Taking Time to Talk

Farmer with a pitchfork by Winslow Homer

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, ‘What is it?’
No, not as there is a time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.

~Robert Frost “A Time to Talk” from The Poetry of Robert Frost.

Conversations these days often take place asynchronously – text messages back and forth, voicemails, instant messages, emails – all composed and sent when most convenient so not necessarily as time-responsive as they could be.

Chatting over a fence, or on a front porch or even over the phone just doesn’t happen easily any more, especially during the pandemic years of avoiding face-to-face encounters.

Even more unusual is taking time during the work day to talk. Interruptions leading to setting aside the computer mouse or the stethoscope or the hoe can be challenging when there are only so many hours in the day.

I’m really terrible at conversation because I’ve always been shy and awkward at small talk. It’s all good when it is part of my work in an exam room, but to be honest, I don’t make time to go out to coffee with someone, or meet over a meal, or even enjoy a spontaneous visit while out for a walk or the grocery store. I’d rather be washing dishes at our weekly church potlucks.

And I’m missing out on an opportunity to love and be loved. Forgive me, friends, for my reticent nature.

The next time someone shouts at me “Howdy!” – I won’t just wave and keep on with whatever business I’m doing. I’ll stop, set aside my work tools and come over to chat. Putting two heads together in conversation is what our life and language is all about

Howdy back at you!

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When One’s Ramble is Over

The smell of that buttered toast simply spoke to Toad,
and with no uncertain voice;
talked of warm kitchens,
of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings,
of cozy parlour firesides on winter evenings,
when one’s ramble was over
and slippered feet were propped on the fender;
of the purring of contented cats,
and the twitter of sleepy canaries.
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I’m not a practitioner of the ancient art of aromatherapy for medicinal purposes but I do know certain smells transport me more effectively than any other mode of travel. One whiff of a familiar scent can take me back years to another decade and place, in time traveling mode. I am so in the moment, both present and past, my brain sees, hears, tastes, feels everything just as it was before.

The most vivid are kitchen smells. Cinnamon becomes my Grandma’s farm kitchen full of rising breakfast rolls, roasting turkey is my mother’s chaotic kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, fresh baked bread is my own kitchen during those years I needed to knead as therapy during medical training.

The newly born wet fur of my foals in the barn carries the sweet and sour amnion that was part of every birth I’ve been part of: delivering others and delivering my own. My heart races at the memory of the drama of those first breaths.

The garden yields its own treasure: tea roses, sweet peas, heliotrope, mint, lemon verbena take me back to lazy breezes wafting through open bedroom windows in my childhood home. And of course the richness of petrichor: the fragrance of the earth after a long awaited rain will remind me of how things smell after a dry spell.

I doubt any aromatherapy kit available would include my most favorite farm smells: newly mown hay, fresh fir shavings for stall bedding,  the mustiness of the manure pile, the green sweetness of a horses’ breath.

Someday I’ll figure out how to bottle all these up to keep forever.   Years from now my rambles will be over, when I’m too feeble to walk to the barn,  I can sit by my fireplace, close my eyes, open it up and take a whiff now and then to remind me of all I’m grateful for. 

I’ll breathe deeply of those memories that speak to me through scents — with no uncertain voice.

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Rumors of Rutabagas

Rutabagas were new to me
when I first paired with Jean.
At Thanksgiving and Easter dinners
her grandpa Frank, her spinster cousin,
mom, dad, and a tribe of handsome
brothers dined in near silence
at a great green table
with fierce griffins underneath.
I would wonder if their quiet
was about secrets or something wrong
but now I think it was
just how they gathered.

Rutabagas were on the table.
I had to ask Jean what they were.
My first mouthful tasted
like something in a gunny sack;
nothing like a wine
from which an epicure, or would-be epicure,
might claim to read the soils
in which the grapes were grown.
She said she loved their dug-up texture,
the hint of dirt
that couldn’t be baked away,
how they left the tongue
with a rumor of something
underground and dark.

Autumn vegetables suit her,
I think, and none more than rutabagas,
so reluctant to have left the ground.

~James Silas Rogers, “Rutabagas: A Love Poem” from Sundogs

It’s true. We had never eaten rutabaga before this Thanksgiving. It is an otherworldly thing that looks like it would rather stay out of sight in the ground. Rutabagas get no respect because they appear rough and tumble, though in actuality they are exceedingly humble with a shy sense of humor.

Our son Ben is an innovative cook and loves to try new things for family get-togethers. This week our dinner was graced with peeled, diced and roasted root vegetables including this new addition. These all came direct from our garden – hiding deep in the soil one minute and roasting in olive oil and seasonings the next: beets, carrots, leeks, garlic and this absolutely ginormous and homely-looking rutabaga.

This is Dan’s first year of planting rutabaga seed, having experimented with turnips previously; we were impressed with the growth of roots up to the size of a melon. It was a great addition to the roasted vegetables, tasting of an earthy but slightly sweet essence of the soil that nourished it.

Rumor is – rutabagas will be back in the garden plan for next year. There is just something exceptional about a scabby-skinned, pock-marked and bumpy vegetable that prefers to stay tucked away in the dark underground, but when chosen, picked and brought into the light, happily feeds a family for a week.

May we all have the heart of a rutabaga.

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A Crumb of Thanks

Aren’t you glad at least that the earthworms
Under the grass are ignorant, as they eat the earth,
Of the good they confer on us, that their silence
Isn’t a silent reproof for our bad manners,
Our never casting earthward a crumb of thanks
For their keeping the soil from packing so tight
That no root, however determined, could pierce it?

Imagine if they suspected how much we owe them,
How the weight of our debt would crush us
Even if they enjoyed keeping the grass alive,
The garden flowers and vegetables, the clover,
And wanted nothing that we could give them,
Not even the merest nod of acknowledgment.

A debt to angels would be easy in comparison,
Bright, weightless creatures of cloud, who serve
An even brighter and lighter master.


Lucky for us they don’t know what they’re doing,
These puny anonymous creatures of dark and damp
Who eat simply to live, with no more sense of mission
Than nature feels in providing for our survival.

…the tunneling earthworms, tireless, silent,
As they persist, oblivious, in their service.

~Carl Dennis from “Worms”

We’ve been carefully composting horse manure for years behind the barn, and we dig in to the 10 foot tall pile to spread on our garden plots. As Dan pushed the tractor’s front loader into the pile, steam rose from its compost innards. As the rich soil was scooped, thousands of newly exposed red wiggler worms immediately dove for cover. Within seconds, thousands of naked little creatures had, well, …wormed their way back into the security of warm dirt, rudely interrupted from their routine. I can’t say I blamed them.

Hundreds of thousands of wigglers ended up being forced to adapt to new quarters, leaving the security of the manure mountain behind. As I smoothed the topping of compost over the garden plot, the worms–gracious creatures that they are–tolerated being rolled and raked and lifted and turned over, waving their little bodies expectantly in the cool air before slipping back down into the dark. There they will begin their work of digesting and aerating the tired soil of the garden, reproducing in their unique hermaphroditic way, leaving voluminous castings behind to further feed future seedlings to be planted.

Worms are unjustly denigrated by humans primarily because we don’t like to be surprised by them. We don’t like to see one in our food, especially only part of one, and are particularly distressed to see them after we’ve digested our food. Once we get past that bit of squeamishness, we can greatly appreciate their role as the ultimate recyclers, leaving the earth a lot better off once they are finished with their work. We humans actually suffer by comparison; to be called “a worm” is really not as bad as it sounds at first. However, the worm may be offended by the association.

I hope to prove a worthy innkeeper for these new tenants.
May they live long and prosper.
May the worm forgive the disruption of my rake and shovel.
May I smile appreciatively the next time someone calls me a mere worm.

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Vines Running Wild

Poetry is a rich, full-bodied whistle,
cracked ice crunching in pails,
the night that numbs the leaf,
the duel of two nightingales,
the sweet pea that has run wild,
Creation’s tears in shoulder blades.
~Boris Pasternak

Here are sweet-peas, on tip-toe for a flight:
With wings of gentle flush o’er delicate white,
And taper fingers catching at all things,
To bind them all about with tiny rings.
~John Keats
from I Stood Tip-toe Upon a Little Hill

Sweet peas and pumpkins are strange neighbors on the table
Usually separated by weather and season,
one from late spring,
the other from mid-autumn,
truly never meant to meet.

Yet here they are, side by side,
grown in the same soil
through the same weeks,
their curling vines entwined.

A few dropped sweet pea seeds
forgotten in the summer weeds;
eventually swelled and thrived,
now forming rich autumn blooms
gracing a harvest table
with bright pastels and spring time fragrance.

Perhaps I too may bloom where I land,
even if ill-timed and out of place,
I might run wild, interwoven, bound to others
who look nothing like me,
encouraged to climb higher,
to blossom bravely,
even in the face of knowing
the killing frost is soon to come.

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Into Every Small Fold

It is not enough to offer a silent thank you,
looking down at dark mums and the garden’s final offerings
of autumn—late-planted greens, their small leaves
fragile and pale. And bright orange peppers,
the odd liveliness of their color signaling an end.
To see the dense clouds drop into its depths and know
who placed them there. It is not enough to welcome God
into every small fold of the day’s passing.
To call upon some unknown force
to let the meat be fresh, the house not burn,
the evening to find us all here again. Yet,
we are here again. And we have witnessed
the miracle of nothing. A slight turning of empty time,
bare of grief and illness and pain. We have lived
nondescript this season, this day, these sixty-minutes.
But it is not enough. To bow our heads in silence.
To close our eyes and see in each moment
of each second the uneventful wonder
of none.
~Pamela Steed Hill “The Miracle of Nothing”

Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday.
It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain.
You can feel the silent and invisible life.
~Marilynne Robinson from Gilead

I am covered with Sabbath rest
quiet and deep~
planted, grown, and now harvested in soil
still warm and dry from a too long summer,
now readying for sleep again.

I know there is nothing ordinary
in this uneventful wonder of none.

I am called by such Light
to push out against darkness,
to be witness to the miracle of nothing
and everything.

Can there be nothing more eventful
than the wonder of an ordinary Sunday?

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Only Here and Now

When I work outdoors all day, every day,
as I do now, in the fall, getting ready for winter,
tearing up the garden, digging potatoes,
gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing
bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods,

doing the last of the fall mowing,
pruning apple trees, taking down the screens,
putting up the storm windows, banking the house—all these things,
as preparation for the coming cold…


when I am every day all day all body and no mind, when I am
physically, wholly and completely, in this world with the birds,
the deer, the sky, the wind, the trees…


when day after day I think of nothing but what the next chore is,
when I go from clearing woods roads, to sharpening a chain saw,
to changing the oil in a mower, to stacking wood, when I am
all body and no mind…

when I am only here and now and nowhere else—
then, and only then, do I see the crippling power of mind,
the curse of thought, and I pause and wonder why
I so seldom find this shining moment in the now.
~David Budbill “This Shining Moment in the Now” from While We’ve Still Got Feet.

I spend only a small part of my day doing physical work compared to my husband’s faithful daily labor in the garden and elsewhere on the farm. We both celebrate the good and wonderful gifts from the Lord, His sun, rain and soil. Although these weeks are a busy harvest time preserving as much as we can from the orchard and the garden, too much of my own waking time is spent almost entirely within the confines of my skull.

I know that isn’t healthy. My body needs to lift and push and pull and dig and toss, so I head outside to do farm and garden chores. This physical activity gives me the opportunity to be “in the moment” and not crushed under “what was, what is, what needs to be and what possibly could be” — all the processing that happens mostly in my head.

I’m grateful for this tenuous balance in my life, knowing as I do that I was never cut out to be a good full time farmer. I sometimes feel that shining glow in the moments of “living it now” rather than dwelling endlessly in my mind about the past or the future.

Thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord. I am learning to let those harvest moments shine.

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Trying to Yield to Change

I went out to cut a last batch of zinnias this
morning from the back fencerow and got my shanks
chilled for sure: furrowy dark gray clouds with
separating fringes of blue sky-grass: and the dew

beaded up heavier than the left-overs of the rain:
in the zinnias, in each of two, a bumblebee
stirring in slow motion. Trying to unwind
the webbed drug of cold, buzzing occasionally but

with a dry rattle: bees die with the burnt honey
at their mouths, at least: the fact’s established:
it is not summer now and the simmering buzz is out of
heat: the zucchini blossoms falling show squash

overgreen with stunted growth: the snapdragons have
suckered down into a blossom or so: we passed
into dark last week the even mark of day and night
and what we hoped would stay we yield to change.
~A.R. Ammons  “Equinox” from Complete Poems

I yield now
to the heaviness of transition
from summer to autumn,
with slowing of my walk
and darkening of my days.

It is time;
day and night now compete for my attention
and both will win.

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Wrapped in the Shawl of Fading Summer

Summer begins to have the look
Peruser of enchanting Book
Reluctantly but sure perceives
A gain upon the backward leaves —

Autumn begins to be inferred
By millinery of the cloud,
Or deeper color in the shawl
That wraps the everlasting hill.
~Emily Dickinson in “Summer Begins to Have the Look”

Summer is waning and wistful;
it has the look of packing up,
and moving on
without bidding adieu
or looking back over its shoulder.

I’m just not ready to wave goodbye to sun-soaked clear skies.

Cooling winds have carried in darkening clouds
spread green leaves everywhere,
loosened before their time.
Rain is many weeks overdue
yet there is temptation to bargain
for a little more time.
Though we are in need of a good drenching
there are still onions and potatoes to pull from the ground,
berries to pick before they mold on the vine,
overwhelming buckets of tomatoes,
and the remaining corn cobs bulging.

The overhead overcast is heavily burdened
with clues of what is coming:
earlier dusk,
the feel of moisture,
the deepening graying hues,
the briskness of breezes.

There is no negotiation possible.
I need to steel myself and get ready,
wrapping myself in the soft shawl of inevitability.

So autumn advances with the clouds,
taking up residence where summer has left off.
Though there is still clean up
of the overabundance left behind,
autumn will bring its own unique plans
for display of a delicious palette of hues.

The truth is we’ve seen nothing yet.

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A Silken Connection

Someone said my name in the garden,

while I grew smaller
in the spreading shadow of the peonies,

grew larger by my absence to another,
grew older among the ants, ancient

under the opening heads of the flowers,
new to myself, and stranger.

When I heard my name again, it sounded far,
like the name of the child next door,
or a favorite cousin visiting for the summer,

while the quiet seemed my true name,
a near and inaudible singing
born of hidden ground.

Quiet to quiet, I called back.
And the birds declared my whereabouts all morning.

~Li-Young Lee “Out of Hiding”

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
~E.B. White “Natural History”

I seek out the hidden web artist
who rebuilds this remarkable funnel
in an open pipe attached to a gate
I open and close daily without a thought.

As I approach, I see the weaver’s legs
scurrying hurriedly down into the safety of
its chosen darkness.

This spider needs temerity, not timidity,
to find its meal.

How else might it issue a dinner invitation,
luring me down into a sticky funnel vortex,
as a cherished guest meant never to return?

If I go astray and wander into temptation,
lose my way and plunge into the hole,
a silken thread remains:
hearing Him call out
my name from the garden,
urging me to return
to Whom I belong.

Indeed my soul hangs
by this single gossamer thread~
this silken connection calls me
back home, back to eternity.

There’s more that rises in the morning
Than the sun
And more that shines in the night
Than just the moon
It’s more than just this fire here
That keeps me warm
In a shelter that is larger
Than this room

And there’s a loyalty that’s deeper
Than mere sentiments
And a music higher than the songs
That I can sing
The stuff of Earth competes
For the allegiance
I owe only to the Giver
Of all good things

So if I stand let me stand on the promise
That you will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You
And if I sing let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
And if I weep let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home

There’s more that dances on the prairies
Than the wind
More that pulses in the ocean
Than the tide
There’s a love that is fiercer
Than the love between friends
More gentle than a mother’s
When her baby’s at her side

~Rich Mullins

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