Dent in the Ground







All winter your brute shoulders strained against collars, padding
and steerhide over the ash hames, to haul
sledges of cordwood for drying through spring and summer,
for the Glenwood stove next winter, and for the simmering range.

In April you pulled cartloads of manure to spread on the fields,
dark manure of Holsteins, and knobs of your own clustered with oats.
All summer you mowed the grass in meadow and hayfield, the mowing machine
clacketing beside you, while the sun walked high in the morning;

and after noon’s heat, you pulled a clawed rake through the same acres,
gathering stacks, and dragged the wagon from stack to stack,
and the built hayrack back, uphill to the chaffy barn,
three loads of hay a day from standing grass in the morning.

Sundays you trotted the two miles to church with the light load
a leather quartertop buggy, and grazed in the sound of hymns.
Generation on generation, your neck rubbed the windowsill
of the stall, smoothing the wood as the sea smooths glass.

When you were old and lame, when your shoulders hurt bending to graze,
one October the man, who fed you and kept you, and harnessed you every morning,
led you through corn stubble to sandy ground above Eagle Pond,
and dug a hole beside you where you stood shuddering in your skin,

and lay the shotgun’s muzzle in the boneless hollow behind your ear,
and fired the slug into your brain, and felled you into your grave,
shoveling sand to cover you, setting goldenrod upright above you,
where by next summer a dent in the ground made your monument.

For a hundred and fifty years, in the Pasture of dead horses,
roots of pine trees pushed through the pale curves of your ribs,
yellow blossoms flourished above you in autumn, and in winter
frost heaved your bones in the ground – old toilers, soil makers:

O Roger, Mackerel, Riley, Ned, Nellie, Chester, Lady Ghost.
~Donald Hall, “Names of Horses”








As a child,  I regularly visited the horse grave dug by hand by my father in 1965 in an open clearing of our woods where our little chestnut mare, Dolly, rested in the ground.

She was felled by a vet’s bullet to the head after an agonizing bout with colic. I had returned to the house, unable to watch, but could not help but hear the gunshot as if it had gone through me as well.

At first her grave was a place to cry where no one but the trees and wild flowers could see.

When my tears dried up, it was a place to sing loudly where no one but chipmunks and my dog could hear.

Later it became the sanctuary where I retreated to talk to God when my church no longer was.

Her bones lie there still and no one but me knows where. The dent in the ground will always betray the spot.

No one but me remembers you.





Lenten Meditation–Grace Be With You

Our pastor has just finished a very illuminating evening study of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, which ends with a few concise words in 4:18, the final verse.

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.

The Apostle shares remarkable humanity with his Christian brothers and sisters in these words that deserve deeper exploration over the next several days.  What initially caught my attention was the interesting contrast between the last line of the letter compared to the opening line in verse at the very beginning of the letter:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

What is the difference here in the greeting “Grace and peace to you” at the beginning and “Grace be with you” at the end?

The following explanation is proposed by Dr. John Piper (  in his book Future Grace:

“Paul has in mind that the letter itself is a channel of God’s grace to the readers. Grace is about to flow ‘from God’ through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, ‘Grace to you.’ That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read – ‘grace [be] to you.’ But as the end of the letter approaches, Paul realizes that the reading is almost finished and the question rises, ‘What becomes of the grace that has been flowing to the readers through the reading of the inspired letter?’ He answers with a blessing at the end of every letter: ‘Grace [be] with you.’ With you as you put the letter away and leave the church. With you as you go home to deal with a sick child and an unaffectionate spouse. With you as you go to work and face the temptations of anger and dishonesty and lust. With you as you muster courage to speak up for Christ over lunch. . . . [Thus] we learn that grace is ready to flow to us every time we take up the inspired Scriptures to read them. And we learn that grace will abide with us when we lay the Bible down and go about our daily living” (Future Grace, 66-67).

This is what it is like each Sunday, as I enter Wiser Lake Chapel, and am filled with the Word from Pastor Bert’s inspired teaching.  The spirit flows from our Pastor’s study of the Word, to accompany each of us as we go about our week.  Grace to, and then with us.

Just as Paul intended for his brothers and sisters.  We are deeply blessed.

The Horse of Few Words

He was a horse of few words. After twenty five years of living with human beings, he didn’t find it necessary to call or greet us as the other Haflingers did when they were hungry. He stood patiently despite his voracious appetite, waiting his turn, knowing and trusting he would always be fed. He knew his family took care of him, no matter what.

Amos was a do-it-all Haflinger. He could be ridden, driven in a cart, taken on trail rides, jump in a show, and even was the platform for horse back gymnastics, or “vaulting.” He knew his job, did it well, and raised many children in the process.

One night, while I was heading to the barn for evening chores, my husband greeted me at the barn door with a concerned look on his face.

“We’ve got trouble. Amos is down.”

Sure enough, he was cast up against the wall of his huge double stall and, covered in sweat, and clearly had been there for some time. Incredibly, when he saw us, he nickered a “huh huh huh huh” greeting in his deep throaty voice. When we approached the stall with lead ropes ready to loop around his legs, it was if his “huh?” was clearly saying, “whatever took you so long?”

He lay still as we snugged the ropes on his legs and using every ounce of strength, we hauled him over. He lay on his side, breathing heavily, then pulled himself up, put his front legs out in front of him and staggered to his feet. Every muscle was quivering.

He had never had a bout of colic before so I called the vet as our daughter, his biggest fan, started walking him. He passed several loose stools but whenever he stopped walking, he was ready to lie down again, or would paw or kick at this belly. However, even with such bad cramping, he also tried to snatch at hay bales as he passed them and nibbled clumps of grass in the lawn.

By the time the vet arrived, Amos was not as shaky and looking brighter eyed. The vet was quite impressed by Amos’ strength for his age and was very amazed at his appetite in spite of being in pain. I reminded him he was dealing with no ordinary horse.  This was a Haflinger. The vet chuckled, “I guess maybe he would be chewing during his dying breath if he could, wouldn’t he?”

Once the necessary medication was administered, we allowed him back to his stall to lie down and rest. He no longer needed to roll in pain. He was exhausted and wanted to sleep. I cut up some apple pieces and a few carrots from our garden and put them in his food bin in case he decided he wanted to have a treat to eat. Then we went to bed too.

At 2 AM I got up to check on him. When I turned on the barn aisle lights and started toward his stall down at the end, I heard his low nickering “huh huh huh huh” again. What a wonderful sound! And then I saw his velvety nose poking out of his stall window by his food bin, grabbing for apple pieces lying on the sill. There is no better sight than a hungry horse after such an ordeal!

He was absolutely fine for seven weeks when it happened again, but worse. This time, nothing the vet could do could turn things around for Amos. He remained in pain despite all our efforts, and the vet told us we were at the end. My daughter and I stroked his sweaty neck, seeing the fear and agony in his eyes, and knew the time had come. Amos took his final walk with us out to a grassy slope in the moonlight. We offered him a bite of grass; his big lips picked it up and held it for a moment, but then he let it drop.

He sighed, giving us one more “huh huh huh huh” as the vet prepared to administer the sedative. Soon he would be lifted to a place where the sun would forever shine warm on his withers, the tender spring grass was always tasty, and there would never again be a need for goodbyes.

Someday again we will see him galloping toward us, his mane flying in the wind, calling out with the few words he knows, as if to say, “whatever took you so long?”