The World’s Most Sensitive Cargo

Go north a dozen years
on a road overgrown with vines
to find the days after you were born.
Flowers remembered their colors and trees
were frothy and the hospital was

behind us now, its brick indifference
forgotten by our car mirrors. You were
revealed to me: tiny, delicate,
your head smelling of some other world.
Turn right after the circular room

where I kept my books and right again
past the crib where you did not sleep
and you will find the window where
I held you that morning
when you opened your eyes. They were

blue, tentative, not the deep chocolate
they would later become. You were gazing
into the world: at our walls,
my red cup, my sleepless hair and though
I’m told you could not focus, and you

no longer remember, we were seeing
one another after seasons of darkness.

~Faith Shearin, “Sight” from Orpheus, Turning

A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.

No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.

This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,

His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.

We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.

The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.

~Naomi Shihab Nye “Shoulders”

Recent headlines reflect a touchy cultural debate about child bearing and rearing in our post-modern society:

who has control over whose body and for what justifiable reasons,

when life begins and when its loss is a death to be mourned
or if intentional, could be considered equivalent to murder,

babies without access to adequate nutrition due to a formula shortage while some shame mothers for not breast-feeding,

who determines what schools can teach at what stage of development, whether vaccines should be mandatory to attend,
and what books children can have access to in the library.

There are controversies about our country not guaranteeing paid parental leave and automatic free day care, along with government subsidized health care, and whether we coddle our kids too much or too little.

Some are convinced we should avoid child-bearing since people are destroying the earth and adding more people will only hasten our demise.

The judgement and harshness of the debate is enough to discourage parenting at all for those who are ambivalent to begin with. For those who long to be parents but still have empty arms, the debate seems heartless and selfish, as they wonder if and when a chance to love their own child will ever come.

Having waited long years ourselves with empty arms, and then were blessed with three of our own, I can say with assurance children are the most sensitive cargo we’ll ever bear and carry and love – there is no future without children cherished above one’s own wants and needs.

After seasons of darkness, we must look each other in the eyes and find each other worthy to exist and do whatever it takes to guarantee it. We must be willing to sacrifice, carrying one another like precious cargo. We were created for no less than this.

Just checking to see if she is real…


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Rough Edges Smoothed

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

What does it feel like to be alive?
Living, you stand under a waterfall…
It is time pounding at you, time.
Knowing you are alive is watching on every side
your generation’s short time falling away
as fast as rivers drop through air,
and feeling it hit.
~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood

I had hopes for my rough edges. I wanted to use them as a can opener, to cut myself a hole in the world’s surface, and exit through it.
~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood

Mothering is like standing under a waterfall, barely able to breathe, barraged by the firehose of birthing and raising children, so much so fast.  Nothing rough remains after child rearing — all becomes soft and cushiony, designed to gather in, hold tight, and then reluctantly and necessarily, let go.

I’m well aware, even after my children have grown and flown, my rough edges still surface, like Godzilla from the primordial swamp, unbidden and unwarranted.  I want the sharpness gone, sanded down by the waterfalls of life, and smoothed to a fine finish.

My children continue to polish me, now from afar.  Time pounds away at me.  I can feel it hitting, every drop a blessing.

Bearing Fruit


Spring is rapidly advancing at a furious pace and on my way to the barn, I’ve glanced furtively at our many orchard trees, knowing that I’ll soon lose my best window of opportunity to get our annual pruning done. It’s  “now or never” time–actually not never, but pruning done after new growth already started is potentially damaging and wasteful to the energy the tree is expending this time of year in its rush to push out green from those dead looking branches.

Pruning is one of those tasks that is immensely satisfying–after it’s done–way after. Several years after in some cases. In the case of our fruit trees, which all have an average age of 80 years or more, it is a matter of prune or lose them forever, as they had a long respite from pruning in the 80s before we bought this farm and were growing wild and chaotic. We set to work early on in our tenure on this farm, trying to gently retrain these huge mature apple, cherry and pear trees, but our consistency was lacking and the trees remained on the wild side, defying us, and in two cases, toppling over in windstorms due to their weakened frame. Once we hired additional help, hoping to get ahead of the new growth, but our helper had the “chain saw” approach to pruning and literally scalped several trees into dormancy before we saw what was happening and stopped the savaging.

Instead, the process of retraining a wild tree is slow, meticulous, thoughtful, and expectant. You must study the tree, the setting, know the fruit it is supposed to bear, and begin making decisions before you make cuts. The dead stuff goes first–that’s easy. It’s not useful, it’s taking up space, it’s outta here. It’s the removal of viable branches that takes courage. Like thinning healthy vegetable plants in a garden, I can almost hear the plant utter a little scream as I choose it to be the next one to go. Gardening is not for the faint of heart. So ideally, I choose to trim about a third of the superfluous branches when I prune, rather than taking them all at once, and in three years, I’ll have the tree I hoped for, bearing fruit that is larger, healthier and hardier. Then we’re in maintenance mode. That takes patience, vision, dedication, and love. That’s the ideal world.

The reality is I skip years of pruning work, sometimes several years in a row. Or I make a really dumb error and prune in a way that is counter productive, and it takes several years for the tree to recover. Or, in the case of the scalping, those trees took years to ever bear fruit again–standing embarrassed and naked among their peers. Then there is the clean up process after pruning–if it was just lopping off stuff, I’d be out there doing it right now, but the process of picking up all those discarded branches off the ground, carrying them to a brush pile and burning them takes much more time and effort. That’s where kids
come in very handy.

I see the training work we do with our young horses as a similar process –we are shaping them for their eventual fruitfulness as productive working stock. Even the most wild and untamed of youngsters eventually respond to the gentle process of “pruning” away the unwanted behavior and encouraging the growth of the best behavior. Nipping is not fruitful–it is never encouraged; it is actively discouraged. Kicking belongs on the brush pile. Horse training is not for the faint of heart. Leading quietly and standing tied without a fuss are rewarded with the treat of scratches and rubs. The final product takes years of effort before it bears fruit, but our work is essential otherwise the grown horse may be completely unusable, and discarded like a tree that topples due to its weakness.

Our three children are not just a work in progress, but are about to bear fruit. They’ve been tolerating our shaping, trimming and pruning for years now, and are standing tall and strong and ready to meet the world, to give it all they’ve got, thanks to a sturdy foundation. In our hopes and dreams for them, there are times we  probably pruned a bit in haste, or sometimes neglected to prune enough, but even so, they’ve apparently grown up with few “scars” to show for our mistakes.  Child rearing is not for the faint of heart. Now we turn over the maintenance to the Master Gardener, to keep our children rooted, fed, watered, thriving and fruitful.  This is the ultimate act of faith and love. It is no longer our job to do, but we turn it over to Another, just as my parents did decades ago for me.

I’m still pruned, regularly, often painfully. Sometimes I see the pruning hook coming, knowing the dead branches that I’ve needlessly hung onto must go, and sometimes it comes as a complete surprise, cutting me at my most vulnerable spots. Some years I bear better fruit than other years. Some years, it seems, hardly any at all. Being pruned when you are mature, set in your ways, and a bit opinionated is not for the faint of heart. Yet, I’m still rooted, still fed when hungry and watered when thirsty, and still, amazingly enough, loved. I’ll continue to hang on to the root that chose to feed me and hold me fast in the windstorms of life. Even when my trunk is leaning, my branches broken, my fruit withered, I will know that love sustains, no matter what.