My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled, Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun, All felled, felled, are all felled; Of a fresh and following folded rank Not spared, not one That dandled a sandalled Shadow that swam or sank On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew — Hack and rack the growing green! Since country is so tender To touch, her being só slender, That, like this sleek and seeing ball But a prick will make no eye at all, Where we, even where we mean To mend her we end her, When we hew or delve: After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve Strokes of havoc unselve The sweet especial scene, Rural scene, a rural scene, Sweet especial rural scene. ~Gerard Manley Hopkins “Binsey Poplars”
Our farm is bookshelved between two poplar rows, one short, the other longer. The trees are showing their advanced age and struggle now with winter storms with heavy winds and icy build-up, branches shattering like toothpicks.
They will eventually, like Hopkins’ Binsey poplars, be felled before they tumble weakened and withered in a gale, landing where they mustn’t.
I will miss their blowhard boldness, their noisy leaves and branches, their dance in the wind and their orderliness as they stand like guardians to the farm. I’m being sentimental but there will be a sadness when it comes time to say goodbye.
Once they are gone, who in the future would know they once stood there, towering above everything else.
Unlike the poplars, I must leave something behind to be remembered.
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Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars… don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones. ~H.Jackson Brown Jr. from “Life’s Little Instruction Book”
Life is a marshmallow, easy to chew but hard to swallow. ~Francis Bacon
And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things, and he was silent, and he sat there, looking out over the world, just wishing it wouldn’t stop. ~A.A. Milne from The House at Pooh Corner
Always, no sometimes, think it’s me But you know I know when it’s a dream I think I know I mean a yes But it’s all wrong That is I think I disagree
Let me take you down ‘Cause I’m going to Marshmallow Fields Nothing is real And nothing to get hung about Marshmallows Fields forever ~with apologies to John Lennon and The Beatles “Strawberry Fields Forever”
It’s marshmallow harvest season once again, just in time for this long holiday weekend’s camp fires, scary ghost stories, roasting sticks, chocolate bars and graham crackers.
After a year of isolation and loneliness, I am ready for our life together to begin again, seeking s’more to chew on, sticky, messy and oh so glorious.
I sit in silence looking out over the marshmallow fields, hoping the world won’t stop.
No, not ever again.
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My mother, Elna Schmitz Polis, was born 101 years ago today in the lonely isolation of a Palouse wheat and lentil farm in eastern Washington. She drew her first breath in a two story white house located down a long poplar-lined lane and nestled in a draw between the undulating hills.
She attended a one room school house until 8th grade, located a mile away in the rural countryside, then moved in with her grandmother “in town” in Rosalia to attend high school, seeing her parents only a couple times a month.
It was a childhood which accustomed her to solitude and creative play inside her mind and heart – her only sibling, an older brother, was busy helping their father on the farm. All her life and especially in her later years, she would prefer the quiet of her own thoughts over the bustle of a room full of activities and conversation.
Her childhood was filled with exploration of the rolling hills, the barns and buildings where her father built and repaired farm equipment, and the chilly cellar where the fresh eggs were stored after she reached under cranky hens to gather them. She sat in the cool breeze of the picketed yard, watching the huge windmill turn and creak next to the house. She helped her weary mother feed farm crews who came for harvest time and then settled in the screened porch listening to the adults talk about lentil prices and bushel production. She woke to the mourning dove call in the mornings and heard the coyote yips and howls at night.
She nearly died at the age of 13 from a ruptured appendix, before antibiotics were an option. That near-miss seemed to haunt her life-long, filling her with worry that it was a mistake that she survived that episode at all. Yet she thrived despite the anxiety, and ended up, much to her surprise, living a long life full of family and faith, letting go at age 88 after fracturing a femur, breaking her will to continue to live.
As a young woman, she was ready to leave the wheat farm behind for college, devoting herself to the skills of speech, and the creativity of acting and directing in drama, later teaching rural high school students, including a future Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Carolyn Kizer. She loved words and the power and beauty they wielded.
Marrying my father was a brave and impulsive act, traveling by train to the east coast only a week before he shipped out for almost 3 years to the South Pacific to fight as a Marine in WWII. She must have wondered about the man who returned from war changed and undoubtedly scarred in ways she could not see or touch. They worked it out, as rocky as it must have been at times, and in their reconciliation after their divorce years later, I could see the devotion and mutual respect of life companions who shared purpose and love.
As a wife and mother, she rediscovered her calling as a steward of the land and a steward of her family, gardening and harvesting fruits, vegetables and children tirelessly. When I think of my mother, I most often think of her tending us children in the middle of the night whenever we were ill; her over-vigilance was undoubtedly due to her worry we might die in childhood as she almost did.
She never did stop worrying until the last few months. As she became more dependent on others in her physical decline, she gave up the control she thought she had to maintain through her “worry energy” and became much more accepting about the control the Lord maintains over all we are and will become.
I know from where my shyness comes, my preference for birdsongs rather than radio music, my preference for naps, and my tendency to be serious and straight-laced with a twinkle in my eye. This is my German Palouse side–immersing in the quietness of solitude, thrilling to the sight of the spring wheat flowing like a green ocean wave in the breeze and appreciating the warmth of rich soil held in my hands. From that heritage came my mother and it is the legacy she has left with me. I am forever grateful to her for her unconditional love and her willingness to share the warmth of her nest whenever we felt the need to fly back home and shelter, overprotected at times but safe nonetheless, under her wings.
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Does the road wind up-hill all the way? Yes, to the very end. Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place? A roof for when the slow dark hours begin. May not the darkness hide it from my face? You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night? Those who have gone before. Then must I knock, or call when just in sight? They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak? Of labour you shall find the sum. Will there be beds for me and all who seek? Yea, beds for all who come. ~Christina Rossetti, “Up-Hill” from Rossetti: Poems
Nothing is quite as comforting as a room to stay and bed to sleep in after a long day of traveling. At times, we’re not sure we’ll get there before dark. The roads stretch ahead for miles, the scenery seems foreign to our eyes.
So we hope for a quiet place to stay where others are welcoming.
Yet there is rest. Yes, there is rest for the weary and travel-worn. There are beds for each. A place to rest our heads.
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Ten more miles, it is South Dakota. Somehow, the roads there turn blue, When no one walks down them. One more night of walking, and I could have become A horse, a blue horse, dancing Down a road, alone.
I have got this far. It is almost noon. But never mind time: That is all over. It is still Minnesota. Among a few dead cornstalks, the starving shadow Of a crow leaps to his death. At least, it is green here, Although between my body and the elder trees A savage hornet strains at the wire screen. He can’t get in yet.
It is so still now, I hear the horse Clear his nostrils. He has crept out of the green places behind me. Patient and affectionate, he reads over my shoulder These words I have written. He has lived a long time, and he loves to pretend No one can see him. Last night I paused at the edge of darkness, And slept with green dew, alone. I have come a long way, to surrender my shadow To the shadow of a horse. ~James Wright “Sitting in a small screenhouse on a summer morning”
I have a sense of someone reading over my shoulder as I write. It keeps me honest to feel that breath on my hair, that green smell reminding me who I am.
I should not try to be anyone else.
When my words don’t say exactly what I hope, I feel forgiveness from the shadow beside me.
It’s all softness. It’s all okay even when it’s not.
Just before the green begins there is the hint of green a blush of color, and the red buds thicken the ends of the maple’s branches and everything is poised before the start of a new world, which is really the same world just moving forward from bud to flower to blossom to fruit to harvest to sweet sleep, and the roots await the next signal, every signal every call a miracle and the switchboard is lighting up and the operators are standing by in the pledge drive we’ve all been listening to: Go make the call. ~Stuart Kestenbaum “April Prayer”
The buds have been poised for weeks and then, as if responding to the conductor’s downstroke, let go of all their pent up potential~ exploding with energy enough to carry them to autumn when again they let go and are gone.
When it snows, he stands at the back door or wanders around the house to each window in turn and watches the weather like a lover.
O farm boy, I waited years for you to look at me that way. Now we’re old enough to stop waiting for random looks or touches or words, so I find myself watching you watching the weather, and we wait together to discover whatever the sky might bring. ~Patricia Traxler “Weather Man”
My farm boy always looked at me that way, and still does — wondering if today will bring a hard frost, a chilly northeaster, a scorcher, or a deluge, and I reassure him as best I can, because he knows me so well in our many years together: today, like every other day, will always be partly sunny with some inevitable cloud cover and always a possibility of rain.
There is nothing better for the inside of a man than the outside of a horse… ~Long time equestrian wisdom attributed to many famous riders
Nineteen years ago today in 2001, two days before the world changed forever, I helped organize a gathering of Haflinger horse owners from western Canada and the United States in our nearby town of Lynden, Washington. We received permission to have a Haflinger parade on a quiet Sunday morning while the townspeople were all in church. We wanted to be sure we would not interfere with traffic coming to town and leaving after worship services.
It was a remarkable morning of over ninety Haflingers – riding, driving, walking their horses, enjoying the quiet peace of a Sabbath morning in a friendly little town.
After September 11, 2001, nothing has felt quiet or calm in the same way ever again.
This is to remember the day we spent together, in the insides of us enjoying the outsides of our horses.
how you can never reach it, no matter how hard you try, walking as fast as you can, but getting nowhere, arms and legs pumping, sweat drizzling in rivulets; each year, a little slower, more creaks and aches, less breath. Ah, but these soft nights, air like a warm bath, the dusky wings of bats careening crazily overhead, and you’d think the road goes on forever. Apollinaire wrote, “What isn’t given to love is so much wasted,” and I wonder what I haven’t given yet. A thin comma moon rises orange, a skinny slice of melon, so delicious I could drown in its sweetness. Or eat the whole thing, down to the rind. Always, this hunger for more. ~Barbara Crooker “How the Trees on Summer Nights Turn into a Dark River,” from More
I don’t move as quickly as I used to (which is good as I’m watching more closely where I step).
I need more sleep than I used to (which is good because I’m not running “on the rim” as much as I have in the past).
I am not as driven and ignited with impulses as I used to be (which is good as I take more time to savor what I have rather than crave what I think I need).
This doesn’t mean I lack appetite for this continuing journey on the endless road of summer that seems to go on forever. I’m still hungry for more and don’t want to waste a single moment.
It is getting noticeably darker earlier now and I too want to pluck any lingering light out of the sky and swallow it down whole, hoping – just hoping – it might keep me glowing on the road home.