Just past dawn, the sun stands with its heavy red head in a black stanchion of trees, waiting for someone to come with his bucket for the foamy white light, and then a long day in the pasture. I too spend my days grazing, feasting on every green moment till darkness calls, and with the others I walk away into the night, swinging the little tin bell of my name. ~Ted Kooser “A Birthday Poem”
This is not a usual summer, lacking boisterous gatherings of family and friends, missing our endless July outdoor meals~ instead staying in place, quietly feasting upon each gifted moment while close-crop grazing ’til I’m full up and spilling over, ready to someday again share all I have until empty.
It’s frail, this spring snow, it’s pot cheese packing down underfoot. It flies out of the trees at sunrise like a flock of migrant birds. It slips in clumps off the barn roof, wingless angels dropped by parachute. Inside, I hear the horses knocking aimlessly in their warm brown lockup, testing the four known sides of the box as the soul must, confined under the breastbone. Horses blowing their noses, coming awake, shaking the sawdust bedding out of their coats. They do not know what has fallen out of the sky, colder than apple bloom, since last night’s hay and oats. They do not know how satisfactory they look, set loose in the April sun, nor what handsprings are turned under my ribs with winter gone. ~Maxine Kumin “Late Snow” from Selected Poems: 1960 – 1990
This past weekend we had it all: sun, rain, windstorm, hail, and some local areas even reported a late April snowfall. It is indeed disorienting to have one foot still in winter and the other firmly on grass that needs mowing.
It is also disorienting to look at pandemic data and hear varying experts’ interpretations about what is happening, what they predict and what strategies are recommended.
It may be time to loosen the tight grip on social distancing yet many are reticent to emerge from their confinement, for good reason.
Just last week, we released the Haflingers from their winter lock-in back onto the fields – their winter-creaky barn-confined joints stretched as they joyfully ran the perimeter of the fields before settling their noses into fresh clover. Their ribs sprung with the fragrance of the apple blossom perfume of the orchard and it lifted my sagging spirit to see them gallop. But even the horses are not ready for complete freedom either – I whistled them in after two hours, not wanting them to eat themselves sick with too much spring grass. Their time on the outside will be tightly controlled until it is safe for them to be out unrestricted.
Surprisingly, the horses come in willingly to settle back into their stalls and their confinement routine.
I’m not so different. I long to be set loose in the April sun and the freedom to go when and where I wish. But the new reality means winter is not entirely gone yet and may not be for some time. There are still tragic and untimely losses of life, still plenty of weeping and lament from the grief-stricken who have been robbed prematurely of loved ones due to a virus that is circulating indiscriminately.
So we must ease out slowly, carefully and cautiously, with one ear cocked and ready to be whistled back in when we are called to return to safety.
I rise today in the power’s strength, invoking the Trinity believing in threeness, confessing the oneness, of creation’s Creator.
I rise today in heaven’s might, in sun’s brightness, in moon’s radiance, in fire’s glory, in lightning’s quickness, in wind’s swiftness, in sea’s depth, in earth’s stability, in rock’s fixity.
I rise today with the power of God to pilot me, God’s strength to sustain me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look ahead for me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to protect me, God’s way before me, God’s shield to defend me, God’s host to deliver me, from snares of devils, from evil temptations, from nature’s failings, from all who wish to harm me, far or near, alone and in a crowd.
Around me I gather today all these powers against every cruel and merciless force to attack my body and soul.
May Christ protect me today against poison and burning, against drowning and wounding, so that I may have abundant reward; Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me; Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me; Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me; Christ in my lying, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising; Christ in the heart of all who think of me, Christ on the tongue of all who speak to me, Christ in the eye of all who see me, Christ in the ear of all who hear me.
For to the Lord belongs salvation, and to the Lord belongs salvation and to Christ belongs salvation. May your salvation, Lord, be with us always.
—”Saint Patrick’s Breastplate,” Old Irish, eighth-century prayer.
Every year on March 17, St. Patrick is little remembered for his selfless missionary work in Ireland in the fifth century. When we visited his grave in Ireland – a humble stone fixed upon on a hill top next to a cathedral overlooking the sea – I wondered what he would make of how this day, dubbed with his name, is celebrated now.
Perhaps Patrick would observe that this year, March 17 is much quieter and more contemplative than typical. Worldwide we are considering our frail and fragile physical and economic vulnerabilities due to the pandemic viral outbreak.
Patrick, in his prayer, urges us to rise up to meet God’s power of salvation in our lives, even in the toughest scariest times.
God is our Rock and our Redeemer. We are fixed upon Him.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
May the strength of God pilot us, May the wisdom of God instruct us, May the hand of God protect us, May the word of God direct us. Be always ours this day and for evermore.
It was the face of spring, it was the face of summer, it was the warmness of clover breath. ~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine
However you may come, You’ll see it suddenly Lie open to the light Amid the woods: a farm Little enough to see Or call across—cornfield, Hayfield, and pasture, clear As if remembered, dreamed And yearned for long ago, Neat as a blossom now With all the pastures mowed And the dew fresh upon it, Bird music all around. That is the vision, seen As on a Sabbath walk: The possibility Of human life whose terms Are Heaven’s and this earth’s.
The land must have its Sabbath Or take it when we starve. The ground is mellow now, Friable and porous: rich. Mid-August is the time To sow this field in clover And grass, to cut for hay Two years, pasture a while, And then return to corn.
This way you come to know That something moves in time That time does not contain. For by this timely work You keep yourself alive As you came into time, And as you’ll leave: God’s dust, God’s breath, a little Light. ~Wendell Berry from The Farm
Farming is daily work outside of time – the labor of this day is the care for the eternal. There is a timelessness about summer: about preparing and planting and preserving, this cycle of living and dying repeating through generations. We, as our many great great grandparents did, must become God’s dust yet again.
So I’m reminded, walking through the pasture’s clover patch, of all the ways to become seed and soil for the next generation. For a blossom that appears so plain and goes so unnoticed during its life, it dies back, enfolding upon itself, with character and color and drama, each a bit differently from its neighbor.
Just like us.
Perhaps it is the breath of clover we should remember at the last; God’s own breath comes to us disguised in so many ways as we walk this ground. Inhale deeply of Him and remember we too are made fruits of His eternal labor.
The south-west wind! how pleasant in the face It breathes! while, sauntering in a musing pace, I roam these new ploughed fields; or by the side Of this old wood, where happy birds abide, And the rich blackbird, through his golden bill, Utters wild music when the rest are still. Luscious the scent comes of the blossomed bean, As o’er the path in rich disorder lean Its stalks; when bees, in busy rows and toils, Load home luxuriantly their yellow spoils. The herd-cows toss the molehills in their play; And often stand the stranger’s steps at bay, Mid clover blossoms red and tawny white, Strong scented with the summer’s warm delight. ~John Clare “Beans in Blossom”
Walking, thinking and paying attention to one’s surroundings all at the same time requires a slower pace than the recommended 3x a week standard cardiovascular work-out.
So, even if it isn’t getting my heart rate up, I’m trying out sauntering. Ambling. Meandering. Strolling. Dilly-dallying. Lingering.
As my feet move more slowly, my brain stays busy, even as my muscles aren’t so much. Musing. Cogitating. Contemplating. Reflecting. Pondering. Ruminating. Appreciating.
What takes place is a perplexing paradox: I empty out while filling up:
letting go of worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, grief, self-absorption allowing room for praise, contentment, grace, gratitude, worship
Now a decade after her death, I’m still slowly sorting through my mother’s packed up possessions stored in one of our farm outbuildings. Some boxes I am not ready to open, such as the 30 months of letters written by my newlywed father and mother while he fought in several bloody island battles as a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. Other boxes contain items from too distant an era to be practical in my kitchen, such as the ones labeled “decorative teacups” or “assorted tupperware bowls without lids”.
But I do open the boxes of books. My mother was a high school speech teacher during those war years, and she had a good sense of a classic book, so there are always treasures in those boxes.
Recently I found the 1956 Webster’s New Dictionary of the Twentieth Century that I grew up with. This book was massive, easily weighing 10 pounds, and served as a booster seat for haircuts, a step stool for trying to reach the cookie jar on the kitchen cupboard, and of course, for looking up any obscure word that ever existed in all of history. Or so it seemed.
It was an amazing tome. And as I flipped through the pages, I found some old familiar friends that were neither black nor white nor read all over.
Wildflowers had been carefully pressed between the pages–over two dozen specimens paper thin themselves, their existence squeezed into two dimensions–still showing faint pink or blue, or purple color, almost exuding a long ago fragrance from a summer over fifty years ago. As a child I regularly wandered out to our fields and woods to gather crimson clover blossoms, buttercup, dandelions, daisies, wild violets, wild ginger, calypso lady slippers for bouquets for my mother, and she would select the most perfect to slide between the pages of the dictionary. Occasionally she would pull out one to gently paste on a hand written card she sent to a friend.
Here were my perfect flowers, preserved and pressed for time, just waiting for the fifty-five-years-older me to rediscover them lying between wonderful words that I love to roll in my mouth and type on a page. They are too fragile to paste to a greeting card, or even to handle due to their brittleness. They need to stay right where they are, for another generation or two or three to discover.
I am so pressed for time, becoming more fragile, perhaps more brittle than I care to admit. My mother and father have blown away like the puff ball seeds of the dandelion, on to other horizons, but the sturdy old dictionary is going nowhere. It will be passed down, its delicate passengers preserved inside, a long ago far away summer afternoon of flower gathering to be shared as a great grandchild opens the book to look up a favorite word sometime in the not so far off future.
There is an arid Pleasure – As different from Joy – As Frost is different from Dew – Like Element – are they –
Yet one – rejoices Flowers – And one – the Flowers abhor – The finest Honey – curdled – Is worthless – to the Bee – ~Emily Dickinson
Remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity. ~Charles Spurgeon
Hard times leave us frozen solid,
and too cold to touch,
yet there is hope and healing,
remembering the immensity and goodness of God.
Even when life’s chill leaves us aching,
longing for relief,
the coming thaw is real
because God is good.
Even when we’re flattened,
stepped on, broken into fragments —
the pieces left are the beginning
of who we will become,
made whole again
because God is good.
The frost lasts not forever.
The sun makes us glisten and glitter
as ice melts down to droplets.
We become the goodness of God,
His eyes and ears,
heart and soul,
hands and feet.
Even more so,
we are His tears.
Some sings of the lily, and daisy, and rose, And the pansies and pinks that the Summertime throws In the green grassy lap of the medder that lays Blinkin’ up at the skyes through the sunshiney days; But what is the lily and all of the rest Of the flowers, to a man with a hart in his brest That was dipped brimmin’ full of the honey and dew Of the sweet clover-blossoms his babyhood knew? I never set eyes on a clover-field now, Er fool round a stable, er climb in the mow, But my childhood comes back jest as clear and as plane As the smell of the clover I’m sniffin’ again; And I wunder away in a bare-footed dream, Whare I tangle my toes in the blossoms that gleam With the dew of the dawn of the morning of love Ere it wept ore the graves that I’m weepin’ above.
And so I love clover–it seems like a part Of the sacerdest sorrows and joys of my hart; And wharever it blossoms, oh, thare let me bow And thank the good God as I’m thankin’ Him now; And I pray to Him still fer the stren’th when I die, To go out in the clover and tell it good-bye, And lovin’ly nestle my face in its bloom While my soul slips away on a breth of purfume
~James Whitcomb Riley “The Clover Poem”
Lightly it flew to the pleasant home Of the flower most truly fair, On Clover’s breast he softly lit, And folded his bright wings there. ‘Dear flower,’ the butterfly whispered low, ‘Long hast thou waited for me; Now I am come, and my grateful love Shall brighten thy home for thee; Thou hast loved and cared for me, when alone, Hast watched o’er me long and well; And now will I strive to show the thanks The poor worm could not tell. Sunbeam and breeze shall come to thee, And the coolest dews that fall; Whate’er a flower can wish is thine, For thou art worthy all. ~Louisa May Alcott from “Clover-Blossom”
Can anything be as plain to the eye as one of a million clover blossoms?
Then you look up close.
There is nothing quite as lovely — each individual little bloom of the clover ball is a part of a greater whole.
Here is a place to tangle our toes and nestle our nose.
Here we roll over.
Here we find the sacredest sorrow and joy of our heart.
Here is a place to get lost and be found.
Fingers of twilight shadow
begin to reach over the hill
crawling down through the field
up unto the bank of blackberries
covering fences along the alder grove.
The horses chew their last
leaves of clover before
coming to the barn for night, eyelids heavy,
relaxed and full, drowsy with spring evening
peace at hand and hoof.
A sudden change in the air forces
their heads up and ears forward;
they form a line, staring at the hilltop
above them, riveted to the spot, alert
to an coming intruder, unfamiliar and foreign.
The roar is intermittent, like a warm wind
rattling a barn roof, but inconstant;
then peaking over the crest of the hill
a rounded top of technicolor glory:
The hot air balloon rises.
The horses silenced, baffled, fascinated;
no alpine instinct prepares their response
to this wizard’s act from Oz in their own backyard.
The basket riders wave and laugh at the equine audience below
in formation with golden noses in the air and white manes blowing in the breeze.
The balloon summits the hill, dipping low, almost touchable
before moving back up to race the sunset,
and search out other pastures, other valleys and hills.
The horses released from the spell
leap in response, snowy tails high, noses flared-
To race up the hill to catch impending darkness,
night mares cavort, float suspended
until their air is let out, gently, in softening snorts,
to settle down in a shavings bed in the barn
where night, blissful, becomes ordinary again.