He fell in love with a simple field of wheat, and I’ve felt this way, too; melted, like a pool of mint chip ice cream, foolishly in love, even though we know how it turns out in the end: snicked by the scythe, burnt in the furnace of the August sun, threshed, separated, kernel from chaff. But right now, it’s spring, and the wheat aligns in orderly rows: Yellow green. Snap pea. Sage. Celadon. His brush strokes pile on, wave after wave, as the haystacks liquefy, slide off the canvas, roll on down to the sea. ~Barbara Crooker “Field with Wheat Stacks” from Les Fauves.
There is nothing here but wheat, no blade too slight for his attention: long swaying brush strokes, pale greens, slithery yellows, the hopefulness of early spring. All grass is flesh, says the prophet. Here, there are no gorgeous azures stamped with almond blossoms, no screaming sky clawed with crows, no sunflowers roiling gold and orange, impasto thick as Midi sunlight. His brush herringboned up each stalk, the elemental concerns of sun, rain, dirt, while his scrim of pain receded into the underpainting. He let the wind play through the stems like a violin, turning the surface liquid, a sea of green, shifting eddies and currents. No sky, no horizon; the world as wheat. ~Barbara Crooker, “Ears of Wheat, 1890” from Les Fauves
I continually fall in love with the fields in my world – I’m unable to take my eyes off them as they green up in the spring, as they wave in the breeze in June, as they turn into gold in August.
Each day brings a change to record and remember.
The colors pile on, one after another after another until it all must be cut short, harvested, stored and consumed, leaving behind the raw shorn remnants.
Yet in stubble is the memory of something that was once truly grand and beautiful and will be again.
Even stubble in a simple field reminds me of what is yet to come.
Imagine you wake up with a second chance: The blue jay hawks his pretty wares and the oak still stands, spreading glorious shade. If you don’t look back, the future never happens. How good to rise in sunlight, in the prodigal smell of biscuits – eggs and sausage on the grill. The whole sky is yours to write on, blown open to a blank page. Come on, shake a leg! You’ll never know who’s down there, frying those eggs, if you don’t get up and see. ~Rita Dove “Dawn Revisited” from On the Bus with Rosa Parks
When I was a kid, summer mornings were simply delicious – I loved the smell of breakfast being prepared while I unfolded and stretched my growing legs under the covers, lazily considering how to take on the dawn.
Each new day felt like another chance, a clean slate, a blank page ready to be filled with the knowledge gained from the mistakes made the day before, the urgency of today’s needs, and the hope for grace tomorrow.
Now I’m the one cooking up a breakfast of words and pictures, trying to lure others from their beds with the fragrance of another day, another chance, another opportunity.
There is life to be lived; the whole sky is yours. Time’s a-wasting. Time to get up.
Because I have come to the fence at night, the horses arrive also from their ancient stable. They let me stroke their long faces, and I note in the light of the now-merging moon
how they, a Morgan and a Quarter, have been by shake-guttered raindrops spotted around their rumps and thus made Appaloosas, the ancestral horses of this place.
Maybe because it is night, they are nervous, or maybe because they too sense what they have become, they seem to be waiting for me to say something
to whatever ancient spirits might still abide here, that they might awaken from this strange dream, in which there are fences and stables and a man who doesn’t know a single word they understand. ~Robert Wrigley “After a Rainstorm”from Beautiful Country
Haflinger horses must have a migration center in their brain that tells them that it is time to move on to other territory, a move based on quality of forage, the seasons, or maybe simply a sudden urge for a change in scenery. I imagine, over hundreds of years of living in the rather sparse Alpen meadows, they needed to move on to another feeding area enmasse on a pretty regular basis, or if the weather was starting to get crummy. Or perhaps the next valley over had a better view, who knows? Trouble is, my Haflingers seem to have the desire to “move to other pastures” even if the grass in their own territory is plentiful and the view is great. And there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of natural or man-made barrier that will discourage them.
I have a trio of geldings (the “Three Musketeers”) who are particularly afflicted with wanderlust. There is not a field yet that has held them when they decide together that it is time to move on. We are a hotwire and white tape fenced farm–something that has worked fairly well over the years, as it is inexpensive, easily repaired and best of all, easily moved if we need to change the fencing arrangement in our pasture rotation between five different 2 acre pastures. Previous generations of Haflingers have tested the hotwire and learned not to bother it again. No problem. But not the Three Musketeers.
They know when the wire is grounding out somewhere, so the current is low. They know when the weather is so dry that the conduction is poor through the wire. They know when I’ve absent mindedly left the fencer unplugged because I’ve had someone visit and we wanted to climb unshocked through the fences to walk from field to field. These three actually have little conferences out in the field together about this–I’ve seen them huddled together, discussing their strategy, and fifteen minutes later, I’ll look out my kitchen window and they are in another field altogether and the wire and tape is strewn everywhere and there’s not a mark on any of them. Even more mysteriously, often I can’t really tell where they made their escape as they leave no trace–I think one holds up the top wire with his teeth and the others carefully step over the bottom wire. I’m convinced they do this just to make me crazy.
Last night, when I brought them in from a totally different field from where they had started in the morning, they all smirked at me as they marched to their stalls as if to say, “guess what you have waiting for you out there.” It was too dark to survey the damage last night but I got up extra early to check it out this morning before I turned them out again.
Sure enough, in the back corner of the field they had been put in yesterday morning, (which has plenty of grass), the tape had been stretched, but not broken, and the wires popped off their insulators and dragging on the ground and in a huge tangled mass. I enjoyed 45 minutes of Pacific Northwest cloudy morning putting it all back together. Then I put them out in the field they had escaped to last night, thinking, “okay, if you like this field so well, this is where you’ll stay”.
Tonight, they were back in the first field where they started out yesterday morning. Just to make me crazy. They are thoroughly enjoying this sport. I’m ready to buy a grand poobah mega-wattage fry-their-whiskers fence charger.
But then, I’d be spoiling their fun and their travels. As long as they stay off the road, out of our garden, and out of my kitchen, they can have the run of the place. I too remember being afflicted with wanderlust, long long ago, and wanting to see the big wide world, no matter what obstacles had to be overcome or shocks I had to endure to get there. And I got there after all that trouble and effort and realized that home was really where I wanted to be. Now, prying me away from my little corner of the world gets more difficult every year. I hope my Haflinger trio will eventually decide that staying home is the best thing after all.
It’s frail, this spring snow, it’s pot cheese packing down underfoot. It flies out of the trees at sunrise like a flock of migrant birds. It slips in clumps off the barn roof, wingless angels dropped by parachute. Inside, I hear the horses knocking aimlessly in their warm brown lockup, testing the four known sides of the box as the soul must, confined under the breastbone. Horses blowing their noses, coming awake, shaking the sawdust bedding out of their coats. They do not know what has fallen out of the sky, colder than apple bloom, since last night’s hay and oats. They do not know how satisfactory they look, set loose in the April sun, nor what handsprings are turned under my ribs with winter gone. ~Maxine Kumin “Late Snow” from Selected Poems: 1960 – 1990
This past weekend we had it all: sun, rain, windstorm, hail, and some local areas even reported a late April snowfall. It is indeed disorienting to have one foot still in winter and the other firmly on grass that needs mowing.
It is also disorienting to look at pandemic data and hear varying experts’ interpretations about what is happening, what they predict and what strategies are recommended.
It may be time to loosen the tight grip on social distancing yet many are reticent to emerge from their confinement, for good reason.
Just last week, we released the Haflingers from their winter lock-in back onto the fields – their winter-creaky barn-confined joints stretched as they joyfully ran the perimeter of the fields before settling their noses into fresh clover. Their ribs sprung with the fragrance of the apple blossom perfume of the orchard and it lifted my sagging spirit to see them gallop. But even the horses are not ready for complete freedom either – I whistled them in after two hours, not wanting them to eat themselves sick with too much spring grass. Their time on the outside will be tightly controlled until it is safe for them to be out unrestricted.
Surprisingly, the horses come in willingly to settle back into their stalls and their confinement routine.
I’m not so different. I long to be set loose in the April sun and the freedom to go when and where I wish. But the new reality means winter is not entirely gone yet and may not be for some time. There are still tragic and untimely losses of life, still plenty of weeping and lament from the grief-stricken who have been robbed prematurely of loved ones due to a virus that is circulating indiscriminately.
So we must ease out slowly, carefully and cautiously, with one ear cocked and ready to be whistled back in when we are called to return to safety.
The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough. ~Ezra Pound “In a Station of the Metro”
All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the Lord endures forever. 1Peter 1:24-25
We won’t be visiting Japan this spring as we have the past several years – we were there over Christmas to meet a new grandson and with the specter of coronavirus has dampened any desire to travel. There are millions of people there and here wondering how this new reality will impact their daily lives. It already has: the store shelves are bare of basic necessities as nervous families stockpile.
In the past, during our time in Tokyo, we are overwhelmed by the sea of faces — each man, woman and child with a place to go to work or school, a place to return home to, a bed to rest upon. Millions pass through the same place in one day and each person, each hair on their head, is cared for and counted by God.
Yet, we are like the transient flowers, reminded again by the emergence of a potentially lethal viral protein packet: we are mortal, each of us, in our clinging like petals to a wet bough – the word of the Lord, our Creator. Only then we become more than apparition. We bloom where God has planted us.
This year’s Lenten theme on Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
It was like a church to me. I entered it on soft foot, Breath held like a cap in the hand. It was quiet. What God there was made himself felt, Not listened to, in clean colours That brought a moistening of the eye, In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness Of the heart’s passions – that was praise Enough; and the mind’s cession Of its kingdom. I walked on, Simple and poor, while the air crumbled And broke on me generously as bread. ~R.S. Thomas “The Moor”
There are mornings surrounded by His stilling presence~ when God is felt, neither seen nor heard, overtaking me within each breath taken, following the path of each glistening tear, the air crumbling down around me, its rich manna becoming the ground reaching to meet my foot with each step I take.
Cut grass lies frail: Brief is the breath Mown stalks exhale. Long, long the death
It dies in the white hours Of young-leafed June With chestnut flowers, With hedges snowlike strewn,
White lilac bowed, Lost lanes of Queen Anne’s lace, And that high-builded cloud Moving at summer’s pace.~ ~Philip Larkin “Cut Grass” from The Complete Poems
Light and wind are running over the headed grass as though the hill had melted and now flowed. ~Wendell Berry “June Wind”
The uncut field grass is growing heavier, falling over, lodged before it can be cut; the undulations of summer breezes urge it back upright. It has matured too fast, rising up too lush, too overcome with itself so that it can no longer stand unsupported. We must work fast to save it and more rain is on the way.
Light and wind work magic on a field of melting tall grass. The blades of the mower will come to lay it to the ground in green streams that flow up and down the slopes. It will lie comfortless in its stoneless cemetery rows, until tossed about by the tedder into random piles to dry, then raked back into a semblance of order in mounded lines flowing over the landscape.
It will be crushed and bound together for transport to the barn, no longer bending but bent, no longer flowing but flown, no longer growing but grown
We move at summer’s pace to ensure the grasses become fodder for the beasts of the farm during the cold nights when the wind beats at the doors. It will melt in their mouths, as it was meant to be.
Flowers preach to us if we will hear: The rose saith in the dewy morn: I am most fair; Yet all my loveliness is born Upon a thorn. The poppy saith amid the corn: Let but my scarlet head appear And I am held in scorn; Yet juice of subtle virtue lies Within my cup of curious dyes. The lilies say: Behold how we Preach without words of purity. The violets whisper from the shade Which their own leaves have made: Men scent our fragrance on the air, Yet take no heed Of humble lessons we would read. But not alone the fairest flowers: The merest grass Along the roadside where we pass, Lichen and moss and sturdy weed, Tell of His love who sends the dew, The rain and sunshine too, To nourish one small seed. ~Christina Rossetti fromGoblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems
Some sermons are written bold with color, illustrated with powerful gospel stories of righteousness and redemption in the face of our sin.
Some sermon passages are fragrant with the scent of grace and forgiveness, lingering long after the words are spoken.
Some sermon stories remain subtle and hidden, cryptic messages like the blooms that grow close to the ground, barely visible.
We need to hear them all preached, but most of all we need those every day plain-to-the-bone sermons which are trampled and tread upon, springing back up to guide our feet to the best pathway home. No color, no fragrance, no hiding: just celebrating the ubiquitous lichens, mosses and grasses and weeds which exist solely to help cushion our inevitable fall and help us rise up again.
Open the window, and let the air Freshly blow upon face and hair, And fill the room, as it fills the night, With the breath of the rain’s sweet might.
Not a blink shall burn to-night In my chamber, of sordid light; Nought will I have, not a window-pane, ‘Twixt me and the air and the great good rain, Which ever shall sing me sharp lullabies; And God’s own darkness shall close mine eyes; And I will sleep, with all things blest, In the pure earth-shadow of natural rest.
A pass of the blade leaves behind
rough stems, a blunt cut field of
paths through naked slopes and
bristly contoured hollows.
Once swept and stored, the hay is
baled for a future day, and grass’ deep roots
yield newly tender growth, tempted forth
by warmth and summer rain.
A full grassy beard sprouts
lush again, to obscure the landscape
rise and fall, conceal each molehill,
pothole, ditch and burrow.
I trace this burgeoning stubble with gentle touch,
fingertips graze the rise of cheek, the curve of upper lip
and indent of dimpled chin with long-healed scar, the stalwart jaw,
a terrain oh so familiar that it welcomes me back home.