The leaves are always near to falling there but never fall, and pairs of souls out walking heaven’s paths no longer feel the weight of years upon them. Safe in heaven’s calm, they take each other’s arm, the light shining through them, all joy and terror gone. But we are far from heaven here, in a garden ragged and unkept as Eden would be with the walls knocked down, the paths littered with the unswept leaves of many years, bright keepsakes for children of the Fall. The light is gold, the sun pulling the long shadow soul out of each thing, disclosing an outcome. The last roses of the year nod their frail heads, like listeners listening to all that’s said, to ask, What brought us here? What seed? What rain? What light? What forced us upward through dark earth? What made us bloom? What wind shall take us soon, sweeping the garden bare? Their voiceless voices hang there, as ours might, if we were roses, too. Their beds are blanketed with leaves, tended by an absent gardener whose life is elsewhere. It is the last of many last days. Is it enough? To rest in this moment? To turn our faces to the sun? To watch the lineaments of a world passing? To feel the metal of a black iron chair, cool and eternal, press against our skin? To apprehend a chill as clouds pass overhead, turning us to shivering shade and shadow? And then to be restored, small miracle, the sun shining brightly as before? We go on, you leading the way, a figure leaning on a cane that leaves its mark on the earth. My friend, you have led me farther than I have ever been. To a garden in autumn. To a heaven of impermanence where the final falling off is slow, a slow and radiant happening. The light is gold. And while we’re here, I think it must be heaven. ~Elizabeth Spires “In Heaven It Is Always Autumn” from Now the Green Blade Rises
I wander the autumn garden mystified at the passing of the weeks since the seed was first sown, weeds pulled, peapods picked. It could not possibly be done so soon–this patch of productivity and beauty, now wilted and brown, vines crushed to the ground, no longer fruitful.
The root cellar is filling up, the freezer is packed. The work of putting away is almost done.
So why do I go back to the now barren soil we so carefully worked, numb in the knowledge I will pick no more this season, nor feel the burst of a cherry tomato exploding in my mouth or the green freshness of a bean or peapod straight off the vine?
Because for a few fertile weeks, only a few weeks, the garden was a bit of heaven on earth, impermanent but a real taste nonetheless. We may have once mistaken our Lord for the gardener when He appeared to us radiant, suddenly unfamiliar, but it was He who offered us the care of the garden, to bring in the sheaves, to share the forever mercies in the form of daily bread grown right here and now.
When He says my name, then I will know Him. He will lead me farther than I have ever been.
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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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The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word. And this must be an unconditional giving, for in joining ourselves to one another we join ourselves to the unknown. ~Wendell Berry from “Poetry and Marriage” in Standing By Words
Our vows to one another forty years ago today:
Before God and this gathering, I vow from my heart and spirit that I will be your wife/husband for as long as we both shall live.
I will love you with faithfulness, knowing its importance in sustaining us through good times and bad.
I will love you with respect, serving your greatest good and supporting your continued growth.
I will love you with compassion, knowing the strength and power of forgiveness.
I will love you with hope, remembering our shared belief in the grace of God and His guidance of our marriage.
“And at home, by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be–and whenever I look up, there will be you.”
(our wedding vows for our September 19, 1981 wedding at First Seattle Christian Reformed Church — the last line adapted from Thomas Hardy’s “Far From the Madding Crowd”)
Sometimes our life reminds me of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing and in that opening a house, an orchard and garden, comfortable shades, and flowers red and yellow in the sun, a pattern made in the light for the light to return to. The forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light and more blessed, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in.
…Marriage… joins two living souls as closely as, in this world, they can be joined. This joining of two who know, love, and trust one another brings them in the same breath into the freedom of sexual consent and into the fullest earthly realization of the image of God. From their joining, other living souls come into being, and with them great responsibilities that are unending, fearful, and joyful. The marriage of two lovers joins them to one another, to forebears, to descendants, to the community, to heaven and earth. It is the fundamental connection without which nothing holds, and trust is its necessity. ~Wendell Berry from Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community
We married in our Seattle church with our pastor officiating, with a small group of family and friends as witnesses.
It was a wedding created by two frugal people with little to spend – I sewed my dress and Dan’s shirt from muslin, we grew our own flowers, our families helped potluck the lunch afterward and our tiered carrot cake was made by a friend.
Yet our vows to one another were not frugal and held nothing back. They were extravagant and comprehensive, coming from our hearts and spirits. The music we asked our amazing organist to play (versions below) inspired us by its simplicity and complexity – very much like the families that raised us and the God we worship.
Our vows have taken us from the city to the countryside, to the raising and rejoicing in three amazing children (each of whom wrote movingly to us today) and now four grandchildren. We served more than forty years as a public-employed attorney and physician, have laid down those responsibilities, and picked up the tools of farm and garden along with church and community service for as long as we are able.
We treasure each day of living together in faithfulness, respect, compassion and hope – knowing that how we love and find joy in one another mirrors how God loves and revels in His people.
We are praying for many more days to fill us with what endures.
A pot of red lentils simmers on the kitchen stove. All afternoon dense kernels surrender to the fertile juices, their tender bellies swelling with delight.
In the yard we plant rhubarb, cauliflower, and artichokes, cupping wet earth over tubers, our labor the germ of later sustenance and renewal.
Across the field the sound of a baby crying as we carry in the last carrots, whorls of butter lettuce, a basket of red potatoes.
I want to remember us this way— late September sun streaming through the window, bread loaves and golden bunches of grapes on the table, spoonfuls of hot soup rising to our lips, filling us with what endures. ~Peter Pereira from “A Pot of Red Lentils”
Here are versions of the organ music we selected for prelude, processional, recessional and postlude
Old-fashioned flowers! I love them all: The morning-glories on the wall, The pansies in their patch of shade, The violets, stolen from a glade, The bleeding hearts and columbine, Have long been garden friends of mine; But memory every summer flocks About a clump of hollyhocks.
The mind’s bright chambers, life unlocks Each summer with the hollyhocks. ~Edgar Guest from “Hollyhocks”
The endless well of summer lies deep in the heart of old-fashioned flowers, but no well is so deep as hollyhocks – the veins of their petals pumping color as they sway on long-nubbined stems, carefree in the breeze.
My mind is suddenly unlocked, opened by a hollyhock key.
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When I pray I go in, and close the door, But what, really, do we mean by prayer? Isn’t it anything done with full attention Whether sinking into silent depths, or Relishing a sun-ripe peach, or gazing At the zinnias freshly picked this early Morning, these multi-petaled shouts of joy, Lemon yellow, orange, reds, a carnival of Flame-filled light, the sweet green scent Summer flowers. ~Sarah Rossiter “Zinnias”
My father’s mother grew a garden of zinnias to divide the house from the woods:
pop art tops in every color—cream, peach, royal purple, and even envy
—the sunburst petals…
the heads little suns you watch die on the stem if you want the bloom back. ~Tyler Mills “Zinnias”
As an eight year old, I grew zinnias from a tiny package of seeds tucked inside a Christmas card by my third grade teacher whose rapt attention turned to her backyard garden when school doors closed in the summer.
She nurtured each of us students like one of her cream-colored zinnia buds arising boldly on a single sturdy stem, growing tall almost before her eyes, yet still undefined.
Watered and fed, her warm light shining on our bright faces, we opened expectantly under her steady gaze, each one a sunburst bloom smiling back at her, which kept her coming back, year after year, to sow a few more celebratory seeds with her sprinkling of wisdom.
Thank you to Chris and Jan Lovegren for sharing their zinnias!
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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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August of another summer, and once again I am drinking the sun… All my life I have been able to feel happiness, except whatever was not happiness, which I also remember. Each of us wears a shadow. But just now it is summer again…
Soon now, I’ll turn and start for home. And who knows, maybe I’ll be singing. ~Mary Oliver from “The Pond” from Felicity
…what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled- to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing- that the light is everything-that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do. ~Mary Oliver from “The Ponds” from House of Light
When I walk in my friend’s dahlia garden, surrounded by vivid color, I imagine the First Garden must have been a bit like this.
I simply want to drink it all in, to swim freely in the bright throes of summer, forgetting that with blinding light there will be shadow.
Like these blooms, I too am imperfect, not quite symmetrical, starting to wither and curl at the edges.
But even so~ a stroll in a Garden to be dazzled in the cool of the day is what God prescribed then and now.
For a little while, I am transported beyond this difficult world with its constant reminders of my flaws, and am assured of His Hand on me and how much He loves me anyway.
Thank you to my friend Jean in Lynden who grows the most dazzling dahlias and allows me come take their portraits!
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of the gladiola open all down the long aisle of the stem
like a choral procession or the woody notes
of a flute opening one stop at a time. ~Linda Pastan “Gladiola”
Most flowers tempt our senses: the vibrant colors to the eye, the softness of the petals to the touch, the delicate fragrances wafting to the nose – even some have a piquant perfumed taste for the palate.
Yet how many blooms sound like an orchestra tuning in the wind?
A long gladiola stalk rises boldly, swaying in the breeze, each key blossom unfolding one by one in flowing overture.
When each is done with its own ruffled note, the next one opens to play its part.
The notes progress up the stem until the final chord is held ~fermata-like~ until performances commence again next summer.
I’ll be sure to reserve a front row seat.
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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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