The Heart in Exile

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli,” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is beautiful. It touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent from someplace distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,


and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing


that also needs accomplishing.
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder


or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue,


but today you get a telegram
from the heart in exile,
proclaiming that the kingdom


still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time
to sit out in the sun and listen.

~Tony Hoagland “The Word” from Sweet Ruin

When I moved from Washington state to California for college, daily sunshine was a new experience for me, having grown up in the cloudy Pacific Northwest. At first I was nearly giddy with the new reality of not having to wear jackets with hoods or (horrors!) carry an umbrella. It was like being let out of gray prison into the land of puppies and rainbows – like the old Wizard of Oz B&W film becoming technicolor when Dorothy’s house lands in Oz and she opens the door to her new home.

But then I realized strings of sunny days were doing something to my head. Previously, I was dependent on rainy days to stay inside and hit the books, curled up in a quiet corner, content to be cerebral rather than exercising the rest of my muscles. If there was a sunny day in Washington, then I was compelled outside to enjoy what few hours were offered up by the skies. Real gray life happened the rest of the time when I could buckle down and get some work done.

So college days started out euphoric and ended up depressing – I tried studying in dark carrels in the library but I still knew there was sunshine going to waste. I tried studying outside on the college lawn but the distraction of all the activity around me was too great. I finally learned to apportion my “out-in-the-sun” hours from my study hours so I wasn’t feeling robbed of either. I decided to take a sun bath like I take a water bath – just enough to feel transformed and cleansed.

I owned a rainy heart in exile so moving back to the northwest after college was easy; I longed for strings of cloudy days so I could be productive guilt-free again. To this day, I only dose myself with sunbeams in moderation as if I was still worried there won’t be enough sun to last another day.

But there is, there always is.

You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

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Trying to Yield to Change

I went out to cut a last batch of zinnias this
morning from the back fencerow and got my shanks
chilled for sure: furrowy dark gray clouds with
separating fringes of blue sky-grass: and the dew

beaded up heavier than the left-overs of the rain:
in the zinnias, in each of two, a bumblebee
stirring in slow motion. Trying to unwind
the webbed drug of cold, buzzing occasionally but

with a dry rattle: bees die with the burnt honey
at their mouths, at least: the fact’s established:
it is not summer now and the simmering buzz is out of
heat: the zucchini blossoms falling show squash

overgreen with stunted growth: the snapdragons have
suckered down into a blossom or so: we passed
into dark last week the even mark of day and night
and what we hoped would stay we yield to change.
~A.R. Ammons  “Equinox” from Complete Poems

I yield now
to the heaviness of transition
from summer to autumn,
with slowing of my walk
and darkening of my days.

It is time;
day and night now compete for my attention
and both will win.

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The Universal Theme

It’s good for the ego, when I call and they come
running, squawking and clucking, because it’s feedtime,
and once again I can’t resist picking up little Lazarus,
an orange-and-white pullet I adore. “Yes, yes, everything will be
okay,” I say to her glaring mongrel face. Come September,
she’ll begin to lay the blue-green eggs I love poached.
God dooms the snake to taste nothing but the dust
and the hen to 4,000 or so ovulations. Poor Lazarus—
last spring an intruder murdered her sisters and left her
garroted in the coop. There’s a way the wounded
light up a dark rectangular space. Suffering becomes
the universal theme. Too soft, and you’ll be squeezed;
too hard, and you’ll be broken. Even a hen knows this,
posing on a manure pile, her body a stab of gold.

~Henri Cole “Hens”

Every few minutes, he wants
to march the trail of flattened rye grass
back to the house of muttering
hens. He too could make
a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh
it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it
to his ear while the other children
laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him,
so little yet, too forgetful in games,
ready to cry if the ball brushed him,
riveted to the secret of birds
caught up inside his fist,
not ready to give it over
to the refrigerator
or the rest of the day.
~Naomi Shihab Nye “Boy and Egg”

I’ve bonded with chickens since my birth, living in a farm house adjacent to a large chicken coop. I was taught to gather eggs at a very young age, learning to approach the hens respectfully and steathily, ignoring their scolding clucks as I reached under their feathered bellies to find a smooth warm treasure. Carrying eggs to the house was a great privilege, knowing what a delicious meal they would become. I became a grateful friend to those hens.

I also learned that chickens were tragic figures, either sacrificed young as meat birds so large they could barely walk or after a few decent years of declining egg production for the hens. Participating in their butchering made me respect them even more for their unwitting willingness to suffer the indignity of the process to give their all for the survival of our family.

They are an ideal farm animal; the coyotes, weasels and raccoons think so too, digging into the chicken yard at night to steal unsuspecting hens from their nighttime roosts. Our compost pile has absorbed too many chickens murdered by varmints and left partially eaten in a pile of feathers.

Suffering is universal in this sad weary world. Somehow it is offset by an amazing ability to produce a perfect egg day after day after day.

Thank God for the muttering hens.

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A Sweetness Ripening

Our hair
turns white with our ripening
as though to fly away in some
coming wind, bearing the seed
of what we know…
Having come
the bitter way to better prayer, we have
the sweetness of ripening.
~Wendell Berry from “Ripening”

My husband and I have walked our country road together many times on warm late summer evenings, breathing in the smell of ripening cornstalks and freshly mowed grass lined up in windrows, much like the walks we took together forty one years ago when we were newly married. Just down the road, we pass the smaller farm we first bought to leave the city behind for a new life amid quieter surroundings. 

The seedling trees my husband planted there are now a thick grove and effective windbreak from the bitter howling northeasters we endured.  The fences have fallen after 38 years, the blackberries have swallowed up the small barn where our first horses, goats, geese, chickens and cows lived. But today, on our 41st wedding anniversary, the house is getting new siding and windows, a fresh coat of paint, and the inside is being updated.

In a few weeks, our oldest son and his family, having concluded their mission work in Japan, will move in. There is such sweetness knowing the first home we owned together will now house our grandchildren.

Our children were raised on this road and they strolled these same steps with us many times, before flying far away for their life’s work. My husband and I have continued to walk together, just the two of us, pondering how the passage of time could be so swift that our hair has turned white and we are going to seed when it was only yesterday we were so young.

Indeed we ripen before we’re feeling ready. It is bitter sweetness relinquishing the youth we once knew, to face a future we can never know.

It is the mystery that keeps us coming back, walking the same steps those younger legs once did, admiring the same setting sun, smelling the same late summer smells.  But we are not the same as we were, having progressed to a fruitfulness intended all along.

We are ripening and readying, our seed flying with the wind.

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There Is Not One Blade of Grass…

There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
~John Calvin – Sermon Number 10 on I Corinthians

We are given the option to notice
or not
We are given reason to rejoice
or not
We are given a rain-bowed promise to witness
or not.

So why ever not?

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Wrapped in the Shawl of Fading Summer

Summer begins to have the look
Peruser of enchanting Book
Reluctantly but sure perceives
A gain upon the backward leaves —

Autumn begins to be inferred
By millinery of the cloud,
Or deeper color in the shawl
That wraps the everlasting hill.
~Emily Dickinson in “Summer Begins to Have the Look”

Summer is waning and wistful;
it has the look of packing up,
and moving on
without bidding adieu
or looking back over its shoulder.

I’m just not ready to wave goodbye to sun-soaked clear skies.

Cooling winds have carried in darkening clouds
spread green leaves everywhere,
loosened before their time.
Rain is many weeks overdue
yet there is temptation to bargain
for a little more time.
Though we are in need of a good drenching
there are still onions and potatoes to pull from the ground,
berries to pick before they mold on the vine,
overwhelming buckets of tomatoes,
and the remaining corn cobs bulging.

The overhead overcast is heavily burdened
with clues of what is coming:
earlier dusk,
the feel of moisture,
the deepening graying hues,
the briskness of breezes.

There is no negotiation possible.
I need to steel myself and get ready,
wrapping myself in the soft shawl of inevitability.

So autumn advances with the clouds,
taking up residence where summer has left off.
Though there is still clean up
of the overabundance left behind,
autumn will bring its own unique plans
for display of a delicious palette of hues.

The truth is we’ve seen nothing yet.

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The Ripening Fruit

Now the bumbling bees that hover
Over loveliness in flower
Important with their store of pollen
Have had their hour;

Time has come for you to shed your
Silken petals and declare
Whether you are apple, cherry,
Plum or pear,


And all summer take your pleasure
Nourishing the ripening fruit
With the sun and rain you welcome
Through leaf, through root.

~Charles Pratt “Valediction” from From the Box Marked Some Are Missing: New and Selected Poems

apple blossoms
pear blossoms


This is the time of year when so much budding potential has reached the peak of fruitfulness – plums, apples and pears are ready for the table, the oven, the dehydrator and freezer. The cherries had their season weeks ago.

My grandchildren wander the orchard with me, marveling at the bounty that has dropped from its branches, and looking up at what remains to be collected above our heads.

They pick up an apple and take a bite, trying to avoid worm holes and bruises. It seems we always are dodging the daily reality of worms and bruises.

It takes so much to yield bud to blossom to fruit to nourishment and the honeybee is our ticket to preserved winter fruit, making honey in the process. It is a marvelous way that nature is designed to replenish itself and nurture us, year after year.

And to think our fall from the Garden was over one piece of forbidden fruit, especially when there was so much, else available to us.

plum blossoms
cherry blossoms

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A Galaxy of Grasses

О Greater Light, we praise Thee for the less;
The eastern light our spires touch at morning,
The light that slants upon our western doors at evening.
The twilight over stagnant pools at batflight,
Moon light and star light, owl and moth light,
Glow-worm glowlight on a grassblade.
О Light Invisible, we worship Thee!

~T.S. Eliot from “O Light Invisible”

Look, in the early light, 
   Down to the infinite 
   Depths at the deep grass-roots; 
      Where the sun shoots 
In golden veins, as looking through 
   A dear pool one sees it do; 
   Where campion drifts 
Its bladders, iris-brinded, through the rifts 
      Of rising, falling seed
   That the winds lightly scour—
Down to the matted earth where over 
   And over again crow’s-foot and clover
      And pink bindweed
      Dimly, steadily flower.

~Michael Field “The Depths of the Grass”

We wove hip-high field grass 
into tunnels 

knotting the tops 
of bunched handfuls the drooping 
heads tied together. 

My seven siblings and I 
sheltered ourselves

inside these labyrinths 
in a galaxy of grasses.
~Heather Cahoon “Shelter”

As a child I liked to go out far into our hay field and find the tallest patch of grass. There, like a dog turning circles before a nap,  I’d trample down the tall waving stems that stretched up almost to my eyes, and create a grass nest, just cozy enough for me. I’d sit or lie down in this tall green fortress, gazing up at the blue sky, and watch the clouds lazily drift over top of me.  I’d suck on a hollow stem or two, to savor the bitter grass juice. Time felt suspended.

Scattered around my grassy cage, looking out of place attached to the broad grass stems, would be innumerable clumps of white foam. I’d tease out the hidden green spit bugs with their little black eyes from their white frothy bubble encasement. I too felt “bubble-wrapped” in my green hide-a-way.

My grassy nest was a time of retreat from the world.  I felt protected, surrounded, encompassed and free –at least until I heard my mother calling for me from the house, or a rain shower started, driving me to run for cover, or my dog found me by following my green path.

It has been decades since I hid away in a grass fort trying to defoam spit bugs. Surely, I’m overdue: instead of being determined to mow down and level the grass around me, I long for a galaxy of grassy bubble-wrap.

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Forgive Me

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

~William Carlos Williams “This is Just to Say…”

Who needs forgiveness
when more plums
hang heavy
in the orchard

dotted with dew
glistening
in the spare pink light
of dawn

so ripe
and so inviting as
their golden flesh
warms with the risen sun.

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The Flame is on the Hill

You may take your winters southward,
You may have your golden Junes,
You may have your summer mountains
Or your eastern fog-swept dunes;
But I’ll take the first red ember,
Where the Painter works his will,
When it’s morning in September,
Or it’s noon-day in September,
Or it’s twilight in September,
And the flame is on the hill.


There is orange down the valley,
There is crimson out the lane;
There’s a fleck of purple tinting
Where the maples meet the rain.
For the glow that I remember,
With an everlasting thrill,
Is a morning in September,
Or a noon-time in September,
Or a twilight in September,
When the flame is on the hill.
~Henry Grantland Rice “The Month of All”

I cherish September for the look and feel of the landscape as it browns and burnishes with aging – transforming to gilded, burnt and rusted, almost glistening in its dying.

I gather up and store these images, like sheaves of wheat stacked in the field. I’ll need them again someday, when I’m hungry, starving for the memory of what once was, and, when the light is just right, how it could be again someday.

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