My mother, who hates thunder storms, Holds up each summer day and shakes It out suspiciously, lest swarms Of grape-dark clouds are lurking there; But when the August weather breaks And rains begin, and brittle frost Sharpens the bird-abandoned air, Her worried summer look is lost,
And I her son, though summer-born And summer-loving, none the less Am easier when the leaves are gone Too often summer days appear Emblems of perfect happiness I can’t confront: I must await A time less bold, less rich, less clear: An autumn more appropriate. ~Philip Larkin “Mother, Summer, I”
August weather has broken to clouds, sprinkles, nights with chill breezes, and leaves landing on brown ground.
This summer ended up being simply too much – an excess of everything meant to make us happy yet overwhelming and exhausting.
From endless hours of daylight, to high rising temperatures, to palettes of exuberant clouds to fruitfulness and abundant blooms.
While summer always fills a void left empty after enduring the many cold bare dark days of the rest of the year, I depend on winter days returning all too soon.
I will welcome them back, realizing how much I miss that longing for the fullness of summer.
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It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk The dew that lay upon the morning grass; There is no rustling in the lofty elm That canopies my dwelling, and its shade Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint And interrupted murmur of the bee, Settling on the sick flowers, and then again Instantly on the wing. The plants around Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms. But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills, With all their growth of woods, silent and stern, As if the scorching heat and dazzling light Were but an element they loved.
…I woo the wind That still delays his coming. Why so slow, Gentle and voluble spirit of the air? Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge, The pine is bending his proud top, and now Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes; Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves! The deep distressful silence of the scene Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds And universal motion. He is come, Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs, And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs, And sound of swaying branches, and the voice Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers, By the road-side and the borders of the brook, Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew Were on them yet, and silver waters break Into small waves and sparkle as he comes. ~William Cullen Bryant from “Summer Wind”
In the Pacific Northwest, we are going through another string of hot dry days with smoky landscapes and horizons. This is becoming all too familiar: the temperatures are rising each year, the forests are burning, our usual pristine air quality deteriorating.
Even the birds are silent in this weather. The bees, discouraged by the wilting blooms, don’t linger. Our animals covered with fur are listlessly seeking shade and anything green in the pasture.
So I pray for relief – any breeze to move this humid air – something, anything that can break this cycle of sweatiness.
Yesterday, in the midst of 102 degree temperatures, out of nowhere came a northeast wind – as strong and determined as our northeast midwinter arctic blasts – but hot. It was so disorienting to be blown about by furnace heat. Branches and leaves fell from bewildered and already stressed trees. Plants withered as the moisture was sucked from leaves and blossoms. The garden sagged.
As suddenly as it came, it was gone again. And all around me – me included – wondered what had just hit us.
I am reminded to be careful what I pray for, knowing that my petition may well be heard and heeded. Perhaps the answer to prayer won’t be quite what I hoped for or expected, but it is nonetheless an answer.
I only need to listen…
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There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do – Go through his clothes and look for loose change. ~William Goldman – the wisdom of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride
You who believe, and you who sometimes believe and sometimes don’t believe much of anything, and you who would give almost anything to believe if only you could.
You happy ones and you who can hardly remember what it was like once to be happy.
You who know where you’re going and how to get there and you who much of the time aren’t sure you’re getting anywhere.
“Get up,” he says, all of you – all of you! – and the power that is in him is the power to give life not just to the dead like the child,
but to those who are only partly alive, which is to say to people like you and me
who much of the time live with our lives closed to the wild beauty and miracle of things, including the wild beauty and miracle of every day we live and even of ourselves. ~Frederick Buechner -Originally published inSecrets in the Dark
May I not settle for being slightly alive or mostly dead –
I want to be fully alive to the wild beauty and miracle of things, to the wild beauty and miracle of every day, and even the wild beauty and miracle of myself~~
I have known what it is to doubt, to be discouraged, defeated, and grieved.
It is part of the package: shadows appear when the Sun is the brightest and hottest. I have no doubt the Sun exists, especially after the last few days.
So I must “get up!” even if I don’t know where to go next.
And then I will believe ~truly believe~ I am created to be mostly and absolutely alive this day and every day.
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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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The glittering roofs are still with frost; each worn Black chimney builds into the quiet sky Its curling pile to crumble silently. Far out to the westward on the edge of morn, The slender misty city towers up-borne Glimmer faint rose against the pallid blue; And yonder on those northern hills, the hue Of amethyst, hang fleeces dull as horn.
And here behind me come the woodmen’s sleighs With shouts and clamorous squeakings; might and main Up the steep slope the horses stamp and strain, Urged on by hoarse-tongued drivers–cheeks ablaze, Iced beards and frozen eyelids–team by team, With frost-fringed flanks, and nostrils jetting steam. ~Archibald Lampman “A January Morning”
The vast majority of the world no longer depends on horse power on hooves to bring us the things we need to live every day.
Few of us depend on wood heat in our homes during these chilly January nights. Chimneys have become obsolete or merely decorative.
We live in a farm house that depended solely on wood heat to keep its original family warm through decades of brisk Pacific Northwest winters – in our remodel twenty plus years ago, we removed two wood stoves and installed a propane furnace and gas stove instead – now dependent on fossil fuels but trying to keep the air clean around us.
We also no longer have to wait, as our parents and grandparents did, on teamsters with frosted beards urging on their teams of steaming horses – pulling sleighs and wagons loaded with firewood or other goods. Now, sleek semis back up to the ramps of grocery stores and off-load their cargo into warehouse and freezers so night stockers can ensure the shelves are full for shoppers each morning.
For most of us living in a time of modern and immediate conveniences, we have little connection to the original source of the daily supplies we need and how they get to us. As descendants of subsistence farmers, my husband and I feel a relationship to the land we live on, fortunate to be able to store much of our garden and orchard produce right here in our pantry, root cellar and freezer.
And what of the horses who were so critical to the economy up until a century ago? Their role has been reduced to recreation and novelty rather than providing the essential horse power that supplied the goods we needed to live and moved us where we needed to go.
No fossil fuel necessary back then. No exhaust other than steaming nostrils and a pile of manure here or there.
We are the aging bridge generation between the end of horse power on hooves giving way to universal horse power on wheels. I remind myself of this each day as I do the chores in the barn. I’m a fortunate farmer, working alongside these animals on the edge of a frosty morning, knowing few people will remember how essential they were or have the privilege to continue to care for them as they deserve.
Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate To say that for destruction ice Is also great And would suffice. ~Robert Frost “Fire and Ice”
Whether we are consumed by flames or frost, if we rendered ash or crystal — both burn.
Yet ashes remain ashes, only and forever mere dust.
If encased in ice, a thaw can restore. Frozen memories sear like a sculpture meant to melt, and thereby the imprisoned are forever freed.
The cold has the philosophical value of reminding men that the universe does not love us…cold is our ancient companion. To return back indoors after exposure to the bitter, inimical, implacable cold is to experience gratitude for the shelters of civilization, for the islands of warmth that life creates. ~John Updike from an essay on the cold of winter in Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
We’re in the midst of a string of sub-freezing temperature nights and days with crystal clear skies while a nor’easter sends the windchill plummeting.
Even though it is often called the “Arctic Express” it is not nearly the cold of the midwest plains or the Alaskan frontier. This is civilized, “kill the bugs and the allergens” cold that helps balance out the ecosystem as well as our internal thermostats. It is just not seemly to live at 70 degrees year round, toasted by the stove in the winter, soothed by conditioned air in the summer.
The cold that descends from the Arctic can blast through the strongest Carhartt clothing, sneak through drafty doors and windows, pull down power lines and freeze pipes not left dripping. It leaves no one untouched and unbitten with universal freezer burn.
A bitter cold snap ensures even independent fair-weather individualists must become companionable when the going gets rugged, mandating shelter with others for survival. It can even mean forced companionship with those we ordinarily avoid, with whom we have little in common, with whom we disagree and even quarrel, with whom sharing a hug or snuggling for warmth would be unimaginable.
Our nation is in such a cold snap today, terribly and bitterly divided. If we all together don’t come in out of the deep freeze, we each will perish alone.
It is time to be thankful we have each other, such as we are. At least we generate heat, even if we can’t seem to lighten up.
When sleep was elusive, the air still with heat at midnight.
When even a melon-colored sky looks dry along with everything beneath it.
When wildfire smoke drifts in on waves from north and south, obscuring, rounding out the sharp edges.
I accept the sweetness that is offered this tepid summer morning that will turn too hot.
The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer,
the top of the live-long year,
like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.
The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring,
and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn,
but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.
It is curiously silent, too,
with blank white dawns and glaring noons,
and sunsets smeared with too much color. ~Natalie Babbitt fromTuck Everlasting
After a few days of milder summer respite, we’ve returned to temperatures in the nineties this week. No one asked me if enduring such heat was a reasonable way to usher in the first week of August.
So here I sit silently rocking and sweating in the highest vantage point of this year’s ferris wheel ride, hanging breathlessly mid-air, appreciating the brief pause in the endless cycle of days.
Having just arrived at the top, I will venture to look down, knowing I am simply along for the ride, and Someone else is at the controls. I might as well enjoy the view of all that is behind, alongside and in front of me, but especially what is below, holding me up in thin air.
All too quickly will come the descent into autumn, my stomach leaping into my chest with the lurch forward into the unknown. As the climb to get here took so long, I am not quite ready for this inevitable drop back into the chill.
Hot or not, it’s best to celebrate this first week in August for all it’s splash and glare. At least I’m swinging in what little breeze there is, endeavoring to capture the moment forever.