I Pray Watch Over Them

Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves. 


Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky. 

Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires. 

Seducer, healer, deity, or thief,
I will see you soon enough–


in the shadow of the rainfall, 
in the brief violet darkening a sunset —

but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore 

and the harsh falcon its flightless young.
~Dana Gioia “The Prayer” (written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)

When we think of those who wait for us on the other side,
including our baby lost before birth 38 years ago…

We pray those from whom we are parted are loved as we have loved.

I know God will watch over all these reunions;
He knows the moment when our fractured hearts
heal whole once again.

I will see you soon enough, sweet one. Soon enough.

photo by Kate Steensma

A peaceful book of beauty in words and pictures, available to order here:

Returning Home More Enriched

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

~ John O’Donohue from To Bless The Space Between Us

We are out of the habit of traveling after remaining home for over a year waiting out the pandemic. So a two-day road trip to visit a grandchild takes on nearly mythic proportions: all senses on alert – wondering at new sights and sounds and smells, traveling in “an awakened way.”

One doesn’t have to journey beyond borders to feel like the “other” – a grocery store in rural Wyoming can seem just as foreign when we are perceived as the strangers by our appearance. Clearly we were “out of towners” – driving a Japanese-made hybrid sedan, not a F150 pickup, wearing Keen shoes, not cowboy boots, wearing COVID masks even though fully vaccinated out of respect for others while everyone else is unmasked and clearly suspicious of our apparent “virtual signaling.”

When others see me as a stranger, I in turn see myself differently when I’m not at home. Out “there,” I am seen as a gray-haired senior citizen who isn’t completely comfortable with where I am going or where I’ve been; nothing is familiar so I am slightly disoriented and unsure of myself and what might happen next.

At home, I’m still young in my head if not considerably older and fluffier in body, usually confident about what will happen next in my day. Traveling takes me out of myself and my precious routine, picks me up and puts me where I don’t expect to be. I’m transformed and enlightened even when feeling a bit out of time and place.

It is a good thing to see oneself with different eyes and not always know what will happen next. An adventure around every corner is just fine for a week or so. But coming home from a journey is the truest gift. I look to the east and to the west on our rural country road and think about who and what lies beyond our farm on a hill, knowing that I’m always better for having ventured out to see what I could see.

And even better for having this place to come home to.

A new book from Barnstorming – more information here:

My Most Unusual Job Interview

photo of Jane Goodall, smiling at me as I came up to give her a hug, courtesy of WWU University Communications (2018)
courtesy of WWU Communications
courtesy of WWU University Communications

Standing outside a non-descript door in a long dark windowless hallway of offices at the Stanford Medical Center, I took a deep breath and swallowed several times to clear my dry throat. I hoped I had found the correct office, as there was only a number– no nameplate to confirm who was inside.

I was about to meet a childhood hero, someone whose every book I’d read and every TV documentary I had watched. I knocked with what I hoped was the right combination of assertiveness (“I want to be here to talk with you and prove my interest”) and humility (“I hope this is convenient for you as I don’t want to intrude”). I heard a soft voice on the other side say “Come in” so I slowly opened the door.

It was a bit like going through the wardrobe to enter Narnia. Bright sunlight streamed into the dark hallway as I stepped over the threshold. Squinting, I stepped inside and quickly shut the door behind me as I realized there were at least four birds flying about the room. They were taking off and landing, hopping about feeding on bird seed on the office floor and on the window sill. The windows were flung wide open with a spring breeze rustling papers on the desk. The birds were very happy occupying the sparsely furnished room, which contained only one desk, two chairs and Dr. Jane Goodall.

She stood up and extended her hand to me, saying, quite unnecessarily, “Hello, I’m Jane” and offered me the other chair when I told her my name. She was slighter than she appeared when speaking up at a lectern, or on film. Sitting back down at her desk, she busied herself reading and marking her papers, seemingly occupied and not to be disturbed. It was as if I was not there at all.

It was disorienting. In the middle of a bustling urban office complex containing nothing resembling plants or a natural environment, I had unexpectedly stepped into a bird sanctuary instead of sitting down for a job interview. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do or say. Jane didn’t really ever look directly at me, yet I was clearly being observed. So I waited, watching the birds making themselves at home in her office, and slowly feeling at home myself. I felt my tight muscles start to relax and I loosened my grip on the arms of the chair.

There was silence except for the twittering of the finches as they flew about our heads.

After awhile she spoke, her eyes still perusing papers: “It is the only way I can tolerate being here for any length of time. They keep me company. But don’t tell anyone; the people here would think this is rather unsanitary.”

I said the only thing I could think of: “I think it is magical. It reminds me of home.”

Only then did she look at me. “Now tell me why you’d like to come work at Gombe…”

The next day I received a note from her letting me know I was accepted for the research assistantship to begin a year later. I had proven I could sit silently and expectantly, waiting for something, or perhaps nothing at all, to happen. For a farm girl who never before traveled outside the United States, I was about to embark on an adventure far beyond the barnyard.

(I had no idea when I applied for this position in March of 1974 that a little more than a year later, on May 19, 1975, I would be hiding in a Tanzanian jungle alongside Jane and her eight year old son Grub – that story is found here.

True to Jane’s tradition of impeccable graciousness, she sent me a hand-written note after her last visit in 2018 when she came to speak at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

A documentary “Jane” is streaming online and reviewed at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/18/movies/jane-review-jane-goodall-documentary.html

A new book from Barnstorming is available for order here

Each One Knows What the Other Knows

They sit together on the porch, the dark
Almost fallen, the house behind them dark.
Their supper done with, they have washed and dried
The dishes–only two plates now, two glasses,
Two knives, two forks, two spoons–small work for two.
She sits with her hands folded in her lap,
At rest. He smokes his pipe. They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now, that finally
For all its knowing will not exactly know
Which one goes first through the dark doorway, bidding
Goodnight, and which sits on a while alone.
~Wendell Berry “They Sit Together on the Porch”

Over our multiple decades together, the more often we see others who sat together on the porches of their lives, and one has now already gone through that darkened doorway, bidding Goodnight.

The other remains sitting alone for a time.

We know what the other knows in our one mind together: we don’t know who will bid Goodnight before the other and who will sit on for awhile.

But we know it is okay either way because this is how it is and how it is meant to be. This is why we treasure up each porch-sitting, breathing the fresh evening air together, sighing wordlessly together, knowing, and not knowing, what will come next.

A new book from Barnstorming, available to order here:

Jeweller of the Spiderweb

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Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.

Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.

Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper traveling the wires.

Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough—
in the shadow of the rainfall,

in the brief violet darkening a sunset—
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore

and the harsh falcon its flightless young. 
~Dana Gioia “Prayer”
(written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)

 

 

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When we think of those who wait for us on the other side,
including our baby lost before birth 35 years ago…

Who then will we long for when it comes our time to wait?

I know there is One who watches over all these reunions,
knowing the moment when my fractured heart
heals whole once again.

I will see you soon enough.

 

 

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Spread Your Wings and Fly

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

 

You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
~ Frederick Buechner

 

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

 

We have now said good-bye to our children who came together for a time back on the farm this summer and have all returned to their lives elsewhere.  It was bliss to raise our voices together in harmony before our meals, as we always have done, and now our table is set for two as we entrust them yet again to God’s care and keeping.

Their wings are strong and sure, carrying them miles away from this place of origin.

I began writing regularly 16 years ago to consider more deeply my time left on this earth and what my family meant to me, here and now, and for eternity. Family is carried inside the words I write without my often writing about them directly.  They inspire and challenge me, they love and stretch me, and as our children have now gone out into the world, two returning with beloved wives, and one with their first child,  I am assured they are sustained by what they have carried away from this home.

Life is not just about living in the world but what world you carry deep inside, blessed by faith and obedience to God.  We can never really be lonely; our hearts will never be empty when our voices are always raised in praise together.

We have each other forever, even miles and miles and lifetimes apart.
For you’re always near to me, in my joy and sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky (see song below by Libera)

I sustain myself with the love of family.
― Maya Angelou

 

View More: http://karenmullen.pass.us/gibson-order

all family photos by Karen Mullen Photography (thanks once again, Karen!)

 

Angel take your wings and fly, watching over me
See me through my night time and be my leading light
Angel you have found the way, never fear to tread
You’ll be a friend to me, angel spread your wings and fly.

Voces angelorum gloria! Dona eis pacem!
(O voices of angels (give) glory! Grant them peace!)

For you’re always near to me, in my joy and my sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky.
Where a million angels sing, in amazing harmony
And the words of love they bring
To the never ending story
A million voices sing
To the wonder of the light
So I hide beneath your wing
You are my guardian, angel of mine.

Cantate caeli chorus angelorum!
Venite adoramus in aeternum!
Psallite saecula et saeculorum!
Laudate Deo in gloria!
(Sing, Heaven’s choir of angels!
Come, let us evermore adore!
Sing forever and ever!
Praise God in glory!)

Can you be my angel now watching over me
Comfort and inspire me to see our journey through
Can I be your friend indeed, from all cares set free,
The clouds would pass away, then I’d be an angel too

Voces angelorum gloria, dona eis pacem!
(O voices of angels (give) glory! Grant them peace!)

For you’re always near to me, in my joy and my sorrow
For you ever care for me, lifting my spirits to the sky.
Where a million angels sing, in amazing harmony
And the words of love they bring
To the never ending story
A million voices sing
To the wonder of the light
So I hide beneath your wing
You are my guardian, angel of mine
Angel of mine

 

Like Pearls Slipping Off a String

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I believe the nicest and sweetest days
are not those on which anything very splendid
or wonderful or exciting happens
but just those that bring simple little pleasures,
following one another softly,
like pearls slipping off a string.
~L.M. Montgomery from Anne of Avonlea

 

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Pearl by pearl, the simple pleasures slip away so softly in these precious few days of family fullness and warmth.

It is almost too much to bear knowing these pearls can never be strung together again in quite the same way, but I rush to gather them up together in the deep pocket of my memory for safe-keeping.

And then I remember they will always be there, ready to be touched and treasured when I need them, each one more splendid and wonderful and exciting than I would ever have imagined at the time.

 

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A Field To Go Back To

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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.

~Scott Owens “The Arrival of the Past” from Down to Sleep

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Returning to my mother’s Palouse country to meet again with my aunt and cousins:

(her brother’s widow, now 97, her nieces and nephews–those who still farm and those who wish they still could)

I know these wheat fields lie deep in my DNA and my heart is comforted by the familiarity of the tone and hue of the soil, the freshness of the breezes, the undulation of the grain over the hillsides, the lilt of the meadowlark’s song.

This is always a welcome return home as I feel my mother’s genes rise up within me to greet this family, and know that yes, to this too I belong.

It is a rare and abiding comfort.

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See You Soon Enough

silentweb
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Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.
 
Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.
 
Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.
 
Seducer, healer, deity, or thief,
I will see you soon enough–
in the shadow of the rainfall,
 
in the brief violet darkening a sunset —
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore
 
and the harsh falcon its flightless young.
~Dana Gioia “The Prayer” (written in memory of his infant son who died of SIDS)
sunset713144
When we think of those who wait for us on the other side,
and who we will wait for when it comes our time,
I know there is One who watches over all these reunions,
knowing the moment when our fractured hearts
heal whole once again.
sunset24142

 

Slow Down the Passage of Time

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June 2000

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June 2010

The ten years between these pictures could not possibly have flown by more quickly.  Our three children could no longer “fit” in a little cave on our favorite west Vancouver Island beach, but we still could spend a few days together appreciating each others’ company as five adults.   The games around the table in the beach cabin were a bit more competitive, the conversation quite a bit deeper, the meals prepared by expert 21 year old hands, and much of the time everyone had their nose in a book.  When we all climbed into the hot tub together, we displaced a lot more water.  However, we still worked to build a sand castle with a moat in order to watch the incoming tide, much like the tide of time,  collapse it with a few swiping crashing waves.

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Now leaping forward six years, there are more wonderful changes, increasing the complexity of being all in one place as a family.  With the addition of two daughters-in-law with our sons on either side of the globe, we can now gather “virtually” to break bread together.  Building a sand castle to watch it wash away has become the stuff of memories.

There is much about our family that remains the same even as we have expanded and now dwell thousands of miles apart.  I rest in that knowledge.  I’m simply asking for the passage of time to take its time washing us back to sea.

 

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