Horseback on Sunday morning, harvest over, we taste persimmon and wild grape, sharp sweet of summer’s end. In time’s maze over fall fields, we name names that went west from here, names that rest on graves. We open a persimmon seed to find the tree that stands in promise, pale, in the seed’s marrow. Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear, in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here. ~Wendell Berry “Wild Geese”from Collected Poems 1957-1982
I hear them coming before I see them: the wild geese flying overhead, noisily honking their way across an autumn sky, drawn to the harvested cornfields to glean after the machinery has left.
Soon they will leave altogether, pulled to be content somewhere else.
I remain as witness rather than move on, reminding myself, my heart quiet, my eye clear, what I need is here until it is my turn to leave.
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The horse bears me along, like grace, making me better than what I am, and what I think or say or see is whole in these moments, is neither small nor broken. Who then is better made to say be well, be glad,
or who to long that we, as one, might course over the entire valley, over all valleys, as a bird in a great embrace of flight, who presses against her breast, in grief and tenderness, the whole weeping body of the world? ~Linda McCarriston from “Riding Out At Evening”
We all need to remember transcendent moments in our lives, those brief times when all was well, our worries left behind in the dust.
Wounds healed, hearts full, senses filled with wonder, feeling whole rather than broken.
The summer evening rides of my younger years were just such a time: lifted by such powerful grace and transported to another time and place. It can feel like flying but mostly it feels like an embrace, one creature with another, exploring the world together.
All these years later, I am held fast by the memories and in remembering, I weep.
Surely, someday, heaven will be something like this.
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars. ~James Agee
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It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk The dew that lay upon the morning grass; There is no rustling in the lofty elm That canopies my dwelling, and its shade Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint And interrupted murmur of the bee, Settling on the sick flowers, and then again Instantly on the wing. The plants around Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms. But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills, With all their growth of woods, silent and stern, As if the scorching heat and dazzling light Were but an element they loved.
…I woo the wind That still delays his coming. Why so slow, Gentle and voluble spirit of the air? Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge, The pine is bending his proud top, and now Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes; Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves! The deep distressful silence of the scene Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds And universal motion. He is come, Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs, And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs, And sound of swaying branches, and the voice Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers, By the road-side and the borders of the brook, Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew Were on them yet, and silver waters break Into small waves and sparkle as he comes. ~William Cullen Bryant from “Summer Wind”
In the Pacific Northwest, we are going through another string of hot dry days with smoky landscapes and horizons. This is becoming all too familiar: the temperatures are rising each year, the forests are burning, our usual pristine air quality deteriorating.
Even the birds are silent in this weather. The bees, discouraged by the wilting blooms, don’t linger. Our animals covered with fur are listlessly seeking shade and anything green in the pasture.
So I pray for relief – any breeze to move this humid air – something, anything that can break this cycle of sweatiness.
Yesterday, in the midst of 102 degree temperatures, out of nowhere came a northeast wind – as strong and determined as our northeast midwinter arctic blasts – but hot. It was so disorienting to be blown about by furnace heat. Branches and leaves fell from bewildered and already stressed trees. Plants withered as the moisture was sucked from leaves and blossoms. The garden sagged.
As suddenly as it came, it was gone again. And all around me – me included – wondered what had just hit us.
I am reminded to be careful what I pray for, knowing that my petition may well be heard and heeded. Perhaps the answer to prayer won’t be quite what I hoped for or expected, but it is nonetheless an answer.
I only need to listen…
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We have been a disconsolate people, uneasy and restless, particularly during the past year of being told to stay at home is best. Safety and protection became the priority despite our longing for freedom of movement.
Now with pandemic restrictions lifting, many of us are impatient to fly and travel, even when the hawks in our lives remain in close pursuit. Though baffled, beaten and blown by the ever-buffeting winds of doubt and threat, we want our liberty.
It is easy to forget: this earthly home isn’t our “safe” place and true freedom isn’t going where we please when we please.
This life is merely vapor and our ultimate longing is for something far more eternal than we will find here.
We’re almost home – together on this journey through the darkness to forever.
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Tomorrow there will be sun, scalloped by clouds, ushered in by a waterfall of birdsong. It will be a temperate seventy-five, low humidity. For twenty-four hours, all politicians will be silent. Reality programs will vanish from TV, replaced by the “snow” that used to decorate our screens when reception wasn’t working. Soldiers will toss their weapons in the grass. The oceans will stop their inexorable rise. No one will have to sit on a committee. When twilight falls, the aurora borealis will cut off cell phones, scramble the internet. We’ll play flashlight tag, hide and seek, decorate our hair with fireflies, spin until we’re dizzy, collapse on the dew-decked lawn and look up, perhaps for the first time, to read the long lines of cold code written in the stars…. ~Barbara Crooker “Tomorrow” from Some Glad Morning.
Might I hope for a better tomorrow?
Awash in this world of technological and political complexity, I forget the simple pleasure of lying in the grass, looking up and staring at the stars spinning above me.
I become dizzy with the possibilities.
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One reason why birds and horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses. ~Dale Carnegie
When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; ~William Shakespeare from Henry V
We all should have a buddy who is along for the ride and blesses us with their company.
There is always a need for a precious friend who has our back – helping to keep the biting flies away by gobbling them.
It is symbiosis at its best: a relationship built on mutual trust and helpfulness. In exchange for relief from annoying insects that a tail can’t flick off, a Haflinger serves up bugs on a smorgasbord landing platform located safely above farm cats and marauding coyotes.
Thanks to their perpetual full meal deals, these birds do leave “deposits” behind that need to be brushed off at the end of the day. Like any good friendship, having to clean up the little messes left behind is a small price to pay for the bliss of companionable comradeship.
We’re buds after all – best forever friends.
And this is exactly what friends are for: one provides the feast and the other provides the wings.
We’re fully fed and we’re fully free – together.
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Once again a child asks me suddenly What is a poem?, And once again I find myself riffing freely and happily Without the slightest scholarly expertise or knowledge; But I am entranced by how poems can hint and suggest And point toward things deeper than words. A poem is An owl feather, I say. It’s not the owl—but it intimates Owlness, see what I mean? You imagine the owl, owls, Silent flight, razors for fingers, a wriggle of mouse tail Slurped up right quick like the last strand of angel hair, A startle of moonlight, a fox watching from the thicket, All that from a feather. It’s like an owl is in the feather. A poem is a small thing with all manner of bigger in it. Poor poems only have a writer in them, but better ones Have way more in them than the writer knew or knows About. This poem, for example, amazingly has owls in It—who knew we’d see a flurry of owls this afternoon? ~Brian Doyle, “A Flurry of Owls”
I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.
I walked into our big hay barn this week, finding scattered atop the few remaining bales from last summer these few owl feathers…
they were waiting for a poem to hide within, just as the barn owls are tucked invisibly in the rafters until the cool air of dusk and hunger lures them to the hunt, swooping outside to capture both moonlight and mice to be coughed up in pellets of fur and bones.
These feathers, dropped like so many random snowflakes, carry within them the glint and glow of the moon, a reminder what we leave behind matters, whether it be feather or fur or a wee dry skeleton, a shell of who we once were yet are no longer.
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My family sold our first farm in East Stanwood when my father took a job working for the state in Olympia, moving to supervising high school agriculture teachers rather than being a teacher himself. It was a difficult transition for us all: we moved to a smaller home and a few acres, leaving behind a large two story house, a huge hay barn and chicken coop as well as large fields and a woods where our dairy cows had grazed.
Only a few years later, the old farmhouse burned down but the rest of the buildings were spared. It passed through a few hands and when we had occasion to drive by, we were dismayed to see how nature was taking over the place. The barn still stood but unused it was weathering and withering. The windows were broken, birds flew in and out, the former flower garden had grown wild and unruly.
This was the place I was conceived and learned to walk and talk, where I developed my love for wandering in the fields and respecting the farm animals we depended upon. I remember as a child of four sitting at the kitchen table looking out the window at the sunrise coming rising over the woods and making the misty fields turn golden.
Yet now this land has returned to its essence before the ground was ever plowed or buildings were constructed. It no longer belongs to our family (as if it ever did) but it forever belongs to our memories.
I am overly prone to nostalgia, dwelling more on what has been than what is now or what I hope is to come. It is easy to weep over the losses when time and circumstances reap circumstances that become unrecognizable.
I may weep, but nature does not. The sun continues to rise over the fields, the birds continue to build nests, the lilacs grow taller with outrageous blooms, and each day ends with a promise of another to come.
So I must dwell on what lies ahead, not what perished in the ashes.
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The thrushes sing as the sun is going, And the finches whistle in ones and pairs, And as it gets dark loud nightingales In bushes Pipe, as they can when April wears, As if all Time were theirs.
These are brand-new birds of twelve months’ growing, Which a year ago, or less than twain, No finches were, nor nightingales, Nor thrushes, But only particles of grain, And earth, and air, and rain. ~Thomas Hardy “Proud Songsters”
Each year I watch the new hatchlings fledge and fly and feed, and marvel at how they know so young how to sing and survive. Last year they were mere elements and now they bring the world beauty and Grace.
They live as if all Time were theirs.
Now in my seventh decade, do I know how to sing and survive? Did I become more than the elements from which I arose?
Only thanks to the Maker of heaven and earth was I born to recognize Beauty and Grace when I see and hear it. And so I bring it here, now to share with all of you.
I live as if all Time is so precious, so fleeting.
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I know what you planned, what you meant to do, teaching me to love the world, making it impossible to turn away completely, to shut it out completely ever again – it is everywhere; when I close my eyes, birdsong, scent of lilac in early spring, scent of summer roses: you mean to take it away, each flower, each connection with earth – why would you wound me, why would you want me desolate in the end, unless you wanted me so starved for hope I would refuse to see that finally nothing was left to me, and would believe instead in the end you were left to me. ~Louise Glück “Vespers”(one of ten Vespers poems)
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; ~Psalm 130:5
Mid-spring days like this: bright, so promising with potential, birdsong constantly in the air, scent of orchard blossoms, lilacs, early roses and a flush of color everywhere…
how can I not love the world so much I never want to leave it?
Yet I must hold this loosely. It is but a tiny show of the glories to come, of what You have waiting for me next.
I am wounded with the realization that I must eventually let this go.
I hold onto the hope that won’t be found in all this beauty and lushness, the fulfilling hope that can only be found in my relationship with You as my Father and Creator.
You provide only a taste here so that I know what I starve for, starved with hope for what You have in store.
I will wait for you I will wait for you in the end You were left for me.
Amen and Amen.
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