Simply to Be is a Blessing

Before the adults we call our children arrive with their children in tow
  for Thanksgiving,

we take our morning walk down the lane of oaks and hemlocks, mist
  a smell of rain by nightfall—underfoot,

the crunch of leathery leaves released by yesterday’s big wind.

You’re ahead of me, striding into the arch of oaks that opens onto the fields
  and stone walls of the road—

as a V of geese honk a path overhead, and you stop—

in an instant, without thought, raising your arms toward sky, your hands
  flapping from the wrists,

and I can read in the echo your body makes of these wild geese going
  where they must,

such joy, such wordless unity and delight, you are once again the child
  who knows by instinct, by birthright,

just to be is a blessing. In a fictional present, I write the moment down.
  You embodied it. 
~Margaret Gibson “Moment” 

On this day,
this giving-thanks day,
I know families who surround loved ones fighting for life in ICU beds,
others struggling to find gratitude in their pierced hearts
when their child/brother/sister/spouse is gunned down in mass shootings,
or too many tragically lost every day to overwhelming depression,
as well as those lost in a devastating three year pandemic.

It is the measure of us – we created ones –
to kneel in gratitude while facing the terrible
and still feel touched, held, loved and blessed,
to sincerely believe how wide and long and high and deep is His love for us —
even when we weep, even when we mourn,
even when our pain makes no sense.

God chose to come alongside us and suffer,
rather than fly away.
He knew being alive
~just to be like us at all~
was His blessing to last an eternity.

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Tenderness for Ordinary Things

Last evening,
As I drove into this small valley,
I saw a low-hanging cloud
Wandering through the trees.
It circled like a school of fish
Around the dun-colored hay bales.
Reaching out its foggy hands
To stroke the legs of a perfect doe
Quietly grazing in a neighbor’s mule pasture
I stopped the car
And stepping out into the blue twilight,
A wet mist brushed my face,
And then it was gone.
It was not unfriendly,
But it was not inclined to tell its secrets.
I am in love with the untamed things,
The cloud, the doe,
Water, air and light.
I am filled with such tenderness
For ordinary things:
The practical mule, the pasture,
A perfect spiral of gathered hay.
And although I should not be,
Consistent as it is,
I am always surprised
By the way my heart will open
So completely and unexpectedly,
With a rush and an ache,
Like a sip of cold water
On a tender tooth.
~Carrie Newcomer “In the Hayfield”

I realize that nothing in this life is actually ordinary – at times I could weep over the unordinariness that is around me.

The light falls a certain way, the colors astound, the animals grace the fields with their contentment, the birds become overture, the air is perfumed with rain or blossom.

How can I not ache with this knowledge? How can I not feel the tenderness of my heart feeling so full, it could burst at any moment?

Truly extraordinary to be able to give myself over to this.

Light pools like spilled water on the floor
Cold air slips like silk beneath the door
The sky feels like a grey wool cap
Pulled down round my ears that near

All the ridge is lined with stands of beech
At the tops they’re swaying quietly
So elegant and raw without their leaves
All of these I see

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this

There’s a hidden spring back where it’s hard to find
Someone used it years ago to make moonshine
This forest has a different sense of time
Than yours or mine

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this

There’s a soil horizon
Layers beneath the trees
A sign of outward grace
Unraveling

One bird sits and sings an aching song
One turning leaf, ten circles on the pond
Two careful does wait silently beyond
Then they’re gone they’re gone

I catch a memory a scent another short glimpse
Like someone leaned over and gave my forehead a kiss
I give myself to this
~Carrie Newcomer

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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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Doing This Hard Thing

I finished loading the woodshed today. Every year
I tell myself, This is it, the last time. It’s just too
much work, too painful, and I’m too old.
And then, the next year, when fall rolls
around, the air gets cold, and the geese go south, I
load the woodshed again.

How long will this go on? I’m seventy-two.
Every year it takes me longer to recover,
yet every year I keep doing it.

It’s just, now that I’m done, I can go out into
the woodshed, sit in a chair, and look at all those
neatly stacked rows, six and a half feet high, six feet
long and sixteen inches deep, two sets of rows like that,
left and right, four full cord — not much by some standards —
but enough to keep us warm all winter.

When I go out and look at what I’ve done, I get such a deep
sense of satisfaction from this backaching labor that I can’t

imagine a year without going through all that pain again.
~David Budbill, “Loading the Woodshed” from Tumbling toward the End.

Long-johns top and bottom, heavy socks, flannel shirt, overalls,
steel-toed work boots, sweater, canvas coat, toque, mittens: on.


Out past grape arbor and garden shed, into the woods.
Sun just coming through the trees. There really is such a thing


as Homer’s rosy-fingered dawn. And here it is, this morning.
Down hill, across brook, up hill, and into the stand of white pine


and red maple where I’m cutting firewood. Open up workbox,
take out chain saw, gas, bar oil, kneel down, gas up saw, add

bar oil to the reservoir, stand up, mittens off, strap on and buckle
chaps from waist to toe, hard hat helmet: on. Ear protectors: down,

face screen: down, push in compression release, pull out choke,
pull on starter cord, once, twice, go. Stall. Pull out choke, pull on


starter cord, once, twice, go. Push in choke. Mittens: back on.
Cloud of two-cycle exhaust smoke wafting into the morning air


and I, looking like a medieval Japanese warrior, wade through
blue smoke, knee-deep snow, revving the chain saw as I go,


headed for that doomed, unknowing maple tree.
~David Budbill”Into the Winter Woods”, from Happy Life

The other day, I was visiting with a recently widowed neighbor who is now well into her 70’s. She said she had finished loading her woodshed and was now ready for winter, dependent on wood stove heat over the next 6 months or so. She is someone who takes her independence seriously after her husband died, having lived in the same house for over fifty years – not at all ready to move into town to an apartment or condo, much less assisted living. She assists herself, thank you very much, even if it means climbing a step ladder to overhead-toss the firewood chunks onto the top row, and later to pull them down again to haul into the house to the stove.

I asked her why she continued to do such hard physical work when she has sons who live nearby as well as the means to hire help if she needed it. She also could choose to install a furnace, making it easier to stay warm.

She told me she likes to look at the stack every day when she does her farmyard chores, which include bringing in her day’s worth of wood. It gives her a deep sense of satisfaction to know that she was able to neatly stack several cords of wood under cover for yet another year, just as she has done year after year after year. It is a reminder of what she is capable of doing on her own, now that she is alone.

It makes her feel good to look at the fruit of her labor.

And that, of course, is reason enough to keep doing a hard thing. We each work at living out our days the best we can despite how painful they can be. We are blessed to be able to do it.

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To Recover the Lost

The songs of small birds fade away
into the bushes after sundown,
the air dry, sweet with goldenrod.
Beside the path, suddenly, bright asters
flare in the dusk. The aged voices
of a few crickets thread the silence.
It is a quiet I love, though my life
too often drives me through it deaf.
Busy with costs and losses, I waste
the time I have to be here—a time
blessed beyond my deserts, as I know,
if only I would keep aware. The leaves
rest in the air, perfectly still.
I would like them to rest in my mind
as still, as simply spaced. As I approach,
the sorrel filly looks up from her grazing,
poised there, light on the slope
as a young apple tree. A week ago
I took her away to sell, and failed
to get my price, and brought her home
again. Now in the quiet I stand
and look at her a long time, glad
to have recovered what is lost
in the exchange of something for money.
~Wendell Berry “The Sorrel Filly”

I am reminded at the end of a week
of dark and wet and cold
with chores not done yet,
and horses waiting to be fed,
of the value of decades of moments spent
with long-lashed eyes, wind-swept manes, and velvet muzzles.

True, it appears to others to be time and money wasted.
But for a farmer like me, sometimes deaf and blind
to what is in front of me every day,
not all valuables are preserved in a lock box.

Golden treasure can have
four hooves, a tail, with a rumbling greeting
asking if I’d somehow gotten lost
since I’m a little later than usual
and they were a bit concerned I’d forgotten them.

Only then I remember where my home is
and how easy it is to wander from the path
that somehow always leads me back here.

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A Cozy Rain

The best kind of rain, of course, is a cozy rain. This is the kind of rain that falls on a day when you’d just as soon stay in bed a little longer, write letters or read a good book by the fire, take early tea with hot scones and jam, and look out the streaked window with complacency.
~ Susan Allen Toth
from England for All Seasons

Cozy rains typically don’t happen on weekdays.  There are always things to do, places to be, people to impress, rain or shine.  On weekdays rain tends to be a drag-us-down,  smotheringly gray inconvenience of wet shoes, damp jackets, impossibly limp hair in school and work place.

But on a Saturday?  The same drops from the same cloudy skies become a comfy, tuck-me-in-once-again and snuggle-down kind of rain.  There is no schedule to follow, no structured day, no required attendance, no need to even poke my nose out the door (unless living on a farm with hungry critters in the barn).

This is why most northwest natives are rainophilics, anticipating this quiet time of year with great longing.  We are granted permission by precipitation to be complacent, slowed down, contemplative, and yes, even lazy…
*
*
*
Okay, enough of that.  Gotta get up, get going, laundry to do, house to clean, barn to muck out, bills to pay, meals to prepare.

Maybe in the morning the rain will still be falling and there will be a chance to sit with hot tea cup in hand after church, gazing through streaked windows. Cozy rain all day on a Sabbath Sunday.  With scones.  And jam.
Bliss…
that is, until Monday.

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Moving from Loneliness to Love

It’s the immemorial feelings
I like the best: hunger, thirst,
their satisfaction; work-weariness,
earned rest; the falling again
from loneliness to love;
the green growth the mind takes
from the pastures in March;
the gayety in the stride 
of a good team of Belgian mares
that seems to shudder from me
through all my ancestry.
~Wendell Berry “Goods”

photo by Joel De Waard
photo by Joel De Waard

It seems unlikely anyone would say
I didn’t work hard enough all those years.
After all, I come from a long line of human work-horses
and I know it takes sweat and tears, and sometimes bleeding.

Even so, I know I could have done more all those years.

I could have thrown myself more fully into the pull on the tugs,
could have shouldered the yoke with more enthusiasm,
could have bent down low with unbroken determination.

You might say somewhere I lost the gayety in my stride,
and you would be right — I ended up trudging through my day,
bruised from running into too many submerged rocks,
bumping into immoveable tree stumps and tripping on hidden roots,
falling into deep furrows of long and lonely post-midnight hours.

You might even say eventually the knowledge of a job well-done
seemed to lay deeper than my plow could ever reach.

When it came time for me to shrug out of the yoke
and shake off the harness,
I knew others die in their harness,
never to rest easy on this earth.

I am unsure what to do next with the seasons I have left.
Even so, I love the wondering and wandering,
almost as much as I love the feel of the sun on my unyoked withers.


photo by Joel De Waard
photo by Joel De Waard
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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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Keeping It For Later

When you are already here 
you appear to be only 
a name that tells of you 
whether you are present or not 
and for now it seems as though 
you are still summer 
still the high familiar 
endless summer 
yet with a glint 
of bronze in the chill mornings 
and the late yellow petals 
of the mullein fluttering 
on the stalks that lean 
over their broken 
shadows across the cracked ground 
but they all know 
that you have come 
the seed heads of the sage 
the whispering birds 
with nowhere to hide you 
to keep you for later 
you who fly with them 
you who are neither 
before nor after 
you who arrive 
with blue plums 
that have fallen through the night 
perfect in the dew
~W.S.Merwin “To the Light of September”

Each month has its own special lighting
though this past luminous September tended to sweep them all.

I loosen my grasp on September as we slip into October bronze.

There must be a place I can hide these riches,
tuck this light away for safe-keeping,
to bring it out on the darkest winter day
and feast upon it.

I do know better;
this glow follows the birds as they fly away.
They keep it with them, wherever they go,
towing it back on their wings come spring.

In the meantime I must remember how
this endless summer defined September.