A Reason None of Us Knows







…I have been younger in October
than in all the months of spring
walnut and may leaves the color
of shoulders at the end of summer
a month that has been to the mountain
and become light there
the long grass lies pointing uphill
even in death for a reason
that none of us knows…

my love is for lightness
of touch foot feather
the day is yet one more yellow leaf
and without turning I kiss the light
by an old well on the last of the month
gathering wild rose hips
in the sun
~W. S. Merwin from “The Love of October” from Migration


This warm wind gusts through shedding branches
stripping them bare
and carrying the leaves yards
far away, to a diverse gathering
they have never known:
chestnut, cherry, birch, walnut, apple,
maple, parrotia, pear, oak, poplar
suddenly sharing the same fate and grave,
each wearing a color of its own,
soon to blend with the others
as all slowly melt to brown.

There is lightness in the letting go,
for reasons none of us knows.








A Final Flood of Colors

photo by Harry Rodenberger
photo by Harry Rodenberger


photo by Harry Rodenberger
photo by Harry Rodenberger


My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
~Clive James from “Japanese Maple”




Holding Fast

creepertwirls1Virginia Creeper Holdfasts in Winter



All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
~Henry Ellis

The Virginia Creeper vines,
stripped bare by winter,
cling steadily in winds and rain
through thousands of tiny “holdfast” suckers.
The glue holds tight, taking the vine
where no vine has gone before.
Once there, it stays put–
an invincible foundation.

Letting go comes as
spring and summer surge forth
through the veins of the vine,
branches and berries
dangle daringly in mid-air,
reaching for the next grab-hold,
the next surface to be conquered.
I wish I were as adventuring
as I creep through my days.
My fingers and toes tend to
cling fast to home,
to become adhesive
for what grows from me,
from which a glorious and unforgettable
autumn is flung
into the future.creepergarage




The Mystery of Tears

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.  They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.
~Frederick Buechner

I’m not paying close enough attention if  I’m too busy looking for kleenex.  It seems the last couple weeks I have had more than ample opportunity to find out the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next, and I’m loading my pockets with kleenex, just in case.

It mostly has to do with welcoming our children and their friends back home for the holidays to become a full out noisy messy chaotic household again, with lots of music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation.  It is about singing grace together before a meal and choking on precious words of gratitude.  It certainly has to do with bidding farewell again, as we began to do a few hours ago in the middle of the night and will do again in two days and again in two weeks, to gather them in for the hug and then unclasping and letting go, urging and encouraging them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be.  I too was let go once and though I would look back, too often in tears, I knew to set my face toward the future.  It led me here, to this farm, this marriage, this family, this work, to more tears, to more letting go, as it will continue if I live long enough to weep again and again with gusto and grace.

This is where I should go next: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me.   They release the fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spilling down my cheeks drop by drop.  No kleenex needed.  Let it flow.


Letting It Go

photo by Josh Scholten

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

photo by Josh Scholten

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~Mary Oliver, “In Blackwater Woods”

photo by Josh Scholten

Shedding the Undercoat

photos by Nate Gibson

An atypically cool start to the summer meant our farm dog Dylan Thomas, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi,  forgot to take off his winter sweater.  I  completely understand: I wouldn’t want to either if July nighttime temperatures are in the mid-forties and I was an old fellow like he is.   Given his need to stay warm since he sleeps outside, Dylan had not yet blown his heavy coat and we had not put much effort into brushing him out.  Now the temperatures are finally rising so this means the time has come.

His downy undercoat has been hanging in tufts and bulges all over his body yet packed so tightly in places that the effort of brushing is not easy on dog or human.   I know he thinks we’re trying to pull his hide out along with the hair.  Shearing a sheep or llama just might be easier.   I’ve contemplated getting out the clippers, but a clipped Dylan would die of embarrassment (and probably would catch cold).
We are slowly working on relieving him of his cardigan, brush stroke by brush stroke, in a multi-day process accumulating prodigious quantities of hair that could easily be marketed as high R value insulation filler.

I wish my own extra insulation could just be brushed out and thrown away like Dylan’s hair.  Mine clings to me through cold weather and warm, padding my hips and my middle and a few other spots I’d rather not disclose.  I know I don’t really need all the extra fluff, and I know what I must do to shed it, but somehow knowing and doing are not always in synch.

In fact I hang on to a lot that I don’t need, some of which only makes me more miserable, as it is no longer useful and is downright detrimental.    Some of it is tangible accumulation, in a few piles and closets.  Some is not visible but is deeply seeded nevertheless.  The excess hurts to have it pulled out by the roots.

We all have an undercoat that we cling to because it guards our heart,  providing an insulated layer buffering against the chill and sharp edges of life.  We need someone with a good stiff brush, a strong arm and the persistence to save us from ourselves, even when we don’t want saving.  The time has come for the coat to blow.  We’ll be smooth and free once again, feeling the breezes right through our skin, all the way to our heart.

We remain fluffy at our peril.