And Is it not enough that every year A richly laden autumn should unfold And shimmer into being leaf by leaf, It’s scattered ochres mirrored everywhere In hints and glints of hidden red and gold Threaded like memory through loss and grief, When dusk descends, when branches are unveiled, When roots reach deeper than our minds can feel And ready us for winter with strange calm, That I should see the inner tree revealed And know its beauty as the bright leaves fall And feel its truth within me as I am?
It is not yet enough. So I must try, In my poor turn, to help you see it too, As though these leaves could be as rich as those, That red and gold might glimmer in your eye, That autumn might unfold again in you, Feeling with me what falling leaves disclose. ~Malcolm Guite from “And is it Not Enough?”
As the rains return, and the leaves turn and fall, we shelter together, blessed by years and miles, our unknown becoming known, our understanding of nakedness breathed in silence.
Though we be gray as the clouds above, our hearts beat in synchrony each pulsing moment more sacred than our last.
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Every year the lilies are so perfect I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding the black, mid-summer ponds. Nobody could count all of them —
the muskrats swimming among the pads and the grasses can reach out their muscular arms and touch
only so many, they are that rife and wild. But what in this world is perfect?
I bend closer and see how this one is clearly lopsided — and that one wears an orange blight — and this one is a glossy cheek
half nibbled away — and that one is a slumped purse full of its own unstoppable decay.
Still, what I want in my life is to be willing to be dazzled — to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even to float a little above this difficult world. I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery. I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing — that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do. ~Mary Oliver “The Ponds”
Born as we are into a fallen world, this place originally meant to be pristine, without decay – we focus on the imperfection around us rather than the flaws in ourselves.
The mystery is: I know how incomplete, half chewed up and sinking in mire I am, yet I was created in the image of God and He looks at me as though I am whole and beautiful.
He made us in His mold that we promptly fractured, so He came to salvage His broken people. He made sure our flaws became nothing; His Light and glue and love are everything.
We drove across high prairie, the Mississippi behind us, nothing ahead for miles but sky,
a loamy sky, thick enough to put a trowel into, but off to the south clouds pulled
away from one another as if to stand back take a long look, and in that
space what light was left of the sun already gone below the horizon
flowed up and held there and we did too hold our breaths at the sudden beauty. ~Athena Kildegaard “We drove across high prairie…” from Cloves & Honey.
We didn’t drive this time; instead we boarded a plane with other masked people, holding our breath with the unfamiliarity of being so close to strangers— rather than a response to the beauty of what we saw.
The vast landscape appeared below rather than stretching out before us, its emptiness stark and lonely from the air as well as from the road.
We hold our breath, awed by the reality that we are truly here. Really here, one way or the other.
In two hours, rather than two days. Masked, but never blind to the beauty.
Under the harvest moon, When the soft silver Drips shimmering over the garden nights, Death, the gray mocker, Comes and whispers to you As a beautiful friend Who remembers.
Under the summer roses When the flagrant crimson Lurks in the dusk Of the wild red leaves, Love, with little hands, Comes and touches you With a thousand memories, And asks you Beautiful, unanswerable questions. ~Carl Sandburg, “Under the Harvest Moon”
As we enter the season of all that is lush and lovely which starts to wither and decay before our eyes, we know the flowers and trees aren’t alone. Death, whispering within its gray night’s cloak, has been stealing the young and old since time began, but never as boldly as during a pandemic. Millions of family members are left with nothing but bittersweet memories of their loved ones now buried deep.
The harvest moon – not nearly bright enough, as a poor reflection of the sun – mocks us who covet light during a rampage of contagious illness and death.
As we endure the searing beauty of yet another dying season, let us treasure those we protect through our care and concern. Let us cherish the memories of those we’ve lost. There can be only one answer to the unanswerable questions: Love itself died to become Salvation, an ever-sufficient Light that leads us home.
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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…
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“I make them warm to keep my family from freezing; I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.” –From the journal of a prairie woman, 1870
To keep a husband and five children warm, she quilts them covers thick as drifts against the door. Through every fleshy square white threads needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours count each small suture that holds together the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life. She pieces each one beautiful, and summer bright to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers the scraps grow to green birds and purple improbable leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold between the double stars, the wedding rings. ~Luci Shaw “Quiltmaker”
Perhaps the world was made this way: piecemeal, the parts fitting together exactly as if made for one another~ the unique, disparate and separate coming together in a glorious harmony.
The point of its creation is forever functional and full of love – a blanket of warmth and security for generations to come. Our legacy is to preserve this beauty arising from scraps, this broken stitched to broken in a tapestry holy and whole.
all quilts here are on display this week at the Northwest Washington Fair see previous year’s artwork here and here and here and here
This new Barnstorming book is like a quilt made of pieces of poetry and photographs – available for order here:
A lurking man in that half light, there where eye imagines sight, stops my heart until I see Lurking man is leaning tree.
What changed? The man? There was none. Tree? The tree was always there. Then me? I did not change. I came to see and what I saw, what was could be. ~Archibald MacLeish, from Collected Poems 1917 to 1982
Every day I look for what is obvious on the farm – the trees, the flowers, the animals, the clouds, the lighting – all the daily and mundane things surrounding me. More often than not, what I see is straight-forward, needing no extra mental processing or interpretation.
Occasionally, my mind’s eye sees more and I’m stopped in my tracks. What is it I’m seeing and how much am I simply imagining? I see what “could be” and that alone creates a new dimension to what, on the surface, is plain and simple. Suddenly what is plain becomes glorious – a flower is otherworldly, a cat transformed by light, a wet feather a thing of beauty, a tree moves and breathes as if it is on fire.
Because my mind’s eye wants to look deeper, I see more detail. Because I myself am complex, I seek out complexity. Because I need transformation and renewal, my mind seeks to transform and renew. Because nothing around me is quite as it seems on the surface, I am called upon to notice it, in its beauty and in its simplicity.
I am changed by imagining how glorious things could be.
Imagine what your mind’s eye can see in more Barnstorming photos in this book, available to order here:
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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At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your fists, your back, your brain, and then – and only then -it is handed to you.
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?
Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Why are we reading, if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage and the hope of meaningfulness, and press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and which reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? ~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”
Some days my voice feels so weakened I am unable to sing out from myself, knowing I have said too much that means so little.
I swing and I miss, over and over swishing the air – hoping, listening, looking, living for a connection made through sharing images and words.
I am bewildered by life most of the time – how figurative and literal smoke and haze can permeate and discolor our days and nights.
What I must do is lay bare the beauty I see, seeking a way to make a sad and suffering world less mystifying.
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of the gladiola open all down the long aisle of the stem
like a choral procession or the woody notes
of a flute opening one stop at a time. ~Linda Pastan “Gladiola”
Most flowers tempt our senses: the vibrant colors to the eye, the softness of the petals to the touch, the delicate fragrances wafting to the nose – even some have a piquant perfumed taste for the palate.
Yet how many blooms sound like an orchestra tuning in the wind?
A long gladiola stalk rises boldly, swaying in the breeze, each key blossom unfolding one by one in flowing overture.
When each is done with its own ruffled note, the next one opens to play its part.
The notes progress up the stem until the final chord is held ~fermata-like~ until performances commence again next summer.
I’ll be sure to reserve a front row seat.
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