Around December first, the summer people All have gone. Some had stayed to see the fall And some for hunting season—all have gone.
We walk deserted roads. The first snows came But dried away to traces in the ditch And snowy patches on the forest floor.
In town the Christmas lights are blinking bright, The tourists few. The locals are subdued, At peace with what some still call Advent time.
It’s dark by four. We light a fireplace fire. We have a drink and share a meal and read Until it’s time to go to early bed.
Outdoors to fetch tomorrow’s wood, I stand Beneath the stars. It’s moonless, clear and cold. The constellations reach like outspread hands.
Star bright but not at all a silent night, There seems to be a constant trembling— Someone surely there, someone almost here. ~Steven Peterson “Advent”
During these quiet quarantined days when we no longer share meals meeting on screens rather than living rooms, there is a sense of trembling anticipation, waiting and watching for the world to feel safer again.
We wander, wondering, looking for Someone who is almost here but not quite yet. Born to die for poor ornery people like you and like I.
I wonder as I wander out under the sky How Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky That Jesus my Saviour did come for to die For poor on’ry people like you and like I I wonder as I wander out under the sky I wonder as I wander out under the sky
Even without family gathered around us this day, we do have each other and that is a blessing in and of itself. May we revel in our thanksgiving feast for two because, through thick and thin and COVID, we are still together.
You are our portal to those hidden havens Whence we return to bless our being here. Scribe of the Kingdom, keeper of the door Which opens on to all we might have lost,
Generous, capacious, open, free, Your wardrobe-mind has furnished us with worlds Through which to travel, whence we learn to see Along the beam, and hear at last the heralds, Sounding their summons, through the stars that sing, Whose call at sunrise brings us to our King. ~Malcolm Guite from “C.S. Lewis: a sonnet”
This is the 57th anniversary of C.S Lewis’s death in 1963, overshadowed that day by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Sign on the Lewis wardrobebuilt by C.S. Lewis’ grandfather that served as his inspiration for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” — it first stood in his childhood home and later in his home “The Kilns” at Oxford. Now part of the C.S. Lewis collection at the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College, Illinois:
“We do not take responsibility for people disappearing.”
This is no mere piece of furniture; Enchantment hangs within Among the furs and cloaks Smelling faintly of mothballs.
Touch the smooth wood, Open the doors barely To be met with a faint cool breeze~ Hints of snowy woods and adventure.
Reach inside to feel smooth soft furs Move aside to allow dark passage Through to another world, a pathway to Cherished imagination of the soul.
Seek a destination for mind and heart, A journey through the wardrobe, Navigate the night path to reach a Lit lone lamp post in the wood.
Beaming light as it shines undimmed, A beacon calling us home, back home Through the open door, to step out transformed, No longer lost or longing, now found and filled.
Stand near the river with your feet slightly apart. Push your toes down beyond the mud, below the water. Stretch your arms and head back deliberately, until straight lines no longer matter—until the sky from any angle is your desire. Let the skin go grey and split open. If you die a little somewhere the wind will carve the branches back into an alphabet someone will try to remember how to read. Stay this way half a century or more, turning leaves in the half-note tides of the air. Inside, with that blood so slow no one hears it, set buds for spring by each late October. November, December, dream what it means being owl…or star. ~Kathleen Cain, “What This Means, Being Cottonwood” from Times of Sorrow, Times of Grace
According to old Morton Lawrence, the original owner of this farm, this particular cottonwood was a special tree. He called it the “Balm of Gilead” tree for the sticky resin that exudes from its spring buds, which he liked to rub into his dry cracked hands. The scent is memorable, both sweet and green, and invokes the smell of spring ground awakening from a long winter.
The big tree stands apart from the rest of the forest, always a sentinel of the seasons, blowing cotton fluff in the late spring and heart-shaped leaves in the fall, covering the surrounding fields.
The buds may well have healing properties, as described in the Book of Jeremiah in the Old Testament, but it is this tree that I depend upon for its unblinking steadiness through the worst wind storms, the driest summers and our iced-over winters. The cottonwood, in its multi-armed reach to the skies, is balm to my eyes, no matter when I look at it — a dream of the healing I’ll find someday in heaven for all that ails me.
This was our pretty gray kitten, hence her name; who was born in our garage and stayed nearby her whole life. There were allergies; so she was, as they say, an outside cat. But she loved us. For years, she was at our window. Sometimes, a paw on the screen as if to want in, as if to be with us the best she could. She would be on the deck, at the sliding door. She would be on the small sill of the window in the bathroom. She would be at the kitchen window above the sink. We’d go to the living room; anticipating that she’d be there, too, hop up, look in. She’d be on the roof, she’d be in a nearby tree. She’d be listening through the wall to our family life. She knew where we were, and she knew where we were going and would meet us there. Little spark of consciousness, calm kitty eyes staring through the window.
After the family broke, and when the house was about to sell, I walked around it for a last look. Under the eaves, on the ground, there was a path worn in the dirt, tight against the foundation — small padded feet, year after year, window to window.
When we moved, we left her to be fed by the people next door. Months after we were gone, they found her in the bushes and buried her by the fence. So many years after, I can’t get her out of my mind. ~Philip F. Deaver, “Gray” from How Men Pray
Our pets are witness to the routine of our lives. They know when the food bowl remains empty too long, or when no one comes to pick them up and stroke their fur. They sit silently waiting.
They know when things aren’t right at home.
Sometimes a barn cat moves on, looking for a place with more consistency and better feeding grounds. Most often they stick close to what they know, even if it isn’t entirely a happy or welcoming place. After all, it’s home and that’s what they know and that’s where they stay.
When my family broke as my parents split, after the furniture was removed and the dust of over thirty five years of marriage swept up, I wondered if our cat and dog had seen it coming before we did. They had been peering through the window at our lives, measuring the amount of spilled love that was left over for them.
I can’t get them out of my mind – they, like me, became children of divorce. We knew when we left the only home we knew, we would never truly feel at home again.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you. ~David Wagoner “Lost”
I’m frequently lost in the figurative forest of my days on this earth, unsure where I’m heading and struggling to figure out where I’ve been. It seems I have been following a path laid out before me, keeping my head down to make sure I don’t trip over a root or stumble on a rock, when around and above me are the clues to where I am and where I’m going.
So I stand still and breathe deeply of the forest and let it tell me where I am. It can tell when my focus is misdirected.
My father climbs into the silo. He has come, rung by rung, up the wooden trail that scales that tall belly of cement.
It’s winter, twenty below zero, He can hear the wind overhead. The silage beneath his boots is so frozen it has no smell.
My father takes up a pick-ax and chops away a layer of silage. He works neatly, counter-clockwise under a yellow light,
then lifts the chunks with a pitchfork and throws them down the chute. They break as they fall and rattle far below.
His breath comes out in clouds, his fingers begin to ache, but he skims off another layer where the frost is forming
and begins to sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.” ~Joyce Sutphen, “Silo Solo” from First Words
Farmers gotta be tough. There is no taking a day off from chores. The critters need to eat and their beds cleaned even during the coldest and hottest days. Farmers rise before the sun and go to bed long after the sun sets.
I come from a long line of farmers on both sides – my mother was the daughter of wheat farmers and my father was the son of subsistence stump farmers who had to supplement their income with outside jobs as a cook and in lumber mills. Both my parents went to college; their parents wanted something better for them than they had. Both my parents had professions but still chose to live on a farm – daily milkings, crops in the garden and fields, raising animals for meat.
My husband’s story is similar, though his parents didn’t graduate from college. Dan milked cows with his dad and as a before-school job in the mornings.
We still chose to live on a farm to raise our children and commit to the daily work, no matter the weather, on sunlit days and blowing snow days and gray muddy days. And now, when our grandchildren visit, we introduce them to the routine and rhythms of farm life, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows, and through it all, we are grateful for the values that follow through the generations of farming people.
And our favorite song to sing to our grandchildren is “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine” as it is the sun that sustains our days and its promise of return that sustains our nights.
You’ll never know, dears, how much we love you. Please don’t take our sunshine away.
That house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, “a perfect house, whether you liked food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.” Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness. ~J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I wish I was at home in my nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing! ~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Hobbit
We sleep to time’s hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if ever we wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it’s time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it’s time to break our necks for home. ~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm
Every now and then, I forget to turn off the lights in the barn. I usually notice just before I go to bed, when the farm’s boundaries seem to have drawn in close. That light makes the barn seem farther away than it is — a distance I’m going to have to travel before I sleep. The weather makes no difference. Neither does the time of year.
Usually, after turning out that forgotten barn light, I sit on the edge of the tractor bucket for a few minutes and let my eyes adjust to the night outside. City people always notice the darkness here, but it’s never very dark if you wait till your eyes owl out a little….I’m always glad to have to walk down to the barn in the night, and I always forget that it makes me glad. I heave on my coat, stomp into my barn boots and trudge down toward the barn light, muttering at myself. But then I sit in the dark, and I remember this gladness, and I walk back up to the gleaming house, listening for the horses. ~Verlyn Klinkenborg from A Light in the Barn
I have always been, and always will be a home-body. As a child, I was hopelessly homesick and miserable whenever I visited overnight somewhere else: not my bed, not my window, not anything that was familiar and comfortable. Going away to college was an ordeal and I had to do two runs at it to finally feel at home somewhere else. I traveled plenty during those young adult years and adapted to new and exotic environs, but never easily.
I haven’t changed much in my older years. Even now, travel is fraught with anxiety for me, not anticipation. I secretly had hoped for a prolonged stay-cation for a change rather than rushing about at break-neck speed when we had a few days off from work. I must be careful for what I wish for, as it is now seven months of stay-and-work-at-home with only two brief sojourns to visit out of town children.
It has been blissful — yet I dare not say that out loud as so many people don’t do well staying at home and are kicking the traces to be set free.
Not so me. I am content on our farm, appreciating our “perfect house, whether you liked food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all.”
Merely allowed to just be here is my ultimate answer to weariness, fear and sadness.
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 know where this road ends to the east: at the very edge of the Cascade foothills, right in the middle of a small tribal nation trying to survive challenging economic times on their reservation land.
Heading west from here, there is another tribal nation trying to survive. In between are farmers who are having to sell their dairy herds because milk prices aren’t keeping up with the cost of maintaining their business. There are families now without sustainable wage employment because large industries have pulled up stakes and closed their doors. There is land that is overpriced as people flee the cities to come to rural surroundings because of ongoing pandemic shutdowns and worries.
There is much sadness all along this country road during times like these, but that’s not new. In another 100 years it will still not be new. There will always be foggy and stormy days interspersed among times of hope and light.
We remain a diverse people of tears and struggle, but we take turns carrying one another when one has what another does not. We still have the sun and the rain and the soil, the turning of the seasons and the rhythm of sun up and sun down.