The summer ends, and it is time To face another way. Our theme Reversed, we harvest the last row To store against the cold, undo The garden that will be undone. We grieve under the weakened sun To see all earth’s green fountains dried, And fallen all the works of light. You do not speak, and I regret This downfall of the good we sought As though the fault were mine. I bring The plow to turn the shattering Leaves and bent stems into the dark, From which they may return. At work, I see you leaving our bright land, The last cut flowers in your hand. ~Wendell Berry “The Summer Ends” from A Timbered Choir.
I want to memorize it all before it changes as the light weakens from the sun shifting from north to south, balancing on the fulcrum of our country road at equinox.
The dying back of the garden leaves and vines reveals what lies unharvested beneath, so I gather in urgency, not wanting it to go to waste.
We part again from you, Summer – your gifts seemed endless until you ended – a reminder that someday, so must I.
I sit silenced and brooding, waiting for what comes next.
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You get down on your knees in the dark earth—alone for hours in hot sun, yanking weed roots, staking trellises, burning your shoulders, swatting gnats; you strain your muscled midwestern neck and back, callous your pianist’s hands.
You cut roses back so they won’t fruit, rip out and replace spent annuals. You fill your garden dense with roots and vines. And when a humble sprout climbs like a worm up out of death, you are there to bless it, in your green patch, all spring and summer long,
hose like a scepter, a reliquary vessel; you hum through the dreamy wilderness—no one to judge, absolve, or be absolved—purified by labor, confessed by its whisperings, connected to its innocence.
So when you heft a woody, brushy tangle, or stumble inside grimy, spent by earth, I see all the sacraments in place— and the redeemed world never smelled so sweet. ~Ken Weisner, “The Gardener” from Anything on Earth.
We are in full-garden produce preservation mode right now on the farm – these are the days when we pick the fruits of Dan’s labors – all the hours he spent this spring preparing the soil with rich compost, meticulously pulling out weeds by the roots, rototilling and cultivating, then staking/stringing/sowing the rows, then standing back to watch the sun and rain coax the seeds from the dark.
All this happens in a mere few weeks – we never tire of this illustration of redemption and renewal we’re shown year after year – how a mess of weeds and dirt can be cleared, refined and cleansed to once again become productive and fruitful, feeding those who hunger – both now and deep into winter and next spring.
It gives me hope; even when I myself am feeling full of weeds and despairingly dirty and overwhelmed, I can be renewed. It takes a persistent Gardener who is willing and eager to prune away what is useless, and sow anew what is needed for me to thrive and produce – His hands and knees are covered with my grime.
And the fruit that results! – so very sweet…
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Late August, given heavy rain and sun For a full week, the blackberries would ripen. At first, just one, a glossy purple clot Among others, red, green, hard as a knot. You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots. Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills We trekked and picked until the cans were full, Until the tinkling bottom had been covered With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre. But when the bath was filled we found a fur, A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache. The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour. I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot. Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not. ~Seamus Heaney “Blackberry Picking”
…Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you… Ezekiel 2:6
In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. ~John Stottfrom The Cross
Today I will make wild blackberry cobbler, facing down the brambles and briers that thwart my reach for the elusive fruit – in this heat, it is important to harvest blackberries before they shrivel up and rot on the vine. I aim to gather more berries than scratches to prove that thorns and rot must never win and I will not yield to them.
Painful thorns and decay have always been part of life. They barricade us from all that is sweet and good and precious. They tear us up, bloody us, make us cry out in pain and grief, cause a stink, and deepen our fear that we may never overcome such a sorrowful destiny.
Yet even the most brutal crown of thorns or the rot of the grave did not stop the loving sacrifice, can never thwart the sweetness of redemption, will not spoil the goodness, nor destroy the promise of salvation to come.
We simply wait to be fed the loving gift that comes only from bloodied hands.
Flesh will fail and bones will break thieves will steal, the earth will shake Night will fall, the light will fade The Lord will give and take away
Put no trust in the earth in the sod you stand upon Flowers fade into dust The Lord will make a place for us
Because of His great Love We are not overcome Because of His great Love We are not overcome
Have no fear for your life Turn your cheek, turn your cheek Bear the yoke of love and death The Lord will give all life and breath
Because of His great Love We are not overcome Because of His great Love We are not overcome (from Bifrost Arts)
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overly delicate, like a flower skimmed of all fragrance.
You hear in the long last notes of the nightingale’s song
how to harbor what’s left of joy, how spring clutches
the green shoot of life and holds on and on through summer, prepares
for no end that is sure in coming, the fall ever endlessly repeating. ~Maureen Doallas “Recounting Seasons”, from Neruda’s Memoirs
One of my greatest joys is watching time as days become weeks, then months, and as years flow by, the seasons repeat seemingly endlessly. I know they must end for me eventually so I anticipate transitions before they take place.
In the “olden” days, many farmers kept daily hand-written diaries to track the events of the seasons: when the soil was warm enough to sow, when the harvest was ready, the highs and lows of temperature fluctuations, how many inches in the rain gauge, how deep the snow.
Now we follow the years with a swift scroll in our photo collection in our phones: the tulips bloomed two weeks later this year, or the tomatoes ripened early or the pears were larger two years ago.
I take comfort things tend to repeat predictably year after year, yet I can spot subtle differences. Our hydrangea bushes are a harbinger of seasonal change: they are blooming a darker burgundy color this year, the lace caps are mostly blue rather than pink and purple. Their blooms fade eventually into blended earth tones, then blanche, finally losing color altogether and becoming skeletal.
And so it is with me. I harbor joy by noticing each change, knowing the repetition of the seasons and the cycle of blooming will continue, with or without me here watching. I am unnecessary except as a recorder of fact.
I will keep watching and keep documenting as long as I’m able.
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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
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To see clearly, not needing a drink or pill or puff of any pipe to know I’m alive. To come home, peel off sandals and step onto the cool tile floor needing only the rush of water over strawberries I picked myself and then a knife to trim the dusty green heads from each one, to watch them gleam cleanly in a colander in a patch of sun near the sink. ~James Crews “Clearly” from Healing the Divide: Poems of Kindness and Connection
As a child, I could see some people I loved struggling with daily life like a never-ending wrestling match.
Can’t relax? Have a drink. Feeling irritable? Have a smoke. Can’t wake up? Strong coffee. Can’t lose weight? Amphetamines. Can’t sleep? Valium.
I watched as one after another after another lost the wrestling match with the life’s sharp edges, sometimes dying too young from their self-medication.
As a result, I never could reconcile experimenting with my brain, staying stone cold sober throughout 21 years of school, bored to tears at parties watching others get hammered and stoned. As a physician, I spent half my career trying to help people stop wrestling with life and find their sober selves again.
Like berries picked into a colander, we all need gentle handling, rinsing and hulling, to wash away the dust of the field, the spiders and slug slime.
No more wrestling. Restored to sweetness and sparkling beauty.
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Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars… don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones. ~H.Jackson Brown Jr. from “Life’s Little Instruction Book”
Life is a marshmallow, easy to chew but hard to swallow. ~Francis Bacon
And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn’t stop. ~A.A. Milne from The House at Pooh Corner
Always, no sometimes, think it’s me But you know I know when it’s a dream I think I know I mean a yes But it’s all wrong That is I think I disagree
Let me take you down ‘Cause I’m going to Marshmallow Fields Nothing is real And nothing to get hung about Marshmallows Fields forever ~with apologies to John Lennon and The Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever”
It’s marshmallow harvest season once again, just in time for this long holiday weekend’s camp fires, scary ghost stories, roasting sticks, chocolate bars and graham crackers.
After a year of isolation and loneliness, I am ready for our life together to begin again, seeking s’more to chew on, sticky, messy and oh so glorious.
I sit in silence looking out over the marshmallow fields, hoping the world won’t stop.
No, not ever again.
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My father climbs into the silo. He has come, rung by rung, up the wooden trail that scales that tall belly of cement.
It’s winter, twenty below zero, He can hear the wind overhead. The silage beneath his boots is so frozen it has no smell.
My father takes up a pick-ax and chops away a layer of silage. He works neatly, counter-clockwise under a yellow light,
then lifts the chunks with a pitchfork and throws them down the chute. They break as they fall and rattle far below.
His breath comes out in clouds, his fingers begin to ache, but he skims off another layer where the frost is forming
and begins to sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” ~Joyce Sutphen, “Silo Solo” from First Words
Farmers gotta be tough. There is no taking a day off from chores. The critters need to eat and their beds cleaned even during the coldest and hottest days. Farmers rise before the sun and go to bed long after the sun sets.
I come from a long line of farmers on both sides – my mother was the daughter of wheat farmers and my father was the son of subsistence stump farmers who had to supplement their income with outside jobs as a cook and in lumber mills. Both my parents went to college; their parents wanted something better for them than they had. Both my parents had professions but still chose to live on a farm – daily milkings, crops in the garden and fields, raising animals for meat.
My husband’s story is similar, though his parents didn’t graduate from college. Dan milked cows with his dad and as a before-school job in the mornings.
We still chose to live on a farm to raise our children and commit to the daily work, no matter the weather, on sunlit days and blowing snow days and gray muddy days. And now, when our grandchildren visit, we introduce them to the routine and rhythms of farm life, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, and through it all, we are grateful for the values that follow through the generations of farming people.
And our favorite song to sing to our grandchildren is “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine” as it is the sun that sustains our days and its promise of return that sustains our nights.
You’ll never know, dears, how much we love you. Please don’t take our sunshine away.
Time’s fun when you’re having flies… ~Kermit the Frog
Time flies like the wind; fruit flies like a banana. ~attributed to Groucho Marx
…the tiny haunting eyes of the fruit flies, and the swooping melody of their Latin name: Drosophila melanogaster, which translates poetically as “dark-bellied dew sipper.” ~Diane Ackerman from “Fruit Flies and Love”
It’s not easy being green unless you also have a dorsal brown stripe and live in a box of ripe pears on the back porch that has become a metropolis of Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies).
Then you are in frog heaven with breakfast, lunch and dinner within reach of your tongue any time.
And the Drosophila happily move in to the kitchen any time pears are brought in for preserving. The apple cider vinegar killing fields I’ve set up on the kitchen counter are capturing hundreds daily, but their robust reproducing (which I carefully studied in undergraduate biology lab) outstrips the effectiveness of my coffee filter funnel death trap lures.
But fruit fly season too shall pass.
Time flies and time’s fun when you’re having frogs.
Not the midnight sun exactly, or endless summer, just that extra hour holding steady, western horizon stable, as though shadows won’t lengthen when in August you can outrun the night or feel as though you do, latitude in your favor,
North of Sioux City, the sky widens into South Dakota, turn west and you will think you could see all the way to Wyoming, and if you drive long enough you will, crossing the Missouri River, the bluffs gentle, then the grasslands, the turnoffs for reservations.
As dusk approaches, you may pass a stone house, long deserted, a star carved over the door, a small pond, wind stirring over it even now, forming a second thought, a space you will carry within your speech, your soul stirred by these great expanses. ~Jane Hoogestraat “At the Edge of a Time Zone” from Border States.
We have spent long hours in the past week traveling on the great expanses of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho plains. It is a marvel to see so far in every direction yet to feel you are barely moving at 80 miles an hour. The extra hour gained at the edge of a time zone is pure gravy of gifted time.
This is challenging land on which people eke out a living. We have seen a cowboy and herding dog flanking a few dozen Angus cattle alongside the freeway. We’ve seen huge combines kicking up dust clouds as they thresh fields of grain. There are 150 year old remnants of barns and buildings, barely standing against the constant winds and harsh weather.
While we now cross the plains in a day or two, native people and wagon train pioneers spent months by foot or horse, many never managing to reach their destination.
These expanses echo with those lost lives of previous centuries, not to forget hundreds of thousands of bison that also once grazed these basins.
We’ll return to the land of rain and green and ubiquitous trees today. But the great expanses of the plains always enlarge my vision of who lives and works within this vast country.
My heart swells in gratitude with the view of such an endless horizon.