Even without family gathered around us this day, we do have each other and that is a blessing in and of itself. May we revel in our thanksgiving feast for two because, through thick and thin and COVID, we are still together.
I stop the car along the pasture edge, gather up bags of corncobs from the back, and get out. Two whistles, one for each, and familiar sounds draw close in darkness— cadence of hoof on hardened bottomland, twinned blowing of air through nostrils curious, flared. They come deepened and muscular movements conjured out of sleep: each small noise and scent heavy with earth, simple beyond communion, beyond the stretched-out hand from which they calmly take corncobs, pulling away as I hold until the mid-points snap. They are careful of my fingers, offering that animal-knowledge, the respect which is due to strangers; and in the night, their mares’ eyes shine, reflecting stars, the entire, outer light of the world here. ~Jane Hirshfield “After Work”from Of Gravity and Angels.
I’ve been picking up windfall apples to haul down to the barn for a special treat each night for the Haflingers. These are apples that we humans wouldn’t take a second glance at in all our satiety and fussiness, but the Haflingers certainly don’t mind a bruise, or a worm hole or slug trails over apple skin.
I’ve found over the years that our horses must be taught to eat apples–if they have no experience with them, they will bypass them lying in the field and not give them a second look. There simply is not enough odor to make them interesting or appealing–until they are cut in slices that is. Then they become irresistible and no apple is left alone from that point forward.
When I offer a whole apple to a young Haflinger who has never tasted one before, they will sniff it, perhaps roll it on my hand a bit with their lips, but I’ve yet to have one simply bite in and try. If I take the time to cut the apple up, they’ll pick up a section very gingerly, kind of hold it on their tongue and nod their head up and down trying to decide as they taste and test it if they should drop it or chew it, and finally, as they really bite in and the sweetness pours over their tongue, they get this look in their eye that is at once surprised and supremely pleased. The only parallel experience I’ve seen in humans is when you offer a five month old baby his first taste of ice cream on a spoon and at first he tightens his lips against its coldness, but once you slip a little into his mouth, his face screws up a bit and then his eyes get big and sparkly and his mouth rolls the taste around his tongue, savoring that sweet cold creaminess. His mouth immediately pops open for more.
It is the same with apples and horses. Once they have that first taste, they are our slaves forever in search of the next apple.
The Haflinger veteran apple eaters can see me coming with my sweat shirt front pocket stuffed with apples, a “pregnant” belly of fruit, as it were. They offer low nickers when I come up to their stalls and each horse has a different approach to their apple offering.
There is the “bite a little bit at a time” approach, which makes the apple last longer, and tends to be less messy in the long run. There is the “bite it in half” technique which leaves half the apple in your hand as they navigate the other half around their teeth, dripping and frothing sweet apple slobber. Lastly there is the greedy “take the whole thing at once” horse, which is the most challenging way to eat an apple, as it has to be moved back to the molars, and crunched, and then moved around the mouth to chew up the large pieces, and usually half the apple ends up falling to the ground, with all the foam that the juice and saliva create. No matter the technique used, the smell of an apple as it is being chewed by a horse is one of the best smells in the world. I can almost taste the sweetness too when I smell that smell.
What do we do when offered such a sublime gift from someone’s hand? If it is something we have never experienced before, we possibly walk right by, not recognizing that it is a gift at all, missing the whole point and joy of experiencing what is being offered. How many wonderful opportunities are right under our noses, but we fail to notice, and bypass them because they are unfamiliar?
Perhaps if the giver really cares enough to “teach” us to accept this communion meal, by preparing it and making it irresistible to us, then we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the generosity and are transformed by the simple act of receiving.
We must learn to take little bites, savoring each piece one at a time, making it last rather than greedily grab hold of the whole thing, struggling to control it, thereby losing some in the process. Either way, it is a gracious gift, and it is how we receive it that makes all the difference.
It was solid hedge, loops of bramble and thorny as it had to be with its berries thick as bumblebees. It drew blood just to get there, but I was queen of that place, at ten, though the berries shook like fists in the wind, daring anyone to come in. I was trying so hard to love this world—real rooms too big and full of worry to comfortably inhabit—but believing I was born to live in that cloistered green bower: the raspberry patch in the back acre of my grandparents’ orchard. I was cross- stitched and beaded by its fat, dollmaker’s needles. The effort of sliding under the heavy, spiked tangles that tore my clothes and smeared me with juice was rewarded with space, wholly mine, a kind of room out of the crush of the bushes with a canopy of raspberry dagger-leaves and a syrup of sun and birdsong. Hours would pass in the loud buzz of it, blood made it mine—the adventure of that red sting singing down my calves, the place the scratches brought me to: just space enough for a girl to lie down. ~Karin Gottshall “The Raspberry Room” from “Crocus”
The raspberry bushes are worth exploring, despite the scratches required to be there. The reward for drawing blood is finding a sweetness hidden away which no one else can see: a lady beetle circumnavigating a tiny golden globe.
We walked at the edge of the sea, the dog, still young then, running ahead of us.
Few people. Gulls. A flock of pelicans circled beyond the swells, then closed their wings and dropped head-long into the dazzle of light and sea. You clapped your hands; the day grew brilliant.
Later we sat at a small table with wine and food that tasted of the sea.
A perfect day, we said to one another, so that even when the day ended and the lights of houses among the hills came on like a scattering of embers, we watched it leave without regret.
That night, easing myself toward sleep, I thought how blindly we stumble ahead with such hope, a light flares briefly—Ah, Happiness! then we turn and go on our way again.
But happiness, too, goes on its way, and years from where we were, I lie awake in the dark and suddenly it returns— that day by the sea, that happiness,
though it is not the same happiness, not the same darkness. ~Peter Everwine, “The Day,” from New Letters
The traumas of the past may revisit me in the night as they linger in the fringes of my mind, ready to creep back into my consciousness in times of stress. When I feel vulnerable and weak, I remind myself that past darkness must not overpower my nights. I try to call up different memories to push the sadness or fear back to the periphery.
So I return to my visits to the sea.
During those halcyon days, I was surrounded by beauty, of peacefulness, of family come together in warmth and closeness. Those times we’ve spent on the coast are treasures to open when I need them — breathing deeply of the sea, hearing the rhythm of the waves and feeling the cool breezes once again on my skin.
The memories themselves become precious reservoirs of happiness – readily renewed and refreshed. The darkness is overwhelmed, no longer overwhelming. Instead, it retreats from the shore of my mind like a wave pulls back into the depths of an endless sea.
After dinner, I try to digest kale and cauliflower in my longing to live longer, and a root-beer float in case my world ends tomorrow.
I play the gamble game with exercise and diet, reminded daily by obituaries featuring people younger than me: the impossible becoming likely.
I want to go out full, embraced by my life, the grand quilt of being here. Yet memories are remnants, and come one patch at a time. And like moments, most fade unnoticed.
After a storm, I take a walk. At the jasmine vine by my front door, a raindrop, suspended on a stem, stops me. What I want, what I can have, merge. ~Jeanie Greensfelder “What I Want and What I Can Have” from I Got What I Came For
My life looks like a quilt of patches and patterns, sometimes with no discernible plan or design, sometimes with distinct colors and borders and purpose.
I easily get lost in a maze of moments and memories searching for what I want, missing the point of embracing all the senses I have, so generously given to me at the Beginning.
Seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching: each is still available to me. What I have – miraculously – can become what I want.
God put the rainbow in the clouds, not just in the sky…. It is wise to realize we already have rainbows in our clouds, or we wouldn’t be here. If the rainbow is in the clouds, then in the worst of times, there is the possibility of seeing hope…. We can say, ‘I can be a rainbow in the clouds for someone yet to be.’ That may be our calling. ~Maya Angelou (Harrisburg Forum, November 30, 2001)
Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray. ~Lord Byron
Painting the indescribable with words necessitates subtlety, sound and rhythm. The best word color portraits I know are by Gerard Manley Hopkins who described what he saw using startling combinations: “crimson-cresseted”, “couple-colour”, “rose-moles”, “fresh-firecoal”, “adazzle, dim”, “dapple-dawn-drawn”, “blue-bleak embers”, “gash gold-vermillion”.
My facility with words doesn’t measure up so I rely on pictures to show the hope I see when I look at the sky. I keep reaching for the rainbow hiding within the clouds, searching for the prophetic promise that preserves my days and nights forever.
After all, in the beginning was the Word, and no one says it better than He does.
The lawyer told him to write a letter to accompany the will, to prevent potential discord over artifacts valued only for their sentiment.
His wife treasures a watercolor by her father; grandmama’s spoon stirs their oatmeal every morning. Some days, he wears his father’s favorite tie.
He tries to think of things that could be tokens of his days: binoculars that transport bluebirds through his cataracts
a frayed fishing vest with pockets full of feathers brightly tied, the little fly rod he can still manipulate in forest thickets,
a sharp-tined garden fork, heft and handle fit for him, a springy spruce kayak paddle, a retired leather satchel.
He writes his awkward note, trying to dispense with grace some well-worn clutter easily discarded in another generation.
But what he wishes to bequeath are items never owned: a Chopin etude wafting from his wife’s piano on the scent of morning coffee
seedling peas poking into April, monarch caterpillars infesting milkweed leaves, a light brown doe alert in purple asters
a full moon rising in October, hunting-hat orange in ebony sky, sunlit autumn afternoons that flutter through the heart like falling leaves. ~Raymond Byrnes “Personal Effects” from Waters Deep
We’ve seen families break apart over the distribution of the possessions of the deceased. There can be hurt feelings, resentment over perceived slights, arguments over who cared most and who cared least.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen with our parents’ belongings. There had been a slow giving away process as their health failed and they needed to move from larger spaces to smaller spaces. Even so, no one was eager to take care of the things that had no particular monetary or sentimental value. We still have boxes and boxes of household and personal items sitting unopened in storage on our farm for over a decade. Each summer I think I’ll start the sorting process but I don’t. My intentions are good but my follow-through is weak.
So my husband and I have said to each other and our children that we don’t want to leave behind stuff which ultimately has little meaning in a generation or two. We need now to do the work it takes to make sure we honor that promise.
There is so much we would rather bequeath than just stuff we own. It can’t be stored in boxes or outlined in our wills: these are precious possessions that don’t take up space. Instead, we bequeath our love of simple everyday blessings, while passing down our faith in God to future generations.
May our memories be kept alive through stories about the people we tried to be in this life, told to our grandchildren and their children, with much humor and a few tears – that would be the very best legacy of all.
I found a box of old hours at the back of the fridge. I don’t even know how long it had been there. Summer hours. Smelled like roses. ~Duchess Goldblatt on Twitter
We all have things we’ve forgotten tucked away in the back of the fridge. A good cleaning now and then will surface some things that are barely identifiable and, frankly, a little scary. But those of us who are nostalgic creatures, like the delightfully fictional Duchess Goldblatt who dispenses desperately needed ascerbic wisdom on Twitter (of all places), also store away a few things that just might come in handy on a depressing day
I like the idea of taking these long summer days, the countless hours of daylight and slowed-downness, putting them in a box and pushing them to the back of fridge for safe-keeping. I might even label it “open in case of emergency” or “don’t open until December 25” or “fragile – handle with care.” In the darkest hours of winter, when I need a booster shot of light, I would bend down to look as far back on the fridge shelf as possible, pushing aside the jam jars and the left-over pea soup and the blocks of cheese, and reach for my rescue inhaler.
I would lift the lid on the box of summer hours and take in a deep breath to remind myself of dewy mornings with a bit of fog, a scent of mown grass, a hint of campfire smoke. But mostly, I would open the box to smell the roses of summer, as no winter florist rose ever exudes that fragrance. It has to be tucked away in the summer hours box in the back of the fridge. Just knowing it’s there would make me glad.
And what is it like: to be alive in this one place of all places anywhere where life is? Live a day of it and see. Take any day and LIVE IT. Nobody claims that it will be entirely painless, but no matter.
It is your birthday and there are many presents to open.The world is to be opened.
“I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.” ~Margaret Atwood from “Variations on the Word Sleep”
For Dan’s birthday:
the boy you were became the man you are today: blessed by our God, so necessary to your family, church and community, loved by your children and grandchildren, and by me ~ever more every day~
In this journey together, we inhabit each other, however long may be the road we travel; you have become the air I breathe, refreshing, renewing, restoring~~ you are that necessary to me, and that beloved.