Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today; And give us not to think so far away As the uncertain harvest; keep us here All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white, Like nothing else by day, like ghosts at night; And make us happy in the happy bees, The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird That suddenly above the bees is heard, The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love, The which it is reserved for God above To sanctify to what far ends He will, But which it only needs that we fulfil. ~Robert Frost“A Prayer in Spring”
We are wisely warned what may happen in the next few months: a second or third wave of virus, more disruption, more closures, more deaths. There seems no end in sight on this long COVID road. Or perhaps the end is prematurely near for too many.
Thinking so far away to uncertain times ahead, we need to remember the future has always been uncertain; we just aren’t reminded so starkly. Instead we are reminded to dwell in the present here and now, appreciating these quiet moments at home for what they may bestow.
The earth is springing even while our hearts are weary of distancing and isolation. Each breath is filled with new fragrance, the greens startlingly verdant, each blossom heavy with promise.
There is reassurance in this renewal we witness yet again.
This, now, is love springing. This is His love, reminding us He has not abandoned us. This is love and nothing else can be as certain as that.
You come to fetch me from my work to-night When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see If I can leave off burying the white Soft petals fallen from the apple tree. (Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite, Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea); And go along with you ere you lose sight Of what you came for and become like me, Slave to a springtime passion for the earth. How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed On through the watching for that early birth When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed, The sturdy seedling with arched body comes Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs. ~Robert Frost “Putting in the Seed”
The garden is ready; the soil turned over, the compost mixed in, rototilled to a fine crown. Next will come the laying out of strings, the trench hoed straight, the seed laid one by one in the furrow and covered gently with a light touch.
Then the sun warms and showers moisten, the seeds awaken to push upward, bold and abrupt, wanting to know the touch of sky and air to leaf and leap and bloom and bear.
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.
And God held in his hand A small globe. Look, he said. The son looked. Far off, As through water, he saw A scorched land of fierce Colour. The light burned There; crusted buildings Cast their shadows; a bright Serpent, a river Uncoiled itself, radiant With slime. On a bare Hill a bare tree saddened The sky. Many people Held out their thin arms To it, as though waiting For a vanished April To return to its crossed Boughs. The son watched Them. Let me go there, he said. ~R.S. Thomas “The Coming”
“Let me go there”
And He did. Knowing what awaited Him.
As a result, we are forever changed.
Fifty weeks of dirt rows Plain and unnoticed. Could be corn, could be beans Could be anything; Drive-by fly-over dull.
Yet April ignites an explosion: Dazzling retinal hues Singed and scorched, crying Grateful tears for such as this Grounded rainbow on Earth
Transient, incandescent Brilliance hoped for. Remembered in dreams, Promises realized, Housed in crystal before shattering.
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. ~Martin Luther
There is big excitement in C block today. On the window sill, in a plastic ice cream cup a little plant is growing. This is all the men want to talk about: how an apple seed germinated in a crack of damp concrete; how they tore open tea bags to collect the leaves, leached them in water, then laid the sprout onto the bed made of Lipton. How this finger of spring dug one delicate root down into the dark fannings and now two small sleeves of green are pushing out from the emerging tip. The men are tipsy with this miracle. Each morning, one by one, they go to the window and check the progress of the struggling plant. All through the day they return to stand over the seedling and whisper. ~Nancy Miller Gomez “Growing Apples”
As a child I was fascinated by the early 1800’s story of John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) who traveled on foot around the eastern United States creating nurseries of apple trees. When our family traveled in Ohio and Pennsylvania in the 1960s, we visited places that claimed to have apple trees planted by John Chapman. I marveled at how one little seed planted in such confident faith had the potential to produce decades of fruit and hope for generations of folk.
My two childhood farms had old apple trees–gravensteins and transparent varieties–good for climbing in and always great as scratching branches and shady snoozing spots for the horses and cows. One had a platform fort where I spent hours sitting munching on apple cores, surveying the fields and enjoying watching the animals standing beneath me, relaxed, napping, chewing cud and swatting flies.
When we bought our farm here in Whatcom County over thirty years ago, there were left a few antique variety apple trees of a once vital orchard. They were aging, with bent and broken branches and hollowed trunks, but still continued to produce fruit, great for baking, sauce, cider and winter storage. We’ve lost a few of the old trees over the years to the wind and elements, though now nearly a century old, the survivors keep providing.
It seems God has accepted I follow my own appleseed trail, so no matter what may happen in my own life, if I’ve planted a seed that takes root, there will be fruit and hope for the future. The Lord Himself continues to plant seeds and words in the midst of a world going to pieces.
Some day fifty years from now, a kid sitting high up in the branches of an apple tree, contemplating life and its meaning, will have an apple to munch and words to chew.
“O the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need- the sun, the rain, and my appleseeds- the Lord is good to me!”
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
The tree of life my soul hath seen, Laden with fruit and always green: The trees of nature fruitless be Compared with Christ the apple tree.
His beauty doth all things excel: By faith I know, but ne’er can tell The glory which I now can see In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought, And pleasure dearly I have bought: I missed of all; but now I see Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil, Here I will sit and rest awhile: Under the shadow I will be, Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive, It keeps my dying faith alive; Which makes my soul in haste to be With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
…leave me a little love, A voice to speak to me in the day end, A hand to touch me in the dark room Breaking the long loneliness. In the dusk of day-shapes Blurring the sunset, One little wandering, western star Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow. Let me go to the window, Watch there the day-shapes of dusk And wait and know the coming Of a little love. ~Carl Sandburg from “At a Window”
Now close the windows and hush all the fields; If the trees must, let them silently toss; No bird is singing now, and if there is, Be it my loss.
I will be long ere the marshes resume, It will be long ere the earliest bird: So close the windows and not hear the wind, But see all wind-stirred. ~Robert Frost “Now Close the Windows”
Everything looks a little different framed by a window. We are set apart, looking out, rather than immersed within the landscape ourselves.
It is not unlike being in an art museum, walking past masterpieces that offer a framed view into another time and place, with people we don’t know and will never meet.
Let me go to the windows, moving through the house and peering out at the glory that awaits beyond the frame. But rather than simply admire the view, protected from the chill wind, I’ll walk out the door into the life that pulses continually beyond the glass.
…the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells, the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time. No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky. ~Barbara Crooker “And Now it’s October” from Small Rain.
…but I do try to stopper time. I try every day not to suspend it or render it frozen, but like summer flower and fruit that withers, to preserve any sweet moment for sampling through stored words or pictures in the midst of my days of winter. I roll it around on my tongue, its heady fragrance becoming today’s lyrical shared moment, unstoppered, perpetual and always intoxicating.
The rose is a rose, And was always a rose. But the theory now goes That the apple’s a rose, And the pear is, and so’s The plum, I suppose. The dear only know What will next prove a rose. You, of course, are a rose– But were always a rose. ~Robert Frost, “The Rose Family” from The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems
We are more alike than we are different, from every thing to every one, yet we still strive to discriminate and differentiate.
We arose from the same origin:
put together atom to atom, amino acid to amino acid, conceived within the mind of God, formed by His Hands and Breath, designed as treasured artwork whether flower or fruit or fetus.
So we can only know what He has told us in His carefully chosen Words: we are dear, we are His rose, in whatever form or function we appear, however we have been put together~
We will always be His rose.
There is no rose of such virtue As is the Rose that bore Jesu: Alleluia. For in this rose was contained Heaven and earth in a small space. Wondrous thing. Res miranda. By that rose we may well see There is one God in persons three. Equally formed. Pares forma. The angels sang; the shepherds, too: Glory to God in the highest! Let us rejoice. Gaudeamus. Leave we all these worldly cares And follow we this joyful birth. Let us be transformed.Transeamus. ~Benjamin Britten “There is no rose” from “Ceremony of the Carols”
Life has loveliness to sell, All beautiful and splendid things, Blue waves whitened on a cliff, Soaring fire that sways and sings, And children’s faces looking up Holding wonder like a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell, Music like a curve of gold, Scent of pine trees in the rain, Eyes that love you, arms that hold, And for your spirit’s still delight, Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness, Buy it and never count the cost; For one white singing hour of peace Count many a year of strife well lost, And for a breath of ecstasy Give all you have been, or could be. ~Sara Teasdale “Barter”
Some days I wish to keep hold forever: when the light is just right in the trees, the breezes fill with blossom fragrance, the congregation sings with joy as I play accompaniment, a smiling child climbs up on my lap just because, a meal is enjoyed by all who join together.
I know I barter for these moments by giving up some piece of me, knowing the sowing of self will reap the rich harvest of an overflowing heart.
Jesus, Apple of God’s eye, dangling solitaire on leafless tree, bursting red.
As he drops New Eden dawns and once again we Adams choose: God’s first fruit or death. ~Christine F. Nordquist “Eden Inversed”
It has always been a choice no longer forbidden we are invited to first fruit
He offers Himself broken open
so our hearts might burst red with Him
The tree of life my soul hath seen Laden with fruit and always green The tree of life my soul hath seen Laden with fruit and always green The trees of nature fruitless be Compared with Christ the apple tree
His beauty doth all things excel By faith I know but ne’er can tell His beauty doth all things excel By faith I know but ne’er can tell The glory which I now can see In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought And pleasure dearly I have bought For happiness I long have sought And pleasure dearly I have bought I missed of all but now I see ‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil Here I will sit and rest a while I’m weary with my former toil Here I will sit and rest a while Under the shadow I will be Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit does make my soul to thrive It keeps my dying faith alive This fruit does make my soul to thrive It keeps my dying faith alive Which makes my soul in haste to be With Jesus Christ the apple tree.