Lift the Farm Like a Lid

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Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass
And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass
The water in the horse-trough shines.
Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.

A hen stares at nothing with one eye,
Then picks it up. Out of an empty sky
A swallow falls and, flickering through
The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.

I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,
Afraid of where a thought might take me – as
This grasshopper with plated face
Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.

Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
Lift the farm like a lid and see
Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.
~Norman MacCaig “Summer Farm”

 

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photo by Bette Vander Haak

 

Most of my life, a barn has stood a few dozen yards from my back door. As a small child, I learned to ride a tricycle on the wooden planks of the chicken coop, sat on the bony back of a Guernsey cow while my father milked by hand, found new litters of kittens in cobweb-filled hideaways, and leaped with abandon into stacks of loose hay in a massive loft.

As a young girl, I preferred to clean stalls rather than my bedroom. The acoustics in the barn were first rate for singing loud and the horses and cows never covered their ears, although the dog would usually howl. A hay loft was the perfect spot for hiding a writing journal and reading books. It was a place for quiet contemplation and sometimes fervent prayer when I was worried: a sanctuary for turbulent adolescence.

Through college and medical training, I managed to live over twelve years in the city without access to a barn or the critters that lived inside. I searched for plenty of surrogate retreats: the library stacks, empty chapels within the hospitals I worked, even a remote mountainous wildlife refuge in central Africa.

It is hard to ignore one’s genetic destiny to struggle as a steward of the land through the challenges of economics and weather. My blood runs with DNA of wheat and lentil growers, loggers, cattle ranchers, dairy farmers, work horse teamsters, and flower and vegetable gardeners. A farm eventually called me to come back home and so I heeded over thirty years ago, along with a husband from a dairy farming background himself, and eventually there followed three children, now grown and flown far from the farm.

Like a once sturdily built barn now sagging and leaning, I too am buffeted by the gales of mid-life. My doors have been flung open wide, my roof/lid lifted and pulled off, at times leaving me reeling. More and more now I need restoration, renewal and reconciliation. And so I set to work to fix up my life with all the skill I can muster: setting things right where they’ve been upended, painting a fresh coat where chipped and dulled, shoring up rotted foundations.

If only I can get it done well enough, with sufficient perseverance, I surely can recover from the latest blow. But my hard work and determination is not enough. It is never enough. I am never finished.

The only true sanctuary isn’t found in a weather-beaten barn of rough-hewn old growth timbers vulnerable to the winds of life.

The barnstorming must happen within me, in the depths of my soul, comforted only by the encompassing and salvaging arms of God.

There I am held, transformed and restored, grateful beyond measure.

 

 

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A Deep But Dazzling Darkness

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There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness, as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
             See not all clear.
    O for that night! where I in Him
    Might live invisible and dim!
~Henry Vaughn from “The Night”

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Wandering the evening farm,
I feel the darkness rising within me,
more than see or hear
the settling of birdsong,
the clicks and whoosh of owls overhead
the rise of coyote calls.

It is in the horizon’s firelight,
the slowing of my pulse,
and the depth of my breaths.

I let it come over me,
the deep descent,
this most dazzling dusk.

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Licking a Wound

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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”

 

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Turning the page on the calendar today doesn’t fix anything.  The arctic wind is blasting frozen again, snow is in the forecast, the skies practically crackle cold.

I’m like a dog tormented by my own open and raw flesh, trying my best to lick it healed, unable to think of anything or anyone else, going over it again and again:  how tired I feel, how bruised I am, how high the climb I must make, how uprooted I feel, how impossibly long it will be until I’m warm again.

Even now green sprouts try to push up even while molested by ice.  Soon fresh blooms will grace the barnyard and I will be distracted from my own wound licking.

It’s February and it’s a northeaster.

<*sigh*>

The cold never bothered me anyway…

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A Lingering Season

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Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.
~  John Boswell

 

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As temperatures rose 40 degrees from a snowy/icy first half of January to a balmy third week, it feels like our winter isn’t going to linger long after all.  As much as my frozen fingers appreciate the reprieve while during barn chores, I am wistful that winter may have already decided to pack up and move on for another year. It seems its departure was a bit hurried from the scattered reminders left behind — a bejeweled owl feather here, a molding leaf there, crusts of melting ice everywhere.

We need a little more of this season of bare bones and stark landscapes, of time for remembrance and restoration.  I won’t bid goodbye yet, hoping it may yet linger a while longer.

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A narrow pond would form in the orchard, water clear as air covering grass and black leaves and fallen branches, all around it black leaves and drenched grass and fallen branches, and on it, slight as an image in an eye, sky, clouds, trees, our hovering faces and our cold hands.
~Marilynne Robinson from Housekeeping

 

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Preparing the Heart: Fighting the Long Defeat

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He has dwelt in the West since the days of dawn, and I have dwelt with him years uncounted . . . and together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.
~J.R.R. Tolkien from The Lord of the Rings

 

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It is only 10 days before we bid farewell to autumn and accept the arrival of the winter solstice signaling the long slow climb back to daylight. This giving-way to the darkness has felt like a defeat we may never recover from.

Yet the sunset becomes a startling send-off for fall, coloring Mt. Baker and surrounding an almost full moon with purple in the eastern sky. Our farm, for a deceptive few minutes, appears rosy and warm in crisp subfreezing weather. Then all becomes gray again, and within an hour we are shrouded in thick fog which ices the asphalt as darkness fell.  It becomes a challenge to avoid the deep ditches along our country roads, with the white fog line being the critical marker preventing potential disaster.

The ever present evening fog this time of year cloaks and smothers in the darkness, not unlike the respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses that have hit many households hard this week. Plenty of people have been vomiting, feverish, coughing and snuffling, unable to leave the bathroom or see past the ends of their swollen noses, as if the fog descended upon them in an impenetrable gray cloud. It is an unwelcome reminder of our vulnerability to microscopic organisms that can defeat us and lay us low in a matter of hours, just as a sudden freezing fog can lure us to the ditch. We are forced to stay put, our immune systems fighting back at a time when there are dozens of responsibilities vying for attention in preparation for the holidays. Little gets accomplished other than our slow wait for healing and clarity–at some point the viral fog will dissipate and we can try climbing back into life and navigating without needing the fog lines as guides.

Ditches have been very deep for some folks recently, with the diagnosis of cancers and devastating surgeries swallowing up their light and joy. Despite profound losses and pain, people courageously continue to fight, climbing their way out of the darkness to the light.

The day’s transition to night becomes bittersweet: these bright flames of color herald our uneasy future sleep after fighting the long defeat on this soil.

The sun “settles” upon the earth and so must we.

Be at ease, be comforted, put down the heavy burden and rest. We can celebrate, with chorus and gifts, the arrival of brilliant light in our lives. Instead of darkness overcoming us, our lives become illuminated in glory and grace.

The Son has settled among us.

 

Sure on this shining night of star-made shadows round,
kindness must watch for me this side the ground,
on this shining night, this shining night

The late year lies down the north
All is healed, all is health
High summer holds the earth,
hearts all whole
The late year lies down the north
All is healed, all is health
High summer holds the earth, hearts all whole
Sure on this shining night,
sure on this shining, shining night

Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars
Sure on this shining night, this shining night
On this shining night, this shining night
Sure on this shining night
~from James Agee’s poem

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum.
Ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio:
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum
Alleluia

 

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Damp All Through

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Early morning, everything damp all through.
Cars go by. A ripping sound of tires through water.
For two days the air
Has smelled like salamanders.
The little lake on the edge of town hidden in fog,
Its cattails and island gone.
All through the gloom of the dark week
Bright leaves have been dropping
From black trees
Until heaps of color lie piled everywhere
In the falling rain.
~Tom Hennen “Wet Autumn” from Darkness Sticks to Everything.

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There is no one home but me—
and I’m not at home; I’m up here on the hill,
looking at the dark windows below.
Let them be dark…

…The air is damp and cold
and by now I am a little hungry…
The squirrel is high in the oak,
gone to his nest , and night has silenced

the last loud rupture of the calm.
~Jane Kenyon from “Frost Flowers”

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Even when the load grows too heavy,
weariness rolling in like a fog to
dampen all that was once vibrant,
even then

~even then~

there awaits a nest of nurture,
a place of calm
where we are fed
when we are tired and hungry.

We will be filled;
we will be restored;
the load will lighten.

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Shards of Mirrored Light

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photo by Joel DeWaard

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What is this unfolding, this slow-
going unraveling of gift held
in hands open
to the wonder and enchantment of it all?

What is this growing, this rare
showing, like blossoming
of purple spotted forests
by roadsides grown weary with winter months?

Seasons affected, routinely disordered
by playful disturbance of divine glee
weaving through limbs with
sharpened shards of mirrored light,
cutting dark spaces, interlacing creation,
commanding life with whimsical delight.

What is this breaking, this hopeful
re-making, shifting stones, addressing dry bones,
dizzying me with blessings,
intercepting my grieving
and raising the dead all around me?
~Enuma Okoro “Morning Reflections”

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As our region prepares for two wind and rain storms over the next three days, I realize how seldom we are compelled to face a power far greater than ourselves. We must ride it out, hoping the electricity stays on and the roof with it.

As invincible as we think we are, we need reminding we are mere dust, ready to blow away.  The immense power of the breath of God, whether typhoon, cyclone, tornado, or hurricane, or through the gentle filling of newborn lungs or the shriveled emptied lungs of the resurrected dead,  will rescue us from our broken shards of self.

This unfolding, this growing, is restoration of our imperfect reflection of His image.

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