Only More Mysterious

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I came here to study hard things – rock mountain and salt sea – and to temper my spirit on their edges.  “Teach me thy ways, O Lord” is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend.

These mountains — Mount Baker and the Sisters and Shuksan, the Canadian Coastal Range and the Olympics on the peninsula — are surely the edge of the known and comprehended world….

That they bear their own unimaginable masses and weathers aloft, holding them up in the sky for anyone to see plain, makes them, as Chesterton said of the Eucharist, only the more mysterious by their very visibility and absence of secrecy.
~Annie Dillard from Holy the Firm

 

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Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.
~Denise Levertov  “Witness”

 

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Even on the days like today when the mountain is hidden behind a veil of clouds, I have every confidence it is there.  It has not moved in the night, gone to another county, blown up or melted down.  My vision isn’t penetrating enough to see it through cloud cover today, but it will return to my line of sight, if not tomorrow, perhaps the next day.  I know this and have faith it is true.

On the days when I am not bothering to look for it, too preoccupied so walk right past its obvious grandeur and presence, then it is reaching out to me and calling me back.  There are times when I turn a corner on the farm and glance up, and there it is, a silent and overwhelming witness to beauty and steadfastness.  I literally gasp at not noticing before, at not remembering how I’m blessed by it being there even at the times I can’t be bothered.

It witnesses my lack of witness and, so mysterious, stays put to hold me fast yet another day.  And so I keep coming back to gaze, sometimes just at clouds, yearning to lift the veil, and lift my veil, just one more time.

 

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A Delicious Day

 

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I’m glad I am alive, to see and feel
The full deliciousness of this bright day,
That’s like a heart with nothing to conceal;
The young leaves scarcely trembling; the blue-grey
Rimming the cloudless ether far away;
Brairds, hedges, shadows; mountains that reveal
Soft sapphire; this great floor of polished steel
Spread out amidst the landmarks of the bay.
~William Allingham from “On a Forenoon of Spring”

 

Spring is wrapping itself up
in blue skies and cotton candy dawns,
rows of crop sprouts
dots of fruit among fresh leaves.
There is hope renewed here in water and landscape,
a foretaste of heaven.

 

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Freefall

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,

as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,

so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,

knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
~Denise Levertov

This week three local families find themselves in freefall,
losing a child to mangled metal,
one moment so much alive,
the next irretrievably gone.

It must feel like solid ground has dropped away
like those dreams of falling
when wakened by startled thud
upon a pillow.

May God’s embrace
cushion their hard landing,
His unearned grace sufficient
to keep them afloat in a vast ocean of tears.

It’s Life We Harvest

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vine maple WWU

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madrona tree berries –WWU

…still it’s not death that spends
So tenderly this treasure
To leaf-rich golden winds,
But life in lavish measure.

No, it’s not death this year
Since then and all the pain.
It’s life we harvest here
(Sun on the crimson vine).
The garden speaks your name.
We drink your joys like wine.
~May Sarton, from “The First Autumn”

burning bush-- WWU
burning bush– WWU
red fringed maple leaf --WWU
red fringed maple leaf –WWU

Is there something finished?  And some new beginning on the way?

I cried over beautiful things, knowing no beautiful thing lasts…
~Carl Sandburg, from “Falltime” and “Autumn Movement”

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WWU tree -Haskell Plaza

WWU tree

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WWU tree in Haskell plaza

I praise the fall:

It is the human season. On this sterile air
Do words outcarry breath: the sound goes on and on.
I hear a dead man’s cry from autumn long since gone.

I cry to you beyond upon this bitter air.
~Archiblad MacLeish from “Immortal Autumn”

College Way, WWU
College Way, WWU

 

 

 

The Bleeding Heart of Sunset

photo by Nate Gibson
photo by Nate Gibson

Very still and mild it was, wrapped in a great, white, brooding silence — a silence which was yet threaded through with many little silvery sounds which you could hear if you hearkened as much with your soul as your ears. The girls wandered down a long pineland aisle that seemed to lead right out into the heart of a deep-red, overflowing winter sunset.”
~ L.M. Montgomery from Anne of the Island

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If I can put one touch of rosy sunset into the life of any man or woman, I shall feel that I have worked with God.
~G. K. Chesterton

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photo by Nate Gibson
I wonder at a northwest sunset
evolving from gray haze to warm into golds,
then pinks and oranges to bleeding red. 
So too my heart overflows,
pulsing out the love
poured into me
from God’s endless grace.

I too,
once graying at the end of the day,
will be covered with roses.

Breaking Through the Ice

http://www.photo.accuweather.com

Freezing rain needs to happen every two or three years just to remind Pacific Northwesterners that regular rain isn’t such a bad thing.  We webfoot Washingtonians tend to grouse about our continuously gray cloud-covered bleak dreary drizzly wet mildew-ridden existence. But that’s not us actually grumbling.  That’s just us choosing not to exhibit overwhelming joy.  They don’t call Bellingham, the town ten miles from our farm,  the “city of subdued excitement” for no good reason.

So when the temperatures drop in our moderate climate and things start to ice up, or the snowflakes start to fall, we celebrate the diversion from rain.  Our children are out building snowmen when there is a mere 1/2 inch of snow on the ground, leaving lawns bare and green with one large snowman in the middle.  Schools start to cancel at 2 inches.  We natives are pitifully terrible snowy road drivers compared to the highly experienced (and at times overconfident) midwestern and northeastern transplants in our midst.

But then this little meteorologic phenomenon known as freezing rain and the resultant silver thaw happens.  It warms up enough that it really isn’t snowing but it also really isn’t raining because the temperatures are still subfreezing at ground level, so it spills ice drops from the sky–noisy little splatters that land and stay beaded up on any surface.  Branches become botanical popsicles, sidewalks become bumpy rinks, roads become sheer black ice, windows encase with textured glass twice as thick as usual.

So in the midst of this frozen concoction coming from the sky, I put off farm chores tonight as long as possible, knowing it would take major navigation aids to simply make my way out the back steps, across the sidewalk and down the hill, then up the slick cement slope to open the big sliding barn doors.  Chains on my muck boots help, to a degree.  The barn doors thankfully hadn’t iced together as they have in the past when the northeast wind blows freezing rain into the tiny gap between them, so by breaking foot holds into the ice on the cement, I was able to roll back the doors just enough to sneak through before shutting them quickly behind me, blocking the arctic wind blast.  Then I turned around to face the barn aisle and drink in the warmth of seven stalls of hungry Haflinger horsie bodies, noisily greeting me by chastising me for my tardiness in feeding them dinner.

Wintertime chores are always more time-consuming but ice time chores are even more so.  Water buckets need to be filled individually because the hoses are frozen solid.  Hay bales stored in the hay barn must be hauled up the slick slope to the horse barn.  Frozen manure piles need to be hacked to pieces with a shovel rather than a pitchfork.   Who needs a bench press and fancy weight lifting equipment when you can lift five gallon buckets, sixty pound bales and twenty pounds of poop per shovel full?  Why invest in an elliptical exerciser to get the aerobic work out in?  This farm life is saving me money… I think.

Once inside each stall, I take a moment to run my ungloved hand over a fluffy golden winter coat, to untangle a mane knot or two, and to breathe in sweet Haflinger hay breath from a velvety nose.   It is the reason I slide downhill and I land on my face pushing loads of hay uphill to feed these beloved animals, no matter how hazardous the footing or miserable the weather.  It is why their stalls get picked up more often than our bedrooms, their stomachs are filled before ours, and I pay for hoof trims for the herd rather than manicures and pedicures for the people residing in the house.

The temperatures will rise tomorrow, the overwhelming ice covering will start to thaw and our farm will be happily back to drippy and overcast.  No matter what the weather,  the barn will always be a refuge of comfort, even when the work is hard and the effort is a challenge for this middle aged farmer.

It’s enough to melt even the most grumbly heart and the thickest coating of ice.

A Special Place to See in the New Year

Nate's photo of the tree on the hill
Nate's photo of the tree on the hill

The past two weeks brought unusual snowfall to our part of the world.  Usually snow days in our county are blustery with the northeast wind causing bitter cold and snow drifts with horizontal snow blowing across the horizon–no lazy flat flakes slowly falling, no accumulation on tree branches,  plenty of sub-zero wind chill temperatures. But not this past week.  There were several  lovely wintry days with no wind whatsoever.

So we headed to our farm hill for sledding–a perfect way to end the year. In the past, on snowy New Year’s Eves we’ve had a bunch of families here to sled on the hill under a generator-lit light, then back to the house for soup and bread, hot cocoa and ice cream sundaes. Can life get any better than this?

Our hill is the highest point around for several miles and has been the scene of so many good memories over the years. It serves as observatory,  spectator point, a church without walls, a campsite, a place for quiet meditation, and maybe even a little romance now and then.

That lone fir tree at the top is a resting place for bald eagles, red-tailed hawk, and barn owls as they can scan for field critters easily from its branches. We find a treasure trove of feathers at its base and occasionally the furry carcass of a rabbit.

Each Easter we have dozens of neighbors and friends climb the hill very early on a sunny morning to sit on hay bales and celebrate our risen Lord. Birdsong blends with human song. The previous night a group of our childrens’ teenage friends gather on the dark hill around a bonfire in an Easter vigil, a tradition long observed in the early church, and something we find is a tangible reminder of our daily vigil waiting for the light.

Two months later we were on that same hill as part of a family hay crew, picking up the bales scattered randomly about the field. They were hauled down to the big red hay barn, and now we feed that same hay to our hungry Haflinger horses.

It is the training hill for our young Haflingers during the summer as they love to race up and down from barnyard to tree and back, strengthening their legs and improving their balance.

On July 4, a  gathering of families comes to our hill to watch the fireworks shot from the surrounding communities and homes up to 15 miles away.

We had a church picnic and wiener roast on the hill in mid-summer, followed by a worship service of song and devotions as the evening breezes cooled the fields around us.

Later in the summer, my sons watched a meteor shower with their friends in the middle of the night, and could actually see the Milky Way.  My daughter had a group of friends over to cook and camp out on the hill, somehow managing to stay up there despite loud coyote yips and whoops only yards away.

This fall, my husband and I climbed the hill to witness some incredible sunsets which seem to last forever when viewed from a high point, prolonging the dip of the sun below the horizon.

And two months ago, I was up on this same hill taking pictures of an amazing sunrise that was breathtaking and memorable..

This hill is meant to be shared, experienced, meditated about, prayed from, loved upon. We are grateful to steward it for these decades we are fortunate enough to dwell on this farm, and with that gratitude in mind, I share it with you, although you may live half a world away. There are times when I stand on that hill, when the air is so clear and the horizon so sharp,  I almost feel I can see half a world away.

If you look hard enough, you might just see me waving at you, wishing you well in a brand new year…

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