When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the green heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. ~Wendell Berry “The Peace of Wild Things” fromThe Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
When our grandchildren visit our farm, I watch them rediscover what I know are the joys and sorrows of this world. I am reminded there is light beyond the darkness I fear, there is peace amid the chaos, there is a smile behind the tears, there is stillness within the noisiness there is rest despite my restlessness, there is grace as old gives way to new.
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I have walked through many lives, some of them my own, and I am not who I was, though some principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray. When I look behind, as I am compelled to look before I can gather strength to proceed on my journey, I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon
How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?
Yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat, with my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me. In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage, a nimbus-clouded voice directed me: “Live in the layers, not on the litter.” Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes. ~Stanley Kunitz from “The Layers”
A child is asleep. Her private life unwinds inside skin and skull; only as she sheds childhood, first one decade and then another, can she locate the actual, historical stream, see the setting of her dreaming private life—the nation, the city, the neighborhood, the house where the family lives—as an actual project under way, a project living people willed, and made well or failed, and are still making, herself among them.
I breathed the air of history all unaware, and walked oblivious through its littered layers. ~Annie Dillard from An American Childhood
…we become whole by having the courage to revisit and embrace all the layers of our lives, denying none of them, so that we’re finally able to say, “Yes, all of this is me, and all of this has helped make me who I am.”
When we get to that point, amazingly, we can look at all the layers together and see the beauty of the whole. ~Parker Palmer from “Embracing All the Layers of Your Life” in On Being
My favorite scenes are ones where there are several “layers” to study, whether it is a still life of petals or a deep landscape with a foreground, middle and backdrop. The challenge is to decide where to look first, what to draw into sharp focus, and how to absorb it all as a whole. In fact, if I only see one aspect, I miss the entire point of the composition. It is wonderfully multi-faceted and multi-layered because that is how my own life is – complex with so much diverse and subtle shading.
If I try to suppress some darker part of my own life I wish to forget and blur out, I ignore the beauty of the contrast with the light that illuminates the rest.
The layers reflect who I was created to be as an image-bearer – complex, nuanced, illuminated in the presence of dark.
Beautifully composed and ultimately transformed.
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Each morning as I rise to let the horses out to graze for the day, I’m once again that teenage girl who awoke early to climb on horseback to greet the summer dawn, mist in my hair and dew on my boots, picking ripe blackberries and blueberries as we rode past.
The angled light always drew sharper shadow lines as the sun rose until I knew it was time to turn around, each hoof step taking us closer to home to clean barn, do chores, hang laundry, weed the garden until sunset.
It is sunlight that creates and then erases all in me that is shadow. Eventually, only the real me remains.
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overly delicate, like a flower skimmed of all fragrance.
You hear in the long last notes of the nightingale’s song
how to harbor what’s left of joy, how spring clutches
the green shoot of life and holds on and on through summer, prepares
for no end that is sure in coming, the fall ever endlessly repeating. ~Maureen Doallas “Recounting Seasons”, from Neruda’s Memoirs
One of my greatest joys is watching time as days become weeks, then months, and as years flow by, the seasons repeat seemingly endlessly. I know they must end for me eventually so I anticipate transitions before they take place.
In the “olden” days, many farmers kept daily hand-written diaries to track the events of the seasons: when the soil was warm enough to sow, when the harvest was ready, the highs and lows of temperature fluctuations, how many inches in the rain gauge, how deep the snow.
Now we follow the years with a swift scroll in our photo collection in our phones: the tulips bloomed two weeks later this year, or the tomatoes ripened early or the pears were larger two years ago.
I take comfort things tend to repeat predictably year after year, yet I can spot subtle differences. Our hydrangea bushes are a harbinger of seasonal change: they are blooming a darker burgundy color this year, the lace caps are mostly blue rather than pink and purple. Their blooms fade eventually into blended earth tones, then blanche, finally losing color altogether and becoming skeletal.
And so it is with me. I harbor joy by noticing each change, knowing the repetition of the seasons and the cycle of blooming will continue, with or without me here watching. I am unnecessary except as a recorder of fact.
I will keep watching and keep documenting as long as I’m able.
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In your next letter, please describe the weather in great detail. If possible, enclose a fist of snow or mud,
everything you know about the soil, how tomato leaves rub green against your skin and make you itch, how slow
the corn is growing on the hill. Thank you for the photographs of where the chicken coop once stood,
clouds that did not become tornadoes. When I try to explain where I’m from, people imagine corn bread, cast-iron,
cows drifting across grass. I interrupt with barbed wire, wind, harvest air that reeks of wheat and diesel.
I hope your sleep comes easy now that you’ve surrendered the upstairs, hope the sun still lets you drink
one bitter cup before its rise. I don’t miss flannel shirts, radios with only AM stations, but there’s a certain kind
of star I can’t see from where I am— bright, clear, unconcerned. I need your recipes for gravy, pie crust,
canned green beans. I’m sending you the buttons I can’t sew back on. Please put them in the jar beside your bed.
In your next letter, please send seeds and feathers, a piece of bone or china you plowed up last spring. Please promise I’m missing the right things. ~Carrie Shipers, “In Your Next Letter” from Cause for Concern
For our children (and now their children) who have left the farm, now living far away:
I want to be sure you are missing the right things about this incredible place.
There is so much about a farm that is worrisome, burdensome, back-breaking and unpredictable. Don’t miss those things.
Miss what is breath-taking, awe-inspiring and heart-swelling.
We miss you more than we can ever say, indeed an intensive “missing” that can’t be expressed in words. So I send this to you and you’ll understand.
Tomorrow there will be sun, scalloped by clouds, ushered in by a waterfall of birdsong. It will be a temperate seventy-five, low humidity. For twenty-four hours, all politicians will be silent. Reality programs will vanish from TV, replaced by the “snow” that used to decorate our screens when reception wasn’t working. Soldiers will toss their weapons in the grass. The oceans will stop their inexorable rise. No one will have to sit on a committee. When twilight falls, the aurora borealis will cut off cell phones, scramble the internet. We’ll play flashlight tag, hide and seek, decorate our hair with fireflies, spin until we’re dizzy, collapse on the dew-decked lawn and look up, perhaps for the first time, to read the long lines of cold code written in the stars…. ~Barbara Crooker “Tomorrow” from Some Glad Morning.
Might I hope for a better tomorrow?
Awash in this world of technological and political complexity, I forget the simple pleasure of lying in the grass, looking up and staring at the stars spinning above me.
I become dizzy with the possibilities.
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One reason why birds and horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses. ~Dale Carnegie
When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; ~William Shakespeare from Henry V
We all should have a buddy who is along for the ride and blesses us with their company.
There is always a need for a precious friend who has our back – helping to keep the biting flies away by gobbling them.
It is symbiosis at its best: a relationship built on mutual trust and helpfulness. In exchange for relief from annoying insects that a tail can’t flick off, a Haflinger serves up bugs on a smorgasbord landing platform located safely above farm cats and marauding coyotes.
Thanks to their perpetual full meal deals, these birds do leave “deposits” behind that need to be brushed off at the end of the day. Like any good friendship, having to clean up the little messes left behind is a small price to pay for the bliss of companionable comradeship.
We’re buds after all – best forever friends.
And this is exactly what friends are for: one provides the feast and the other provides the wings.
We’re fully fed and we’re fully free – together.
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After three weeks of hot weather and drought, we’ve had a week of cold and rain, just the way it ought to be here in the north, in June, a fire going in the woodstove all day long, so you can go outside in the cold and rain anytime and smell the wood smoke in the air.
I spent seven hours yesterday at my daughter’s house helping her expand their garden by at least ten times. We dug up sod by the shovelful, shook off the dirt as best we could; sod into the wheelbarrow and off to the pile at the edge of the yard. Then all that over and over again. Five hours total work-time, with time out for lunch and supper. By the time I got home I knew all too well that seventy-two is not thirty-five; I could barely move.
I got to quit earlier than Nadine. She told me I’d done enough and that I should go get a beer and lie down on the chaise lounge and cheer her on, which is what I did.
All this made me remember my father forty years ago helping me with my garden. My father’s dead now, and has been dead for many years, which is how I’ll be one of these days too. And then Nadine will help her child, who is not yet here, with her garden. Old Nadine, aching and sore, will be in my empty shoes, cheering on her own.
So it goes. The wheel turns, generation after generation, around and around. We ride for a little while, get off and somebody else gets on. Over and over, again and again. ~David Budbill “Seventy-Two Is Not Thirty-Five” from Tumbling toward the End.
June is not supposed to be like this.
It is typically cool and rainy during these first few weeks of summer. June is an impossible month to hold outdoor weddings as we discovered a year ago. We celebrated our daughter and son-in-law’s wedding amid chilly breezes and sprinkles, avoiding a downpour.
Yet if it had been this year we would have all baked and sweated to a golden melting crust sitting in the full sun.
Yesterday we reached 106 F here in the normally temperate Pacific Northwest. I am scanning the weather forecast for any hint of rain (none) and am celebrating the prediction of mid-80s temperatures (hopefully soon). I once thought 85 to be intolerably hot.
It all is a matter of perspective when considering how things “ought” to be.
Wild temperature fluctuations and weather extremes are not new to this earth, but they certainly seem more frequent, causing more damage and suffering among all earth dwellers, whether plant or animal. We expect natural predictable cycles in the seasons and in the passing of one generation to another — a smooth replacement plan as older gives way to the younger.
This is how it ought to be. Yet it isn’t always so. Sometimes not even close.
We’ll remember 2020 and early 2021 as months of pandemic that sucked the life and joy from so many of us. Now the crazy heat index of June 2021 is effectively distracting us from a dwindling risk of COVID infection to consider instead the immediacy of how to avoid overheating ourselves, our animals and our gardens/crops.
It is always something in this life of peril and worry.
That is just how it is, rather than how it ought to be.
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Holy as a day is spent Holy is the dish and drain The soap and sink, and the cup and plate And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile Shower heads and good dry towels And frying eggs sound like psalms With bits of salt measured in my palm It’s all a part of a sacrament As holy as a day is spent
Holy is the busy street And cars that boom with passion’s beat And the check out girl, counting change And the hands that shook my hands today And hymns of geese fly overhead And spread their wings like their parents did Blessed be the dog that runs in her sleep To chase some wild and elusive thing
Holy is the familiar room And quiet moments in the afternoon And folding sheets like folding hands To pray as only laundry can I’m letting go of all my fear Like autumn leaves made of earth and air For the summer came and the summer went As holy as a day is spent Holy is the place I stand To give whatever small good I can And the empty page, and the open book Redemption everywhere I look Unknowingly we slow our pace In the shade of unexpected grace And with grateful smiles and sad lament As holy as a day is spent And morning light sings ‘providence’ As holy as a day is spent ~Carrie Newcomer “Holy as a Day is Spent”
We are in the middle of an unprecedented heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, predicted to hit 110 degrees F over the next two days. This part of the world is sorely unprepared for these temperatures – air conditioning is unusual in residences and some workplaces so we grit our teeth, mop our brows and search for the blessing of shade and relief.
There is barely a breeze. The weathervanes are standing stock-still without a hint of swivel, cooking in the sun just as thoroughly as the rest of us. Our barn has a beautiful Haflinger horse weather vane – a precious gift from Amish country given to us by treasured friends over thirty years ago.
However, the standard weather vane is a rooster, found on a neighbor’s barn about a mile from our farm. The traditional rooster vane (“weathercock”) has a long history dating back to the ninth century when Pope Gregory declared all churches were to be crowned with a rooster as a suitable Christian emblem. This was to immortalize St. Peter’s three betrayals, predicted by Christ to take place before the rooster crows in the morning on the day of His crucifixion.
So roosters began to appear on the weathervanes of churches in Europe, blowing this way and that with the wind, just as Peter found himself carried by the wind of opinion on that fateful day. We are to be reminded of our own tendency to shift and swivel with the forces that push us around when we are uncertain or fearful, forgetting our foundational faith and beliefs.
Yet Christ forgave Peter, not once or twice, but three times for each betrayal. He delivers an unexpected grace and gift of redemption to a man who had turned away from Him. Christ’s instruction to Peter was to “feed my sheep.” Our response to the grace shown to us is to nurture and show grace to all we meet.
As our weathervanes remain unmoving in this heat, we stand firm in the shade of our Lord’s forgiveness of our betrayal of Him – all that is just and holy.
Amen and Amen.
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In the waning evening light, I stood in the barnyard holding the hose to fill the water trough, gazing across a sunset-lit field of grass and weeds, puzzling over an intermittent flash and glimmer thirty yards away.
Trough filled, I set out to find what glinted and blinked in the breeze, assuming an errant piece of foil or lost piece of jewelry to be reclaimed, somehow fallen mysteriously from the sky into the middle of a horse pasture.
As I moved closer, my body blocked the sun’s rays so the glistening ceased. I moved aside, hoping to allow the fading light to re-ignite the spark that drew me there.
Doused by the advancing shadow of sunset, it vanished as I neared the spot. Looking closely, I found only a broad blade of grass shimmering with a silvery trail left behind by a slug tail.
Mere mucus slime scintillating in the setting sun! A complex mix of proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, glycoprotein enzymes, hyaluronic acid, antimicrobial peptides, and metal ions of zinc, iron, copper and manganese.
Precious trace metals flashing in the grass, masquerading as jewels.
What a fool to think only something man-made could lure me there. Instead, this miracle of mucus trailing from a lowly slug proved a far greater treasure is always hiding in the grass, if I only bother to look.
Girls are like slugs—they probably serve some purpose, but it’s hard to imagine what. ― Bill Watterson, in Calvin and Hobbes
From David Attenborough’s Life on our Planet (a truly remarkable video of how slug mucus becomes integral in their reproductive cycle)
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