Fixing Eyes on the Unseen – A Greening Glory

Be still, and know that I am God…
Psalm 46:10

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Be still.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
~St. Patrick

Six years a slave, and then you slipped the yoke,
Till Christ recalled you, through your captors cries!
Patrick, you had the courage to turn back,
With open love to your old enemies,
Serving them now in Christ, not in their chains,
Bringing the freedom He gave you to share.
You heard the voice of Ireland, in your veins
Her passion and compassion burned like fire.

Now you rejoice amidst the three-in-one,
Refreshed in love and blessing all you knew,
Look back on us and bless us, Ireland’s son,
And plant the staff of prayer in all we do:
A gospel seed that flowers in belief,
A greening glory, coming into leaf.
~Malcolm Guite  — A St. Patrick Sonnet

St. Patrick is little remembered for his selfless missionary work in Ireland in the fifth century, but rather has become a caricature of all the drunken silliness of this day.  Visiting his grave in Downpatrick, Ireland, just a humble stone on a hill top overlooking the sea, I wondered what he would make of the modern March 17.

He would advise us to be still and know.

He would plant his staff in us and all we do; we would respond by flowering up from the green.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Downpatrick, Northern Ireland
St. Patrick’s grave marker

This year’s Lenten theme:
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4: 18

The Edible World

I came downstairs for Lavina’s scones, butter-ready
from the oven, crusty and cratered, awaiting their dollop
of jam.

The morning clouds had whipped themselves up
to a billow, mounds of soft cream.

The plink plink song of a chaffinch dotted the air like currants.
Daffodils, pats of butter on thin stems, did their little dance, and the edible world spread its feast before me on the fresh green tablecloth.

Oh, how delicious, this sweet Irish spring.
~Barbara Crooker, “Morning Tea” from The Book of  Kells

Northern Ireland
Whatcom County
Northern Ireland
Whatcom County
Whatcom County

It was nine years ago we visited Northern Ireland where we were surrounded by ever-delicious colors and landscape and gracious hospitality where ever we went.

As I look out at our own rolling green hills and billowy clouds of a Whatcom County springtime, I am filled as if it were all edible feast, reminded of the vibrant green of the Irish countryside, backed by the silhouettes of the nearby Mourne Mountains.

If only all the world could be blessed and tasty as fresh warm scones with jam and a pot of tea.

Mourne Mtns – Northern Ireland
Whatcom County
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland


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Best of 2013 Barnstorming Photos

decsunlone fir taken last New Year’s Eve 2012

These photos (unless identified otherwise) were all taken this year with my Canon Powershot pocket camera.
Here’s to capturing more moments and preserving memories in 2014…

tulipsamSam stopping to smell the spring tulips

irisrainbearded iris

marshmallow fields forevermarshmallow fields forever

buggediris (and bugs) in Ireland

photo by Emily Gibson
The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland

Rhodendron forest Rowallen Gardens, County Down, Ireland
Rhodendron forest Rowallen Gardens, County Down, Ireland

waterlilies2water lilies in Mount Stewart Gardens, Northern Ireland

pastoralpond2Mount Stewart pond, Northern Ireland

Scottish kitty snoozing in a Galloway B&B sunroom

sunsetdaisysummer sunset on the farm

grasssunsummer sunset (and bug)

benchPoint No Point, Vancouver Island

sunsetjuly164Sunset, Strait of Juan de Fuca

nest2almost the world’s largest hornet’s nest (on the farm)

summer evening rainbow

farmgirlsHaying crew

dawn7251summer morning haze

tammingasunseta joyful evening on the hill



hidingouta front porch visitor in a box of Asian pears

morningweb2spider web in morning fog

abandoned schoolhouse near Rapalje, Montana (actually from 2012)
abandoned schoolhouse near Rapalje, Montana (photo taken in 2012)


thistlebugsthistle full of ants

closerfull moon sunset

same pair, two months ago
Doe and fawn, WWU campus

rain8After an August rain

sunset8314evening on the farm

dandy4dandelion at dusk

sunset9161sunset sky

sunrise830summer morning rain

webdrizzle2web architecture



hydrangealace3spent hydrangea

creeperchurchvirginia creeper

rainyclothesline3too wet to hang clothes

sunrise10611looking north to the Canadian Coastal Range

fog101948October fog



wwucolorfallen leaves on the plexiglass cover of a WWU bicycle rack

myohmyMountain shadow of Mt Baker at dawn

firstfrost3first frost


sunset12713Twin Sisters

walnut4squirrel hollowed walnut shell

sundayafternoonAutumn landscape


rainyrose5rainy rose

rainbowsunrise2morning rainbow at dawn

solstice15last evening of autumn, first snow


snow12201324snow on last day of autumn

20131230-080912.jpgSwan in downtown Tokyo in December

And the changing plum trees…

photo by Chris Lovegren from our farm hilltop, Easter Sunrise 2012
plum trees photo by Chris Lovegren from our farm hilltop, Easter Sunrise Service

sunrise1042fall foggy morning

twinlayerslate October

plumtwinswinterNew Year’s Eve

Green Arms

Rowellane Park, County Down, Northern Ireland
Rowellane Park, County Down, Northern Ireland


“Spring flew swiftly by, and summer came; and if the village had been beautiful at first, it was now in the full glow and luxuriance of its richness. The great trees, which had looked shrunken and bare in the earlier months, had now burst into strong life and health; and stretching forth their green arms over the thirsty ground, converted open and naked spots into choice nooks, where was a deep and pleasant shade from which to look upon the wide prospect, steeped in sunshine, which lay stretched out beyond. The earth had donned her mantle of brightest green; and shed her richest perfumes abroad. It was the prime and vigour of the year; all things were glad and flourishing.”
~ Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist 

The brightest greens are in Ireland, if not Washington State.  I feel like I’m completely surrounded in green both here and at home this time of year, and even more so when the sun shines (rarely).  It has been raining here for several days, to guarantee the greens get even greener.

We climbed the highest hill in this area, Slieve Croob, yesterday, watching the storm clouds blow past beneath and over us, winds up to 50-60 mph on top, with spots of brightest sun illuminating the brightest greens.  Life is good, even if wet.  Life is even better because of the green arms embracing us.

from Slieve Croob
from Slieve Croob


Mount Stewart Garden Lake
Mount Stewart Garden Lake


A Mourne Kind of Morning


I have seen landscapes [in the Mourne Mountains] which, under a particular light, made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge.
~C.S. Lewis

The Mournes have a mystical quality to them, bewitching the traveler and inspiring C.S. Lewis as a child growing up near here to create Narnia as an adult.

We have seen these mountains silhouetted in the distance, and have driven through them, descending into coastal villages surrounded by miles and miles of stone fences checker boarding the farmland.

We need to always keep wonder close at hand and never cease to wonder at the fairy tales in our own back yard.




Yielding Spring With Grace

Rhodendron forest Rowallen Gardens, County Down, Ireland
Rhodendron forest Rowallen Gardens, County Down, Ireland

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
~Robert Frost from “Reluctance”

It is, for me, a reluctant solstice.  I am unready to relinquish this hard-won daylight back to the night.   Here is Ireland I was amazed to see light on the horizon as early as 3:30 AM and it is still quite light out at 10:45 PM or later, almost two more hours of daylight here than at home.   The farmers are making use of this extra time; the tractors are busy until dark bringing in silage and round bales all around us.  At home the grass still is standing with almost an inch of rain yesterday.  No hay yet; it is waiting for us to fly home.

Northern Ireland is full of rhododendron forests,  centuries-old trees standing 20-30 feet high still blooming a full month after ours at home had finished.  A late spring reluctantly is yielding to summer as the delicate blooms wither to brown and fall to the ground, looking very much like autumn leaves.

I bow to this transition and accept the new season with grace, with glad sadness and sad gladness.   I will carry this extra light from Ireland home in my words, my pictures and my memories, to brighten my heart on a winters’ night.

A hillside of rhododendron in the Mourne Mountains, County Down, Ireland
A hillside of rhododendron in the Mourne Mountains, County Down, Ireland


The Dark Nooks of Time

Above the Finnis Souterrain
Above the Finnis Souterrain

underground without flash
underground without flash

Finnis Soutterain underground
Finnis Soutterain underground

Early humans under naked stars
above their campfires,
bewitching modern man
who longs within his spirit
for such simplicity;

bending down into a dark hole
another mood emerges,
to stalk with a flat profile,
moving with the underground –
a lion of a thing, defending
the dark nooks of time,
of recess and mysterious redoubt,
against what I wondered
following the fogou’s blinding corridor,
slipped on stones from leaking water
where moss- joints, drip
from buttress and boulder,
breathing the brewed air
of many centuries.

Climbing out into the light
I felt that link of kinship,
imagined through half closed eyes
I gazed at neolithic skies,
fancied I heard their broken
voices, carried on a breeze;

~Roy Austin from “Ancient Bluebells”

The ninth century is not “early man” nor Neolithic as Austin’s poem references about underground hideaways, but it is a long time ago nevertheless. The poem evokes what I felt crawling into this space created by early Christians over 1000 years ago.

We explored an underground “souterrain” yesterday in the hills of County Down in Northern Ireland, used most likely by the converted Celts to hide effectively from invading clans and Vikings. It is located in a farmer’s field, cows milling about the fenced off entrance. A few years ago there was installation of solar powered lights inside for 15 minutes of minimal illumination to get in (on hands and knees) and out again before the lights go out.

The flash on my camera shows what I could not see during our time underground. From the low entrance which runs 30 feet or so, where you must crawl to the rest of the tunnel which is only high enough to stoop or crouch, with several different chambers and side passages with shelves and hidden holes for storing valuables.

Five minutes was plenty for me in that forbidding place. I don’t do well in small places and this tested my tolerance. I guess if it was a choice between damp darkness in a crouch and being pillaged by Vikings, I’d choose dark and damp. It reminds me that early Christians spent more than their share of time underground and in hiding. We have challenges in our modern life, but staying underground because of persecution is not one of them.

Climbing back out was a huge relief even though I was not hiding from anything or anyone. The cows had not been taken away by rivaling clans. The ring fort of dwellings that existed long ago was still nothing but a pile of rocks in a field.

There was nothing to fear on this day hundreds of years in the future because these early faithful thrived and hid themselves well.

Bless them. Bless them all.



above the souterrain
above the souterrain

Propping up Darkness

The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland --photo by E Gibson
The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland –photo by E Gibson

Sometimes on summer evenings I step
Out of my house to look at trees
Propping darkness up to the silence.
~Paul Zimmer from “A Final Affection”

It isn’t summer quite yet, but soon.  It does not feel like summer here in Northern Ireland although we did see some blue skies as we traveled to the northern coast to see Giant’s Causeway and castle ruins and a collection of seaside farms and villages unlike anywhere else in the world.

But my favorite moment was walking beneath these 300+ year old beech trees, now known as “Dark Hedges”, planted as an entry way to Grace Hill mansion, the Stuart family estate.  Even in their old age, they cling to one another overhead, reaching out to their neighbors and creating the filtered light beneath.   There is no sign pointing the way to this road –they are simply a lane in farming country that is particularly inspiring to experience.  Today a farmer was mowing hay right next to the trees, probably bemused that anyone bothers to stop and take pictures of a few old trees.

The beeches have been around long before me, and with their overarching sheltering of each other, they will be here long after.   I should be more like the twists and turns of the limbs of the beeches, reaching out, leaning in and holding on for dear life, to prop up the darkness so it can’t overwhelm.

As long as there is light, even just a little, all will be well.

The Dark Hedges --photo by E Gibson

The Dark Hedges –photo by E Gibson

Constant Friends




“In joy or sadness, flowers are our constant friends.” 
~ Kozuko Okakura 

We spent a rainy afternoon touring the estate house and gardens at Mount Stewart on the eastern most peninsula in Northern Ireland while the rest of the country here was steeped in heavy security for the G8 Summit happening and President Obama’s arrival in Belfast with his family.  We decided to bypass all the politics and find something beautiful.  We succeeded.

Flowers are present for our most emotional times of life–to celebrate birth and comfort the dying, to show love and celebrate life long unions.  They are a universal language, no matter the country.  During our visit to Japan, the whole country was preparing for the annual festivals celebrating sakura, the cherry blossoms that are so beloved there.  Here in Ireland, spring is late this year, so today we got to enjoy azaleas and rhododendrons and peonies all over again, as they are completely done blooming at home.

We are thrilled to find our floral friends blooming richly here, even with the stress and troubles of the recent decades in Northern Ireland, and the current economic struggles here and elsewhere.  If the G8 Summiteers have trouble reaching any agreement, they just need to go find a garden to cultivate together.  Voltaire understood that several centuries ago;  we need to remind ourselves now that the best of friends will be constant through joy and sorrow.