Families will be singing in the fields. In their voices they will hear a music risen out of the ground. They will take nothing from the ground they will not return, whatever the grief at parting. Memory, native to this valley, will spread over it like a grove, and memory will grow into legend, legend into song, song into sacrament. The abundance of this place, the songs of its people and its birds, will be health and wisdom and indwelling light. ~Wendell Berry from “A Vision”
Into the rooms flow meadow airs, The warm farm baking smell’s blown round. Inside and out, and sky and ground Are much the same;
Now straightening from the flowery hay, Down the still light the mowers look, Or turn, because their dreaming shook, And they waked half to other days, When left alone in the yellow stubble The rusty-coated mare would graze. ~Léonie Adams from “Country Summer”
Most of the work on our farm involves the ground – whether plowing, seeding, fertilizing, mowing, harvesting – this soil lives and breathes as much as we creatures who walk over it and the plants which arise rooted to it.
Yes, there must be light. Yes, there must be moisture. Yes, there must be teeming worms and microbes deep within the dirt, digesting and aerating and thriving, leaving behind needed nutrients as they live and die.
And yes, we all become dust again, hopefully returning to the ground more than we have taken.
As I watch our rusty-coated horses graze on the stubble of these slopes and valleys, I’m reminded it is a sacrament to live in such abundance. We all started in a Garden until we desired something more, and knowing our mistake, we keep striving to return.
So this land teems with memories: of the rhythms and cycles of the seasons, of the songs and stories of peoples who have lived here for generation after generation.
Eventually we will find our way back to the abundant soil.
When the soft cushion of sunset lingers with residual stains of dappled cobbler clouds predicting the sweetness of a next day’s dawn, I’m reminded to “remember this, this moment, this feeling”~
I realize that it will be lost, slipping away from me in mere moments, a sacramental fading away of time. I can barely remember the sweetness of its taste, so what’s left is the stain of its loss.
Balancing as best I can on life’s cobbled path, stumbling and tripping over rough unforgiving spots, I ponder the messy sweetness of today’s helping of soulful shortcake, treasure it up, stains and all, knowing I could never miss it if I hadn’t been allowed a taste and savored it to begin with.
God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest. ~Swedish Proverb
You wake wanting the dream you left behind in sleep, water washing through everything, clearing away sediment of years, uncovering the lost and forgotten. You hear the sun breaking on cold grass, on eaves, on stone steps outside. You see light igniting sparks of dust in the air. You feel for the first time in years the world electrified with morning.
You know something has changed in the night, something you thought gone from the world has come back: shooting stars in the pasture, sleeping beneath a field of daisies, wisteria climbing over fences, houses, trees.
This is a place that smells like childhood and old age. It is a limb you swung from, a field you go back to. It is a part of whatever you do. ~Scott Owen “Arrival of the Past”
The beginning of summer brings back early childhood memories of waking early in the morning with no plans for the day other than just showing up.
As a kid, I was never bored with so many open-ended hours before me; the air felt electric with potential adventures, whether it was building a tree fort, bushwhacking a new trail in the woods, searching out killdeer nests in the field, catching butterflies, or watching a salamander sunning itself for hours. The possibilities felt infinite and I was free as a bird to go looking for what the day had to offer.
By the time I was ten, I began to work to earn money to make my dream (owning my own horse) come true – picking berries, weeding gardens, babysitting neighbor kids. The work routine started early as dreams don’t happen without striving for them.
Now for the first time in 55 years, I awake knowing life has changed in the night: I don’t have a schedule and don’t need to show up to a job. The long summer days I thought were gone and forgotten have been here all along, just now uncovered again.
I can go back to those days of electrifying potential open-ended hours, just to simply show up to the moments before me.
What follows the light is what precedes it: the moment of balance, of dark equivalence.
But tonight we sit in the garden in our canvas chairs so late into the evening – why should we look either forward or backwards? Why should we be forced to remember: it is in our blood, this knowledge. Shortness of the days; darkness, coldness of winter. It is in our blood and bones; it is in our history. It takes a genius to forget these things. ~Louise Glück from “Solstice”
Today we stand, wavering, on a cusp of light and shadow~ this knowledge of what’s to come rests deep in our bones.
We’ve been here before, bidding the sun to return.
We can not forget, as darkness begins to claim our days again.
We remember, He promised to never let darkness overwhelm us again.
Our memories are, at best, so limited, so finite, that it is impossible for us to envisage an unlimited, infinite memory, the memory of God. It is something I want to believe in: that no atom of creation is ever forgotten by him; always is; cared for; developing; loved. ~Madeleine L’Engle from The Summer of the Great-Grandmother
…a friend told me a story about a little girl who wanted time alone with her infant brother. Her parents were suspicious of her motives. What if she did something to harm the baby? The big sister was so persistent that her mom and dad finally decided to allow her ten minutes alone with him in his room. After they closed the door, they listened quietly. They felt chills when they heard their daughter say, “Baby tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” ~Sue Shanahan from “Fresh from Heaven”
He of strength and hope, of infinite memory and everlasting love: He knows us down to our very atoms ~~ even we who are weak, broken, and undeserving. He causes us to burst into bloom in remembrance of having been in His presence.
The news this week of the deaths of climbers on Nanda Devi peak in Nepal recalls the story of my high school classmate, Nanda Devi Unsoeld, whose body still rests on that mountain for which she was named.
The ripple effect from Nanda Devi’s arrival as a new junior in Olympia High School in 1970 reached me within minutes, as I felt the impact of her presence on campus immediately. One of my friends elbowed me, pointing out a new girl being escorted down the hall by the assistant principal. Students stared at the wake she left behind: Devi had wildly flowing wavy long blonde hair, a friendly smile and bold curious eyes greeting everyone she met.
From the neck up, she fit right in with the standard appearance at the time: as the younger sisters of the 60’s generation of free thinking flower children, we tried to emulate them in our dress and style, going braless and choosing bright colors and usually skirts that were too short and tight. There was the pretense we didn’t really care how we looked, but of course we did care very much, with hours spent daily preparing the “casual carefree” look that would perfectly express our freedom from fashion trends amid our feminist longings. Practicing careful nonconformity perfectly fit our peers’ expectations and aggravated our parents.
But Devi never looked like she cared what anyone else thought of her. The high school girls honestly weren’t sure what to make of her, speculating together whether she was “for real” and viewed her somewhat suspiciously, as if she was putting on an act.
The boys were mesmerized.
She preferred baggy torn khaki shorts or peasant skirts with uneven hems, loose fitting faded T shirts and ripped tennis shoes without shoelaces. Her legs were covered with long blonde hair, as were her armpits which she showed off while wearing tank tops. She pulled whole cucumbers from her backpack in class and ate them like cobs of corn, rind and all. She smelled like she had been camping without a shower for three days, but then riding her bike to school from her home 8 miles away in all kinds of weather accounted for that. One memorable day she arrived a bit late to school, pushing her bike through 6 inches of snow in soaking tennis shoes, wearing her usual broad smile of satisfaction.
As a daughter of two Peace Corps workers who had just moved back to the U.S. after years of service in Nepal, Devi had lived very little of her life in the United States. Her father Willi Unsoeld, one of the first American climbers to reach the summit of Mt. Everest up the difficult west face, had recently accepted a professorship in comparative religion at a local college. He moved his wife and family back to the northwest to be near his beloved snowy peaks, suddenly immersing four children in an affluent culture that seemed foreign and wasteful.
Devi recycled before there was a word for it simply by never buying anything new and never throwing anything useful away, involved herself in social justice issues before anyone had coined the phrase, and was an activist behind the scenes more often than a leader, facilitating and encouraging others to speak out at anti-war rallies, organizing sit-ins for world hunger and volunteering in the local soup kitchen. She mentored adolescent peers to get beyond their self-consciousness and self-absorption to explore the world beyond the security of high school walls.
Regretfully, few of us followed her lead. We preferred the relative security and camaraderie of hanging out at the local drive-in to taking a shift at the local 24 hour crisis line. We showed up for our graduation ceremony in caps and gowns while the rumor was that Devi stood at the top of Mt. Rainier with her father that day.
I never saw Devi after high school but heard of her plans in 1976 to climb with an expedition to the summit of Nanda Devi, the peak in India for which she was named. She never returned, dying in her father’s arms as she suffered severe abdominal pain and irreversible high altitude sickness just below the summit. She lies forever buried in the ice on that faraway peak in India. Her father died in an avalanche only a few years later, as he led an expedition of college students on a climb on Mt. Rainier, only 60 miles from home.
Had Devi lived these last 40 years, I have no doubt she would have led our generation with her combination of charismatic boldness and excitement about each day’s new adventure. She lived without pretense, without hiding behind a mask of fad and fashion and conformity and without the desire for wealth or comfort.
I wish I had learned what she had to teach me when she sat beside me in class, encouraging me by her example to become someone more than the dictates of societal expectations. I secretly admired the freedom she embodied in not being concerned in the least about fitting in. Instead, I still mourn her loss all these years later, having to be content with the legacy she has now left behind on a snowy mountain peak that called her by name.