What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?—
No time to stand beneath the boughs, And stare as long as sheep and cows:
No time to see, when woods we pass, Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:
No time to see, in broad daylight, Streams full of stars, like skies at night:
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance, And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare. ~W.H. Davies “Leisure”
This would be a poor life indeed if we didn’t take time to stand and stare at all that is displayed before us – whether it is the golden cast at the beginning and endings of the days, the light dancing in streams and stars or simply staring at God’s creatures staring back at us.
People living in mighty cities may have more gratifying professional challenges, or greater earning potential, or experience the latest and greatest opportunities for entertainment. But they don’t have these sunrises and sunsets and hours of contentment as we watch time pass unclaimed and unencumbered.
Oh give me a home where the Haflingers roam, where the deer and the corgi dogs play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day…
With my arms raised in a vee, I gather the heavens and bring my hands down slow together, press palms and bow my head.
I try to forget the suffering, the wars, the ravage of land that threatens songbirds, butterflies, and pollinators.
The ghosts of their wings flutter past my closed eyes as I breathe the spirit of seasons, the stirrings in soil, trees moving with sap.
With my third eye, I conjure the red fox, its healthy tail, recount the good of this world, the farmer tending her tomatoes, the beans
dazzled green al dente in butter, salt and pepper, cows munching on grass. The orb of sun-gold from which all bounty flows. ~Twyla M. Hansen “Trying to Pray” fromRock. Tree. Bird
There is much to pray about. The list is endless and the need overwhelming.
Where even to begin?
It is for good reason we are advised by Paul to “pray without ceasing” (the word in Greek is adialeiptos or “uninterruptedly”) in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
It is not only when we audibly and in form, address our petitions to the Deity that we pray. We pray without ceasing. Every secret wish is a prayer. Every house is a church; the corner of every street is a closet of devotion. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson in his sermon: Pray Without Ceasing
A farmer may have an addendum: every barn is a church, every moment kneeling and weeding the soil an act of devotion, every moment of care-taking God’s creation an act of sacramental obedience. Praying without ceasing in the course of one’s day.
Yet even before we clasp our hands together, we are told to “Rejoice always.” -Rejoice before complaining. -Rejoice before requesting. -Rejoice before losing heart.
Let me be breathing in the spirit of the seasons, overwhelmed by joy, before I talk with God. He knows which tears are which.
This time of year our farm is brilliant, verdant and delicious to behold. The cherry orchard blossoms have yielded fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass. By mid-June, the daylight starts creeping over the eastern foothills at 4 AM and the last glimpse of sun disappears at nearly 10 PM. So many hours of light to work with!
Yet today I yearn for a dark rainy day to hide inside with a book even when the lawnmower and weed whacker call my name, and the fish pond needs cleaning and the garden must be weeded. It’s not that things don’t happen on the farm during months like this. It’s just that nothing we do is enough. Blackberry brambles take over everything, grass grows faster than we can keep it mowed down, the manure piles grow exponentially.
The fences always need fixing. The old hay barn is falling down and needing to be resurrected. The weather is becoming iffy with rain in the forecast so we may not have anything but junk hay in the barn this winter in a year when hay will cost a premium. For a decade now we have stopped breeding our Haflinger horses as even the demand for well bred horses is not robust enough to justify bringing more into the world.
Suddenly our farm dream seems not nearly so compelling.
We spent many years dreaming about our farm as we hoped it would be. We imagined the pastures managed perfectly with fencing that was both functional and beautiful. Our barns and buildings would be tidy and leak-proof, and the stalls secure and safe. We’d have a really nice pick up truck with low miles on it, not a 30 year old hand me down truck with almost 250,000 miles. We would have trees pruned expertly and we’d have flower beds blooming and a vegetable garden yielding 9 months of the year. Our hay would never be rained on. We would have dogs that wouldn’t run off and cats that would take care of all the rodents. We wouldn’t have any moles, thistles, dandelions or buttercup. The pheasant, deer, coyotes, raccoons, and wild rabbits (even the occasional cougar, lynx and bear!) would only stroll through the yard for our amusement and not disturb anything. We’d have livestock with the best bloodlines we could afford and a steady demand from customers to purchase their offspring at reasonable prices so that not a dime of our off-farm income would be necessary to pay farm expenses. Our animals (and we) would never get sick or injured.
And our house would always stay clean.
Dream on. Farms are often back-breaking, morale-eroding, expensive sinkholes. I know ours is. Yet here we be and here we stay.
It’s home. We raised three wonderful children here. We’ve bred and grown good beef and horses and great garden and orchard crops and tons of hay from our own fields. We breathe clean air and enjoy hearing dozens of different bird songs and look out at some of the best scenery this side of heaven. Eagles land in the trees in our front yard.
It’s all enough for us even if we are not enough for the farm. I know there will come a time when the farm will need to be a fond memory and not a daily reality. Until then we will keep pursuing our dream as we and the farm grow older. Dreams age and mature and I know now what I dreamed of when I was younger was not the important stuff.
We are blessed with one another, with the continuing sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between. This is the stuff of which the best dreams are made.
One day thru the primeval wood A calf walked home, as good calves should, But made a trail all bent askew, A crooked trail, as all calves do. Since then three hundred years have fled, And I infer, the calf is dead; But still behind he left his trail, And thereon hangs my mortal tale.
The trail was taken up next day By a lone dog that passed that way, And then a wise bell-weather sheep Sliding into a rut now deep, Pursued that trail over hill and glade Thru those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out, And dodged and turned and bent about, and uttered words of righteous wrath Because “twas such a crooked path” But still they follow-do not laugh- The first migrations of that calf.
The forest became a lane That bent and turned and turned again; This crooked lane became a road where many a poor horse with his load Toiled on beneath the burning sun, And traveled some three miles in one.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet, The village road became a street, And this, before the men were aware, A city’s crowded thoroughfare.
And soon a central street was this In a renowned metropolis; And men two centuries and a half Followed the wanderings of this calf.
Each day a hundred thousand strong Followed this zigzag calf along; And over his crooked journey went The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led By one poor calf, three centuries dead. For just such reverence is lent To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach Were I ordained and called to preach.
For men are prone to go it blind Along the calf paths of the mind; And work away from sun to sun To do what other men have done. ~Sam Walter Foss “Cow Path”
Each day and night fly by more swiftly than the previous. It is as if minutes are exponentially more compressed than in the past, hurtling forward to an inevitable destination, but the estimated time of arrival is unknown.
I struggle in late middle age to keep perspective while traveling this road of life, looking back at where I’ve been, and hoping for the best about where I’m headed, and trying to stick to the winding path ahead without deviation. My regret about this journey is that I haven’t stopped nearly often enough to simply take in the scenery, listen to the birds, smell the orchard blossoms, and feel the grass under my bare feet.
It is the conundrum of following the cow path laid down before me, traveling the well-worn pathway of precedent.
Nevertheless, as with all cow paths, there may have been no greater reason for the bend or curve than a patch of tall appealing grass at one time, or a good itching spot on a tree trunk or a boulder obstructing the way. Still I follow the curve, dodge the boulder, tread the zig zag. My path may appear random without focus on the destination and that’s okay: I need to stop once in awhile, settle down for a really good nap, enjoy a particularly fine meal, read an insightful book, or play a lovely hymn. It is not which path I’ve traveled to my eventual destination but the quality of my journey along the way.
I enjoy the twists and turns of life if I take the time to appreciate them. Just maybe – I’ll throw in a few curves of my own for those who are following behind me.
Of all the beasts that God allows In England’s green and pleasant land, I most of all dislike the Cows:
Their ways I do not understand. It puzzles me why they should stare At me, who am so innocent; Their stupid gaze is hard to bear —
To country people Cows are mild, And flee from any stick they throw; But I’m a timid town bred child, And all the cattle seem to know. ~from “Cows” by T.S. Eliot, published long after his death
Raised with Guernsey and Jersey cows
outside my back door,
I sat dreamily
on their bony backs
while dad milked by hand twice a day,
filling the metal pail
as barn cats circled and purred.
Giving up the dairy,
we raised Scottish Highlanders
of long horn and shaggy hair-
wild and skeptical creatures
who barely tolerated a curry comb
or rub behind the ears.
I know well the unblinking stare of the cow
as they chew their cud and lick their nostrils;
I love their unending interest
in the absurdity
watching what we do.
into the deep pool
of their brown eyes
by their curious gaze
and why they should choose to care
Broad August burns in milky skies, The world is blanched with hazy heat; The vast green pasture, even, lies Too hot and bright for eyes and feet.
Amid the grassy levels rears The sycamore against the sun The dark boughs of a hundred years, The emerald foliage of one.
Lulled in a dream of shade and sheen, Within the clement twilight thrown By that great cloud of floating green, A horse is standing, still as stone.
He stirs nor head nor hoof, although The grass is fresh beneath the branch; His tail alone swings to and fro In graceful curves from haunch to haunch.
He stands quite lost, indifferent To rack or pasture, trace or rein; He feels the vaguely sweet content Of perfect sloth in limb and brain. ~William Canton “Standing Still”
I admit I flunked sloth long ago. Perhaps I was born driven. My older sister, not a morning person, was annoyed that even as a toddler I awoke chirpy and cheerful, singing to myself and ready to conquer the day.
I can’t say that is still the case but it’s close and still annoying to those who have to put up with me.
Even so, I’m not immune to the attractions of a hot hazy day of doing absolutely nothing but standing still switching flies. I envy our retired ponies in the pasture who spend the day grazing, moseying, and lazing because … I work hard to make that life possible for them.
August was invented for lulling about. Maybe if I try hard enough, I’ll get a passing grade.