Eventually balance moves out of us into the world; it’s the pull of rabbits grazing on the lawn as we talk, the slow talk of where and when, determining what and who we will become as we age.
We admire the new plants and the rings of mulch you made, we praise the rabbits eating the weeds’ sweet yellow flowers.
Behind our words the days serve each other as mother, father, cook, builder, and fixer; these float like the clouds beyond the trees.
It is a simple life, now, children grown, our living made and saved, our years our own, husband and wife,
but in our daily stride, the one that rises with the sun, the chosen pride, we lean on our other selves, lest we fall into a consuming fire and lose it all. ~Richard Maxson, “Otherwise” from Searching for Arkansas
Our days are slower now, less rush, more reading and writing, walking and sitting, taking it all in and wondering what comes next.
I slowly adapt to not hurrying to work every other day, looking to you to see how I should parcel out each moment. Should I stay busy cleaning, sorting, giving away, simplifying our possessions so our children someday won’t have to? Or should I find some other kind of service off the farm to feel worthy of each new day, each new breath?
It is an unfamiliar phase, this facing a day with no agenda and no appointments. What comes next is uncertain, as it always has been but I didn’t pay attention before.
So I lean lest I fall. I breathe lest I forget how.
On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress, grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car and headed north out of Seattle. I never looked back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months earlier to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health family practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle, now leaving the city for a new rural home and a very uncertain professional future.
Never before had I felt such exhilaration at breaking through one wall to discover the unknown that lay on the other side.
I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family had begun. We were going to actually live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with a few acres and a barn.
A real (sort of) starter farm.
Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two tortoise shell calico kitten sisters peering up at me, just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that admittedly impulsive commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed brand new.
I will never forget the feeling of freedom on that drive north out of the traffic congestion of the city. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential even though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting (the most diverse zip code in the United States): an ideal family practice with patients from all over the world: Muslims from the Middle East and Indonesia, Orthodox Jews, Italian Catholics, African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all into the Mazda and driven them north with me, I would have.
We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding an ethnic diversity of farm animals: Belgian Tervuren dog Tango, Haflinger horse Greta, Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Scottish Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. We soon added little brother Ben and seven years later, sister Lea. We settled happily into parenthood, our church community, serving on school and community boards, gardening, and enduring the loss of our parents one by one.
Thirty four years later our children have long ago grown and gone to new homes of their own, off to their own adventures beyond the farm. Our sons married wonderful women, moving far away from home, our daughter teaches a fourth grade classroom a few hours away and we have two grandchildren with the third expected any moment.
A few cats, two Cardigan Corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now both gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends. My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fit me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day for thirty years. With retirement looming, I’m trying out a three day a week schedule and the old sweater doesn’t fit quite so comfortably.
My happily retired husband finds he is busier than ever: volunteering, serving on boards and being a full time farmer on our larger 20 acre place of fields and woods.
That rainy Halloween day over three decades ago I was freed into a wider world. I would no longer sit captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams. Instead I celebrate my daily commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a broader community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano and teaching at church. Our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn, coyotes howling at night, Canadian and snow geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon becoming more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet us in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids us good night.
It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin sitting beside me in a little Mazda, my husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, thirty four years and three grown children and three (almost) grandchildren later, we celebrate this Halloween transition anniversary together. We’re still pregnant with the possibility that a wide world is waiting, just on the other side of the wall.
“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.” —G.K. Chesterton
It’s the season of grace coming out of the void Where a man is saved by a voice in the distance It’s the season of possible miracle cures Where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown Where time begins to fade And age is welcome home
It’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise And holding fast with sharp realization It’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention You are safe here you know now
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you
It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart Of feeling the full weight of our burdens It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind And knowing we are not alone in fear Not alone in the dark
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you ~Vienna Teng “The Atheist Christmas Carol”
I have heard the same message from several patients: they feel so alone so in the dark, so afraid and weighted down they would rather choose to end their life~
yet not believing in God means jumping from the pain of living into …nothing at all…
(feeling nothing being the point of ceasing to be)
Perhaps they can’t imagine this God who loves doubters too sore afraid of His caring enough to die to assure no one ever becomes nothing.
Being too warm the old lady said to me is better than being too cold I think now in between is the best because you never give it a thought but it goes by too fast I remember the winter how cold it got I could never get warm wherever I was but I don’t remember the summer heat like that only the long days the breathing of the trees the evenings with the hens still talking in the lane and the light getting longer in the valley the sound of a bell from down there somewhere I can sit here now still listening to it ~W.S. Merwin “Remembering Summer” from Garden Time
Yet another transition between seasons and adapting to the demands of a new day ~ there is good reason things don’t stay the same.
Air and light and colors change, as do I, as I must.
That perfect tipping point balance is only a moment in time; gone by too fast and I scramble to adjust yet again, holding out hope I can walk carefully, cautiously along the center line.
My summer of “no doctoring” finishes today. I return to part-time clinical work tomorrow; a new beginning is on the way.
I am readying myself.
I consider how it will feel to put the stethoscope back on and return to spending most of my daylight hours in window-less rooms. Several months of freedom to wander and wonder will be tough to give up.
However, when I meet my first patient of the day, I’m “all in.” Someone is needing my help more than I need time off. The wind has shifted, it is time to migrate back to the work I was called to do over forty years ago.
Still I will look for beautiful things where I can find them, knowing that even though they don’t last, they will always be well worth the weeping.
This is how the world is built in the depths we cannot see, but, stopping for a moment, we can feel it, in the solitude of any night.
In the absence of light, on the precipice of dreams we can hear a jot of humming, as the unseen parts of the world spin and gather themselves within us, inside the air that eases down the leaves and sustains, as it moves toward us, the distant calling of an owl. ~Richard Maxson “Dreams and After”
Last night we were awakened by a summer windstorm – from a muggy stillness where no air moves to sudden breezes flowing roughshod over our bed. Our wind chimes outside clanged a cacophony rather than gentle harmonic tones. The window shades became percussion instruments. Anything not fastened down went airborne.
This fortuitous storm pulled me from a bad dream of a recent stress-filled work day I didn’t manage well. As I woke startled to bed sheets blowing, I gulped at the fresh air as it passed by, allowing my dream to exhale right through the window, never to return.
Life’s intertwined moments, good, bad and indifferent, remain carefully braided together, bound and strengthened so the weaker strands are held steadfast by the enveloping twists and turns of those sturdier ones.
What was, is and will be are held together unbroken, bolstered by tougher stuff than we may think possible.
And we, swinging in the breezes, simply must hang on for dear life, if only by a slender thread.
And the seasons they go round and round And the painted ponies go up and down We’re captive on the carousel of time We can’t return, we can only look behind From where we came And go round and round and round In the circle game… ~Joni Mitchell “The Circle Game”
those lovely horses, that galloped me,
moving the world, piston push and pull,
into the past—dream to where? there, when
the clouds swayed by then trees, as a tire
swing swung me under—rope groan.
now, the brass beam, holds my bent face,
calliope cadence—O where have I been? ~Richard Maxson “Carousel at Seventy”
Sixty years ago in July, I was a five year old having her first ride on the historic carousel at Woodland Park Zoo before we moved from Stanwood to Olympia. Fifty years ago — a teenager watching the first men walk on the moon the summer I started work as an assistant to a local dentist. Forty years ago — deep in the guts of a hospital working a forty hour shift thinking about the man who was to become my husband. Thirty years ago — my husband and I picking up bales of hay with two young children in tow after I had just accepted a new position doctoring at the local university & we are offered an opportunity to buy a larger farm. Twenty years ago — with three children and our farm house remodel complete, we have three local parents with health issues needing support, helping with church activities and worship, raising Haflinger foals and organizing a summer local Haflinger gathering of nearly 100 horses and owners, planning a new clinic building. Ten years ago — two sons launched with one about to move to Japan, a daughter at home with a new driver’s license, my mother slowly bidding goodbye to life at a local care center, farming is less about horse raising and more about gardening, starting to record life on my blog. Five years ago — two sons married, a daughter off in the midwest as a camp counselor so our first summer without children at home. Time for a new puppy! Now – O where have I been? We can only look behind from where we came.
The decades pass, round and round – there is comfort knowing that through the ups and downs of daily life, I am still hanging on and if I slip and fall, there is Someone ready to catch me.