I took the dog and went to walk in the auditorium of the woods, but not to get away from things. It was our habit, that was all, a thing we did on summer days, and much there was to listen to. A slight wind came and went in three birches by the pond. A crow uphill was going on about the black life it led, and a brown creeper went creeping up a brown trunk methodically with no record of ever having been understood by anyone. A woodpecker was working out a deep hole from the sound of it in a stand of dead trees up there. And then a jay, much put upon, complained about some treachery it may or may not have endured, though most are liars anyway. The farther in, the quieter, till only the snapping of a stick broke the silence we were in. The dog stood still and looked at me, the woods by then already dark. Much later, on the porch at night, I heard the owl, an eldritch thing. The dog, still with me, heard it too, a call that came from where we’d been, and where we would not be again. ~John Foy, “Woods,” from Night Vision
We live near fields and woods so the evening walks we take with the dogs are listening walks. There is always plenty to hear.
It is an immense relief to hear something other than the talking heads on TV or podcasts. The voices we hear in the woods are unconcerned about upcoming elections, pandemics or the state of the economy.
I listen for the sound of breezes rustling the tree branches, the crunch of sticks and dry leaves under my boots, and more often than not, the woodpeckers tapping away at tree trunks, eagles chittering from the treetops, and unseen owls visiting back and forth from their hidey-holes. The red-tailed hawks scream out warnings as they float from tree top to tree top, particularly upset that we’ve brought along the corgis into their territory.
So, like the outside world, this woods has its own talking heads and drama, but I know who I will listen to and where I prefer to hang out if given a choice. I understand I’m only a visitor to their world and will be invited back only as long as we tread softly.
Every night, no matter where I am when I lie down, I turn my back on half the world.
At home, it’s the east I ignore, with its theatres and silverware, as I face the adventurous west.
But when I’m on the road in some hotel’s room 213 or 402 I could be pointed anywhere,
yet I hardly care as long as you are there facing the other way so we are defended in all degrees
and my left ear is pressing down as if listening for hoof beats in the ground. ~Billy Collins “Sleeping on My Side” from Whale Day and Other Poems
It seems amazing we can actually sleep at all, knowing all the hazards out there beyond the bedroom walls
– whether it is pandemic viral particles floating in the air, or pollution from wildfires, or ozone layer depletion or “the-big-one-any-moment” earthquake, or an errant nuclear missile launch, or bands of roving bandits –
it is a wonder we can quiet our minds at all.
When I was about 8 years old, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I didn’t sleep for several days, fearful if I slept, then the world would end and me with it, without even knowing the bomb had hit. Somehow, my staying awake saved the world from destruction and no one, not one single person, ever thanked me for it.
There is always so terribly much to fear if you really think about it. We are constantly lying with our ears to the ground, listening for the hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, wondering how close they have come to our bedside.
These days I take comfort in knowing I don’t always need to be on high alert. I know, in fact, His eye is on the sparrow and He watches over me.
Light wakes us – there’s the sun climbing the mountains’ rim, spilling across the valley, finding our faces. It is July, between the hay and harvest, a time at arm’s length from all other time…
It is the time to set aside all vigil, good or ill, to loosen the fixed gaze of our attention as dandelions let seedlings to the wind. Wake with the light. Get up and go about the day and watch its surfaces that brighten with the sun. ~Kerry Hardie from “Sleep in Summer”
Saying good-bye to July is admitting summer is already half-baked and so are we– we are still doughy and not nearly done enough.
The rush to autumn is breathless. We want to hold on tight to our longish days and our sweaty nights for just a little while longer…
Please, oh please grant us light and steady us for the task of getting ready and letting go.
Who would have thought it possible that a tiny little flower could preoccupy a person so completely that there simply wasn’t room for any other thought? ~ Sophie Scholl from At the Heart of the White Rose
Little flower, but if I could understand what you are, root and all in all, I should know what God and man is. ~ Tennyson
There are days we live⠀ as if death were nowhere⠀ in the background; from joy⠀ to joy to joy, from wing to wing,⠀ from blossom to blossom to⠀ impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.⠀ ~Li-Young Lee from “From Blossoms”
Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the tree house; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape… ~Harper Lee from “To Kill a Mockingbird”
I seek relief anywhere it can be found: this parched landscape fills with anger and lashing out, division and distrust, discouragement and disparity.
I want to live again as if death is not in the background of overflowing ICUs and irrational shootings.
I want to be so preoccupied with the medley of beauty around me, there can be no room for other thoughts.
I want to understand how God still loves man even when we turn away.
I want to revel in the impossible possible, in a variegated kaleidoscope of colors prepared to bloom bountiful in an overwhelming tapestry of unity.
She lay on her back in the timothy and gazed past the doddering auburn heads of sumac.
A cloud – huge, calm, and dignified – covered the sun but did not, could not, put it out.
The light surged back again. Nothing could rouse her then from that joy so violent it was hard to distinguish from pain. ~Jane Kenyon, “The Poet at Ten” from The Best Poems of Jane Kenyon
I have a mare who journeyed as a foal from overseas alongside her mother, a difficult immigration to a new life and farm, followed by the drama of weaning and separation, then introduced to a new herd who didn’t speak her language so she couldn’t always understand what was being said.
She was shy and fearful from the beginning, knowing she didn’t belong, worried about doing the wrong thing, cringing when others laid back ears at her or bared their teeth, she always hung back and let others go first, waiting hungry and thirsty while others had their fill.
What she did best was be a mother herself, devoting herself to the care of her foals, as they became the light of her life though still covered with the cloud of not belonging, she grieved loudly at their weanling goodbyes.
Still, two decades later, in her retirement, she is shy and submissive, still feeling foreign, as if she never quite fit in, always letting others go first, concerned about making a misstep.
I think of her as an immigrant who never felt at home unless she had a baby at her side~ to live alongside one to whom she finally belonged: how does one measure the pain of true joy and love while knowing the violence of separation is inevitable?
thank you to Lea Gibson Lozano and Emily Vander Haak for their photos of Belinda and her babies
Because I have come to the fence at night, the horses arrive also from their ancient stable. They let me stroke their long faces, and I note in the light of the now-merging moon
how they, a Morgan and a Quarter, have been by shake-guttered raindrops spotted around their rumps and thus made Appaloosas, the ancestral horses of this place.
Maybe because it is night, they are nervous, or maybe because they too sense what they have become, they seem to be waiting for me to say something
to whatever ancient spirits might still abide here, that they might awaken from this strange dream, in which there are fences and stables and a man who doesn’t know a single word they understand. ~Robert Wrigley “After a Rainstorm”from Beautiful Country
Haflinger horses must have a migration center in their brain that tells them that it is time to move on to other territory, a move based on quality of forage, the seasons, or maybe simply a sudden urge for a change in scenery. I imagine, over hundreds of years of living in the rather sparse Alpen meadows, they needed to move on to another feeding area enmasse on a pretty regular basis, or if the weather was starting to get crummy. Or perhaps the next valley over had a better view, who knows? Trouble is, my Haflingers seem to have the desire to “move to other pastures” even if the grass in their own territory is plentiful and the view is great. And there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of natural or man-made barrier that will discourage them.
I have a trio of geldings (the “Three Musketeers”) who are particularly afflicted with wanderlust. There is not a field yet that has held them when they decide together that it is time to move on. We are a hotwire and white tape fenced farm–something that has worked fairly well over the years, as it is inexpensive, easily repaired and best of all, easily moved if we need to change the fencing arrangement in our pasture rotation between five different 2 acre pastures. Previous generations of Haflingers have tested the hotwire and learned not to bother it again. No problem. But not the Three Musketeers.
They know when the wire is grounding out somewhere, so the current is low. They know when the weather is so dry that the conduction is poor through the wire. They know when I’ve absent mindedly left the fencer unplugged because I’ve had someone visit and we wanted to climb unshocked through the fences to walk from field to field. These three actually have little conferences out in the field together about this–I’ve seen them huddled together, discussing their strategy, and fifteen minutes later, I’ll look out my kitchen window and they are in another field altogether and the wire and tape is strewn everywhere and there’s not a mark on any of them. Even more mysteriously, often I can’t really tell where they made their escape as they leave no trace–I think one holds up the top wire with his teeth and the others carefully step over the bottom wire. I’m convinced they do this just to make me crazy.
Last night, when I brought them in from a totally different field from where they had started in the morning, they all smirked at me as they marched to their stalls as if to say, “guess what you have waiting for you out there.” It was too dark to survey the damage last night but I got up extra early to check it out this morning before I turned them out again.
Sure enough, in the back corner of the field they had been put in yesterday morning, (which has plenty of grass), the tape had been stretched, but not broken, and the wires popped off their insulators and dragging on the ground and in a huge tangled mass. I enjoyed 45 minutes of Pacific Northwest cloudy morning putting it all back together. Then I put them out in the field they had escaped to last night, thinking, “okay, if you like this field so well, this is where you’ll stay”.
Tonight, they were back in the first field where they started out yesterday morning. Just to make me crazy. They are thoroughly enjoying this sport. I’m ready to buy a grand poobah mega-wattage fry-their-whiskers fence charger.
But then, I’d be spoiling their fun and their travels. As long as they stay off the road, out of our garden, and out of my kitchen, they can have the run of the place. I too remember being afflicted with wanderlust, long long ago, and wanting to see the big wide world, no matter what obstacles had to be overcome or shocks I had to endure to get there. And I got there after all that trouble and effort and realized that home was really where I wanted to be. Now, prying me away from my little corner of the world gets more difficult every year. I hope my Haflinger trio will eventually decide that staying home is the best thing after all.
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one … I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. ~Maya Angelouon her 70th birthday, citing a quote from Carl Buehner
I learned from my mother how to love the living, to have plenty of vases on hand in case you have to rush to the hospital with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole grieving household, to cube home-canned pears and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point. I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know the deceased, to press the moist hands of the living, to look in their eyes and offer sympathy, as though I understood loss even then. I learned that whatever we say means nothing, what anyone will remember is that we came. I learned to believe I had the power to ease awful pains materially like an angel. Like a doctor, I learned to create from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once you know how to do this, you can never refuse. To every house you enter, you must offer healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself, the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch. ~Julie Kasdorf– “What I Learned from my Mother”
Usually a mom knows best about these things — how to love others when and how they need it and how to ease pain, not become one. We don’t always get it right though, and dads can do it better.
Showing up with food is always a good thing but it is the showing up part that is the real food; bringing along a cake is simply the icing.
This is a good reminder that as a doctor, my usefulness has tended to depend on another’s suffering. No illness, no misery, no symptoms and I’m out of a job. I can only hope that someday that might be the case. What a world it would be, especially as now suffering is universal.
And then I can still be a mom and grandmom even if there is no more doctor work to be done: ….if I’d known it could help, I’d have baked a cake and shown up with it…
No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I begin to see it even with my waking eyes, and all else fades. ~J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings
Frodo is a study of a hobbit broken by a burden of fear and horror— broken down, and in the end made into something quite different. Frodo undertook his quest out of love– to save the world he knew from disaster at his own expense, if he could; and also in complete humility, acknowledging that he was wholly inadequate to the task His real contract was only to do what he could, to try to find a way, and to go as far on the road as his strength of mind and body allowed. He did that. ~J.R.R. Tolkien
We are regularly called to do more than we feel capable of accomplishing. Whether we are in the midst of a crisis of confidence, feeling beaten down, physically and emotionally vulnerable, or just plain scared – it is tempting to shrink away from doing what is needed.
Our call to obedience may not be quite as dramatic as Frodo’s monumental task of saving the world from destruction by evil forces — it may simply be getting out of bed and facing the day despite pain and overwhelming sorrow — but it takes no less courage and strength.
We are equipped by the intimacy of the Word of God speaking to each of us individually, instructing us on how to live these days we are given.
Like Frodo, we are to do what we can, to find a way through darkness and fire and threat, and to go down that road as far as our minds and bodies allow. We are inadequate by ourselves, but we are bolstered by the constancy of God alongside. We never travel alone.
Like the small soft unchanging flower The words in silence speak; Obedient to their ancient power The tear stands on my cheek.
Though our world burns, the small dim words Stand here in steadfast grace, And sing, like the indifferent birds, About a ruined place.
Though the tower fall, the day be done, The night be drawing near, Yet still the tearless tune pipes on, And still evokes the tear.
The tearless tune, wiser than we, As weak and strong as grass Or the wild bracken-fern we see Spring where the palace was. ~Ruth Pitter “On an Old Poem”from Poems 1926-1966
When I write a poem, sometimes, there is a kind of daze that lifts, and I can see what I couldn’t before, as if my mind was in a fog, a cloud, and only wanted
a poem to lift it out. I wanted the rhythm, just the right word, the crescendo from whisper to loud celebration, and found them in the days of trying poems. And I don’t mind telling you: poetry has brought complacency
to a (wanted) end, turned upside-down days aright, settled my unquiet mind, and allowed me to clearly see. ~Monica Sharmanfrom “What Poetry Can Do”
When the world is topsy-turvy and all seems immersed in fog and cobwebs, it helps to put down images and words to clarify and highlight.
Daily I need reminding to stay centered, daily I acknowledge what makes me weep and what is worth celebration.
It is a new day to illustrate with words and pictures what is unchanging in my life: thank God for a new day, everyday.
God keep my jewel this day from danger; From tinker and pooka and bad-hearted stranger. From harm of the water, from hurt of the fire. From the horns of the cows going home to the byre. From the sight of the fairies that maybe might change her. From teasing the ass when he’s tied to the manger. From stones that would bruise her, from thorns of the briar. From evil red berries that wake her desire. From hunting the gander and vexing the goat. From the depths o’ sea water by Danny’s old boat. From cut and from tumble, from sickness and weeping; May God have my jewel this day in his keeping. ~Winifred Lett (1882-1973) Prayer for a Child
This prayer has hung in our home for almost three decades, purchased when I was pregnant with our first child. When I first saw it with its drawing of the praying mother watching her toddler leave the safety of the home to explore the wide world, I knew it addressed most of my worries as a new mother, in language that helped me smile at my often irrational fears. I would glance at it dozens of time a day, and it would remind me of God’s care for our children through every scary thing, real or imagined.
And I continue to pray for our grown children, their spouses, and now for three precious grandchildren who live far from us. I do this because I can’t help myself but do it, and because I’m helpless without the care and compassion of our sovereign God.
Right now, this week, I pray for all children who are growing up in an increasingly divisive and conflicted world, who cannot understand why skin color should make a difference to one’s hopes and dreams and freedom to walk anywhere without feeling threatened.
May I be changed in my prayers. May we all be changed, in a twinkling of an eye.
I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time — waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God — it changes me. ~C.S. Lewis