All anyone wants to know is when spring will get here. To hell with dripping icicles, cold blue snow, silly birds too dumb to go south, and sunlight gleaming off rock-hard snowflakes. I’m sick of breathing air sharp as razor blades. I’m tired of feet as hard to move as two buildings. I refuse to be seduced by the pine tree blocking my path. Even though…just now, look how it moves, its needles rubbing the sky-blue day. The glow it has around its entire body. How perfectly it stands in the snow- drift. The way both our shadows cross the noon hour at once, like wings. ~Tom Hennen, “Adrift in the Winter” from Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems
I can be seduced by the glow induced by the low angle of the winter sun. It transforms all that is fog and gray and mist and drizzle into spun gold and glitter.
Like the birds who are foolish enough to remain up here through nor-easters and floods and snow drifts and ice storms, I too stick it out through winter, even though no one puts out suet cakes and sunflower seeds for me to feast on. I get my sustenance from the days slowly lengthening, giving the light even more opportunity to convince me that winter can be overwhelmingly irresistible … until it isn’t any longer.
Uh, how many more weeks until spring?
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of “No answer.”
It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze.
As though he shook his head not in refusal but waiving the question.Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable.
How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round?
Probably half the questions we ask – half our great theological and metaphysical problems – are like that. ~C.S. Lewis from A Grief Observed
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
And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life? ~Frederick Buechner from The Magnificent Defeat
God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows. ~Tim Keller
And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” ~Mary Oliver from Long Life
This morning, it is impossible to stay a silent observer of the world. I have to say something; I seek out answers to the unanswerable.
Overnight, our farm was covered with a freezing fog resembling a massive sponge soaking up all the light. A chill has returned: both in the air and in ongoing events in the headlines.
There can be no complacency in witnessing this life in progress. It blusters, rips, drenches, swallows up, buries. Nothing remains as it was.
Yet here I am, alive. Awed, a witness to another day. Called to ask questions and make a comment. Dying to hear a response.
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming
January’s drop-down menu leaves everything to the imagination: splotch the ice, splice the light, remake the spirit…
Just get on with it, doing what you have to do with the gray palette that lies to hand. The sun’s coming soon.
A future, then, of warmth and runoff, and old faces surprised to see us. A cache of love, I’d call it, opened up, vernal, refreshed. ~Sidney Burris “Runoff”
When I reach the end of January in all its grayest pallor, it is hard to imagine another six weeks of winter ahead. It can feel like nature offers only a few options, take your pick: a soupy foggy morning, a drizzly mid-day, a crisp northeast wind, an unexpected snow flurry, a soggy evening.
Every once in awhile the January drop-down menu will add a special surprise: icy spikes on grass blades, frozen droplets on birch branches, hair ice on wood, crystallized weeds like jewelry in the sun, a pink flannel blanket sunrise, an ocean-of-orange sunset.
Then I realize January’s gray palette is merely preparation for what has been hidden from me the whole time. There is Love cached away, and as it is revealed, it will not let me go.
O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, That in thy ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be.
O Joy that seeks me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain, And feel the promise is not vain, That morn shall tearless be. ~George Matheson
(“O Love” was inspired by the words of Scottish minister, George Matheson in 1882. Blinded at the age of nineteen, his fiancé called off their engagement and his sister cared for him as he endured new challenges. Years later, on the eve of his sister’s wedding, he faced the painful reminder of his own heartache and loss as he penned the words to this hymn.) from ElaineHagenborg.com
Make a one-time or recurring donation to Barnstorming
Heaven-invading hills are drowned In wide moving waves of mist, Phlox before my door are wound In dripping wreaths of amethyst.
Ten feet away the solid earth Changes into melting cloud, There is a hush of pain and mirth, No bird has heart to speak aloud.
Here in a world without a sky, Without the ground, without the sea, The one unchanging thing is I, Myself remains to comfort me. ~Sara Teasdale “White Fog”
We’ve had all-day fog up and down Puget Sound over the past few days, atypical for a Pacific Northwest winter. This is fog that literally drips from the trees and soaks like rain, swallowing up visible landscape, hushing bird song, erasing all color by homogenizing everything.
When not barn-bound in the winter, a foggy day means our horses are literally sucked up into the morning mist as I send them out one by one to the field from the barn. Stopping at the barn door, they sniff the wet air, hesitant to be turned out into the grey sea surrounding them. What could there be to eat out in this murk? Each one, when turned loose, would wander into the soup, disappearing, as if never to be seen again. One by one they wander out to look for their buddies, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, smelling nothing. They are lost and alone and bewildered until somehow they meet up out in the pasture, forming a pod of Haflingers.
I muse at their initial confusion and then their utter conviction there must be “something out there” worth finding. They are dependent on the usual cues–visual, auditory, olfactory–all limited in the fog. Instead they rely on some inner sonar to find each other and bunch together in a protective knot, drops of fog dew clinging to their manes, their eyelashes and their muzzle whiskers. As day wears on, the fog usually dissipates, their coats drying under a warming sun, and the colors of the fields and trees and chestnut horses emerge from the cocoon of haze.
This winter, I have felt lost in fog too. I’m disconnected from a regular work schedule since retiring as a physician, so am helping as a volunteer in a variety of service opportunities. I am still feeling afloat and circling somewhat aimlessly, searching for a touch point of purpose and direction. Every so often I bump into a fellow fog wanderer and we’ll knot together for a bit, relieved to be connected to something solid and familiar.
My isolation is likely a combination of pandemic limitations and my own self-absorbed state of mind, sucking me in deep, separating me from others, distancing me from joy. At times, I feel soaked, dripping and shivering. If I only had the faith shown by my horses in the mist, I’d charge into the fog fearlessly, knowing there are others out there ready to band together for company, comfort and support, awaiting the sun. When warming and rejuvenation do come, I hope it will be enough to dry my whiskers, put color back in my cheeks and refresh my hopes and dreams.
Most importantly, I am reminded yet again — no fog is forever.
An absolute patience. Trees stand up to their knees in fog. The fog slowly flows uphill. White cobwebs, the grass leaning where deer have looked for apples. The woods from brook to where the top of the hill looks over the fog, send up not one bird. So absolute, it is no other than happiness itself, a breathing too quiet to hear. ~Denise Levertov “The Breathing”
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support Barnstorming
I like these cold, gray winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood. ~Bill Watterson (Creator of Calvin and Hobbes)
Sometimes the mist overhangs my path, And blackening clouds about me cling; But, oh, I have a magic way To turn the gloom to cheerful day— I softly sing.
And if the way grows darker still, Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing, With glad defiance in my throat, I pierce the darkness with a note, And sing, and sing.
I brood not over the broken past, Nor dread whatever time may bring; No nights are dark, no days are long, While in my heart there swells a song, And I can sing. ~James Weldon Johnson “The Gift to Sing”
I can grumble and complain with the best of them. There is camaraderie in shared grumbling, as well as an exponential increase in dissatisfaction as everyone around me shares their own particular misery. Some relationships are based on just such collaborative complaining.
But I know better. I’ve seen where grousing leads and I feel the ache in my bones when I’m steeped in it. The sky gets grayer, the clouds become thicker, the night is darker–on and on to its overwhelming suffocating conclusion.
I have the privilege to turn away from being bleak and gloomy and choose joy. I can find the single ray of sun and stand steadfastly within it, to sing out that first note and pierce the darkness.
This is not me putting on a “happy face” — instead joy adopts and inhabits me, holds me close in the tough times and won’t abandon me. Though at times it may hide temporarily behind a cloud, I know it is there even when I can’t see it.
So I gently sing my way out of the gloom and clouds, for when I choose joy over grumbling, I find joy has chosen me.
So breaks the sun earth’s rugged chains, Wherein rude winter bound her veins; So grows both stream and source of price, That lately fettered were with ice. So naked trees get crisped heads, And colored coats the roughest meads, And all get vigor, youth, and spright, That are but looked on by his light. ~Ben Jonson “So Breaks the Sun”
May we sing together, always. May our voice be soft. May our singing be music for others and may it keep others aloft. Sing gently, always. Sing gently as one. May we stand together, always. May our voice be strong. May we hear the singing and May we always sing along. Sing gently, always. Sing gently as one. ~Eric Whitacre
Make a one-time or recurring donation to support daily Barnstorming posts
Autumn Was certainly not winter, scholars say, When holy habitation broke the chill Of hearth-felt separation, icy still, The love of life in man that Christmas day. Was autumn, rather, if seasons speak true; When green retreats from sight’s still ling’ring gaze, And creeping cold numbs sense in sundry ways, While settling silence speaks of solitude. Hope happens when conditions are as these; Comes finally lock-armed with death and sin, When deep’ning dark demands its full display. Then fallen nature driven to her knees Flames russet, auburn, orange fierce from within, And brush burns brighter for the growing grey. ~David Baird “Autumn”
We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Watch for the Light
The shepherds were sore afraid. So why aren’t we?
The scholars say Christ was most likely born in the autumn of the year ~ so fitting, as our reds and oranges fade fast to grey as we descend into this wintering world crying out for resuscitation.
Murderous frosts and falling snow have wilted down all that was flush with life and we become desperate for hope for renewal in the midst of the dying.
And so this babe has come like a refiner’s fire to lay claim to us and we who have gotten too comfortable will feel the heat of His embrace – in the middle of the chill, in the middle of our dying – no matter what time of year.
We don’t need to understand why a rainbow or fogbow is formed in order to appreciate its beauty, of course, but understanding the physics of rainbows does give us a new set of eyes. I call this the beauty of knowledge. ~Walter Lewin from For the Love of Physics
Ghaist o a gaw that few hae seen paintit on fog lyk a fugue o thi scheme Noah supposit thi Lord tae mean when aa were drooned, ither hauf o yin o His een thon runic roond.
Rope o smoke lyk a loop on a cable, Grisaille Cain tae thi rainbow’s Abel, ultra-blank tae infra-sable, auld noose o tow; Yin that’s strang whaur Yang is faible: faur are ye now? ~WN Herbert“The Fogbow” from Omnesia
(this is my best guess of the meaning of Herbert’s inventive English/Gaelic/Scottish)
Ghost of a rainbow bruise that few have seen painted on fog like a fugue of this scheme Noah supposed the Lord to mean when all were drowned the other half of the dark cold earth is a mysterious rune ruined.
A rope of smoke like a loop on a cable a gray pallid Cain to the rainbow’s Abel, outer-white to inner-black old noose in tow; the cold and dark is strong where warmth and light is feeble: where are you now?
Look at a rainbow. While it lasts, it is or appears to be, a great arc of many colours occupying a position out there in space…. And now, before it fades, recollect all you have ever been told about the rainbow and its causes, and ask yourself the question, Is it really there? You know from memory that if you walked to the place where the rainbow ends, or seems to end, it would certainly not be ‘there’. In a word, reflection will assure you that the rainbow is the outcome of the sun, the raindrops and your own vision. ~Owen Barfield writing about “The Rainbow”
We saw our first “fogbow” or “ghost rainbow” early yesterday on our morning walk. It happened as we were heading east toward the sun, with the fog thickening, filling in behind us. We had just turned around to check the road to be sure no cars were coming before we crossed to the other side and there was this spectral image of foggy columns curving upward over the road to barely touch one another at the top. As we moved away from it, it vanished, as they say, “into thin air.”
This is an unusual phenomenon where the light and moisture in the air needs to be just right – reading about the physics of the fogbow helps to explain it and to render it even more beautiful. But the knowledge of how it happens isn’t nearly as impactful as the fact it was there at all for us to witness. Without our vision, it wasn’t really “there.”
The “bruised” rainbow color in the sky is God’s Old Testament promise to Noah to never destroy the world by flood again, establishing an everlasting covenant with His people while giving us the capacity to witness His promise. Perhaps the fogbow is ghostly reminder of those who have perished, whose blood, like Abel’s, cried out to God from the earth.
But where are we now? Do we seek to understand, believing the promises God made to us? Or do we walk right past God and His miraculous physics of creation, oblivious to what would not even exist without our ability to see it?
Somewhere, over the fogbow, way up high…
If you enjoy these posts, this book from Barnstorming may be of interest for yourself or as a gift to someone who loves beautiful photography and words of wisdom (from Lois Edstrom) – available to order here:
There is something mysterious about fog. It whispered to Sandburg as it crept into the harbor
on little cat feet. It settles over Admiralty Inlet, a down comforter of relief on a simmering summer day.
It moves in quickly, a cool mist that settles lightly on our faces and arms as we trudge up the hill
toward home. Then the stillness, how it tamps down sound, reminding us to honor silence and drift
through an inner landscape of ideas, enter into the ethereal magic of another world,
as if we were birds soaring in clouds that have come down to enfold us,
quieting the minor furies we create. ~Lois Parker Edstrom from Glint (MoonPath Press, 2019)
And so you have a life that you are living only now, now and now and now, gone before you can speak of it, and you must be thankful for living day by day, moment by moment … a life in the breath and pulse and living light of the present… ~Wendell Berry from Hannah Coulter
~Lustravit lampade terras~ (He has illumined the world with a lamp) The weather and my mood have little connection. I have my foggy and my fine days within me; my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter. – Blaise Pascal from “Miscellaneous Writings”
The only thing more frightening than the unknown is the fear that the next moment will be just like the last or perhaps worse.
I tend to forget: the moment just passed can never be retrieved and relived.
Worry and sorrow and angst are more contagious than the latest viral scourge. I mask up and wash my hands of it throughout the day. I wish we could be vaccinated to protect us all from our unnamed fears.
I want to say to myself: Stop and acknowledge this moment in time. Stop wanting to be numb to all discomfort. Stop fearing the next moment. Just stop. Instead, simply be, now and now and now.
I need to know: this moment, foggy or fine, is mine alone, a down comforter of relief~ this moment of weeping and sharing and breath and pulse and light. I shout for joy in it even when sound is muffled in morning fog. It is to be celebrated. I mustn’t hold back.
A new book from Barnstorming (with poetry from today’s poet Lois Edstrom) can be ordered here: