To a Wild Rose

Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart,

suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose looming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

and once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.

~Wendell Berry “The Wild Rose”


Due to past harsh winter weather, we have lost a couple of our hybrid rose bushes which were grafted to rootstock when we purchased them. The durable rootstock survives when the bush does not, sending up shoots and branches to thrive and bloom, opening a wild rose blossom with a fresh loveliness all its own, even if it is not the exact color, fragrance or type rose we intended originally. It is still a blessing.

Although Wendell Berry wrote “A Wild Rose” about his wife – about a moment of illumination within a long covenantal marriage – I have experienced “choosing” again “what I chose before” in a renewal of relationship and commitment with God.

I too often settle so thoroughly into routine, oblivious to the privilege of another day of living this life. I am unaware of the miracle of my own beating heart. When the scales do lift from my eyes, I see beauty emerge from the shadows, and I am renewed.

In my own marriage, our relationship has survived over four decades through good and difficult times. Yet we are grafted to a rootstock God who never gives up.

And so we bloom from and for Him – a wild and unforgettable blessing.

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The One Who Sees and Knows

Yesterday,
running slowly
in the gravel
I saw
a tiny bird
feathered pulsating globe
of white and gray
on its back
black pinprick eyes
pointing up to the sky.
I stooped down
closely
to peer.
We stared at one another—
creature to creature—
for a small eternity.
I scooped him
into my hands
and placed him gently
an offering
upright
onto the grass
whispering
a prayer to the One
who sees
and knows
each one
every sparrow
and every sorrow.
~Karen Swallow Prior “Creature to Creature”

photo by Harry Rodenberger

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.  Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Luke 12: 6-7

Typically, I hear sparrows more than see them most of the year. They are shy little birds and fly away any time I approach them. But during the winter months when the northeast arctic winds are blowing, they cling to the rose bushes beneath my bird feeders, fluffed up to try to stay warm, buffeted about by the breeze, just trying to stay alive. Singing is the last thing on their little minds.

This is when we need each other the most; the sparrow is hanging on the best it can to make it to spring and so am I, seeking to nurture some small part of Creation in order to keep simmering my hope for the future. Although there is no sparrows’ song lilting in the air during the coldest months, I know it will return.

So I sing for them.

I sing because I’m happy.
I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for Heav’n and home,
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Refrain

I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Let not your heart be troubled,
His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness,
I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth,
But one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted,
Whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing,
When hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him,
From care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

Lyrics by Civilla Martin

ot one sparrow is forgotten,
E’en the raven God will feed;
And the lily of the valley
From His bounty hath its need.
Then shall I not trust Thee, Father,
In Thy mercy have a share?
And through faith and prayer, my Mother,
Merit Thy protecting care?

                Shaker Hymn (Canterbury Shakers Hymnal, 1908)
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Too Much is Too Much

Every spring
I hear the thrush singing
in the glowing woods
he is only passing through.
His voice is deep,
then he lifts it until it seems
to fall from the sky.
I am thrilled.
I am grateful.
Then, by the end of morning,
he’s gone, nothing but silence
out of the tree
where he rested for a night.
And this I find acceptable.
Not enough is a poor life.
But too much is, well, too much.
Imagine Verdi or Mahler
every day, all day.
It would exhaust anyone.
~Mary Oliver “In Our Woods, Sometimes a Rare Music ” from “A Thousand Mornings”

What does it say about me that six months ago, in the darkness of December mornings, I was yearning for the early sunrises of June but once I’m well into the June calendar, these early mornings are no longer so compelling?  It confirms my suspicion that I’m incapable of reveling in the moment at hand, something that would likely take years of therapy to undo.  I’m sure there is some deep seated issue here, but I’m too sleep deprived to pursue it.

My eyes popped open this morning at 4:17 AM, aided and abetted by vigorous birdsong in the trees surrounding our farm house.  There was daylight sneaking through the venetian blinds at that unseemly hour as well.  Once the bird chorus started, with one lone chirpy voice in the apple tree by our bedroom window, it rapidly became a full frontal onslaught symphony orchestra from all manner of avian life-forms, singing from the plum, cherry, walnut, fir and chestnut.   Sleep became irretrievable.

It would be such a poor life without the birdsong.

I remember wishing for early morning birdsong last December when it seemed the sun would never rise and the oppressive silence would never lift.  I had conveniently forgotten those mornings a few years ago when we had a flock of over a dozen young roosters who magically found their crows very early in the morning a mere 10 weeks after hatching.  Nothing before or since could match their alarm clock expertise after 4 AM.  No barbecue before or since has tasted as sweet (apologies to my vegan/vegetarian readers, but too much was too much).

So I remind myself how bad it can really be; this morning’s backyard birdsong was a veritable symphony in comparison.

I already need a nap.

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.
~Rabindranath Tagore

photo by Harry Rodenberger

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Build Me Up, Buttercup

Buttercup’s heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high…

Buttercup: “Anything there is that I can do for you, I will do for you; anything there is that I cannot do, I will learn to do.” And with that, she dared the bravest thing she’d ever done; she looked right into his eyes…

Buttercup: We’ll never survive.
Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.

Westley: Hear this now. I will always come for you.
Buttercup: But how can you be sure?
Westley: This is true love. You think this happens every day?

That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying “As you wish”, what he meant was, “I love you.” And even more amazing was the day she realized she truly loved him back.
~William Golding, all above quotes from The Princess Bride

However did I find a farm boy who decades later
still makes me smile and laugh and builds me up?

This farm boy of mine says “I love you” in so many ways every day;
the walls of my secret garden heart come tumbling down…

Like butter, I am melted by his willingness to love someone like me.

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As the Sky Broke Open

The clouds had made a crimson crown
Above the mountains high.
The stormy sun was going down
In a stormy sky.
Why did you let your eyes so rest on me,
And hold your breath between?
In all the ages this can never be
As if it had not been.
~Mary Elizabeth Coleridge “A Moment”

Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
Rumbling in the wind,
Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . .

Full-lipped flowers
Bitten by the sun
Bleeding rain
Dripping rain like golden honey—
And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.

~Jean Toomer “Storm Ending”

A thunderstorm swirled above us last night as we finished our farm chores, dropping noisy raindrops and then passing until the next cloud rolled over and dumped some more. I climbed to the top of our hill and looked out at a busted-up sky trying to mend itself. It was trying to zip itself together again but once fractured, it was broken forever, pouring gold rays of sunbeams like honey onto the landscape.

In that moment of broken sky, I was doused in a Light that breathed golden breath on me, reminding me not to forget:
He is here.

God does not leave us comfortless in the storms of our lives so be not afraid. He is still here in the morning.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t   
be afraid. God does not leave us   
comfortless, so let evening come.
~Jane Kenyon “Let Evening Come”

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High Light of a Late June Evening

In June’s high light she stood at the sink
            With a glass of wine,
And listened for the bobolink,
And crushed garlic in late sunshine.

I watched her cooking, from my chair.
            She pressed her lips
Together, reached for kitchenware,
And tasted sauce from her fingertips.

“It’s ready now. Come on,” she said.
            “You light the candle.”
We ate, and talked, and went to bed,
And slept. It was a miracle.
~Donald Hall “Summer Kitchen”

Day ends, and before sleep
when the sky dies down, consider
your altered state: has this day
changed you? Are the corners
sharper or rounded off? Did you
live with death? Make decisions
that quieted? Find one clear word
that fit? At the sun’s midpoint
did you notice a pitch of absence,
bewilderment that invites
the possible? What did you learn
from things you dropped and picked up
and dropped again? Did you set a straw
parallel to the river, let the flow
carry you downstream?
~Jeanne Lohmann “Questions Before Dark”

I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.
You are yourself the answer.
Before your face questions die away.
~C.S. Lewis from Till We Have Faces

When the world seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, what a gift is a wonderful evening meal, conversation at the dinner table and falling asleep with a gentle sigh of contentment. These sweet moments are worth remembering.

It is easy to get swept up in frustration with a plethora of angry public opinions and even angrier societal actions. Yet I find that only leads to indigestion, irritability and insomnia.

I ask myself thoughtful and sometimes troubling questions at the end of the day that too often feel unanswerable — only because I’m not paying attention to the ultimate Answer to all questions. Each day I should be ready to be changed by His call to me to finish well.

I must not take any day for granted. Each is a sweet day to be remembered for some special moment that made me hope it could last forever – whether the high light of late June or the candle light that pierces the darkness of the shortest December day.

Do you put honey in your tea
Do you let it cool gradually,
Do feel the strange wash of time and memory? 
Have you made peace with your worst day,
Kissed in a busy cafe,
Are there things you feel but you still don't know how to say?

Chorus: Brief as the light on wheels of hay,
All that you've kept or given away
Questions that come before dark at the end of a day

Did you lose a lover or friend
Was there a story that just had to end?
Did you finally learn what kept coming around again
Did you work in a bookstore?
Are there things that you don’t do anymore?
Ever watch an oncoming train or gathering storm

Chorus

Did you say yes
Did you say no
Was it true or just wasn't so?
Did you land hard or gracefully
Was it not what you planned? 
But right where you needed to be

Have you ever made a grilled cheese,
Ever prayed down on your knees,
Did you love a place you still had to leave?
Did you walk before you crawled,
Have a dog when you were small,
Did make it through but it was such a close call?

Copyright Carrie Newcomer 2022

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At Least I Twirl

The quiet of dawn
the honesty of dawn
the peace of empty roads

I start out
after years of twirling
in place

As once before when I began without knowing…
~Lawrence Bridges from “Lake Hughes Road”

All at once I saw what looked like a Martian spaceship whirling towards me in the air. It flashed borrowed light like a propeller. Its forward motion greatly outran its fall. As I watched, transfixed, it rose, just before it would have touched a thistle, and hovered pirouetting in one spot, then twirled on and finally came to rest. I found it in the grass; it was a maple key, a single winged seed from a pair.

Hullo.

I threw it into the wind and it flew off again, bristling with animate purpose, not like a thing dropped or windblown

O maple key, I thought, I must confess I thought, o welcome, cheers.

And the bell under my ribs rang a true note, a flourish as of blended horns, clarion, sweet, and making a long dim sense I will try at length to explain. Flung is too harsh a word for the rush of the world. Blown is more like it, but blown by a generous, unending breath. That breath never ceases to kindle, exuberant, abandoned; frayed splinters spatter in every direction and burgeon into flame. And now when I sway to a fitful wind, alone and listing, I will think, maple key. When I shake your hand or meet your eyes I will think, two maple keys. If I am a maple key falling, at least I can twirl.
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Today’s late spring morning sun woke me early to streaming light
poured out on quilt and blankets.

Curious, I head out to see what’s happening with the world.
The road stretches empty for miles east and west

Thus kindled, exuberant, unleashed,
I am blown by dawn’s gentle breezes,
so inspired to twirl in place in my hilltop celebration,
as I’m pulled to the ground, settling in and buried
for what will come next.

Tell me, where is the road I can call my own
That I left, that I lost
So long ago?
All these years I have wandered
Oh, when will I know
There’s a way, there’s a road
That will lead me home
After wind, after rain
When the dark is done
As I wake from a dream
In the gold of day
Through the air there’s a calling
From far away
There’s a voice I can hear
That will lead me home
Rise up, follow me
Come away, is the call
With the love in your heart
As the only song
There is no such beauty
As where you belong
Rise up, follow me I will lead you home

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Lifted on the Breeze

a gentle breeze was
lightly tussling shells and stones

meant to strike on each other to sibilate,
hiss, and whisper your own
freshly loosed thoughts
back into your soul.
like voices afar off
the jangling of each woven shroud
brought sundry pitch and textured sounds
awakening new areas of my mind.
deep breaths of open musing
rose and fell with the wind as it
returned to tantalize the ornamental chimes
that had waited so long in silence.
Lifted on the breeze
freed to manifest each ubiquitous interval
and send forth vibrations into
nature’s lonely sentiment.
I close my eyes and feel the sounds
made so effortlessly
that tranquilize my worries
and open my heart to hear
the rapture of the universe.
–so fortunate to be sitting here.

~Suzanne Eaton “windchimes”

She goes out to hang the windchime
in her nightie and her work boots.
It’s six-thirty in the morning
and she’s standing on the plastic ice chest
tiptoe to reach the crossbeam of the porch,
windchime in her left hand,
hammer in her right, the nail
gripped tight between her teeth
but nothing happens next because
she’s trying to figure out
how to switch #1 with #3.

She must have been standing in the kitchen,
coffee in her hand, asleep,
when she heard it—the wind blowing
through the sound the windchime
wasn’t making
because it wasn’t there.
..
~Tony Hoagland from “Windchime”

Once upon a time, nearly 5 decades ago, I attended a university with a bell carillon in a tower that frequently played wonderful concerts. I missed spontaneous music floating on the air after I graduated. Living rural, we are nowhere near a bell tower, nor can we hear our church bells ringing in our Chapel belfry a few miles away.

So when the merest breeze is able to make music, I find it a hopeful reminder the earth itself has its own breath and rhythm and holds its own concerts if given the tools.

We have four windchimes of varying size and tuning hanging from our front porch and back yard, each with its own song and personality. Depending on where we are in the house, we hear different harmony and pitch. The largest sounds like church bells, deep and resonant, another is a pentatonix of harmony, one plays the notes of “Amazing Grace” and the last is just random tintinnabulation.

In certain seasons, our area can get strong northeast or southerly winds that blow over 50 mph. In that case, we take the windchimes down temporarily – the battering clatter and clanging becomes more unsettling than the storm itself. Once the winds die down again, it is too quiet – the silence reminds me to replace the chimes on their hooks.

As I wake in the night to hear their gentle melodies through our open window, my worries are soothed and my heart lifts and floats along with the breeze.

The earth continues to breath and so, for now, will I.

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Though the Flower Fades Away…

O! my heart now feels so cheerful as I go with footsteps light
      In the daily toil of my dear home; 
And I’ll tell to you the secret that now makes my life so bright—
      There’s a flower at my window in full bloom. 

It is radiant in the sunshine, and so cheerful after rain; 
        And it wafts upon the air its sweet perfume. 
It is very, very lovely! May its beauties never wane—
        This dear flower at my window in full bloom. 

Nature has so clothed it in such glorious array, 
      And it does so cheer our home, and hearts illume; 
Its dear mem’ry I will cherish though the flower fade away—
      This dear flower at my window in full bloom. 

Oft I gaze upon this flower with its blossoms pure and white. 
        And I think as I behold its gay costume, 
While through life we all are passing may our lives be always bright 
        Like this flower at my window in full bloom.

~Lucian Watkins “The Flower at My Window” 1909

Details of the life of poet Lucian Watkins are few: a black man born in 1878 in Virginia, educated as a teacher and served as a U.S. Army Sergeant in WWI, then died shortly after in 1920. He leaves behind only a handful of poems, including the one above.

There is very little information available about Lucian but three letters written by him show a young man who earnestly wanted to have both a writing career and a “bread-winning vocation.” He describes feeling compelled to compose poetry, no matter what else he accomplishes.

The obvious challenges he faced –
–as a black man looking for a suitable place to live in Illinois so he can attend a college where there are no other people of color nearby,
–as a veteran of a most horrific war,
–as a creative mind trying to find a way to make a living,
he writes passionately about the aspirational purity of a white flower outside his window. Its bright radiance represents what he longs for in his own life.

From his letter to President Bissell of Bissell Colleges in Effingham, Illinois in 1919 after President Bissell is unable to assist in finding him a place to live, having suggested that the war veteran might consider “doing light housekeeping” – essentially live as a servant in a white household:

“About this matter of a boarding place. While I had hoped to obtain board with a member of my own race in Effingham, I had not thought it imperative that I should do so. I feel sure that there is enough Christianity in Effingham to provide that a brother-stranger in their midst shall not die of hunger. What would Jesus do?

It seems that some places in the south they rise more readily to our American ideal of democracy than in the North and Middle-West. ‘The Richmond Planet’ of Richmond, Va., states that ‘right here in Richmond, the capital of the late Confederacy, colored soldiers are welcomed to aristocratic Westhampton, and with no sigh of racial discrimination or antipathy to their being there.’ What is the matter with Illinois?

I am not sure as to what your question involves. We shall talk it over when I arrive. There must be a way that is just and that will be good for all concerned. Very respectfully, signed Lucian B. Watkins

This man was not only a poet. He was a statesman.

Though Lucian Watkins’ life was cut short for reasons unknown, and his portfolio of poetry is small, he is nonetheless a gift to generations of future poets and readers. This black artist did not let the inevitable rainfall in his life discourage his world view; he himself is radiant with illumination, showing a budding cheerfulness. His work reminds us something as simple as observing a resilient flower outside our window can help heal painful hurts and fulfill our deepest longing.

In his writing, Lucian Watkins draws a thin line between joy and sorrow, embracing the joy in a simple white flower in full bloom before it, as will we all, fades away.

Flower gleam and glow
let your power shine
make the Clock reverse
bring back what once was mine
What once was mine
Heal what has been hurt
change the fate’s design
Save what has been lost
bring back what once was mine
what once was mine

~Healing Song from Tangled

No matter if you’re born
To play the king or pawn
For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow
So my fantasy becomes reality
And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow
So I’ll continue to continue to pretend
My life will never end
And flowers never bend with the rainfall

~Paul Simon
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Seeing It Through

I wanted you to see what real courage is,
instead of getting the idea
that courage is a man
with a gun in his hand.
It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin,
but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

~Harper Lee from To Kill A Mockingbird

I know. It’s all wrong.
By rights we shouldn’t even be here.
But we are.

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.

Because how could the end be happy?
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.

Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.

But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.
~J.R.R. Tolkien – Samwise Gamgee to Frodo in The Two Towers

Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. 
It means a strong desire to live
taking the form of a readiness to die.
~ G.K. Chesterton from “The Paradoxes of Christianity” in Orthodoxy

This is another day, O Lord…
If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.
If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.
And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.
— Kathleen Norris citing the Book of Common Prayer

What courage it takes to step out one’s front door these days.

I never know where I might be swept off to
or what I might be swept into.

When I feel overwhelmed and discouraged,
when it seems the world is cast in nothing but shadow,
I am reminded I too am part of a great story
and the plot progression is, by necessity, a mystery.

While the darkness seems to never end,
I will pass through shadows and feel great fear,
I will be asked to do things that threaten my well-being
because it is the right thing to do for another.

Yet we are promised Light and Joy at the end of this epic story.
There is still good in the world and it is worth fighting for.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off too.
~J.R.R. Tolkien – Bilbo to Frodo in Fellowship of the Rings

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