Cut grass lies frail: Brief is the breath Mown stalks exhale. Long, long the death
It dies in the white hours Of young-leafed June With chestnut flowers, With hedges snowlike strewn,
White lilac bowed, Lost lanes of Queen Anne’s lace, And that high-builded cloud Moving at summer’s pace.~ ~Philip Larkin “Cut Grass” from The Complete Poems
Light and wind are running over the headed grass as though the hill had melted and now flowed. ~Wendell Berry “June Wind”
The uncut field grass is growing heavier, falling over, lodged before it can be cut; the undulations of summer breezes urge it back upright. It has matured too fast, rising up too lush, too overcome with itself so that it can no longer stand unsupported. We must work fast to save it and more rain is on the way.
Light and wind work magic on a field of melting tall grass. The blades of the mower will come to lay it to the ground in green streams that flow up and down the slopes. It will lie comfortless in its stoneless cemetery rows, until tossed about by the tedder into random piles to dry, then raked back into a semblance of order in mounded lines flowing over the landscape.
It will be crushed and bound together for transport to the barn, no longer bending but bent, no longer flowing but flown, no longer growing but grown
We move at summer’s pace to ensure the grasses become fodder for the beasts of the farm during the cold nights when the wind beats at the doors. It will melt in their mouths, as it was meant to be.
Families will be singing in the fields. In their voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground. They will take nothing from the ground they will not return, whatever the grief at parting. Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove, and memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament. The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light. ~Wendell Berry from “A Vision”
Into the rooms flow meadow airs, The warm farm baking smell’s blown round. Inside and out, and sky and ground Are much the same;
Now straightening from the flowery hay, Down the still light the mowers look, Or turn, because their dreaming shook, And they waked half to other days, When left alone in the yellow stubble The rusty-coated mare would graze. ~Léonie Adams from “Country Summer”
Most of the work on our farm involves the ground – whether plowing, seeding, fertilizing, mowing, harvesting – this soil lives and breathes as much as we creatures who walk over it and the plants which arise rooted to it.
Yes, there must be light. Yes, there must be moisture. Yes, there must be teeming worms and microbes deep within the dirt, digesting and aerating and thriving, leaving behind needed nutrients as they live and die.
And yes, we all become dust again, hopefully returning to the ground more than we have taken.
As I watch our rusty-coated horses graze on the stubble of these slopes and valleys, I’m reminded it is a sacrament to live in such abundance. We all started in a Garden until we desired something more, and knowing our mistake, we keep striving to return.
So this land teems with memories: of the rhythms and cycles of the seasons, of the songs and stories of peoples who have lived here for generation after generation.
Eventually we will find our way back to the abundant soil.
My father would lift me to the ceiling in his big hands and ask, How’s the weather up there? And it was good, the weather of being in his hands, his breath of scotch and cigarettes, his face smiling from the world below. O daddy, was the lullaby I sang back down to him as he stood on earth, my great, white-shirted father, home from work, his gold wristwatch and wedding band gleaming as he held me above him for as long as he could, before his strength failed down there in the world I find myself standing in tonight, my little boy looking down from his flight below the ceiling, cradled in my hands, his eyes wide and already staring into the distance beyond the man asking him again and again, How’s the weather up there? ~George Bilgere “Weather”.
It was hard work, dying, harder than anything he’d ever done.
Whatever brutal, bruising, back- breaking chore he’d forced himself
to endure—it was nothing compared to this. And it took
so long. When would the job be over? Who would call him
home for supper? And it was hard for us (his children)—
all of our lives we’d heard my mother telling us to go out,
help your father, but this was work we could not do.
He was way out beyond us, in a field we could not reach. ~Joyce Sutphen “My Father, Dying”
Deep in one of our closets is an old film reel of me about 16 months old sitting securely held by my father on his shoulders. I am bursting out with giggles as he repeatedly bends forward, dipping this head and shoulders down. I tip forward, looking like I am about to fall off, and when he stands back up straight, my mouth becomes a large O and I can almost remember the tummy tickle I feel. I want him to do it again and again, taking me to the edge of falling off and then bringing me back from the brink.
My father was a tall man, so being swept up onto his shoulders felt a bit like I was touching heaven.
It was as he was dying 24 years ago this week that I realized again how tall he was — his feet kept hitting the foot panel of the hospital bed my mother had requested for their home. We cushioned his feet with padding so he wouldn’t get abrasions even though he would never stand on them again, no longer towering over us.
His helplessness in dying was startling – this man who could build anything and accomplish whatever he set his mind to was unable to subdue his cancer. Our father, who was so self-sufficient he rarely asked for help, did not know how to ask for help now.
So we did what we could when we could tell he was uncomfortable, which wasn’t often. He didn’t say much, even though there was much we could have been saying. We didn’t reminisce. We didn’t laugh and joke together. We just were there, taking shifts catching naps on the couch so we could be available if he called out, which he never did.
This man: who had grown up dirt poor, fought hard with his alcoholic father left abruptly to go to college – the first in his family – then called to war for three years in the South Pacific.
This man: who had raised a family on a small farm while he was a teacher, then a supervisor, then a desk worker.
This man: who left our family to marry another woman but returned after a decade to ask forgiveness.
This man: who died in a house he had built completely himself, without assistance, from the ground up.
He didn’t need our help – he who had held tightly to us and brought us back from the brink when we went too far – he had been on the brink himself and was rescued, coming back humbled.
No question the weather is fine for him up there. I have no doubt.
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.
It was the face of spring, it was the face of summer, it was the warmness of clover breath. ~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine
However you may come, You’ll see it suddenly Lie open to the light Amid the woods: a farm Little enough to see Or call across—cornfield, Hayfield, and pasture, clear As if remembered, dreamed And yearned for long ago, Neat as a blossom now With all the pastures mowed And the dew fresh upon it, Bird music all around. That is the vision, seen As on a Sabbath walk: The possibility Of human life whose terms Are Heaven’s and this earth’s.
The land must have its Sabbath Or take it when we starve. The ground is mellow now, Friable and porous: rich. Mid-August is the time To sow this field in clover And grass, to cut for hay Two years, pasture a while, And then return to corn.
This way you come to know That something moves in time That time does not contain. For by this timely work You keep yourself alive As you came into time, And as you’ll leave: God’s dust, God’s breath, a little Light. ~Wendell Berry from The Farm
Farming is daily work outside of time – the labor of this day is the care for the eternal. There is a timelessness about summer: about preparing and planting and preserving, this cycle of living and dying repeating through generations. We, as our many great great grandparents did, must become God’s dust yet again.
So I’m reminded, walking through the pasture’s clover patch, of all the ways to become seed and soil for the next generation. For a blossom that appears so plain and goes so unnoticed during its life, it dies back, enfolding upon itself, with character and color and drama, each a bit differently from its neighbor.
Just like us.
Perhaps it is the breath of clover we should remember at the last; God’s own breath comes to us disguised in so many ways as we walk this ground. Inhale deeply of Him and remember we too are made fruits of His eternal labor.
The south-west wind! how pleasant in the face It breathes! while, sauntering in a musing pace, I roam these new ploughed fields; or by the side Of this old wood, where happy birds abide, And the rich blackbird, through his golden bill, Utters wild music when the rest are still. Luscious the scent comes of the blossomed bean, As o’er the path in rich disorder lean Its stalks; when bees, in busy rows and toils, Load home luxuriantly their yellow spoils. The herd-cows toss the molehills in their play; And often stand the stranger’s steps at bay, Mid clover blossoms red and tawny white, Strong scented with the summer’s warm delight. ~John Clare “Beans in Blossom”
Walking, thinking and paying attention to one’s surroundings all at the same time requires a slower pace than the recommended 3x a week standard cardiovascular work-out.
So, even if it isn’t getting my heart rate up, I’m trying out sauntering. Ambling. Meandering. Strolling. Dilly-dallying. Lingering.
As my feet move more slowly, my brain stays busy, even as my muscles aren’t so much. Musing. Cogitating. Contemplating. Reflecting. Pondering. Ruminating. Appreciating.
What takes place is a perplexing paradox: I empty out while filling up:
letting go of worry, doubt, fear, anxiety, grief, self-absorption allowing room for praise, contentment, grace, gratitude, worship
It is possible, I suppose that sometime we will learn everything there is to learn: what the world is, for example, and what it means. I think this as I am crossing from one field to another, in summer, and the mockingbird is mocking me, as one who either knows enough already or knows enough to be perfectly content not knowing. Song being born of quest he knows this: he must turn silent were he suddenly assaulted with answers. Instead oh hear his wild, caustic, tender warbling ceaselessly unanswered. At my feet the white-petalled daisies display the small suns of their center piece, their – if you don’t mind my saying so – their hearts. Of course I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale and narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know? But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given, to see what is plain; what the sun lights up willingly; for example – I think this as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch – the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the daisies for the field. ~Mary Oliver “Daisies”
I spend much of my time acknowledging I don’t know what I wish I knew. Aging means becoming content with the mystery and ceasing to strive so much for what is not yet illuminated, but will soon be.
I don’t fight my dark ignorance like I used to — no longer cry out in frustration about what I don’t understand and stomp angrily through each bewildering day.
Instead I am grateful for what insight is given freely and willingly, what is plainly illuminated, to be touched without being picked and destroyed.
I realize, if only I open up just enough to the Sun, it is my own heart that is alit and ripening. That is how heaven must be and I remain content to stay planted where I am until I’m picked.