Like waves of fire, they flared forward and to my eyes filled the whole world, empty till then. Perfect, ablaze, they were like ten gods with pure white hoofs, with manes like a dream of salt.
Their rumps were worlds and oranges.
Their color was honey, amber, fire.
There, in silence, at mid-day, in that dirty, disordered winter, those intense horses were the blood the rhythm, the inciting treasure of life.
I looked. I looked and was reborn: for there, unknowing, was the fountain, the dance of gold, heaven and the fire that lives in beauty.
I have forgotten that dark Berlin winter.
I will not forget the light of the horses. ~Pablo Neruda from “Horses”
The Haflingers have been here more than half my life. They are now mostly retired as I soon will be.
They belong on this farm even more than I do: they were born to graze on steep hillsides, to find the tenderest of clover leafs hiding among the bulrushes and thistles. They laze about under the branches, swishing flies with those abundant tails.
Most of all, they are the copper and gold so badly needed in the gray light of fall and winter. When my eyes and heart feel empty and in need of filling up, I go out into the fields to absorb the riches of their honey coats, their deep brown eyes, their stark white mane and tails.
They won’t be here forever, nor will I. We will someday be dust – no longer glinting of gold nor burning with the fire of life on this earth. But the memory of our light is forever as nothing can extinguish a beauty that is heaven-sent, whether horse or human.
…I am watching the mountain. And the second I verbalize this awareness in my brain, I cease to see the mountain…. I am opaque, so much black asphalt.
I look at the mountain, which is still doing its tricks, as you look at a still-beautiful face belonging to a person who was once your lover in another country years ago: with fond nostalgia, and recognition, but no real feeling save a secret astonishment that you are now strangers. Thanks. For the memories. It is ironic that the one thing that all religions recognize as separating us from our creator — our very self-consciousness — is also the one thing that divides us from our fellow creatures. It was a bitter birthday present from evolution, cutting us off at both ends. I get in the car and drive home. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
We drive up the highway an hour or so to lose ourselves rather than become more self-conscious. We want to be witness to grander things.
Once we turn the bend into Heather Meadows, Mount Shuksan suddenly appears, overwhelming the landscape. There is simply nothing else to look at so I stand there gawking, forgetting to breathe. Then I realize that I have become more self-conscious rather than less: here am I at the foot of this incredible creation, wondering at how blessed I am to be there, and it becomes all about me. The mountain has been here for eons and will continue to be here for eons, and we’re merely passing through, bubbles floating on the unending stream of time.
Yesterday we were completely alone in what typically is a place of many gawkers, all setting up tripods and clicking cameras. It was absolutely silent – even the birds had abandoned the chilly hills for warmer climes lower down.
Most remarkable yesterday was the stillness meant there was a double delight: two mountains, reflection and the real thing herself. It is the most glass-like the lakes have been on our many visits.
We had to finally climb in the car and head back down the highway to home. I carry these images back with me to remember that moment of awestruck witness. The image isn’t the real thing, it isn’t even the real reflection. Yet it is me watching the mountain watching me back.
I grew up on a small farm with several acres of woodland. It was my near-daily retreat until I left for college: I walked among twittering birds, skittering wild bunnies, squirrels and chipmunks, busy ant hills and trails, blowing leaves, swimming tadpoles, falling nuts, waving wildflowers, large firs, pines, cottonwoods, maples and alder trees.
I had a favorite “secret” spot sitting perched on a stump where a large rock provided a favorite warm sunning spot for salamanders. They and I would make eye contact and ponder what the other was thinking.
It was where I felt closest to Creation, more so than the house I slept in with my family, the busy classrooms, the dentist office and retirement home where I worked.
Only our church sanctuary was such a thin place with a “can almost touch the hem of God” reality.
At college I searched for a place as private, as quiet, as serene, as full of the voices of creation – nothing ever matched the woods of my childhood home. I gave up as I lived a decade in the city and almost forgot what a familiar woods felt like.
I’ve come close again on this farm we’ve stewarded for thirty years, but the constant distractions are much greater now than when I was a child. I can’t empty out my head and heart as completely to receive the gifts of the field and trees and woodlands. I have greater worries, bigger responsibilities, places to go, people to see, things to do, a shorter timeline to get what I want to accomplish done …
Perhaps the time will come again to simply gaze into the eyes of a fellow creature, and invite them in with a head and heart ready to receive what they and our Creator have to give.
All night the crickets chirp, Like little stars of twinkling sound In the dark silence.
They sparkle through the summer stillness With a crisp rhythm: They lift the shadows on their tiny voices.
But at the shining note of birds that wake, Flashing from tree to tree till all the wood is lit— O golden coloratura of dawn!— The cricket-stars fade slowly, One by one. ~Leonora Speyer, “Crickets at Dawn” from A Canopic Jar
Most mornings here tend to be gray — primarily unassuming and humble. Sunrise usually happens without much visual fanfare – blink and I miss it.
Instead I listen for morning rather than watch for it.
As summer night sounds fade out, the dawn songs begin. Birds become the harbingers where frogs and crickets let off.
There are a few special days when the light ascends gilded and decides to linger while the whole atmosphere is transformed. The air itself is burnished and shining, and all that is touched turns to gold. Like a stage production about to begin, the curtain rises to the sounds of an overture while a resplendent backdrop is illuminated.
So I wait, a transfixed audience, for the day’s aria to begin.
Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. ~Rabindranath Tagore
...then came a sound even more delicious than the sound of water. Close beside the path they were following, a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree. It was answered by the chuckle of another bird a little further off. And then, as if that had been a signal, there was chattering and chirruping in every direction, and then a moment of full song, and within five minutes the whole wood was ringing with birds’ music, and wherever Edmund’s eyes turned he saw birds alighting on branches, or sailing overhead or chasing one another or having their little quarrels or tidying up their feathers with their beaks. ~C.S. Lewis from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
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, A Thousand Mornings
Their song reminds me of a child’s neighborhood rallying cry—ee-ock-ee—with a heartfelt warble at the end. But it is their call that is especially endearing. The towhee has the brass and grace to call, simply and clearly, “tweet”. I know of no other bird that stoops to literal tweeting. ~Annie Dillard,Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven. ~Emily Dickinson in an 1885 letter to Miss Eugenia Hall
What does it say about me that in the darkness of December mornings, I yearn for the early sunrises of June but once I’m firmly into the June calendar, it no longer is 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, spurred 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 starts, with one lone chirpy voice in the apple tree by our bedroom window, it rapidly becomes a full frontal onslaught symphony orchestra from the plum, cherry, poplar, walnut, fir and chestnut. Sleep is irretrievable.
This might be something I would ordinarily appreciate but last night nearby pastures roared past midnight with the house-shaking rumble of heavy tractors and trucks chopping and hauling fresh green grass destined for silage.
Only a few months ago I remember wishing for early morning birdsong when it seemed the sun would never rise and the oppressive silence would never lift. I conveniently forget those mornings years ago when we had a dozen young roosters who magically found their voices 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.
So I remind myself how bad it can really be and today’s backyard birdsong is a veritable symphony in comparison.
Even so, I already need a nap, yet a full day of clinic awaits. Ah, first world problems of a farmer/doctor/sleep-deprived human.
O world, I cannot hold thee close enough! Thy winds, thy wide grey skies! Thy mists, that roll and rise! Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag And all but cry with color! That gaunt crag To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff! World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all, But never knew I this; Here such a passion is As stretcheth me apart,– Lord, I do fear Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year; My soul is all but out of me,– let fall No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call. ~Edna St. Vincent Millay “God’s World”
Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute? I’m ready to go back. I should have listened to you. That’s all human beings are! Just blind people. ~Thornton Wilder, from Emily’s monologue in Our Town
Let me not wear blinders through my days.
Let me see and hear and feel it all even when it seems too much to bear.
Lord, prepare me to be so whelmed at your world, that
Heaven itself will be familiar, and not that far,
Just round the corner.
The daylight is huge. Five a.m. and the sky already blushing gray. Mornings so full of blue the clouds almost sheepish as they wisp over hills. High noon only happens in June, mid-day a tipping point, the scale weighed down on both sides with blazed hours. And the evenings— so drawn out the land lies stunned by that shambling last light. ~Amy MacLennan “The Daylight is Huge” from The Body, A Tree.
May a sunrise or sunset never become so routine that I fail to stop what I’m doing and acknowledge it and be stunned:
the richness of the backdrop where the paint is splashed though the foreground remains unchanged.
the timing being all its own, whether slow simmer that never reaches full boil, or a burst and explosion that is over in a matter of minutes.
the expanse and drama of unique color and swirl, layers and uniformity, gentle yellows and purples and pinks or glaring reds and oranges.
May a sun be ripe for picking, to grasp briefly and hold on to and then let go – too hot to handle, too remote to tuck away in my pocket for another day.
“Once I saw a chimpanzee gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors [and then] retire to the forest without picking a pawpaw for supper.” ~Adriaan Krotlandt, Dutch ethologist
Suddenly it is August again, so hot, breathless heat. I sit on the ground in the garden of Carmel, picking ripe cherry tomatoes and eating them. They are so ripe that the skin is split, so warm and sweet from the attentions of the sun, the juice bursts in my mouth, an ecstatic taste, and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer, sloshing in the saliva of August. Hummingbirds halo me there, in the great green silence, and my own bursting heart splits me with life. ~Anne Higgins “Cherry Tomatoes” from At the Year’s Elbow
Is there another sensation as blissful as a cherry tomato bursting inside my mouth?
Yes, I can think of one or two.
But never like this, when restoration is needed in the middle of a sweaty hot day, in a garden that needs weeding, when all else feels lost.
I believe you’ll be able to say, as I can say today: ‘I’m glad I’m here.’
Believe me, all of you, the best way to help the places we live in is to be glad we live there. ~Edith Wharton from Summer
I’m reminded today and every day: I’m glad I’m here. I would choose no other place to be.
I’m especially thankful as I gaze out at this 360 degree landscape every morning and again as the evening light flames bright before fading at night.
This place — with its vast field vistas, its flowing grasses, its tall firs, its mountain backdrops — has been beautiful for generations of native people and homesteaders before I ever arrived thirty three years ago.
It will remain so for many more generations long after I am dust – gladness is the best fertilizer I can offer up to accompany God-given sun and rain.