserable.

That little bay colt came home to live with me the next day. Over the next few months he and I did learn together, as I checked out horse training books from the library, and joined a 4H group with helpful leaders to guide me. I made plenty of mistakes along the way, learning from each one, including those that left behind scars I still bear. Prankster was a typical adolescent gelding who lived up to his name — full of mischief with a sense of humor and a penchant for finding trouble, but he was mine and that was all that mattered.

That and a dad who could see what he had to do for his passionate kid.

 

 

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To Be That Necessary

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“I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
and that necessary.”
~Margaret Atwood from “Variations on the Word Sleep”

 

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For Dan’s birthday:

In this journey together,
we inhabit each other,
however long may be the road we travel;
you have become the air I breathe,
refreshing, renewing, restoring~~
you are that necessary to me,
and that beloved.

 

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