Spines at the Ready

Sheep will not eat it
nor horses nor cattle
unless they are starving.
Unchecked, it will sprawl over
pasture and meadow
choking the sweet grass
defeating the clover
until you are driven
to take arms against it
but if unthinking
you grasp it barehanded
you will need tweezers
to pick out the stickers.

Outlawed in most Northern
states of the Union
still it jumps borders.
Its taproot runs deeper
than underground rivers
and once it’s been severed
by breadknife or shovel
—two popular methods
employed by the desperate—
the bits that remain will
spring up like dragons’ teeth
a field full of soldiers
their spines at the ready.

Bright little bursts of
chrome yellow explode from
the thistle in autumn
when goldfinches gorge on
the seeds of its flower.
The ones left uneaten
dry up and pop open
and parachutes carry
their procreant power
to disparate venues
in each hemisphere
which is why there will always
be thistle next year.
~Maxine Kumin “Why There Will Always Be Thistle” from The Long Marriage. 

Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey, like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear,
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.

~Ted Hughes “Thistles”

Reluctantly the summer goes
In a cloud of thistledown.
~Beverly Ashour from “September”

It is armored, it is deeply rooted, it is relentless.
Highly ambitious, it produces downy tasty dancing seeds ready to soar far. Generation after generation of thistles persist due to this delicate ballerinas’ flight to the next horizon.

I should be strive to be as persistent, as rooted, as determined, yet as fluffy and tender under my defensive prickles and spines.

And then, may I softly dance in the journey to the next life.

Greeting the Air

… how do the roots know
they must climb toward the light?
And then greet the air
with so many flowers and colors?

Tell me, is the rose naked
or is that her only dress?

Why do trees conceal
the splendor of their roots?

But do you know from where
death comes, from above or from below?
From microbes or walls,
from wars or winter?

Where is the child I was,
still inside me or gone?

~Pablo Neruda from “The Book of Questions”

Here I am, on the eve of my 66th birthday, with more questions than answers, the child still inside me puzzling over the mundane and profound.

The “why’s” of life are the reason to keep getting up every day, if only to greet the air, feel the sun, smell the flowers and recognize that from hidden roots come beautiful growth.

I’m still growing by asking the questions that need to be asked.
I’m still growing while my roots reach deeper by the day.
I’m still growing because I know I need to reach out to the Light.

For Every Hurt

oakleafhydrangeabug
 
 
Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies   
and trip over the roots   
of a sweet gum tree,   
in search of medieval   
plants whose leaves,   
when they drop off   
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they   
plop into water.
 
Suddenly the archetypal   
human desire for peace   
with every other species   
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up. 
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,   
queen of the weeds, revives   
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt   
there is a leaf to cure it.
~Amy Gerstler  from “In Perpetual Spring

Try as we might to find common ground with those so unlike ourselves, it is the differences we focus on despite our efforts to understand and befriend. Whether it is cranky politicians sparring in the headlines, or the perpetual struggle between weak and strong, we miss seeing Creation’s intended balance all around us.

We can dwell compatibly, lion and lamb, without one becoming a meal for the other. Indeed, prey transforms the predator.

Even the barbed and bloody thistle releases its seeds in the cushion of thistledown, drifting gently where the wind will take it next, at once forgiven for the scars it inflicted.

May I strive to be comforting rather than prickly, healing rather than inflicting, wherever I may land.

Declensions of the Day

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The thistles, rooted out, throng in again;
The single regal rose is mobbed by weeds;
The plums, the pears, the ripening apples, rain
In the sun; and past summer plants new seeds.

Here, or there, these common yearly things
Repeat, repeat, and gardens do not range:
Yet thistles, roses, fruit trees, birds, and stings
Come to an end, and the church bells sound a change.

These many soft declensions of the day,
So hard to take to heart, bear life away.
~Dunstan Thompson from “Passage”

 

 

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fallenpear

 

This winding down,
this descent into
shorter days and longer nights,
this preparation for an autumn austerity,
reminds me of my ongoing emptying,
once so full of fruit and seed,
now clinging to what is left me~
the joys, the tears,
the eyes of my brimming heart.

 

wetoctleaves

 

verywetrainyday

 

sunriserain

 

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Tarnished and Dry

thistlebugs

thistledown1

thistlegrass2

In a patch of baked earth
At the crumbled cliff’s brink,
Where the parching of August
Has cracked a long chink,

Against the blue void
Of still sea and sky
Stands single a thistle,
Tall, tarnished, and dry.

Frayed leaves, spotted brown,
Head hoary and torn,
Was ever a weed
Upon earth so forlorn,

So solemnly gazed on
By the sun in his sheen
That prints in long shadow
Its raggedness lean?

From the sky comes no laughter,
From earth not a moan.
Erect stands the thistle,
Its seeds abroad blown.
~Robert Laurence Binyon –“The Thistle”

 

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There isn’t much that thrives in a dry summer like this other than mounds of blackberry bushes and scattered clusters of thistle.  They both are defended by thorns to keep them from being eaten by all but the most persistent and hungry grazing animals.

I admire and recognize such tenacity, knowing I too have held tightly to my own defenses to keep from being swallowed up. I approach these weeds with respect for the scars they can leave behind – their roots go deep, their seeds travel far.

We coexist because we must.

How else would beauty come from our bleeding wounds?

 

thistle816

 

Sun and Wind Muscle

sunset626163

poplarwind

There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.
~Annie Dillard

sunset76162

thistleseeds

I tend to think of the wind, not the sun, having all the weather muscle, especially in the midst of a brisk northeaster blow in the dead of winter, far outperforming the meager and anemic sunlight.  Memories of northeast blizzard muscle are still fresh in my mind, even in the first half of August.

But earlier this week, on a warm summer day,  it was both sun and wind competing with their mustered energy.  With all the house windows kept wide open to keep things cool there were frequent door-slamming, blinds-beating, leaf-loosening, windchime-clattering, hay-drying gusts.  Muscle was all around and through us.

There was enough sun to create a shadow tree blending like a holograph projected onto the woods.  There was enough wind to shake the grasses and thistles and scatter their seed.  There was enough sun to dip the evening with orange smoothie and enough wind to clear the haze from the air.

For now there is plenty of energy to spare: spirit-filled muscle to pick me up, bend me over, warm my heart, all bottled and ready to release on that inevitable wintry day that will come,  sooner than I want.

shadow of the lone fir cast upon the woods at sunset

sunset626162

Best of Barnstorming Photos — Summer/Autumn 2015

In the hope that 2016 will be filled with daily opportunities for a slow walk through moments of serene beauty~
blessings to you all from Barnstorming!

prairie3

image

image

prairie10

sunrise724154

image

qalace513157

birchbaysunset

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sunsettony2

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puffsunset3

dahlia4

thistledown2

sunflower

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pinkbank

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sunset82115

kai

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quilt3

sunset822154

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mushroompile1

hive2915

sunrise94151

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cherryresin8

cherryresin7

fallcrocus

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clematis1

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buttercup915

feverfew

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danglingleaf1

dandy91015

shuksan7

bakerhighway

creeperberries

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sunrise109151

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roseleaf1

dandy9111

sosoft2

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morninglight

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blueberryleaf11

blueberryleaf5

fulmoon2

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morning113152

morning113159

morning113157

sunset1111155

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morningfrost112115

raindrops111415

hydrangeabrown3

dandyshadow2

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morning5121615'

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morning1219152

foothills1122515

candle2015

snowice

morning1219151

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For more “Best of Barnstorming” photos:

Winter/Spring 2015

Summer/Fall 2014

Best of 2013

Seasons on the Farm:

BriarCroft in Summer, in Autumn, in Winter,
at Year’s End

God Among Us: Drop Down Dew

thistledowndrizzle

The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people.
Zechariah 8:12

Listen, you heavens, and I will speak;
    hear, you earth, the words of my mouth.
Let my teaching fall like rain
    and my words descend like dew,
like showers on new grass,
    like abundant rain on tender plants.
Deuteronomy 32:1-2

 

He hath abolished the old drouth,
And rivers run where all was dry,
The field is sopp’d with merciful dew.
The words are old, the purport new,
And taught my lips to quote this word
That I shall live, I shall not die…
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

We are God’s people, wandering homeless in the desert for years before being allowed to enter the Promised Land.  To us, there is great hope in the possibility of moisture coming from heaven as the bountiful gift Moses describes in an analogy for his words and teaching.   The dew of heaven becomes the representation of God’s all-encompassing Spirit and gift of grace in this and other Old Testament scripture passages.

Ultimately, God’s Word descended like dew from heaven in the form of a newborn baby in a manger come to dwell among us.   Like dew, He becomes flesh at no cost to us, to be among us freely, coming in the night, into the darkness, as a gentle covering of all things dry and dying, to refresh, to restore, to soften, to make what was withered fruitful once again.  We live again because of this Word of flesh quickening within us.  EPG

 

webdrizzle2

 

webdrizzle

Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

Latin lyrics:

Rorate caeli desuper, et nubes pluant iustum.

Hard to Take to Heart

downtothree
IMG_4394
octrose3

The thistles, rooted out, throng in again;
The single regal rose is mobbed by weeds;
The plums, the pears, the ripening apples, rain
In the sun; and past summer plants new seeds.

Here, or there, these common yearly things
Repeat, repeat, and gardens do not range:
Yet thistles, roses, fruit trees, birds, and stings
Come to an end, and the church bells sound a change.

These many soft declensions of the day,
So hard to take to heart, bear life away.
~Dunstan Thompson from “Passage”

 

This winding down,
this descent into
shorter days and longer nights,
this preparation for an autumn austerity,
reminds me of my ongoing emptying,
once so full of fruit and seed,
now clinging to what is left me~
the joys, the tears,
the eyes of my brimming heart.

 

pears9614

appledew2

thistledown915

thistle9281sunset822153

Nothing Can Stopper Time

augustwwugrasses

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wwugrassesaugust

aloneapple

pears1

octleaf5

the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run
to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy
pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells,
the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright
as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery
grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs
and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker
down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time.
No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope
of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky.
~Barbara Crooker “And Now It’s October”

…but I do try to stopper time,
I try every day
not to suspend it or render it frozen,
but like summer fruit, to preserve
any sweet moment for sampling
through stored words
or pictures
in the midst of my winter days,
rolling it around on my tongue,
its heady fragrance
becoming today’s lyrical shared moment,
unstopped, perpetual
and intoxicating.

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shaggyshroom

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tonymane

photo by Josh Scholten
moon photo by Josh Scholten