When a friend calls to me from the road And slows his horse to a meaning walk, I don’t stand still and look around On all the hills I haven’t hoed, And shout from where I am, What is it? No, not as there is a time to talk. I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground, Blade-end up and five feet tall, And plod: I go up to the stone wall For a friendly visit. ~Robert Frost, “A Time to Talk” from The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems
We don’t take the time to visit anymore. Human connection is too often via VPN and pixels, chat groups and texts, GIFs and tweets. We’ve lost the fine art of conversation and intently listening, and no one remembers how to write a letter long-hand, fold it into an envelope, put a stamp on it and drop it into a mailbox.
No wonder our grandchildren are unsure how to cultivate a relationship like they might a garden: working the soil of another’s life, turning it over and over, fluffing it up, pulling out the unwanted weeds that smother growth, nurturing it with the best fertilizer, planting the seeds most likely to germinate, drenching with the warmth of light and energy, keeping the roots from getting thirsty.
We need to listen; we need to talk; we need to take time; we need to lean on the walls between us and bridge our gaps as best we can.
Just call out to me. I’ll stop what I’m doing, drop my hoe and plod over for a good chin wag. It’s what every good gardener needs to do.
O! for a horse with wings! ~William Shakespeare from Cymbeline
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 will simply hang out with us, helping to keep the biting flies away by gobbling them up before they draw blood.
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 free.
In Western lands beneath the Sun the flowers may rise in Spring the trees may bud the waters run the merry Finches sing.
Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night and swaying beeches bear the Elven stars as jewels white amid their branching hair
Though here at journey’s end I lie in darkness buried deep, beyond all towers strong and high, beyond all mountains steep, above all shadows rides the Sun and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done, nor bid the Stars farewell. ~J.R.R. Tolkien “Sam’s Song”
Life has loveliness to sell, All beautiful and splendid things, Blue waves whitened on a cliff, Soaring fire that sways and sings, And children’s faces looking up Holding wonder like a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell, Music like a curve of gold, Scent of pine trees in the rain, Eyes that love you, arms that hold, And for your spirit’s still delight, Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness, Buy it and never count the cost; For one white singing hour of peace Count many a year of strife well lost, And for a breath of ecstasy Give all you have been, or could be. ~Sara Teasdale “Barter”
Some days I wish to keep hold forever:
when the light is just right in the trees,
the breezes filled with blossom fragrance,
the mountains glow with evening sun,
a smiling child climbs up on my lap just because,
a meal is enjoyed by all who join together.
I know I will not say day is done.
I know I barter for these moments
by giving up some piece of me,
knowing the sowing of self
will reap rich harvest in an overflowing heart.
I frequently tramped eight or ten miles through the deepest snow to keep an appointment with a beech-tree, or a yellow birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.
~Henry David Thoreau
You can live for years next door to a big pine tree, honored to have so venerable a neighbor, even when it sheds needles all over your flowers or wakes you, dropping big cones onto your deck at still of night. ~Denise Levertov
I hear you call, pine tree, I hear you upon the hill, by the silent pond where the lotus flowers bloom, I hear you call, pine tree. What is it you call, pine tree, when the rain falls, when the winds blow, and when the stars appear, what is it you call, pine tree? I hear you call, pine tree, but I am blind, and do not know how to reach you, pine tree. Who will take me to you, pine tree? ~Yone Noguchi “I Hear You Call, Pine Tree”
Our wet side of the state is not pine tree country — they prefer the dry climate east of the mountains. Once planted here, however, they take hold and make the best of their wet feet.
The tall pine along our barn driveway must be at least sixty years old — it is starting to look its age, as am I. Sure, there are some bare branches, a few brown needles, yet it still drops cones in the hope of a future generation of pine seedlings. The squirrels are too fast and whisk the seeds to their hideaways before they can sprout and take hold.
This old acquaintance of mine, this venerable pine and I, we may sway in the breeze and be bent by ice and snow, but we weather the years together. After all, our roots go deep and our arms reach to the sky.
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. ~Annie Dillard from “Write Till You Drop”
You’re going to feel like hell if you wake up someday and you never wrote the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves of your heart: your stories, memories, visions, and songs–your truth, your version of things–in your own voice. That’s really all you have to offer us, and that’s also why you were born.
~Anne Lamott in a recent TED Talk
I began to write after September 11, 2001 because that day it became obvious to me I was dying, albeit more slowly than the thousands who vanished that day in fire and ash, their voices obliterated with their bodies. So, nearly each day since, while I still have voice and a new dawn to greet, I speak through my fingers and my camera lens to others dying around me.
My good friend, Sara, who I’ve known and loved half my life, is fighting for her life in an all day cancer surgery today, having fought a chronic disease and a totally different cancer once before and won. She knows well the hard cost of winning even when the odds aren’t good, yet still has a courage in her to fight once again.
That will to fight is heavy on my mind today.
We are, after all, terminal patients, some more imminent than others, some of us more prepared to move on, as if our readiness had anything to do with the timing.
Each day I too get a little closer, so I write and share photos of my world in order to hang on awhile longer. Each day I must detach just a little bit, leaving a small trace of my voice and myself behind. Eventually, through unmerited grace, so much of me will be left on the page there won’t be anything or anyone left to do the typing.
…to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think, How can a body withstand this? Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say, yes, I will take you I will love you, again. — Ellen Bass “The Thing Is…” from Mules of Love
It begins again, even though I’m unprepared. No matter which way I turn, autumn’s kaleidoscope displays new patterns, new colors, new empty spaces as I watch the world die into itself once again. Some dying is flashy, brilliant, blazing – a calling out for attention. Then there is the hidden dying that happens without anyone taking notice: just a plain, tired, rusting away letting go.
I will spend the morning adjusting to the change in season by occupying myself with the familiar task of moving manure. Cleaning barn is a comforting chore, allowing me to transform tangible benefit from something objectionable and just plain stinky to the nurturing fertilizer of the future. It feels like I’ve actually accomplished something.
As I scoop and push the wheelbarrow, I recall another barn cleaning fifteen years ago, when I was one of three or four friends left cleaning over ninety stalls after a Haflinger horse event that I had organized at our local fairgrounds. Some people had brought their horses from over 1000 miles away to participate for several days. There had been personality clashes and harsh words among some participants along with criticism directed at me as the organizer that I had taken very personally. As I struggled with the umpteenth wheelbarrow load of manure, tears stung my eyes and my heart. I was miserable with regret. After going without sleep and making personal sacrifices over many months planning and preparing for the benefit of our group, my work felt futile and unappreciated.
One friend had stayed behind with her young family to help clean up the large facility and she could see I was struggling to keep my composure. Jenny put herself right in front of my wheelbarrow and looked me in the eye, insisting I stop for a moment and listen:
“You know, none of these troubles and conflicts will amount to a hill of beans years from now. People will remember a fun event in a beautiful part of the country, a wonderful time with their Haflingers, their friends and family, and they’ll be all nostalgic about it, not giving a thought to the infighting or the sour attitudes or who said what to whom. So don’t make this about you and whether you did or didn’t make everyone happy. You loved us all enough to make it possible to meet here and the rest was up to us. So quit being upset about what you can’t change. There’s too much you can still do for us.”
During tough times since (and there have been plenty), Jenny’s advice replays, reminding me to cease seeking appreciation from others or feeling hurt when harsh words come my way. She was right about the balm found in the tincture of time. She was right about giving up the upset in order to die to self and self absorption, and instead to focus outward.
I have remembered.
Jenny herself did not know that day fifteen years ago she would subsequently spend six years dying while still loving her life every day, fighting a relentless cancer that was only slowed in the face of her faith and intense drive to live. She became a rusting leaf gone holy, fading imperceptibly over time, crumbling at the edges until five years ago this past week, she finally had to let go. Her dying did not flash brilliance, nor draw attention at the end. Her intense focus during the years of her illness had always been outward to others, to her family and friends, to the healers she spent so much time with in medical offices, to her firm belief in the plan God had written for her and those who loved her.
So Jenny let go her hold on life here. And we reluctantly let her go. Brilliance cloaks her as her focus is now on things eternal.
You were so right, Jenny. Nothing from fifteen years ago amounts to a hill of beans now. Except the words you spoke to me that day, teaching me to love life even when I have no stomach for it.
And I won’t be upset that I can’t change what is past and the fact that you have left us.