When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” fromThe Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
When our grandchildren visit our farm, I watch them rediscover what I know are the joys and sorrows of this world. I am reminded there is light beyond the darkness I fear, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness there is rest despite my restlessness, there is grace as old gives way to new.
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There is a timelessness to mid-summer hay harvest that goes back generations on both sides of our family. The cutting, raking and gathering of hay has evolved from horse-drawn implements and gathering loose shocks of hay to 100+ horse power air-conditioned tractors and huge round bales wrapped and stored in plastic sheathing rather than in barns.
Our farm is happily stuck somewhere in-between: we still prefer filling the haybarn with bales that I can still lift and move myself to feed our animals. True hay harvest involves sweat and dust and a neighborhood coming together to preserve summer in tangible form.
I grew up on a farm with a hayfield – I still have the scar over my eyebrow where I collided with the handle of my father’s scythe when, as a toddler, I came too close behind him as he was taking a swing at cutting a field of grass one swath at a time. I remember the huge claws of the hay hook reaching down onto loose hay piled up on our wagon. The hook would gather up a huge load, lift it high in the air to be moved by pulley on a track into our spacious hay loft. It was the perfect place to play and jump freely into the fragrant memories of a summer day, even in the dark of winter.
But these days it is the slanted light of summer I remember most: -the weightlessness of dust motes swirling down sun rays coming through the slats of the barn walls as the hay bales are stacked -the long shadows and distant alpenglow in the mountains -the dusk that goes on and on as owls and bats come out to hunt above us
Most of all, I will remember the sweaty days of mid-summer as I open the bales of hay in mid-winter – the light and fragrance of those grassy fields spilling forth into the chill and darkness, in communion of blessing for our animals.
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The children have gone to bed. We are so tired we could fold ourselves neatly behind our eyes and sleep mid-word, sleep standing warm among the creatures in the barn, lean together and sleep, forgetting each other completely in the velvet, the forgiveness of that sleep.
Then the one small cry: one strike of the match-head of sound: one child’s voice: and the hundred names of love are lit as we rise and walk down the hall.
One hundred nights we wake like this, wake out of our nowhere to kneel by small beds in darkness. One hundred flowers open in our hands, a name for love written in each one. ~Annie Lighthart “The Hundred Names of Love”
In the lull of evening, your son nested in your arms becomes heavier and with a sigh his body sloughs off its weight like an anchor into deep sleep, until his small breath is the only thing that exists.
And as you move the slow dance through the dim hall to his bedroom and bow down to deliver his sleeping form, arms parting, each muscle defining its arc and release— you remember the feeling of childhood,
traveling beneath a full moon, your mother’s unmistakable laugh, a field of wild grass, windows open and the night rushing in as headlights trace wands of light across your face—
there was a narrative you were braiding, meanings you wanted to pluck from the air, but the touch of a hand eased it from your brow and with each stroke you waded further
into the certainty of knowing your sleeping form would be ushered by good and true arms into the calm ocean that is your bed. — Alexandra Lytton Regalado, “The T’ai Chi of Putting a Sleeping Child to Bed” author of Matria
Each of those countless nights of a child wakening, each of the hundreds of hours of lulling them in the moonlit dark, leading them back to the soft forgiveness of sleep.
I remember the moves of that hypnotic dance, a head nestled snug into my neck, their chest pressed into mine, our hearts beating in synchrony as if they were still inside.
Even when our sleep was spare and our rest was sparse, those night times rocking in unison were worth every waking moment, trusting we’re in this together, no matter what, no matter how long.
We’re in this together.
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The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did…
I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come. ~Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow
Today, as always during the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing. A handful of the living come together with a slew of the no-longer-living. Some, who have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.
It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, my alcoholic grandfather (who I remember as a very old man) who died of sudden cardiac arrest at the age I am now, my grandmother from whom I inherited inherent messiness and the love of things that bloom, my parents who divorced for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.
These givers of my genes rest here in this beautiful place above Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains with shining snow beside them. It is a peaceful spot to lay one’s dust for eternity.
It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging. But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be. There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and grandchildren to ponder if they keep up this annual tradition of the cemetery-visit.
The world as it is…remembers the world that was.
The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration where we pray no one is missing.
All in good time. All in good time.
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They disappear with friends near age 11. We lose them to baseball and tennis, garage bands, slumber parties, stages where they rehearse for the future, ripen in a tangle of love knots. With our artificial knees and hips we move into the back seats of their lives, obscure as dust behind our wrinkles, and sigh as we add the loss of them to our growing list of the missing.
Sometimes they come back, carting memories of sugar cookies and sandy beaches, memories of how we sided with them in their wars with parents, sided with them even as they slid out of our laps into the arms of others.
Sometimes they come back and hold onto our hands as if they were the thin strings of helium balloons about to drift off.
~Olivia Stiffler “Grandchildren”, from Otherwise, We Are Safe
Spending a few precious days with a grandchild who lives far away just whets the appetite for wanting more time. These are such short years before they are off to their own lives, leaving their grandparents (and parents) behind.
So when they take my hand, my heart melts, knowing I hold on loosely, knowing I must, someday, somehow, let go.
And before I do, they will come back to hold my hand loosely, knowing they need to let me go.
The barn roof sags like an ancient mare’s back. The field, overgrown, parts of it a marsh where the pond spills over. No hay or sacks of grain are stacked for the cold. In the harsh winters of my youth, Mama, with an axe, trudged tirelessly each day through deep snow, balanced on the steep bank, swung down to crack the ice so horses could drink. With each blow I feared she would fall, but she never slipped. Now Mama’s bent and withered, vacant gray eyes fixed on something I can’t see. I dip my head when she calls me Mom. What’s to say? The time we have’s still too short to master love, and then, the hollow that comes after. ~Kitty Carpenter “Farm Sonnet”
Vigil at my mother’s bedside
Lying still, your mouth gapes open as I wonder if you breathe your last. Your hair a white cloud Your skin baby soft No washing, digging, planting gardens Or raising children Anymore. Hollowed.
Where do your dreams take you? At times you wake in your childhood home of Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom. Other naps take you to your student and teaching days Grammar and drama, speech and essays. Yesterday you were a young mother again Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.
Today you looked about your empty nest Disguised as hospital bed, Wondering aloud about Children grown, flown. You still control through worry and tell me: Travel safely Get a good night’s sleep Take time to eat Call me when you get there
I dress you as you dressed me I clean you as you cleaned me I love you as you loved me You try my patience as I tried yours. I wonder if I have the strength to Mother my mother For as long as she needs.
When I tell you the truth Your brow furrows as it used to do When I disappointed you~ This cannot be A bed in a room in a sterile place Waiting for death Waiting for heaven Waiting
And I tell you: Travel safely Eat, please eat Sleep well Call me when you get there.
When I lay my head in my mother’s lap I think how day hides the stars, the way I lay hidden once, waiting inside my mother’s singing to herself. And I remember how she carried me on her back between home and the kindergarten, once each morning and once each afternoon.
I don’t know what my mother’s thinking.
When my son lays his head in my lap, I wonder: Do his father’s kisses keep his father’s worries from becoming his? I think Dear God, and remember there are stars we haven’t heard from yet: They have so far to arrive. Amen, I think, and I feel almost comforted.
I’ve no idea what my child is thinking.
Between two unknowns, I live my life. Between my mother’s hopes, older than I am by coming before me. And my child’s wishes, older than I am by outliving me. And what’s it like? Is it a door, and a good-bye on either side? A window, and eternity on either side? Yes, and a little singing between two great rests. ~Li-Young Lee The Hammock
I’ve become the window bridging four generations, waiting for the door to reopen:
I remember my grandmother’s soft hands smoothing my hair when I was upset. I still see her tears when she said goodbye.
I remember my father carrying me on his shoulders when my legs grew weary and my patience short. I still feel his final breath as he finally gave up his struggle.
I remember my children needing me for nearly everything. Now, living so far away, I give so little as they soothe and comfort my grandchildren when I cannot.
I wonder what my grandmother, my father, my children, my grandchildren were thinking. I can only imagine, stuck as I am between the closed pandemic door and the someday-open window.
Once again I am the one in need: praying life and hugs might happen again.
Soon. Soon and very soon. I can almost hear the singing between us.
In the cemetery a mile away from where we used to live, my aunts and mother my father and uncles lie in two long rows, almost the way they used to sit around the long planked table at family dinners. And walking beside the graves today, down one straight path and up the next, I don’t feel sad, exactly, just left out a bit, as if they kept from me the kind of grown-up secret they used to share back then, something I’m not quite ready yet to learn. ~Linda Pastan “Unveiling” from Carnival Evening
Some family gatherings can wait. I don’t feel ready yet to learn what they all now know posthumously, in their tidy rows in peaceful settings. I feel some curiosity as I wander among them, realizing my invitation is coming, most likely before I wish to receive it.
I nod to one and then another, greeting them as I used to when we gathered around the same dinner table. To those I never met but share DNA, I introduce myself, hoping to make a good impression.
They still have their secrets, as they always had. And I try not to ask too many questions. No, not yet.
“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Psalm 55:6
Some glad morning when this life is over I’ll fly away To a home on God’s celestial shore I’ll fly awayI’ll fly away, oh, Glory I’ll fly away When I die, Hallelujah, by and by I’ll fly awayJust a few more weary days and then I’ll fly away To a land where joy shall never end I’ll fly awayI’ll fly away, oh, Glory I’ll fly away When I die, Hallelujah, by and by I’ll fly awayYeah, when I die, Hallelujah, by and by I’ll fly away
Coffee in one hand leaning in to share, listen: How I talk to God.
“Momma, you’re special.” Three-year-old touches my cheek. How God talks to me.
While driving I make lists: done, do, hope, love, hate, try. How I talk to God.
Above the highway hawk: high, alone, free, focused. How God talks to me.
Rash, impetuous chatter, followed by silence: How I talk to God.
First, second, third, fourth chance to hear, then another: How God talks to me.
Fetal position under flannel sheets, weeping How I talk to God.
Moonlight on pillow tending to my open wounds How God talks to me.
Pulling from my heap of words, the ones that mean yes: How I talk to God.
Infinite connects with finite, without words: How God talks to me. ~Kelly Belmonte “How I Talk to God”
I don’t always realize I am constantly in a dialogue with God, but He knows and He hears. He talks back to me but I’m not always hearing Him.
Whenever I’m occupied with the daily-ness of life and am thinking “if only” this or that could be different, I’m telling God I know better. He lets me know in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that He made the world, He knows what comes next and I don’t.
If I get impatient or irritable rather than grateful and awed, I’m talking like a petulant child wanting my way. When God gifts me with a moment of color in the sky or a golden light across the landscape, I need to pause, waiting in my personal wilderness, and remain wordless.
The Infinite is trying to talk to the finite. I am only asked to listen.
You heard my voice, I came out of the woods by choice Shelter also gave their shade But in the dark I have no name So leave that click in my head And I will remember the words that you said Left a clouded mind and a heavy heart But I am sure we could see a new start So when your hopes on fire But you know your desire Don’t hold a glass over the flame Don’t let your heart grow cold I will call you by name I will share your road But hold me fast, hold me fast ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer And hold me fast, hold me fast ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer I wrestled long with my youth We tried so hard to live in the truth But do not tell me all is fine When I lose my head, I lose my spine So leave that click in my head And I won’t remember the words that you said You brought me out from the cold Now, how I long, how I long to grow old So when your hope’s on fire But you know your desire Don’t hold a glass over the flame Don’t let your heart grow cold I will call you by name I will share your road But hold me fast, hold me fast ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer And hold me fast, hold me fast ‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I’m under And I will learn, I will learn to love the skies I’m under The skies I’m under Source: LyricFindSongwriters: Benjamin Walter David Lovett / Edward James Milton Dwane / Marcus Oliver Johnstone Mumford / Winston Aubrey Aladar Marshall