There Is Not One Blade of Grass…

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
~John Calvin – Sermon Number 10 on I Corinthians

We are given the option to notice
or not
We are given reason to rejoice
or not
We are given a rain-bowed promise to witness
or not.

So why ever not?

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A Galaxy of Grasses

О Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening.
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
О Light Invisible, we worship Thee!

~T.S. Eliot from “O Light Invisible”

Look, in the early light, 
   Down to the infinite 
   Depths at the deep grass-roots; 
      Where the sun shoots 
In golden veins, as looking through 
   A dear pool one sees it do; 
   Where campion drifts 
Its bladders, iris-brinded, through the rifts 
      Of rising, falling seed
   That the winds lightly scour—
Down to the matted earth where over 
   And over again crow’s-foot and clover
      And pink bindweed
      Dimly, steadily flower.

~Michael Field “The Depths of the Grass”

We wove hip-high field grass 
into tunnels 

knotting the tops 
of bunched handfuls the drooping 
heads tied together. 

My seven siblings and I 
sheltered ourselves

inside these labyrinths 
in a galaxy of grasses.
~Heather Cahoon “Shelter”

As a child I liked to go out far into our hay field and find the tallest patch of grass. There, like a dog turning circles before a nap,  I’d trample down the tall waving stems that stretched up almost to my eyes, and create a grass nest, just cozy enough for me. I’d sit or lie down in this tall green fortress, gazing up at the blue sky, and watch the clouds lazily drift over top of me.  I’d suck on a hollow stem or two, to savor the bitter grass juice. Time felt suspended.

Scattered around my grassy cage, looking out of place attached to the broad grass stems, would be innumerable clumps of white foam. I’d tease out the hidden green spit bugs with their little black eyes from their white frothy bubble encasement. I too felt “bubble-wrapped” in my green hide-a-way.

My grassy nest was a time of retreat from the world.  I felt protected, surrounded, encompassed and free –at least until I heard my mother calling for me from the house, or a rain shower started, driving me to run for cover, or my dog found me by following my green path.

It has been decades since I hid away in a grass fort trying to defoam spit bugs. Surely, I’m overdue: instead of being determined to mow down and level the grass around me, I long for a galaxy of grassy bubble-wrap.

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A Wet and Trembling Solstice

The light stretched and tangy, up on its horse
and riding through the ripening meadows,
buzzing the leaves and the
birds who’ve been at it for hours.
Light that in its excess has become something else.
The way you look from a hill’s highest point,
your head full of chlorophyll,
heart shucking winter like a clayload of guilt,
like pollen with its open fire policy
compensating loss. You exceed yourself,
tanked on the light and the birds
who’ve been singing forever.
~Donna Kane from Summer Solstice

Green was the silence, wet was the light
the month of June trembled like a butterfly
~Pablo Neruda from “Sonnet XL”

Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?

This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—

but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,
and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.
~Billy Collins “Morning”

Early this morning, the northern hemisphere transitioned to summer, but aside from the date on the calendar, here it would be difficult to prove otherwise.  It has been unseasonably cool and wet, the skies stony gray, the rivers running full and fast, the ground peppered with puddles. Rain has chosen to fall at night, hiding behind the cover of darkness as if ashamed of itself.   As it should be.

What all this moisture will yield is acres and acres of towering grass growth, more grass than imaginable, more grass than we can keep mowed,  burying the horses up to their backs as they dive head long into the pasture.  The Haflingers don’t need to lower their necks to graze,  choosing instead to simply strip off the ripe tops of the grasses as they forge paths through five foot forage.   It is like children at a birthday party swiping the frosting off cupcake after cupcake, licking their fingers as they go.  Instead of icing, the horses’ muzzles are smeared with dandelion fluff,  grass seed and buttercup petals.

Here in the northwest, June can tend to shroud its promise of longer days under clouds.  Outdoor weddings brace for rain and wind with a supply of umbrellas, graduation potlucks are served on covered porches and Fourth of July picnics stay inside, sheltered and dry. 

Despite the cool and wet, people here still have that universal wary anticipation of solstice as it signals the slow inexorable return of darkness from which we have not yet fully recovered.

I got up early this morning to witness the beginning of summer just to see what might happen. You never know what might be just over the horizon as we round this corner to face the darkening.

Trembling, I splash through this squishy morning, quivering like a wet butterfly emerging from its cocoon ready to unfurl its wings to dry, but unsure how to fly and uncertain of the new world that awaits.  In fact the dark empty cocoon can look mighty inviting on a rainy June night or during a loud mid-day thunderstorm.   If I could manage to squeeze myself back in, it might be worth a try.

After all, there is no place like home, sweet (but damp) home.

Daylight comes and nighttime goes, nighttime falls, day flies
Round and round the cycle goes,
we live and then we die and then we live and then we die.
The seasons of my life go round, the sunshine and the rain
The fallow and the fruitful days,
the joy and then the pain and then the joy and then the pain.
As light below, so light above, so light in all we see

The light is in the act of love, the light that sets us free,
yes, it’s the light that sets free.
Daylight comes…
~Libby Roderick

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Bowing Low to Wind and Rain

Light and wind are running
over the headed grass
as though the hill had
melted and now flowed.
~Wendell Berry “June Wind” from New Collected Poems

The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.
~Robert Frost “Lodged”

All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all
will burn in man’s evil, or dwindle
in its own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may know
my little light taken from me into the seed
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.
~Wendell Berry “The Wish to be Generous” from Collected Poems

The abundant grasses in the surrounding hay fields were hit hard with heavy rainfall and wind yesterday, collapsing under the weight of the pelting moisture.  Countless four foot tall tender stems are now lodged and flattened in undulating bent-over waves of green, embracing the earth from which they arose.  If the rain continues as predicted over the next several days, the grass may not recover, unable to dry out enough to stand upright again, nor are the fields dry enough to bring tractors and equipment to the rescue. 

It is ironic to lose a crop from too much of a good thing– lush growth demands, but often cannot withstand, quenching rains.  It has matured too fast, rising up too lush, too overcome with itself so that it can no longer stand. The grass keels over in community, broken and crumpled, likely now unsuitable for cutting or baling into hay, and unless chopped quickly into silage to ferment for winter cattle feed, it must melt back into the soil again.

However–if there are dry spells amid the showers over the next few days, with a breeze to lift the soaked heads and squeeze out the wet sponge created by layered forage–the lodged crop may survive and rise back up. It may be raised and lifted again, pushing up to meet the sun, its stems strengthening and straightening.

What once was so heavy laden and down-trodden might lighten;
what was silent could once again move and sing and wave with the wind.

The hill pasture, an open place among the trees,
tilts into the valley. The clovers and tall grasses
are in bloom. Along the foot of the hill
dark floodwater moves down the river.
The sun sets. Ahead of nightfall the birds sing.
I have climbed up to water the horses
and now sit and rest, high on the hillside,
letting the day gather and pass. Below me
cattle graze out across the wide fields of the bottomlands,
slow and preoccupied as stars. In this world
men are making plans, wearing themselves out,
spending their lives, in order to kill each other.

~Wendell Berry “In This World” from Farming: A Handbook

What stood will stand, though all be fallen,
The good return that time has stolen.
Though creatures groan in misery,
Their flesh prefigures liberty
To end travail and bring to birth
Their new perfection in new earth.
At word of that enlivening
Let the trees of the woods all sing
And every field rejoice, let praise
Rise up out of the ground like grass.
What stood, whole in every piecemeal
Thing that stood, will stand though all
Fall–field and woods and all in them
Rejoin the primal Sabbath’s hymn.
~Wendell Berry, from “Sabbaths” (North Point Press, 1987)
.

From The Nicene Creed

Et expecto resurrectionem motuorum.
Et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen. Alleluia. 

And I look for the resurrection of the dead,
And the life of the world to come. Amen. Alleluia

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To Seek the Whole…

… why should I not sit, every morning of my life,
on the hillside, looking into the shining world?
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.

 
Be ignited, or be gone.
~Mary Oliver from “What I Have Learned So Far”

How often do we miss the fainter note
Or fail to see the more exquisite hue,
Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet,
Eyes fixed upon some other, further view.
What chimes of harmonies escape our ears,
How many rainbows must elude our sight,
We see a field but do not see the grass,
Each blade a miracle of shade and light.
How then to keep the greater end in eye
And watch the sunlight on the distant peak,
And yet not tread on any leaf of love,
Nor miss a word the eager children speak?
Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart,
To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part.

~Philip Britts “Sonnet 1” from Water at the Roots

We are born nearly blinded, focused solely on our emptiness – a hunger to be filled and our need to be held.  As we grow, our focus sharpens to fall in love with those who feed and nurture us.

Eventually we discover, challenge and worship He who made us. I need to seek out and harvest the beauty growing in each moment.

This world is often too much for me to take in as a whole — an exquisite view of shadow and light, color and gray, loneliness and embrace, sorrow and joy.

With more years and a broader vision, I scan for the finer details within the whole before it disappears with the changing light.  Time’s a wasting (and so am I) as I try to capture it all with the lenses of our eyes and hearts.

The end of life comes too soon, when once again my vision blurs and the world fades away from view. I will hunger yet again to be filled and held.

And then heaven itself will seem almost too much to take in – my heart full to bursting with light and promise for the rest of eternity.

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I’ll Take It

More than the fuchsia funnels breaking out
of the crabapple tree, more than the neighbor’s
almost obscene display of cherry limbs shoving
their cotton candy-colored blossoms to the slate
sky of Spring rains, it’s the greening of the trees
that really gets to me. When all the shock of white
and taffy, the world’s baubles and trinkets, leave
the pavement strewn with the confetti of aftermath,
the leaves come. Patient, plodding, a green skin
growing over whatever winter did to us, a return
to the strange idea of continuous living despite
the mess of us, the hurt, the empty. Fine then,
I’ll take it, the tree seems to say, a new slick leaf
unfurling like a fist to an open palm, I’ll take it all.
~Ada Limón  “Instructions on Not Giving Up”

I thought I was empty – hollow and irretrievable – after such a long drawn out winter. Yet here I am, here we are, still among the living and I find I am swept away and useless to accomplish anything else except breathing. 

The landscape is exploding with layers of color and shadow and standing too close, I too am ignited.  It is impossible to witness so much unfolding life and light and not be engulfed and singed.

It lures me outside where flames of green lap about my ankles as I stroll the fields and each fresh breeze fans the fires until I’ve nothing left of myself but ash and shadow.

Consumed and subsumed.  Combusted and busted.

What a way to go.

I’ll take it. I’ll take it all.

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And It Was Autumn…

it rained in my sleep
and in the morning the fields were wet
I dreamed of artillery
of the thunder of horses

in the morning the fields were strewn
with twigs and leaves
as if after a battle
or a sudden journey
I went to sleep in the summer
I dreamed of rain
in the morning the fields were wet
and it was autumn
~Linda Pastan “September” from Carnival Evening

photo by Harry Rodenberger

The dogs eat hoof slivers and lie under the porch.
A strand of human hair hangs strangely from a fruit tree
like a cry in the throat. The sky is clay for the child who is past
being tired, who wanders in waist-deep
grasses. Gnats rise in a vapor,
in a long mounting whine around her forehead and ears.

The sun is an indistinct moon. Frail sticks
of grass poke her ankles,
and a wet froth of spiders touches her legs
like wet fingers. The musk and smell
of air are as hot as the savory
terrible exhales from a tired horse.

At evening a breeze dries and crumbles
the sky and the clouds float like undershirts
and cotton dresses on a clothesline. Horses
rock to their feet and race or graze.
Parents open their shutters and call
the lonely, happy child home.
The child who hates silences talks and talks
of cicadas and the manes of horses.
~Carol Frost – lines from “All Summer Long” from Love and Scorn: New and Collected Poems.

I was one of those lonely but happy youngsters who dreamt of horses all summer long, immersed in my own made-up stories of forest rides on hidden trails, of spending hours decorating long manes and tails of golden horses, of performing daring rescues and races, of battles and bravery I didn’t experience in real life. The imaginings took me beyond the mundane into the fanciful where I could be completely lost until I was called to come in for dinner or return to the confines of a school classroom.

Some dreams do come true when you want them badly enough: I’ve now had decades gazing out at fields of grass with those thundering hooves, back-dropped by endless skies of ever-changing clouds. I’ve also found that fairy tales can have broken fences and growing manure piles.

It has been worth it for a kid whose own story bloomed when I became a wife, a mother, a physician and a horse farmer. As this summer yet again has transitioned to autumn, so does my story: it is full of aging horses and tired fields, yet still I find myself dreaming like a kid as I comb out those long flowing manes.

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Sweating Under the High Arc of Midsummer

What is the hayfield in late afternoon
that it can fly in the face of time,

and light can be centuries old, and even
the rusted black truck I am driving

can seem to be an implement born
of some ancient harvest,

and the rhythmic baler, which spits out
massive bricks tied up in twine,

can seem part of a time before now
because light glitters on the hay dust,

because the sun is sinking and we sweat
under the high arc of mid-summer,

because our bodies cast such long shadows–
Rebecca, with the baby strapped to her back,

the men who throw impossible weight
to the top of the truck, the black and white

dog that races after mice or moles
whose lives have been suddenly exposed.

How does the taste of my sweat take me
down through the gate of childhood,

spinning backwards to land in a field
painted by Bruigel, where the taste of salt

is the same, and the same heat
rises in waves off a newly flattened field.

In the duskiness of slanted light, we laugh
just as we laughed then, because there is

joy in what the earth gives, allowing
our bodies to mingle with it, our voices

small on the field, our work assuring the goats
can give milk, the sheep can grow wool,

and we will have in our bones the taste
of something so old it travels in light.
~Susie Patlove “First Cutting” from Quickening

photo by Nate Gibson
photo by Nate Gibson
1994
2005
2011

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.

photo by Tayler Rae
Pieter Bruegel “Hay Harvest”
My grandparents Leslie Polis and Kittie Lovelace standing in a hayfield with loose hay shocks — 1915

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Through Grass and Grain

Mown meadows skirt the standing wheat;
I linger, for the hay is sweet,
New-cut and curing in the sun.
Like furrows, straight, the windrows run,
Fallen, gallant ranks that tossed and bent
When, yesterday, the west wind went
A-rioting through grass and grain.
To-day no least breath stirs the plain;
Only the hot air, quivering, yields
Illusive motion to the fields
Where not the slenderest tassel swings.
Across the wheat flash sky-blue wings;
A goldfinch dangles from a tall,
Full-flowered yellow mullein; all
The world seems turning blue and gold.
Unstartled, since, even from of old,
Beauty has brought keen sense of her,
I feel the withering grasses stir;
Along the edges of the wheat,
I hear the rustle of her feet:
And yet I know the whole sea lies,
And half the earth, between our eyes.
~Sophie Jewett “In Harvest”

Autumn harvest happens outside of me
despite sudden coolness of the air,
thanks to showers that green the fields
for one more month of grazing,
midst the smell of the dying of vines and roots.

Autumn harvest is happening inside of me
as I slow down my walk,
curl up within the lengthening nights,
the color of my thoughts
turning to bronze and gold and red

before I let go
before I let go

A book of beauty in words and photographs, available for order here:

A Miracle of Mucus

In the waning evening light, I stood in the barnyard
holding the hose to fill the water trough,
gazing across a sunset-lit field of grass and weeds,
puzzling over an intermittent flash and glimmer thirty yards away.

Trough filled, I set out to find what glinted and blinked in the breeze,
assuming an errant piece of foil or lost piece of jewelry to be reclaimed,
somehow fallen mysteriously from the sky into the middle of a horse pasture.

As I moved closer, my body blocked the sun’s rays
so the glistening ceased. I moved aside,
hoping to allow the fading light
to re-ignite the spark that drew me there.

Doused by the advancing shadow of sunset,
it vanished as I neared the spot.
Looking closely, I found only a broad blade of grass
shimmering with a silvery trail left behind by a slug tail.

Mere mucus slime scintillating in the setting sun!
A complex mix of proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans,
glycoprotein enzymes, hyaluronic acid, antimicrobial peptides,
and metal ions of zinc, iron, copper and manganese.

Precious trace metals flashing in the grass, masquerading as jewels.

What a fool to think only something man-made could lure me there.
Instead, this miracle of mucus trailing from a lowly slug proved
a far greater treasure is always hiding in the grass,
if I only bother to look.

Hermaphroditic slugs mating on the side of our field’s water barrel/trough,
hanging form a strand of mucus from the rim.

Girls are like slugs—they probably serve some purpose, but it’s hard to imagine what.
― Bill Watterson, in Calvin and Hobbes

From David Attenborough’s Life on our Planet
(a truly remarkable video of how slug mucus becomes integral in their reproductive cycle)

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