How much better it is to carry wood to the fire than to moan about your life. How much better to throw the garbage onto the compost, or to pin the clean sheet on the line, With a gray-brown wooden clothes pin. ~Jane Kenyon “The Clothespin”
I get easily overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done: a full day of telehealth computer visits with patients from home but all the usual household and farm tasks waiting for me –grass to mow, flower beds to weed, garden to plant, fences to fix, manure to haul, animals to brush out — the list is endless and there are never enough hours in the day.
So of course, I moan and whine and write about it.
Or I can set to work, tackling one thing at a time. A simple task is accomplished, and then another, like hanging clothes on the line: this one is done, and now this one, pinned and hanging to freshen, renewed, in the spring breezes.
At the end of the day, I pull them down, bury my face in them and breathe deeply, knowing how much better I am than before I began.
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven, And veils the farm-house at the garden’s end. The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind’s masonry. Out of an unseen quarry evermore Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer Curves his white bastions with projected roof Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Built in an age, the mad wind’s night-work, The frolic architecture of the snow. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson from “The Snow-Storm”
The barn bears the weight of the first heavy snow without complaint.
White breath of cows rises in the tie-up, a man wearing a frayed winter jacket reaches for his milking stool in the dark.
The cows have gone into the ground, and the man, his wife beside him now.
A nuthatch drops to the ground, feeding on sunflower seed and bits of bread I scattered on the snow.
The cats doze near the stove. They lift their heads as the plow goes down the road, making the house tremble as it passes. ~Jane Kenyon “This Morning”
We’ve seen harsher northeast winds, we’ve seen heavier snow. Yet there is something refreshingly disruptive about the once or twice a year overnight snow storm: it transforms, transcends and transfigures.
So we stay home when the weather and farms demand we do, to feed and water ourselves and our animals and the wild ones around us. It is a quiet and private and tumultuous time, a time to be attuned to one another.
What we owned was piled on the bed and warmed the room with the smell of bodies, bleach, and dryer sheets. You, on one side, folded the colors and I, on the other, the whites. Between us, years, children, holes in the knees, stains.
What you folded became gifts, wrapped, too beautiful to open. I watched you work as I took sock after sock and married them. We knew that most of what we did would be undone, but it kept us coming back to the same bed, the same warm room. ~Jim Richards, “Laundry” from Mud Season Review #15
All day the blanket snapped and swelled on the line, roused by a hot spring wind…. From there it witnessed the first sparrow, early flies lifting their sticky feet, and a green haze on the south-sloping hills. Clouds rose over the mountain….At dusk I took the blanket in, and we slept, restless, under its fragrant weight. ~Jane Kenyon “Wash”
Twenty years ago the green square beyond our back door was webbed with lines on which I hung with wooden pegs my angels and my ghosts –white nightgowns winged in the wind, shrouds of tablecloths, shirts fluting their spooky sleeves, their dwindling tails — shadows of the lucid cloth moving like water on the grass.
Now we live over a basement dryer churning beneath a 40-watt bulb. The trap keeps filling with a gray lint as my cloths, my second skins, are dried out by the dialed minute. The air behind the house is empty of apparitions, epiphanies. Gone is the iron-fresh smell of damp linens praying their vapor to the sun. ~Luci Shaw “Evaporation” from Water Lines
We need to always be on the lookout for simple pleasures that keep us coming back for more again and again.
Clean laundry freshly dried on the clothesline is one of them. True, the towels and sheets are rougher when the wind has snapped them into shape rather than a rolling dryer drum with fabric softener sheets. The scent of the outdoors more than makes up for the sandpaper feel. I bury my face in the pile as I bring it inside to fold and put away.
Smoothing, folding, stacking, creating order- it will be undone and redone in merely a week, yet is such a comforting routine.
Even when there is disarray, when we are soiled and smelly, when we feel tossed into the dirty clothes hamper, we can be restored. Water and cleansing and wind bearing fresh air ready us to be folded and smoothed and stowed away until we are needed.
We don’t just keep coming back; we are called back. We are loved so much that dirty doesn’t matter because it always (always) can be made clean.
It hangs on its stem like a plum at the edge of a darkening thicket.
It’s swelling and blushing and ripe and I reach out a hand to pick it
but flesh moves slow through time and evening comes on fast
and just when I think my fingers might seize that sweetness at last
the gentlest of breezes rises and the plum lets go of the stem.
And now it’s my fingers ripening and evening that’s reaching for them. ~Geoffrey Brock, “The Day” author of Voices Bright Flags
Let the light of late afternoon shine through chinks in the barn, moving up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing as a woman takes up her needles and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned in long grass. Let the stars appear and the moon disclose her silver horn.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop in the oats, to air in the lung let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come. ~Jane Kenyon, from “Let Evening Come” from Collected Poems.
So much of our living is preparing for rest and here we are, fighting it every step of the way.
We resist it mightily: the toddler fussing about taking a nap, the youngster devoted to their screen time and unwilling to surrender to darkness, or the parent trying to eke out the last bit of daylight to get the chores done.
We are comforted by activity. We are created in the image of One who remembered to rest.
So must we be “evened” by Him. The evening comes – there is no stopping it – we are to settle into it, our fingertips ripening, to close our eyes and drift on the comfort it brings.
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready to break my heart as the sun rises, as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers
and they open — pools of lace, white and pink —
and all day under the shifty wind, as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies, and tip their fragrance to the air, and rise, their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness gladly and lightly, and there it is again — beauty the brave, the exemplary,
blazing open. Do you love this world? Do you cherish your humble and silky life? Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden, and softly, and exclaiming of their dearness, fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, their eagerness to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever? ~Mary Oliver fromNew And Selected Poems
It is not about love or sacrifice, nothing vestal or sacred. The light comes from an open window, and perhaps a breeze too that has caused the white peony to drop three delicately curved petals on the red jacquard. They cast purple shadows. The eye must seek them out, must avert itself from the ceaseless action in the midst of other objects: a runcible spoon, a quill, a tankard, two ripe quince. Athena Kildegaard, “Still Life with Beating Heart” from Ventriloquy
White peonies blooming along the porch send out light while the rest of the yard grows dim. Outrageous flowers as big as human heads! They’re staggered by their own luxuriance: I had to prop them up with stakes and twine. The moist air intensifies their scent, and the moon moves around the barn to find out what it’s coming from. In the darkening June evening I draw a blossom near, and bending close search it as a woman searches a loved one’s face. ~Jane Kenyon “Peonies at Dusk”
At the end of May, I bring our peonies to the graves of those from whom I came, to lay one after another exuberant head upon each headstone, a moment of connection between those in the ground and me standing above, acknowledging its thin space before one more humble and silky life shatters and becomes nothing, its petals perfectly scattered, lush and trembling, to the wind.
We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect characters to match. Our imperfections should not keep us from dreaming of better things, or even from trying, within our limits, to be better stewards of the soil, and more ardent strivers after beauty and a responsible serenity. ~Jane Kenyon from “In the Garden of My Dreams”
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1: 9-11
O Holy Father, I will be a child of peace and purity For well I know Thy Hand will bless the seeker after righteousness ~Shaker Hymn
The beauty of peace and purity is right outside my back door, in a misty dawn moment of drizzle-sprinkled flowers. They heal me after an imperfect yesterday and an imperfect night’s sleep and prepare me for another imperfect day today.
Today I will strive to be a steward for a garden of righteousness and serenity, aiding their growth and helping them flourish despite my flaws and failings.
I can never do it perfectly but am not giving up, as His hand blesses my seeking and my efforts.
Now wind torments the field, turning the white surface back on itself, back and back on itself, like an animal licking a wound.
A single green sprouting thing would restore me . . .
Then think of the tall delphinium, swaying, or the bee when it comes to the tongue of the burgundy lily. ~Jane Kenyon from “February: Thinking of Flowers”
We thought we had skated past winter this time: only a few sub-freezing days since October, no northeasters, no snow.
Then February comes and the ground hog lied two days ago. Winter came in a big fell swoop yesterday with blowing snow, collapsing trees onto wires, lifting off roofs and pushing hard at old barn walls. It is still pounding us from the northeast today with windchills in the subzero digits.
A hunker down day.
How hard is it to think of summer flowers in February when all is ice and bluster and chill? I barely recall them when I’m trying to warm my frozen fingers. Yet the bulbs are poking through the ground, with some measure of hope fueling them to keep coming, and that sight alone warms me.
This wind too shall pass… at about 50 mph with gusts to 70. It would be just fine if it kept going and didn’t look back.
Now all the doors and windows are open, and we move so easily through the rooms. Cats roll on the sunny rugs, and a clumsy wasp climbs the pane, pausing to rub a leg over her head.
All around physical life reconvenes. The molecules of our bodies must love to exist: they whirl in circles and seem to begrudge us nothing. Heat, Horatio, heat makes them put this antic disposition on!
This year’s brown spider sways over the door as I come and go. A single poppy shouts from the far field, and the crow, beyond alarm, goes right on pulling up the corn. ~Jane Kenyon, “Philosophy in Warm Weather” from Otherwise
Whether weather is very or very cold, so go our molecules — indeed our very atoms are constantly awhirl to keep us upright whenever we sweat or shiver.
This summer my doors and windows have been flung wide open; I’m seeing and hearing and feeling all that I can absorb, never to forget the gift of being human witness to it all.
Like a dog trying to catch its tail, I’m whirling in circles, trying to grab what will always elude me.
So much of our living is preparing for rest and here we are, fighting it every step of the way.
We resist it mightily: the toddler fussing about taking a nap, the youngster devoted to their screen time and unwilling to surrender to darkness, or the parent trying to eke out the last bit of daylight to get the chores done. We are comforted by activity.
We are created in the image of One who remembered to rest. So must we be “evened” by Him.
The evening comes – there is no stopping it – and we are to settle into it, close our eyes and drift on the comfort it brings.