When we reach the field she is still eating the heads of yellow flowers and pollen has turned her whiskers gold. Lady, her stomach bulges out, the ribs have grown wide. We wait, our bare feet dangling in the horse trough, warm water where goldfish brush our smooth ankles. We wait while the liquid breaks down Lady’s dark legs and that slick wet colt like a black tadpole darts out beginning at once to sprout legs. She licks it to its feet, the membrane still there, red, transparent the sun coming up shines through, the sky turns bright with morning and the land with pollen blowing off the corn, land that will always own us, everywhere it is red. ~Linda Hogan, “Celebration: Birth of a Colt” from Red Clay.
First, her fluid flows in subtle stream then gushes in sudden drench. Soaking, saturating, precipitating inevitability. No longer cushioned slick sliding forward following the rich river downstream to freedom.
The smell of birth clings to shoes, clothes, hands as soaked in soupy brine I reach to embrace new life sliding toward me.
I too was caught once; three times emptied into other hands, my babies wet on my chest their slippery skin under my lips so salty sweet
In a moment’s scent the rush of life returns; now only barn or field birthings yet still as sweet and rich. I carry the smell of damp foal fur with me all day to recall from whence I came. I floated once and will float free someday again.
As the days warm and lengthen, the grass is getting happy almost overnight. Under my window the first star of spring opens its eye on the front lawn. Yellow as butter, it is only one. But it is one, and in the nature of things, and like the multiple asterisks seeding the night sky, it will flourish and take over every grassy bank in town. I long to be prolific as the dandelion, spinning pale parachutes of words, claiming new territory by the power of fluff. The stars in their courses have bloomed an unending glory across the heavens, but here in my yard a local constellation prepares to launch multiple, short-lived, radiant coronas to proclaim the new-sprung season. ~Luci Shaw “Dandelion”
How I loved those spiky suns, rooted stubborn as childhood in the grass, tough as the farmer’s big-headed children—the mats of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe. How sturdy they were and how slowly they turned themselves into galaxies, domes of ghost stars barely visible by day, pale cerebrums clinging to life on tough green stems. Like you. Like you, in the end. If you were here, I’d pluck this trembling globe to show how beautiful a thing can be a breath will tear away. ~Jean Nordhaus “A Dandelion for My Mother”
We harbor a dandelion sanctuary, a safe haven from herbicides and trowels.
The lawn is filled with them now yellow spots in carpeted green which close tight at night, then open each morning as miniature reflections of the real dawn.
As a kid, I was paid a nickel to dig up each long dandelion root, restoring the blemished green yard to pristine perfection; no more yellow splotches, unruly stems, trembling transparent globes releasing scores of seedy offspring.
But it didn’t last.
The perfect lawn, like the perfect life ~unbesmirched~ is a myth.
A host of opportunistic seeds float innocently on the breeze or lie hidden deep in our soil ready to spring up again overnight.
Those spunky spiky suns and ghostly stars of fluff overwhelm my heart with joy: they take my breath away as my breath, in turn, blows them away.
I am stirring at the sink, I am stirring the amount of dew you can gather in two hands, folding it into the fragile quiet of the house. Before the eggs, before the coffee heaving like a warm cat, I step out to the feeder— one foot, then the other, alive on wet blades. Air lifts my gown—I might fly—
This thistle seed I pour is for the tiny birds. This ritual, for all things frail and imperiled. Wings surround me, frothing the air. I am struck by what becomes holy.
A woman who lost her teenage child to an illness without mercy, said that at the end, her daughter sat up in her hospital bed and asked: What should I do? What should I do?
I carry the woman with the lost child in my pocket, where she murmurs her love song without end: Just this, each day: Bear yourself up on small wings to receive what is given. Feed one another with such tenderness, it could almost be an answer. ~Marcia F. Brown from “Morning Song”
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth. Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore, only kindness that ties your shoes and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread, only kindness that raises its head from the crowd of the world to say It is I you have been looking for, and then goes with you everywhere like a shadow or a friend. ~Naomi Shihab Nye from “Kindness”
It is the gentle tenderness I miss most – this world aflame with anger, distrust and bitterness, resentment, suspicion and cussed stubbornness. There seems no relief in sight; we must find a way through.
It is time to accept help when needed. It is time to receive mercy without shame or scorn. It is time to be lifted up with soft small wings.
We are saved by kindness, by grace given freely, thrown like a lifeline to us when we are overwhelmed. Such love can never be as ephemeral as a morning dew gone by noon.
I used to think the land had something to say to us, back when wildflowers would come right up to your hand as if they were tame.
Sooner or later, I thought, the wind would begin to make sense if I listened hard and took notes religiously. That was spring.
Now I’m not so sure: the cloudless sky has a flat affect and the fields plowed down after harvest seem so expressionless, keeping their own counsel.
This afternoon, nut tree leaves blow across them as if autumn had written us a long letter, changed its mind, and tore it into little scraps. ~Don Thompson October
We’re in a time of seasonal abundance but our emotions are spent from containment through lock-down, shelter-in, social distancing, zoom-in and zoom-out.
As I meet with my patients via a televisit, I try to read their faces and find that along with the flatness of our screens, our emotions are flat too. My usual gentle humor to lighten things up becomes pointless – it is hard to elicit smiles these days. On the other hand, there no longer is a need for abundant tissues for tearful conversations because no one will weep on screen. There may be a hint of emotion in a catch in a voice, but I have yet to see anyone actually cry in two months of telehealth conversations. That would be too vulnerable – somehow being on camera suggests we need to put the actor-mask on, be expression-less, strong and invulnerable. And somehow my patient knows I can’t reach out as I would in an exam room, literally and verbally, to reassure them I’m present and listening. I’m not really present on a screen even though I’m listening.
And while out in society, we must literally hide ourselves behind a mask that conceals our smiles as well as our grim-faced frowns.
So our social and clinical interactions are as flat as the screens they play out on.
We need some unchecked tears about now, as well as endless belly laughs. Perhaps there will be a reawakening to the range of emotions we have taken for granted before finding ourselves in this time of restraint and restriction.
As we reintegrate and reunite, slowly, carefully and compassionately, let us re-experience in 3-D what we have been missing in our virtual meetings: tears that accompany joyous reunion as well as the lament of all we’re lost during this time.
Prick my ears, Lord. Make them hungry satellites, have your way with their tiny bones, teach the drum within that dark to drum again. Because within the hammering of woodpecker is a long tongue unwinding like a tape measure from inside his pileated head, darting dinner from the pine’s soft bark. And somewhere I know is a spider who births a filament of silk and flies it to the next branch; somewhere, a fiddlehead unstrings its violin into the miracle of fern.
Those are your sounds, are they not? Do not deny it, Lord, do not deny me. I do not know those songs. Nor do I know the hush a dandelion’s face makes when it closes, surrenders, then goes to seed. No, I only know the sound my own breath makes as I wish and blow that perfect globe away; I only know the small, satisfactory popping of roots when I call it weed and yank it from the yard. There is a language of all you’ve created. Hear me, please. I just want to be still enough to hear. Right here, Lord: I want to be. ~Nikole Brown from “Prayer to Be Still and Know”
The hardest thing sometimes is to shut up our constant internal monologue long enough to be able to hear all the other voices outside in the world around us.
We just spent a few days with a visiting 13 month old who wanted very much to communicate even though none of his language was understandable to our ears, yet all the appropriate inflections were there. He clearly was speaking sentences, asking questions, making emphatic statements with the rise and fall of his voice, but his baby babble was completely foreign to our grown-up ears. Sometimes I wonder if that is exactly how God hears us: all blather and babble which makes sense to us, but not remotely intelligible.
So I need to shut up and listen to all the subtle language around me and not keep trying to shout it down, grumble it to the ground, or whisper it away. I need the Lord’s still small voice coming from a billion corners of creation to understand who He is and why He gave me — me! — ears to hear.
Once in your life you pass Through a place so pure It becomes tainted even By your regard, a space Of trees and air where Dusk comes as perfect ripeness. Here the only sounds are Sighs of rain and snow, Small rustlings of plants As they unwrap in twilight. This is where you will go At last when coldness comes. It is something you realize When you first see it, But instantly forget. At the end of your life You remember and dwell in Its faultless light forever. ~Paul Zimmer “The Place” from Crossing to Sunlight Revisited
I am astonished by an ever-changing faultless light and don’t want to ever forget my thirst for its illumination: slaked by such simple glories as transcendent orange pink a shift of shadows the ripeness of fluff about to let go, all giving me a glimpse of tomorrow over the horizon of today.
Oh that I once past changing were, Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither! Many a spring I shoot up fair, Offering at heaven, growing and groaning thither; Nor doth my flower Want a spring shower, My sins and I joining together.
And now in age I bud again, After so many deaths I live and write; I once more smell the dew and rain, And relish versing. Oh, my only light, It cannot be That I am he On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love, To make us see we are but flowers that glide; Which when we once can find and prove, Thou hast a garden for us where to bide; Who would be more, Swelling through store, Forfeit their Paradise by their pride. ~George Herbert from “The Flower”
As they are meant to do, the crocuses have melted back to earth the winter snowdrops long gone, the orchard tree blossoms have shed their petals to become burgeoning cherries, pears and apples, the daffodils have come and gone, the tulips are falling apart in slow motion.
Spring in full swing Exhaustion replaced by renewal and fresh air now filled with the sweetness of growth and fruitfulness.
Our fields grow lush and soft with the sun warm on our horses’ withers.
It isn’t enough to celebrate the defeat of winter by blooming where we are planted; when we do fall apart, may we find ourselves never withering again.
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,
“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”
And this is the word that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:23-25
Spread between rows of beans, last year’s rusty leaves tamp down weeds. Coffee grounds and banana peels foster rose blooms. Bread crumbs scattered for birds become song. Leftovers offered to chickens come back as eggs, yolks sunrise orange. Broccoli stems and bruised apples fed to cows return as milk steaming in the pail, as patties steaming in the pasture.
Surely our shame and sorrow also return, composted by years into something generative as wisdom. ~Laura Grace Weldon, “Compost Happens” from Blackbird
As a farmer, I spend over an hour a day cleaning my barn, and wheel heavy loads of organic material to a large pile in our barnyard which composts year round. Piling up all that messy stuff that is no longer needed is crucial to the process: it heats up quickly to the point of steaming, and within months, it becomes rich fertilizer, ready to help the fields to grow grass, or the garden to produce vegetables, or the fragrant blooms in the flower beds. It becomes something far greater and more productive than what it was to begin with.
That’s what my past clinical work in detox and treatment of addictions was like.
As a physician, I helped patients “clean up” the parts of their lives they can’t manage any longer, that are causing problems with their health, their families and jobs, and most of all, their relationship with their Creator. There isn’t a soul walking this earth who doesn’t struggle in some way with things that take over our lives, whether it is work, computer use, food, gambling, you name it. For the chemically dependent, it comes in the form of smoke, a powder, a bottle, a syringe or a pill. There is nothing that has proven more effective than “piling up together” learning what it takes to walk the road to health and healing, “heating up”, so to speak, in an organic process of transformation that is, for lack of any better description, primarily a spiritual treatment process.
When a support group becomes a crucible for the “refiner’s fire”, it does its best work melting people down to rid the impurities before they can be built back up again, stronger than ever. They become compost, productive, with the wisdom and readiness to grow others.
This work with a spectrum of individuals of all races, professional and blue collar, rich and homeless, coming from all over the state for help, was transforming for me. I worked with incredibly gifted nursing and counseling staff, some recovering themselves, who dedicated their careers to this work.
As Jesus says in Matthew 25: 40–‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Nature teaches that nothing is lost.
God teaches we seek out the lost until they are found and then and only then, the work of transformation begins.
My mind lets go a thousand things Like dates of wars and deaths of kings, And yet recalls the very hour— ‘T was noon by yonder village tower, And on the last blue noon in May— The wind came briskly up this way, Crisping the brook beside the road; Then, pausing here, set down its load Of pine-scents, and shook listlessly Two petals from that wild-rose tree. ~Thomas Bailey Aldrich, more The Poems of Thomas Bailey Aldrich: Revised and Complete Household Edition with Illustrations
My mind plays tricks on me these days~
what I should remember,
I struggle to recall
and what I wish I could forget
sticks with me
yet always relieved to realize
when life happens around me
I simply need to be present.