What words or harder gift does the light require of me carving from the dark this difficult tree?
What place or farther peace do I almost see emerging from the night and heart of me?
The sky whitens, goes on and on. Fields wrinkle into rows of cotton, go on and on. Night like a fling of crows disperses and is gone.
What song, what home, what calm or one clarity can I not quite come to, never quite see: this field, this sky, this tree. ~Christian Wiman, “Hard Night”
Even the darkest night has a sliver of light left, if only in our memories. We remember how it was and how it can be — the promise of better to come.
While the ever-changing sky swirls as a backdrop, a tree on a hill became the focal point, as it must, like a black hole swallowing up all pain, all suffering, all evil threatening to consume our world.
What clarity, what calm, what peace can be found at the foot of that tree, where our hearts can rest in this knowledge: our sin died there, once and for all and our names are carved into its roots for all time.
It is possible, I suppose that sometime we will learn everything there is to learn: what the world is, for example, and what it means. I think this as I am crossing from one field to another…
At my feet the white-petalled daisies display the small suns of their center piece, their – if you don’t mind my saying so – their hearts. Of course I could be wrong, perhaps their hearts are pale and narrow and hidden in the roots. What do I know? But this: it is heaven itself to take what is given, to see what is plain; what the sun lights up willingly; for example – I think this as I reach down, not to pick but merely to touch – the suitability of the field for the daisies, and the daisies for the field. ~Mary Oliver from “Daisies”
I am content realizing I won’t understand what this world means, (and why any of us matter when we are all made up of the same atoms as everything else in existence);
No, I will remain in the dark until I cross from this field to the next. I have to wait for heaven itself to see how the Sun illuminates what matters.
It is all mystery in the meantime, and sometimes a mean and joyless mystery – with pain and heartbreak and suffering, but just enough loving sacrifice to make it worthwhile.
How are our atoms different from that stone, or that tree or that daisy?
We are breathed on. As God’s breath surges within us, we laugh out loud, weep mightily and sing out His Words – struggling to be suitable for this field, so often trampled and broken, but with plans to flourish plentiful in the Sun of heaven.
It was the face of spring, it was the face of summer, it was the warmness of clover breath. ~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine
However you may come, You’ll see it suddenly Lie open to the light Amid the woods: a farm Little enough to see Or call across—cornfield, Hayfield, and pasture, clear As if remembered, dreamed And yearned for long ago, Neat as a blossom now With all the pastures mowed And the dew fresh upon it, Bird music all around. That is the vision, seen As on a Sabbath walk: The possibility Of human life whose terms Are Heaven’s and this earth’s.
The land must have its Sabbath Or take it when we starve. The ground is mellow now, Friable and porous: rich. Mid-August is the time To sow this field in clover And grass, to cut for hay Two years, pasture a while, And then return to corn.
This way you come to know That something moves in time That time does not contain. For by this timely work You keep yourself alive As you came into time, And as you’ll leave: God’s dust, God’s breath, a little Light. ~Wendell Berry from The Farm
Farming is daily work outside of time – the labor of this day is the care for the eternal. There is a timelessness about summer: about preparing and planting and preserving, this cycle of living and dying repeating through generations. We, as our many great great grandparents did, must become God’s dust yet again.
So I’m reminded, walking through the pasture’s clover patch, of all the ways to become seed and soil for the next generation. For a blossom that appears so plain and goes so unnoticed during its life, it dies back, enfolding upon itself, with character and color and drama, each a bit differently from its neighbor.
Just like us.
Perhaps it is the breath of clover we should remember at the last; God’s own breath comes to us disguised in so many ways as we walk this ground. Inhale deeply of Him and remember we too are made fruits of His eternal labor.
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.
In a dry wind like this, snow and ice can pass directly into the air as a gas without having first melted to water. This process is called sublimation; tonight the snow in the yard and the ice in the creek sublime. A breeze buffets my palm held a foot from the wall. A wind like this does my breathing for me: it engenders something quick and kicking in my lungs. Pliny believed the mares of the Portuguese used to raise their tails to the wind, ‘and turn them full against it, and so conceive that genital air instead of natural seed; in such sort, as they become great withal, and quicken in their time, and bring forth foals as swift as the wind…’.
A single cell quivers at a windy embrace; it swells and splits, it bubbles into a raspberry; a dark clot starts to throb. Soon something perfect is born. Something wholly new rides the wind, something fleet and fleeting I’m likely to miss. ~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Whenever we have a blowing northeaster, I assumed that our snow simply blew southwest and we were left with nothing but a skiff of white here. But I was wrong. The snow and ice are sublimated, disappearing into the air as vapor.
I wish I could be so transformed, blown into something wholly new and free, not tethered and earth-bound.
Our Creator God does just that: we are so very sublime through the power of His breath.
Remember that meadow up above the ridge where the dog ran around in circles and we were tired from the climb up and everything was tilted sideways including the running in circles of the ecstatic dog his bright tongue lapping at the air and we were leaning into the heart of the field where no battle ever took place where no farmer ever bothered to turn the soil yet everything seemed to have happened there everything seemed to be happening at once enough so we’ve never forgotten how full the field was and how we were there too and full ~Tim Nolan “The Field”
This hill on our farm is for running, for sunning, for lolling, for rolling, for pondering, for wandering.
With dogs or without them, our time spent here is full and fulfilling.
Well-away and be it so,
To the stranger let them go.
Even cheerfully I yield
Pasture, orchard, mowing-field,
Yea and wish him all the gain
I required of them in vain.
Yea and I can yield him house,
Barn, and shed, with rat and mouse
To dispute possession of.
These I can unlearn to love.
Since I cannot help it? Good!
Only be it understood, It shall be no trespassing If I come again some spring In the grey disguise of years, Seeking ache of memory here. ~Robert Frost from “On the Sale of My Farm”
From the road, each of the two small farms where I grew up in western Washington state look nothing like they did in my childhood. When I drive past now, whether on Google Earth virtual reality or for real , the outbuildings have changed and are unfamiliar, fences pulled down, the trees exponentially taller, the fields no longer well-tended. Instead the familiarity is in the road to get there, the lean into the curves, the acceleration in and out of dips, the landscape which triggers a simultaneous comfort and disquiet deep in my DNA.
Though my younger brother recently stopped and looked around our long-ago childhood home, and sent me pictures that looked barely recognizable, I have never stopped to knock; instead I have driven slowly past to sense if I feel what I used to feel in these places. My memories are indeed triggered but feel a bit as if they must have happened to someone else.
One clinic day a few years ago, I glanced at the home address of a young man I was about to see for a medical issue and I realized he now lived in my childhood home over 100 miles away. When I greeted him I told him we had something in common: we had grown up under the same roof, inside the same walls, though children of two different generations. He was curious but skeptical — how could this gray-haired middle aged woman know anything about his home? He told me a bit about the house, the barn, the fields, the garden and how he experienced it felt altogether strange to me. He and I had shared nothing but a patch of real estate — our recollections were so completely disparate.
I worry for the fearsome ache if someday, due to age or finances, we must sell our current farm ~ this beloved place our children were raised, animals bred and cared for, fruit picked from an ancient orchard, plants tended and soil turned over. It will remain on the map surely as the other two farms of my past, visible as we pass by slowly on the road, but primarily alive in the words and photos I have harvested here. There will always be that sweet ache of seeking out what might be still familiar on the map of my memory.
Many of us are just going about our lives, not expecting much from each day that passes by. Each moment is like the last and will be like the next and the next.
Imagine in the midst of the mundane and banal there is the discovery of a once in a lifetime treasure, a gift out of the blue that changes everything and changes you. You can’t bear to leave it behind, so in joy and celebration you sell everything you have, give away everything that previously mattered to you, knowing that the treasure you have found is the source of all joy and fulfillment.
This is what happens when people find the Word, sometimes in the most unexpected place, open it up and are embraced by it. You hide it in your heart to keep it safe. You want to know it is yours forever.
And it is.
May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand. He prepares me with parable.
(Richard Wilbur, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet, passed Saturday at age 96)
Wading through an autumn field
where gradual change breaks up the beautiful once again:
to wonder at the throes of dying,
to know the kindness of a glistening dawn
when all before seemed darkness,
when all to come seems ephemeral;
brokenness in a moment
For seasons the walled meadow south of the house built of its stone grows up in shepherd’s purse and thistles the weeds share April as a secret finches disguised as summer earth click the drying seeds mice run over rags of parchment in August the hare keeps looking up remembering a hidden joy fills the songs of the cicadas
two days’ rain wakes the green in the pastures crows agree and hawks shriek with naked voices on all sides the dark oak woods leap up and shine the long stony meadow is plowed at last and lies all day bare I consider life after life as treasures oh it is the autumn light
that brings everything back in one hand the light again of beginnings the amber appearing as amber ~ W. S. Merwin, “September Plowing” from Flower & Hand
The rain has returned –
too many weeks of parchment leaves and soil,
now moistened and refreshed.
The light is so different in the evenings,
autumnal beginnings and summer endings,
a burning amber of sky and earth.
It is treasured up and stored,
to be harvested in the dead of winter
when such amber light is only remembrance
in the midst of so much gray.