Old friend now there is no one alive who remembers when you were young it was high summer when I first saw you in the blaze of day most of my life ago with the dry grass whispering in your shade and already you had lived through wars and echoes of wars around your silence through days of parting and seasons of absence with the house emptying as the years went their way until it was home to bats and swallows and still when spring climbed toward summer you opened once more the curled sleeping fingers of newborn leaves as though nothing had happened you and the seasons spoke the same language and all these years I have looked through your limbs to the river below and the roofs and the night and you were the way I saw the world ~W.S. Merwin “Elegy for a Walnut Tree” from The Moon Before Morning
We bought this old farm over thirty years ago: the Lawrence family’s “Walnut Hill Farm”~ a front yard lined with several tall black walnut trees brought as seedlings in a suitcase from Ohio in the ought-1900’s.
These trees have thrived over 100 years on this hilltop farm overlooking the Canadian mountains to the north, the Nooksack River valley to the west, the Cascade peaks to the east, each prolific in leaves and prodigious in fruit.
In the tallest, we had a treehouse built high up where the view through the limbs and leaves takes our breath away: for only a little while we are perched above and beyond this world, and that never fails to make us smile.
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Horseback on Sunday morning, harvest over, we taste persimmon and wild grape, sharp sweet of summer’s end. In time’s maze over fall fields, we name names that went west from here, names that rest on graves. We open a persimmon seed to find the tree that stands in promise, pale, in the seed’s marrow. Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear, in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here. ~Wendell Berry “Wild Geese”from Collected Poems 1957-1982
I hear them coming before I see them: the wild geese flying overhead, noisily honking their way across an autumn sky, drawn to the harvested cornfields to glean after the machinery has left.
Soon they will leave altogether, pulled to be content somewhere else.
I remain as witness rather than move on, reminding myself, my heart quiet, my eye clear, what I need is here until it is my turn to leave.
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My father taught me how to eat breakfast those mornings when it was my turn to help him milk the cows. I loved rising up from
the darkness and coming quietly down the stairs while the others were still sleeping. I’d take a bowl from the cupboard, a spoon
from the drawer, and slip into the pantry where he was already eating spoonfuls of cornflakes covered with mashed strawberries
from our own strawberry fields forever. Didn’t talk much—except to mention how good the strawberries tasted or the way
those clouds hung over the hay barn roof. Simple—that’s how we started up the day. ~Joyce Sutphen, “Breakfast” from First Words, Red Dragonfly.
By the time I was four years old, my family owned several Guernsey and Jersey dairy cows who my father milked by hand twice a day. My mother pasteurized the milk on our wood stove and we grew up drinking the best milk on earth, as well as enjoying home-made butter and ice cream.
One of my fondest memories is getting up early with my dad, before he needed to be at school teaching FFA agriculture students (Future Farmers of America). I would eat breakfast with him and then walk out into the foggy fall mornings with our dog to bring in the cows for milking. He would boost me up on top of a very bony-backed chestnut and white patchwork cow while he washed her udder and set to work milking.
I would sometimes sing songs from up there on my perch and my dad would whistle since he didn’t sing.
I can still hear the rhythmic sound of the milk squirting into the stainless steel bucket – the high-pitched metallic whoosh initially and then a more gurgling low wet sound as the bucket filled up. I can see my dad’s capped forehead resting against the flank of the cow as he leaned into the muscular work of squeezing the udder teats, each in turn. I can hear the cow’s chewing her breakfast of alfalfa and grain as I balanced on her prominent spine feeling her smooth hair over her ribs. The barn cats circulated around us, mewing, attracted by the warm milky fragrance in the air.
Those were preciously simple starts to the day for me and my father, whose thoughts he didn’t articulate nor I could ever quite discern. But I did know I wasn’t only his daughter on mornings like that – I was one of his future farmers of America he dedicated his life to teaching.
Dad, even without you saying much, those were mornings when my every sense was awakened. I’ve never forgotten that- the best start to the day.
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Echo of the clocktower, footstep in the alleyway, sweep of the wind sifting the leaves.
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning harvesting the sky.
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer of entrances and exits, midnight whisper travelling the wires.
Seducer, healer, deity, or thief, I will see you soon enough– in the shadow of the rainfall, in the brief violet darkening a sunset — but until then I pray watch over him as a mountain guards its covert ore
and the harsh falcon its flightless young. ~Dana Gioia “The Prayer” (written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)
When we think of those who wait for us on the other side, including our baby lost before birth 38 years ago…
We pray those from whom we are parted are loved as we have loved.
I know God will watch over all these reunions; He knows the moment when our fractured hearts heal whole once again.
I will see you soon enough, sweet one. Soon enough.
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The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom Of snow, a bloom more sudden Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading, Not in the scheme of generation. Where is the summer, the unimaginable Zero summer?
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, unremembered gate When the last of earth left to discover Is that which was the beginning;
And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flames are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one. ~T.S. Eliot – lines taken from “Little Gidding”
As a grade school child in November 1963, I learned the import of the U.S. flag being lowered to half mast in response to the shocking and violent death of our President. The lowering of the flag was so rare when I was growing up, it had dramatic effect on all who passed by — our soul’s sap quivers — something very sad had happened to our country, something or someone had tragically ended, warranting our silence and our stillness.
For twenty years since 9/11/01, our flag has spent significant time at half mast, so much so that I’m befuddled instead of contemplative, puzzling over what the latest loss might be as there are so many, sometimes all happening in the same time frame. We no longer are silenced by this gesture of honor and respect and we certainly are not stilled, personally and corporately instigating and suffering the same mistakes against humanity over and over again.
We are so bent. Will we ever be mended again?
Eliot wrote the prescient words of the Four Quartets in the midst of the WWII German bombing raids that destroyed people and neighborhoods. Perhaps he sensed the destruction he witnessed would not be the last time in history that evil visits the innocent, leaving them in ashes. There would be so many more losses to come, not least being the horror of 9/11/01.
There remains so much more sadness to be borne, such abundance of grief that our world has become overwhelmed and stricken. Yet Eliot was right: we have yet to live in a Zero summer of endless hope and fruitfulness, of spiritual awakening and understanding. Where is it indeed? When will rise again the summer Rose of beauty and fragrance?
We must return, as people of faith to Eliot’s still point to which we are called on a day such as today. We must be stilled; we must be silenced. We must grieve the losses of this turning world and pray for release from the suffering we cause and we endure. Only in the asking, only in the kneeling down and pleading, are we surrounded by God’s unbounded grace and His Rose may bloom recognizable again.
there are no words there is no song is there a balm that can heal these wounds that will last a lifetime long and when the stars have burned to dust hand in hand we still will stand because we must
in one single hour in one single day we were changed forever something taken away and there is no fire that can melt this heavy stone that can bring back the voices and the spirits of our own
all the brothers, sisters and lovers all the friends that are gone all the chairs that will be empty in the lives that will go on can we ever forgive though we never will forget can we believe in the milk of human goodness yet
we were forged in freedom we were born in liberty we came here to stop the twisted arrows cast by tyranny and we won’t bow down we are strong of heart we are a chain together that won’t be pulled apart
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How is it they live for eons in such harmony – the billions of stars – when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their mind against someone they know. There are wars where no one marches with a flag, though that does not keep casualties from mounting.
Our hearts irrigate this earth. We are fields before each other. How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.
O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy. Grant that I may know what You require me to do. Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul. ~St. Thomas Aquinas
I look at headline news through my fingers, cringing.
Amid the centuries of posturing between governments and every imaginable tribe and faction, the names and faces change but the nature of hatred of the “other” doesn’t.
We’ve seen this all before, over and over through history. Over 150 years ago it was in the Gettysburg fields that blood of rival armies intermingled and irrigated U.S. soil. Though now we stand side by side with Germany and Japan, our bitter adversaries a mere eighty years ago, our world continually brews new enemies and ignites new conflicts.
We can barely go a minute without declaring war in our minds even against our neighbor, even those we consider friends and family. There is yelling from the streets in angry protest and screaming at school board meetings. Casualties mount in our bitterness toward one another.
And who am I to point fingers or squint through them at the news of the day? I am as prone to this as anyone.
Am I myself capable of submission without protest, remaining patient and uncomplaining even when I disagree? Can I embody humility without having a hidden agenda? Can I remain selfless when my true nature is wholly selfish?
How can there ever be harmony? How can I overcome my own rancorous heart?
As critical as it seems, It is not love for one another that comes first. I must first know, love and trust the only God who has loved the unloveable so much He became one with us, overpowering our tendency to hate one another by taking it all upon Himself.
Jesus found us dying in a world desperately drying up; His bleeding heart poured itself out onto our thirsting soil. We have been handed salvation.
It is, in fact, God who is madly in love with us and though we’ve done nothing to deserve it, it is our turn to show love to one another.
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The horse bears me along, like grace, making me better than what I am, and what I think or say or see is whole in these moments, is neither small nor broken. Who then is better made to say be well, be glad,
or who to long that we, as one, might course over the entire valley, over all valleys, as a bird in a great embrace of flight, who presses against her breast, in grief and tenderness, the whole weeping body of the world? ~Linda McCarriston from “Riding Out At Evening”
We all need to remember transcendent moments in our lives, those brief times when all was well, our worries left behind in the dust.
Wounds healed, hearts full, senses filled with wonder, feeling whole rather than broken.
The summer evening rides of my younger years were just such a time: lifted by such powerful grace and transported to another time and place. It can feel like flying but mostly it feels like an embrace, one creature with another, exploring the world together.
All these years later, I am held fast by the memories and in remembering, I weep.
Surely, someday, heaven will be something like this.
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground. The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars. ~James Agee
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I live a quiet life in a quiet place. There are many experiences not on my bucket list that I’m content to simply imagine.
I’m not a rock climber or a zip liner or willing to jump out of an airplane. I won’t ride a horse over a four foot jump or race one around a track. Not for me waterskis or unicycles or motorcycles.
I’m grateful there are those who are eagerly wired with alertness for the next experience: adventurers who seek out the extremes of life so the rest of us can sit back and admire their courage and applaud their explorations and achievement.
My mind’s eye and imagination is powerful enough, thanks to the words and pictures of others. I find I’m content to explore the corners of my quiet places, both inside and outside, to see what I can build from what I find right here under my nose.
When the light is right, and I’m open enough to it, what I see is ready to spring right out of the frame.
The difficulty to think at the end of day, When the shapeless shadow covers the sun And nothing is left except light on your fur—
….and August the most peaceful month.
To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time, And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light In which everything is meant for you And nothing need be explained;
How often do we miss the fainter note Or fail to see the more exquisite hue, Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet, Eyes fixed upon some other, further view. What chimes of harmonies escape our ears, How many rainbows must elude our sight, We see a field but do not see the grass, Each blade a miracle of shade and light. How then to keep the greater end in eye And watch the sunlight on the distant peak, And yet not tread on any leaf of love, Nor miss a word the eager children speak? Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart, To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part. ~Philip Britts “Sonnet 1”
I saw the lovely arch Of Rainbow span the sky, The gold sun burning As the rain swept by.
In bright-ringed solitude The showery foliage shone One lovely moment, And the Bow was gone. ~Walter De La Mare “The Rainbow”
We are born nearly blinded, focused solely on our emptiness – a hunger to be filled and our need to be held. As we grow, our focus sharpens to fall in love with those who feed and nurture us.
Eventually we discover, challenge and worship He who made us.
This world is often too much for us to take in as a whole — our exquisite view of shadow and light, color and gray, loneliness and embrace, sorrow and joy.
With more years and a broader vision, we scan for the finer details within the whole before it disappears with the changing light. Time’s a wasting (and so are we) as we try to capture it all with the lenses of our eyes and hearts.
The end of life comes too soon, when once again our vision blurs and the world fades away from view.
We hunger yet again to be filled and held.
And then heaven itself will seem almost too much to take in – our hearts full to bursting with light and promise for the rest of eternity.
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