God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest. ~Swedish Proverb
You wake wanting the dream you left behind in sleep, water washing through everything, clearing away sediment of years, uncovering the lost and forgotten. You hear the sun breaking on cold grass, on eaves, on stone steps outside. You see light igniting sparks of dust in the air. You feel for the first time in years the world electrified with morning.
You know something has changed in the night, something you thought gone from the world has come back: shooting stars in the pasture, sleeping beneath a field of daisies, wisteria climbing over fences, houses, trees.
This is a place that smells like childhood and old age. It is a limb you swung from, a field you go back to. It is a part of whatever you do. ~Scott Owen “Arrival of the Past”
The beginning of summer brings back early childhood memories of waking early in the morning with no plans for the day other than just showing up.
As a kid, I was never bored with so many open-ended hours before me; the air felt electric with potential adventures, whether it was building a tree fort, bushwhacking a new trail in the woods, searching out killdeer nests in the field, catching butterflies, or watching a salamander sunning itself for hours. The possibilities felt infinite and I was free as a bird to go looking for what the day had to offer.
By the time I was ten, I began to work to earn money to make my dream (owning my own horse) come true – picking berries, weeding gardens, babysitting neighbor kids. The work routine started early as dreams don’t happen without striving for them.
Now for the first time in 55 years, I awake knowing life has changed in the night: I don’t have a schedule and don’t need to show up to a job. The long summer days I thought were gone and forgotten have been here all along, just now uncovered again.
I can go back to those days of electrifying potential open-ended hours, just to simply show up to the moments before me.
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.
This is the way I love it. This is why I came here almost fifty years ago. What is June anyway without cold and rain and a fire going in the stove all day? ~David Budbill – “What is June Anyway?”
It has been a dry hot June here in Washington up until early this morning before dawn. I woke to the somewhat unfamiliar sound of dripping, a rain so subtle it was trying to sneak in under the cover of darkness without anyone noticing it had been missing for weeks.
I turned on the fire in the gas stove to take the morning chill out of this last day of spring, reminding myself just a week ago I had fans going in the house 24 hours a day.
Brisk rainy days in June may not be the choice of berry growers, brides or baseball fans, but I’m drinking it up. This is predicted to be another smoky summer due to widespread Canadian forest fires, so smelling wood smoke in the air is not at all comforting.
Despite the inconvenience to summer outdoor plans and harvesting, may the rains continue while the fields green up and the rivers and streams replenish, and may the air smell sweet with moisture.
It’s almost summer and the living is easy when we wake up to the sound of dripping.
This time of year our farm is brilliant, verdant and delicious to behold. The cherry orchard blossoms have yielded fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass. By mid-June, the daylight starts creeping over the eastern foothills at 4 AM and the last glimpse of sun disappears at nearly 10 PM. So many hours of light to work with!
Yet today I yearn for a dark rainy day to hide inside with a book even when the lawnmower and weed whacker call my name, and the fish pond needs cleaning and the garden must be weeded. It’s not that things don’t happen on the farm during months like this. It’s just that nothing we do is enough. Blackberry brambles take over everything, grass grows faster than we can keep it mowed down, the manure piles grow exponentially.
The fences always need fixing. The old hay barn is falling down and needing to be resurrected. The weather is becoming iffy with rain in the forecast so we may not have anything but junk hay in the barn this winter in a year when hay will cost a premium. For a decade now we have stopped breeding our Haflinger horses as even the demand for well bred horses is not robust enough to justify bringing more into the world.
Suddenly our farm dream seems not nearly so compelling.
We spent many years dreaming about our farm as we hoped it would be. We imagined the pastures managed perfectly with fencing that was both functional and beautiful. Our barns and buildings would be tidy and leak-proof, and the stalls secure and safe. We’d have a really nice pick up truck with low miles on it, not a 30 year old hand me down truck with almost 250,000 miles. We would have trees pruned expertly and we’d have flower beds blooming and a vegetable garden yielding 9 months of the year. Our hay would never be rained on. We would have dogs that wouldn’t run off and cats that would take care of all the rodents. We wouldn’t have any moles, thistles, dandelions or buttercup. The pheasant, deer, coyotes, raccoons, and wild rabbits (even the occasional cougar, lynx and bear!) would only stroll through the yard for our amusement and not disturb anything. We’d have livestock with the best bloodlines we could afford and a steady demand from customers to purchase their offspring at reasonable prices so that not a dime of our off-farm income would be necessary to pay farm expenses. Our animals (and we) would never get sick or injured.
And our house would always stay clean.
Dream on. Farms are often back-breaking, morale-eroding, expensive sinkholes. I know ours is. Yet here we be and here we stay.
It’s home. We raised three wonderful children here. We’ve bred and grown good beef and horses and great garden and orchard crops and tons of hay from our own fields. We breathe clean air and enjoy hearing dozens of different bird songs and look out at some of the best scenery this side of heaven. Eagles land in the trees in our front yard.
It’s all enough for us even if we are not enough for the farm. I know there will come a time when the farm will need to be a fond memory and not a daily reality. Until then we will keep pursuing our dream as we and the farm grow older. Dreams age and mature and I know now what I dreamed of when I was younger was not the important stuff.
We are blessed with one another, with the continuing sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between. This is the stuff of which the best dreams are made.
All day he’s shoveled green pine sawdust out of the trailer truck into the chute. From time to time he’s clambered down to even the pile. Now his hair is frosted with sawdust. Little rivers of sawdust pour out of his boots.
I hope in the afterlife there’s none of this stuff he says, stripping nude in the late September sun while I broom off his jeans, his sweater flocked with granules, his immersed-in-sawdust socks. I hope there’s no bedding, no stalls, no barn
no more repairs to the paddock gate the horses burst through when snow avalanches off the roof. Although the old broodmare, our first foal, is his, horses, he’s fond of saying, make divorces. Fifty years married, he’s safely facetious.
No garden pump that’s airbound, no window a grouse flies into and shatters, no ancient tractor’s intractable problem with carburetor ignition or piston, no mowers and no chain saws that refuse to start, or start, misfire and quit...
…then he says let’s walk up to the field and catch the sunset and off we go, a couple of aging fools.
I hope, he says, on the other side there’s a lot less work, but just in case I’m bringing tools. ~Maxine Kumin from “Chores”
When I pull open the barn doors every morning and close them again each evening, as our grandparents did one hundred years ago, six rumbling voices rise in greeting. We exchange scents, nuzzle each others’ ears, rumble grumble back a response.
We do our chores faithfully as our grandparents once did– draw fresh water into buckets, wheel away the pungent mess underfoot, release an armful of summer from the bale, reach under heavy manes to stroke silken necks.
We don’t depend on our horses’ strength and willingness to don harness to carry us to town or move the logs or till the soil as our grandparents did.
Instead, these soft eyed souls, born on this farm over two long decades ago, are simply grateful for our constancy morning and night to serve their needs until the day comes they need no more.
And we depend on them to depend on us to be there to open and close the doors; their low whispering welcome gives voice to the blessings of living on a farm ripe with rhythms and seasons, sunrises and sunsets that keep coming, as if yesterday, today and tomorrow are just like one hundred years ago.
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. ~George Moore
I remember well the feeling of restlessness, having an itch that couldn’t be reached, feeling too rooted and uneasy staying in one place for long, especially if that place was my hometown. I knew I must be destined for greater things, grander plans and extraordinary destinations. There exists in most human beings an inborn compulsion to wander far beyond one’s own threshold, venturing out into unfamiliar and sometimes hostile surroundings simply because one can. It is the prerogative of the young to explore, loosen anchor and pull up stakes and simply go. Most cannot articulate why but simply feel something akin to a siren call.
And so at twenty I heard and I went, considerably aging my parents in the process and not much caring that I did. To their credit, they never told me no, never questioned my judgment, and never inflicted guilt when I returned home after the adventure went sour.
I had gone on a personal quest to the other side of the world and had come home empty. But home itself was not empty nor had it ever been and has not been since.
There is a Dorothy-esque feeling in returning home from a land of wonders and horrors, to realize there is no place like home. There was no way to know until I went away, searching, then coming home empty-handed, to understand home was right inside my heart the whole time. There was no leaving after all, not really.
So I’m here to stay–there is no greater, grander or more extraordinary than right here. Even now when I board a plane for a far off place, I know I’ll be back as this is where the search ends and the lost found.
At almost 65, my head now rests easy on the pillow.
I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world. — Mary Oliver from “Lead” from New and Selected Poems
Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. ~Rabindranath Tagore
...then came a sound even more delicious than the sound of water. Close beside the path they were following, a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree. It was answered by the chuckle of another bird a little further off. And then, as if that had been a signal, there was chattering and chirruping in every direction, and then a moment of full song, and within five minutes the whole wood was ringing with birds’ music, and wherever Edmund’s eyes turned he saw birds alighting on branches, or sailing overhead or chasing one another or having their little quarrels or tidying up their feathers with their beaks. ~C.S. Lewis from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Every spring I hear the thrush singing in the glowing woods he is only passing through. His voice is deep, then he lifts it until it seems to fall from the sky. I am thrilled. I am grateful.
Then, by the end of morning, he’s gone, nothing but silence out of the tree where he rested for a night. And this I find acceptable. Not enough is a poor life. But too much is, well, too much. Imagine Verdi or Mahler every day, all day. It would exhaust anyone. ~Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings
Their song reminds me of a child’s neighborhood rallying cry—ee-ock-ee—with a heartfelt warble at the end. But it is their call that is especially endearing. The towhee has the brass and grace to call, simply and clearly, “tweet”. I know of no other bird that stoops to literal tweeting. ~Annie Dillard,Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven. ~Emily Dickinson in an 1885 letter to Miss Eugenia Hall
What does it say about me that in the darkness of December mornings, I yearn for the early sunrises of June but once I’m firmly into the June calendar, it no longer is so compelling? It confirms my suspicion that I’m incapable of reveling in the moment at hand, something that would likely take years of therapy to undo. I’m sure there is some deep seated issue here, but I’m too sleep deprived to pursue it.
My eyes popped open this morning at 4:17 AM, spurred by vigorous birdsong in the trees surrounding our farm house. There was daylight sneaking through the venetian blinds at that unseemly hour as well. Once the bird chorus starts, with one lone chirpy voice in the apple tree by our bedroom window, it rapidly becomes a full frontal onslaught symphony orchestra from the plum, cherry, poplar, walnut, fir and chestnut. Sleep is irretrievable.
This might be something I would ordinarily appreciate but last night nearby pastures roared past midnight with the house-shaking rumble of heavy tractors and trucks chopping and hauling fresh green grass destined for silage.
Only a few months ago I remember wishing for early morning birdsong when it seemed the sun would never rise and the oppressive silence would never lift. I conveniently forget those mornings years ago when we had a dozen young roosters who magically found their voices very early in the morning a mere 10 weeks after hatching. Nothing before or since could match their alarm clock expertise after 4 AM. No barbecue before or since has tasted as sweet.
So I remind myself how bad it can really be and today’s backyard birdsong is a veritable symphony in comparison.
Even so, I already need a nap, yet a full day of clinic awaits. Ah, first world problems of a farmer/doctor/sleep-deprived human.