How I loved those spiky suns, rooted stubborn as childhood in the grass, tough as the farmer’s big-headed children—the mats of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe. How sturdy they were and how slowly they turned themselves into galaxies, domes of ghost stars barely visible by day, pale cerebrums clinging to life on tough green stems. Like you. Like you, in the end. If you were here, I’d pluck this trembling globe to show how beautiful a thing can be a breath will tear away. ~Jean Nordhaus “A Dandelion for My Mother”
Vigil at my mother’s bedside (for Elna)
Lying still, your mouth gapes open as I wonder if you breathe your last. Your hair a white cloud Your skin baby soft No washing, digging, planting gardens Or raising children Anymore.
Where do your dreams take you? At times you wake in your childhood home of Rolling wheat fields, boundless days of freedom. Other naps take you to your student and teaching days Grammar and drama, speech and essays. Yesterday you were a young mother again Juggling babies, farm and your wistful dreams.
Today you looked about your empty nest Disguised as hospital bed, Wondering aloud about Children grown, flown. You still control through worry and tell me: Travel safely Get a good night’s sleep Take time to eat Call me when you get there
I dress you as you dressed me I clean you as you cleaned me I love you as you loved me You try my patience as I tried yours. I wonder if I have the strength to Mother my mother For as long as she needs.
When I tell you the truth Your brow furrows as it used to do When I disappointed you~ This cannot be A bed in a room in a sterile place Waiting for death Waiting for the next breath Waiting for heaven Waiting
And I tell you: Travel safely Eat, please eat Sleep well Call me when you get there.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. ~G.K. Chesterton from Orthodoxy
To an infant, nothing is monotonous — it is all so new. The routine of the day is very simple and reassuring: sleep, wake, cry, nurse, clean up, gaze out at the world, turn on the smiles –repeat.
The routine becomes more complex as we age until it no longer resembles a routine, if we can help it. We don’t bother getting up to watch the sun rise yet again and don’t notice the sun set once more.
Weary as we may be with routine, our continual search for the next new thing costs us in time and energy. We age every time we sigh with boredom or turn away from the mundane and everyday, becoming less and less like our younger purer selves.
Who among us exults in monotony and celebrates predictability and enjoys repetition, whether it is sunrise or sunset or an infinite number of daisies?
God does on our behalf as He sees our short attention spans. He remains consistent, persistent and insistent because we are no longer are.
Do it again, God. Please, please do it again.
This year’s Lenten theme on Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
Will You Come and Follow Me” (The Summons) by John Bell from the albumGod Never Sleeps
The Lyrics: Will you come and follow me If I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know And never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, Will you let me name be known, Will you let my life be grown In you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind If I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind And never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare Should your life attract or scare. Will you let me answer prayer In you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see If I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free And never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean, And do this as such unseen, And admit to what I mean In you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide If I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside And never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found To reshape the world around, Through my sight and touch and sound In you and you in me?
Lord, your summons echoes true When you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you And never be the same. In your company I’ll go Where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow In you and you in me.
Than these November skies Is no sky lovelier. The clouds are deep; Into their grey the subtle spies Of colour creep, Changing that high austerity to delight, Till ev’n the leaden interfolds are bright. And, where the cloud breaks, faint far azure peers Ere a thin flushing cloud again Shuts up that loveliness, or shares. The huge great clouds move slowly, gently, as Reluctant the quick sun should shine in vain, Holding in bright caprice their rain. And when of colours none, Not rose, nor amber, nor the scarce late green, Is truly seen, — In all the myriad grey, In silver height and dusky deep, remain The loveliest, Faint purple flushes of the unvanquished sun. ~John FreemanNovember Skies
The austerity of November: we are not yet distracted by the holiday lights of December so must depend upon the light show from the sky. I failed to rouse myself for the predicted northern lights in the middle of the night but sunrise comes at a civilized 7:30 AM. I’m too often buried deep in clinic when the lights dim at sunset before 4:30 PM.
Late November skies reward with subtlety and nuance, like people ripening with age — beauty is found amid myriad gray, the folds and lines shining with remembered light and depth.
On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress, grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car and headed north out of Seattle. I never looked back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months earlier to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health family practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle, now leaving the city for a new rural home and a very uncertain professional future.
Never before had I felt such exhilaration at breaking through one wall to discover the unknown that lay on the other side.
I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family had begun. We were going to actually live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with a few acres and a barn.
A real (sort of) starter farm.
Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two tortoise shell calico kitten sisters peering up at me, just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that admittedly impulsive commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed brand new.
I will never forget the feeling of freedom on that drive north out of the traffic congestion of the city. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential even though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting (the most diverse zip code in the United States): an ideal family practice with patients from all over the world: Muslims from the Middle East and Indonesia, Orthodox Jews, Italian Catholics, African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all into the Mazda and driven them north with me, I would have.
We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding an ethnic diversity of farm animals: Belgian Tervuren dog Tango, Haflinger horse Greta, Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Scottish Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. We soon added little brother Ben and seven years later, sister Lea. We settled happily into parenthood, our church community, serving on school and community boards, gardening, and enduring the loss of our parents one by one.
Thirty four years later our children have long ago grown and gone to new homes of their own, off to their own adventures beyond the farm. Our sons married wonderful women, moving far away from home, our daughter teaches a fourth grade classroom a few hours away and we have two grandchildren with the third expected any moment.
A few cats, two Cardigan Corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now both gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends. My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fit me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day for thirty years. With retirement looming, I’m trying out a three day a week schedule and the old sweater doesn’t fit quite so comfortably.
My happily retired husband finds he is busier than ever: volunteering, serving on boards and being a full time farmer on our larger 20 acre place of fields and woods.
That rainy Halloween day over three decades ago I was freed into a wider world. I would no longer sit captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams. Instead I celebrate my daily commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a broader community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano and teaching at church. Our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn, coyotes howling at night, Canadian and snow geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon becoming more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet us in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids us good night.
It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin sitting beside me in a little Mazda, my husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, thirty four years and three grown children and three (almost) grandchildren later, we celebrate this Halloween transition anniversary together. We’re still pregnant with the possibility that a wide world is waiting, just on the other side of the wall.
I want to be like water, go low where there is least resistance, loll in the vestibules of leaks, the flaws of casks, painlessly pool around rocks, unworried about which part of me splits off. I want to flow, drop by drop, with crown-shaped splatters, hang like a spangled globule on the oily feather of a bird, jewel-like in the sun, or be flung
in diamond-crested shakes by a wet dog. Let me be of a piece, the shape of shape- lessness, like my airy partner, the fog. Let me forget I’m caught in the trap of a body, that abyss of bone and blood inside my skin where I founder, drowning. ~Enid Shomer, “Shoreless” from This Close To the Earth
I’m of an age where I try not to look at my shape in the mirror too often. My reflection reminds me too much of the ravages of time and faltering self-discipline. The old gray mare ain’t what she used to be.
I was a skinny kid, so much so that my mother despaired of ever “fattening me up” with visits to the doctor and recommendations of high calorie supplements to add “meat to my bones.” I didn’t mind this plumping up at all, having been teased mercilessly at grade school that I was “Polebean Polis”. My overweight grandmother just shook her head at my mother and told me more than once about how skinny she was too as a kid and “look at me now.”
Grandma was right, particularly considering the challenges of post-childbirth and post-menopause. It takes lots of effort to keep from becoming “shapeless” when everything conspires to loosen, round out, sag, wrinkle and droop.
I like the thought that my shape is softened by the “fog” and water of time passing. I may not have the silhouette I used to have, or the firmness of muscle, nor can you easily count my ribs, but this is no trap I inhabit. It is merely temporary housing.
…the golden hour of the clock of the year. Everything that can run to fruit has already done so: round apples, oval plums, bottom-heavy pears, black walnuts and hickory nuts annealed in their shells, the woodchuck with his overcoat of fat. Flowers that were once bright as a box of crayons are now seed heads and thistle down. All the feathery grasses shine in the slanted light. It’s time to bring in the lawn chairs and wind chimes, time to draw the drapes against the wind, time to hunker down. Summer’s fruits are preserved in syrup, but nothing can stopper time. No way to seal it in wax or amber; it slides though our hands like a rope of silk. At night, the moon’s restless searchlight sweeps across the sky. ~Barbara Crooker “And Now it’s October” from Small Rain.
…but I do try to stopper time. I try every day not to suspend it or render it frozen, but like summer flower and fruit that withers, to preserve any sweet moment for sampling through stored words or pictures in the midst of my days of winter. I roll it around on my tongue, its heady fragrance becoming today’s lyrical shared moment, unstoppered, perpetual and always intoxicating.
Season of ripening fruit and seeds, depart; There is no harvest ripening in the heart.
Bring the frost that strikes the dahlias down In one cruel night. The blackened buds, the brown And wilted heads, the crippled stems, we crave – All beauty withered, crumbling to the grave. Wind, strip off the leaves, and harden, ground, Till in your frozen crust no break is found.
Then only, when man’s inner world is one With barren earth and branches bared to bone, Then only can the heart begin to know The seeds of hope asleep beneath the snow; Then only can the chastened spirit tap The hidden faith still pulsing in the sap. ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh“No Harvest Ripening“
Things on the farm are slowing down and withering; it is the natural way of October for all to fall to the ground to become soil again.
I know it doesn’t mean the end – there is still the vital seed and sap that lies dormant, waiting for the right moment to re-emerge, resurrect and live again.
I know this too about myself. Yet the dying-time-of-year doesn’t get easier as I age. It only becomes more real-time and vivid. The colors fade, the skin wrinkles and dries, the fruit falls unused and softening.
Our beauty, so evident only a short time ago, thrives inward, ready to rise again when called.
The neighbor’s horses idle under the roof of their three-sided shelter, looking out at the rain.
Sometimes one or another will fade into the shadows in the corner, maybe to eat, or drink.
Still, the others stand, blowing out their warm breaths. Rain rattles on the metal roof.
Their hoof prints in the corral open gray eyes to the sky, and wink each time another drop falls in. ~Jennifer Gray
The September rains have returned and will stay awhile. We, especially the horses, sigh with relief, as flies no longer crawl over their faces all day seeking a watery eye to drink from. With no flies around, there are also no longer birds tickling pony backs looking for a meal.
Our Haflingers prefer to graze under open gray skies not bothering to seek cover during the day; their mountain coats provide adequate insulation in a rain squall. Darkness descends earlier and earlier so I go out in the evening to find them standing waiting at the gate, ready for an invitation to come into the barn.
Their eyes are heavy, blinking with sleep; outside their muddy hoofprints fill with rain overnight.
It is a peaceful time for us no-longer-young ponies and farmers. We wink and nod together, ready for rain, ready for the night.