But For Rain…

Every valley drinks,
        Every dell and hollow:
    Where the kind rain sinks and sinks,
        Green of Spring will follow.
 
    Yet a lapse of weeks
        Buds will burst their edges,
    Strip their wool-coats, glue-coats, streaks,
        In the woods and hedges;

    But for fattening rain
        We should have no flowers,
    Never a bud or leaf again
        But for soaking showers;

    We should find no moss
        In the shadiest places,
    Find no waving meadow grass
        Pied with broad-eyed daisies:
 
    But miles of barren sand,

        With never a son or daughter,
    Not a lily on the land,
        Or lily on the water.
~Christina Georgina Rossetti from “Winter Rain” from  Poems of Christina Rossetti (1904)


Reading the news of ongoing drought in the U.S. Southwest being the worst in over a thousand years, I look at our over-filled Northwest rain gauges with renewed appreciation and gratitude. We’ve had more “fattening” rain than typical over the last several months, which at times resulted in devastating flooding and damage, impacting hundreds of homes and businesses. Yet, but for rain, we too would become miles and miles of barren sand, with nothing able to thrive and grow, no sons or daughters or the beauty of the lilies.

I love our “kind” rain: the wet, the drizzle, the mist, the gray, the clouds, the mud, the moss, the slosh and the “evening dews and damps.”

“In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea…”
The rain transfigures us all.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
                       His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
                       His day is marching on.

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
“As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
                       Since God is marching on.”

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
                       Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
                       While God is marching on.
~Julia Ward Howe (published 1862)

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A Cache of Love

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.

photo of hair ice in King County, Washington taken by Laura Reifel

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

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We Were All Beautiful Once

Everything in the garden is dead, killed by a sudden hard
freeze, the beans, the tomatoes, fruit still clinging to the
branches. It’s all heaped up ready to go to the compost
pile: rhubarb leaves, nasturtiums, pea vines, even the
geraniums. It’s too bad. The garden was so beautiful,
green and fresh, but then we were all beautiful once.
Everything dies, we understand. But the mind of the
observer, which cannot imagine not imagining, goes on.
The dynasties are cut down like the generations of grass,
the bodies blacken and turn into coal. The waters rise and
cover the earth and the mind broods on the face of the
deep, and learns nothing.
~Louis Jenkins, “Freeze” from Where Your House is Near: New and Selected Poems

This week was our first hard freeze of autumn, following on the heels of the worst flooding in a half century in our county. The land and all that grows here experienced a one-two punch – when the waters pulled back into the streams and rivers, what was left behind looked frozen, soaked and miserable. The people whose homes were devastated are so much more than miserable; they are mudding out by removing everything down to the studs to try to begin again. With hundreds of volunteers and disaster teams helping, there are piles of kitchen appliances, dry wall, carpet and every household item along the main streets of nearby towns, waiting to be hauled off.

Surveying our dying garden is small potatoes in comparison to a flooded town only a few miles away. The memories of how beautiful our garden was a 2-3 months ago is nothing in contrast to the families who lost their stored heirlooms and cherished memories to the muck and mire of deep waters.

But we are a resilient community. We are people of persistence and creativity and there will eventually be beauty again here. Driving on a newly opened road beside the still-surging river where a few days ago several feet of water covered a cornfield, I spotted a trumpeter swan, standing in glorious spotless white, picking her way through the mud-stained cornstalks, hoping to find something of value left behind in the devastation.

There is still hope; it did not wash away. We only need to use our imagination to find it.

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Most Poignant of All

In the years to come they will say,
“They fell like the leaves
In the autumn of nineteen thirty-nine.”
November has come to the forest,
To the meadows where we picked the cyclamen.
The year fades with the white frost
On the brown sedge in the hazy meadows,
Where the deer tracks were black in the morning.
Ice forms in the shadows;
Disheveled maples hang over the water;
Deep gold sunlight glistens on the shrunken stream.
Somnolent trout move through pillars of brown and gold.
The yellow maple leaves eddy above them,
The glittering leaves of the cottonwood,
The olive, velvety alder leaves,
The scarlet dogwood leaves,
Most poignant of all.


In the afternoon thin blades of cloud
Move over the mountains;
The storm clouds follow them;
Fine rain falls without wind.
The forest is filled with wet resonant silence.
When the rain pauses the clouds
Cling to the cliffs and the waterfalls.
In the evening the wind changes;
Snow falls in the sunset.
We stand in the snowy twilight
And watch the moon rise in a breach of cloud.
Between the black pines lie narrow bands of moonlight,
Glimmering with floating snow.
An owl cries in the sifting darkness.
The moon has a sheen like a glacier.
~Kenneth Rexroth, “Falling Leaves and Early Snow” from The Collected Shorter Poems.


These photos of our farm are from last week, before an atmospheric river fell in torrents from the sky. The downpour precipitated melting of new-fallen snow in the nearby Cascade mountains and foothills, with subsequent cresting of the rivers and streams in lower mainland British Columbia and our local counties over the weekend.

Before the storm hit us, these pictures depict a flood of golden sunshine in the late afternoon. It was the kind of saturation of light we all were needing, unaware that our skies and ground would soon be over-saturated with far too much water in a few days.

Our communities, both north and south of our nearby Canadian border, continue to reel from this unprecedented flood event, with roads impassable due to standing water and landslides, as well as whole towns evacuated by boat and homes and businesses will be uninhabitable for weeks, if not months.

The sun has returned now that the river in the sky has dried up, having dumped its load. We now wait for the waters and the misery to recede.

The scarlet red of the dying dogwood leaves are poignant indeed, but nothing like the poignancy of communities pulling together to restore normalcy after disaster. Churches have quickly become places of refuge for those who have no home this week and in the weeks to come.

Bless those who are able to help, if not with boats and muscle, then with donations:

The Whatcom Community Foundation Resilience Fund is targeting the local efforts as well as support of the Red Cross, critical in meeting all disaster needs everywhere.

Thank you for reading and praying for restoration for the affected Canadians and Americans.

Fallen Like the Trees

A gracious Sabbath stood here while they stood
Who gave our rest a haven.
Now fallen, they are given
To labor and distress.
These times we know much evil, little good
To steady us in faith
And comfort when our losses press
Hard on us, and we choose,
In panic or despair or both,
To keep what we will lose.

For we are fallen like the trees, our peace
Broken, and so we must
Love where we cannot trust,
Trust where we cannot know,
And must await the wayward-coming grace
That joins living and dead,
Taking us where we would not go–
Into the boundless dark.
When what was made has been unmade
The Maker comes to His work.

~Wendell Berry “Sabbaths, II”

This day, our community is recovering from yesterday’s devastating flooding with landslides and trees having fallen over power lines and roads.

Our local folks are miserable on top of the misery imposed by nearly two years of pandemic restrictions, supply chain issues, and now damage to homes, businesses and land.

Front line responders and health care workers step up yet again when needed but they are exhausted too – their branches torn away, their roots weakened by summer drought and now tested in the wind and storm water swirling about them.

So many fallen, so many broken, so many who feel they cannot trust their footing any longer. We feel our foundations slip away; we are unmade.

The Maker sets to work. He holds together what is asunder. He props up and restores with Love, through His people and through His Spirit within them.

Once again, we can Love when we cannot Trust. We can Trust what we cannot Know.

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Never Enough Light in November

Taken from our farm–cornfield stubble and feeding swans

That country where it is always turning late in the year.
That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist;
where noons go quickly,
dusks and twilights linger,
and midnights stay.
That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun.
That country whose people are autumn people,
thinking only autumn thoughts.
Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain.

~Ray Bradbury from The October Country

Just as a painter needs light
in order to put the finishing touches to his picture,
so I need an inner light,
which I feel I never have enough of in the autumn.
~Leo Tolstoy

A few days of heavy rain in November transforms our farm to mush. Puddles are everywhere, the ground is saturated and mushrooms are sprouting in the most unlikely places. It’s ideal weather for the trumpeter swans and snow geese who glean in the nearby harvested cornfields, filling up on dropped corn kernels. They fly overhead to head out to the fields, noisily honking, their wings swooshing the air as they pass over.

The wet weather means chores are more challenging on our farm. Some of the stalls in the barn have started to get moist from the rising ground water, so the Haflingers appreciate diving into fresh shavings for a good roll and shake. I can appreciate the relief they feel as I like getting back to solid footing too at the end of the day. Much of my day also seems to be spent navigating slippery slopes and muddy terrain, both real and figurative.

It isn’t always apparent what ground is treacherous from appearance alone. The grassy slope heading down to the barn from the house looks pretty benign until I start navigating in a driving rainstorm in the dark, and suddenly the turf becomes a skating rink and I’m finding I’m picking my way carefully with a flashlight. The path I seek is to find the patches of moss, which happily soak up the water like a sponge carpet-like, so not slick to walk on. Even if moss ordinarily is not a welcome addition to lawn or pasture–I appreciate it this time of year.

Another challenge is pushing a wheelbarrow with two 60 pound bales of hay back up that slope to the stalls for the day’s feeding. There is no traction underneath to help my feet stick to the ground for the push uphill. I can feel particularly foolish at this futile effort–my feet sometimes slide out beneath me, landing me on my knees down on the ground, soaked and humiliated, and the wheelbarrow goes skidding right back down to the barn door where it started.

Trusting the footing underneath my feet is crucial day to day. If I am to get work done most efficiently and make progress, I must have solid ground to tread. But the stuff of real life, like our farm’s ground, doesn’t come made to order that way. Some days are slick and treacherous, unpredictable and ready to throw me to my knees, while other days are simple, easy, and smooth sailing. Waking in the morning, I cannot know what I will face that day–whether I need my highest hip boots to wade through the muck or whether I can dash about in comfy house slippers. My attitude has something to do with it too–sometimes my “internal” footing is loose and slippery, tripping up those around me as well as myself. That is when I need most to plant myself in the solid foundation that I know will support me during those treacherous times. I need my faith, my need to forgive and experience forgiveness, my family holding me as I fall, and to help pick them up when they are down. Without those footings every day, I’m nothing more than a muddy soiled mess lying face down on the ground wondering if I’ll ever walk again.

There is good reason I end up on my knees at times. It is the best reminder of where I would be full time if it were not for stronger Hands that lift me up, clean me up and guide my footsteps all my days.

A book of beauty in words and photography, available for order here:

Almost Eternal, But Not Quite

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

Within the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

                                       The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

                      What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.
~Wendell Berry “VII”

What more did I think I wanted?

To know that as long as I’m able to hold on,
I can be a spot of light in a dark and bleak world.
Once I let go,
it is finished and worthwhile,
seeing His knowing smile.

A book of beauty in words and photography, available to order here:

And It Was Autumn…

it rained in my sleep
and in the morning the fields were wet
I dreamed of artillery
of the thunder of horses

in the morning the fields were strewn
with twigs and leaves
as if after a battle
or a sudden journey
I went to sleep in the summer
I dreamed of rain
in the morning the fields were wet
and it was autumn
~Linda Pastan “September” from Carnival Evening

photo by Harry Rodenberger

The dogs eat hoof slivers and lie under the porch.
A strand of human hair hangs strangely from a fruit tree
like a cry in the throat. The sky is clay for the child who is past
being tired, who wanders in waist-deep
grasses. Gnats rise in a vapor,
in a long mounting whine around her forehead and ears.

The sun is an indistinct moon. Frail sticks
of grass poke her ankles,
and a wet froth of spiders touches her legs
like wet fingers. The musk and smell
of air are as hot as the savory
terrible exhales from a tired horse.

At evening a breeze dries and crumbles
the sky and the clouds float like undershirts
and cotton dresses on a clothesline. Horses
rock to their feet and race or graze.
Parents open their shutters and call
the lonely, happy child home.
The child who hates silences talks and talks
of cicadas and the manes of horses.
~Carol Frost – lines from “All Summer Long” from Love and Scorn: New and Collected Poems.

I was one of those lonely but happy youngsters who dreamt of horses all summer long, immersed in my own made-up stories of forest rides on hidden trails, of spending hours decorating long manes and tails of golden horses, of performing daring rescues and races, of battles and bravery I didn’t experience in real life. The imaginings took me beyond the mundane into the fanciful where I could be completely lost until I was called to come in for dinner or return to the confines of a school classroom.

Some dreams do come true when you want them badly enough: I’ve now had decades gazing out at fields of grass with those thundering hooves, back-dropped by endless skies of ever-changing clouds. I’ve also found that fairy tales can have broken fences and growing manure piles.

It has been worth it for a kid whose own story bloomed when I became a wife, a mother, a physician and a horse farmer. As this summer yet again has transitioned to autumn, so does my story: it is full of aging horses and tired fields, yet still I find myself dreaming like a kid as I comb out those long flowing manes.

Consider this book of beautiful words and photography, available to order here:

We’ve Seen Nothing Yet

Enter autumn as you would 
a closing door. Quickly, 
cautiously. Look for something inside 
that promises color, but be wary 
of its cast — a desolate reflection, 
an indelible tint.
~Pamela Steed Hill  “September Pitch”

Summer begins to have the look
Peruser of enchanting Book
Reluctantly but sure perceives–
A gain upon the backward leaves

Autumn begins to be inferred
By millinery of the cloud
Or deeper color in the shawl
That wraps the everlasting hill.

The eye begins its avarice
A meditation chastens speech
Some Dyer of a distant tree
Resumes his gaudy industry.

Conclusion is the course of All
Almost to be perennial
And then elude stability
Recalls to immortality.
~Emily Dickinson
, Poem 65

This hot summer now wanes, wistful;
it has the look of packing up,
and moving on
without bidding adieu
or looking back over its shoulder.

I wave goodbye without regret; it leaves behind a hot mess
of burned landscape and drought.

Blustery winds have carried in darkening clouds
spread green leaves, chestnuts and walnuts everywhere,
loosened before their time.
Long overdue rain
gave us a good drenching
worth celebrating.

Overhead skies are heavily burdened
with clues of what more is coming:
earlier dusk,
the cool feel of moisture,
the deepening graying purplish hues,
the briskness of breezes.

There is no negotiation possible.
I steel myself and get ready,
wrapping myself in my perennial soft shawl of inevitability.

So autumn advances forth with its clouds,
taking up residence as summer moves out,
bringing its own unique plans for redecorating
using an array of hues and textures.

The truth is we’ve seen nothing yet.

You can find more beautiful photos and words in this Barnstorming book, available to order here:

What is Possible Within Us

Find a quiet rain.  Then a green spruce tree.  You will notice that nearly every needle has been decorated with a tiny raindrop ornament.  Look closely inside the drop and there you are. In color. Upside down. Raindrops have been collecting snapshots since objects and people were placed, to their surprise, here and there on earth.

…even if we are only on display for a moment in a water drop as it clings to a pine needle, it is expected that we be on our best behavior, hair combed, jacket buttoned, no vulgar language.  Smiling is not necessary, but a pleasant attitude is helpful, and would be, I think, appreciated.
~Tom Hennen from “Outdoor Photos”
from Darkness Sticks to Everything

… We are, as we have always been, dangerous creatures, the enemies of our own happiness. But the only help we have ever found for this, the only melioration, is in mutual reverence.

God’s grace comes to us unmerited, the theologians say. But the grace we could extend to one another we consider it best to withhold in very many cases, presumptively, or in the absence of what we consider true or sufficient merit (we being more particular than God), or because few gracious acts, if they really deserve the name, would stand up to a cost-benefit analysis. This is not the consequence of a new atheism, or a systemic materialism that afflicts our age more than others. It is good old human meanness, which finds its terms and pretexts in every age. The best argument against human grandeur is the meagerness of our response to it, paradoxically enough.

And yet, the beautiful persists, and so do eloquence and depth of thought, and they belong to all of us because they are the most pregnant evidence we can have of what is possible in us.
~ Marilynne Robinson from “What Are We Doing Here?”

These past two months I’ve been trudging along feeling overheated, dry and cranky from the lack of rain — each step an effort, each thought a burden, taking every opportunity to grump about myself, the weather, the pandemic, and my fellow man. 

Now that we finally have had a good rain over the last 12 hours, I am reminded I am now preserved in the camera eye of the raindrops I pass, if only for an instant – each snapping an instagram selfie photo of my attitude.

It wouldn’t hurt me to stop rolling my eyes and cringing at the world. I might even try on a smile in a spirit of grace and forgiveness, even if the events of the day may not call for it. At least those smiles, reflected in the lens of each raindrop, will soak the soil when it is let go to fall earthward.

Planting smiles drop by drop: this overnight rain is a gift of grace to heal my grumbles – pregnant evidence of the beauty possible within me.

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