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.
Not the midnight sun exactly, or endless summer, just that extra hour holding steady, western horizon stable, as though shadows won’t lengthen when in August you can outrun the night or feel as though you do, latitude in your favor,
North of Sioux City, the sky widens into South Dakota, turn west and you will think you could see all the way to Wyoming, and if you drive long enough you will, crossing the Missouri River, the bluffs gentle, then the grasslands, the turnoffs for reservations.
As dusk approaches, you may pass a stone house, long deserted, a star carved over the door, a small pond, wind stirring over it even now, forming a second thought, a space you will carry within your speech, your soul stirred by these great expanses. ~Jane Hoogestraat “At the Edge of a Time Zone” from Border States.
We have spent long hours in the past week traveling on the great expanses of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Idaho plains. It is a marvel to see so far in every direction yet to feel you are barely moving at 80 miles an hour. The extra hour gained at the edge of a time zone is pure gravy of gifted time.
This is challenging land on which people eke out a living. We have seen a cowboy and herding dog flanking a few dozen Angus cattle alongside the freeway. We’ve seen huge combines kicking up dust clouds as they thresh fields of grain. There are 150 year old remnants of barns and buildings, barely standing against the constant winds and harsh weather.
While we now cross the plains in a day or two, native people and wagon train pioneers spent months by foot or horse, many never managing to reach their destination.
These expanses echo with those lost lives of previous centuries, not to forget hundreds of thousands of bison that also once grazed these basins.
We’ll return to the land of rain and green and ubiquitous trees today. But the great expanses of the plains always enlarge my vision of who lives and works within this vast country.
My heart swells in gratitude with the view of such an endless horizon.
The lawyer told him to write a letter to accompany the will, to prevent potential discord over artifacts valued only for their sentiment.
His wife treasures a watercolor by her father; grandmama’s spoon stirs their oatmeal every morning. Some days, he wears his father’s favorite tie.
He tries to think of things that could be tokens of his days: binoculars that transport bluebirds through his cataracts
a frayed fishing vest with pockets full of feathers brightly tied, the little fly rod he can still manipulate in forest thickets,
a sharp-tined garden fork, heft and handle fit for him, a springy spruce kayak paddle, a retired leather satchel.
He writes his awkward note, trying to dispense with grace some well-worn clutter easily discarded in another generation.
But what he wishes to bequeath are items never owned: a Chopin etude wafting from his wife’s piano on the scent of morning coffee
seedling peas poking into April, monarch caterpillars infesting milkweed leaves, a light brown doe alert in purple asters
a full moon rising in October, hunting-hat orange in ebony sky, sunlit autumn afternoons that flutter through the heart like falling leaves. ~Raymond Byrnes “Personal Effects” from Waters Deep
We’ve seen families break apart over the distribution of the possessions of the deceased. There can be hurt feelings, resentment over perceived slights, arguments over who cared most and who cared least.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen with our parents’ belongings. There had been a slow giving away process as their health failed and they needed to move from larger spaces to smaller spaces. Even so, no one was eager to take care of the things that had no particular monetary or sentimental value. We still have boxes and boxes of household and personal items sitting unopened in storage on our farm for over a decade. Each summer I think I’ll start the sorting process but I don’t. My intentions are good but my follow-through is weak.
So my husband and I have said to each other and our children that we don’t want to leave behind stuff which ultimately has little meaning in a generation or two. We need now to do the work it takes to make sure we honor that promise.
There is so much we would rather bequeath than just stuff we own. It can’t be stored in boxes or outlined in our wills: these are precious possessions that don’t take up space. Instead, we bequeath our love of simple everyday blessings, while passing down our faith in God to future generations.
May our memories be kept alive through stories about the people we tried to be in this life, told to our grandchildren and their children, with much humor and a few tears – that would be the very best legacy of all.
People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. ~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
A farmer died yesterday yet his harvest will live on.
Arnie and his wife Gretchen hadn’t farmed in a few years, if you consider farming only as the raising of dairy heifers and the milking of cows. But farming is so much more if you consider their other harvest work: sharing the produce from a beautiful garden, his volunteering in the community bringing Meals on Wheels to the home bound, transporting people to church who would never make it otherwise, and an unfailing smile and greeting at church when paying special attention to anyone he had never seen before. He wanted them to know how welcome they were.
When he wasn’t running a dairy farm, Arnie harvested people. He exchanged his tractor for an SUV which made it easy to fold up and stow a wheelchair whenever needed. He traded in his hoe for a handshake, his farmer’s cap for a promise to show up to do whatever no one else would do.
He looked for those who were struggling to keep going, who had run out of fuel and were discouraged, their hope being battered by the storms of life. Arnie searched for the light hidden within and became a reigniting fire himself, even when his own illness overwhelmed him. He helped push back darkness with a sparkle and shine reflected from the Light he kept illuminated deep within himself.
His walk with God was a thing of true beauty, like multi-colored windows of faith that reflect our Savior. Arnie became a sanctuary bathed in the glow of a powerful inner light.
A farmer has gone home, but his harvest left behind is bountiful beyond imagining. It sparkles and shines; we’ll miss that welcoming smile until that day he greets us once again at heaven’s gates.
What I didn’t know before was how horses simply give birth to other horses. Not a baby by any means, not a creature of liminal spaces, but already a four-legged beast hellbent on walking, scrambling after the mother.
A horse gives way to another horse and then suddenly there are two horses, just like that.
That’s how I loved you. You, off the long train from Red Bank carrying a coffee as big as your arm, a bag with two computers swinging in it unwieldily at your side. I remember we broke into laughter when we saw each other.
What was between us wasn’t a fragile thing to be coddled, cooed over. It came out fully formed, ready to run. ~Ada Limón “What I Didn’t Know Before”
It felt fully formed and meant to be right from the beginning, now over forty years ago. We both recognized we were ready to run unafraid, trusting our legs were strong enough to take us wherever life would lead.
We don’t need to run as often now, but we are hellbent on walking through this world together as long and far as possible, laughing and loving as often as we can.
We didn’t know it could be like this. We just needed to wait for it to be born fully formed when the time was right.
He fell in love with a simple field of wheat, and I’ve felt this way, too; melted, like a pool of mint chip ice cream, foolishly in love, even though we know how it turns out in the end: snicked by the scythe, burnt in the furnace of the August sun, threshed, separated, kernel from chaff. But right now, it’s spring, and the wheat aligns in orderly rows: Yellow green. Snap pea. Sage. Celadon. His brush strokes pile on, wave after wave, as the haystacks liquefy, slide off the canvas, roll on down to the sea. ~Barbara Crooker “Field with Wheat Stacks” from Les Fauves.
There is nothing here but wheat, no blade too slight for his attention: long swaying brush strokes, pale greens, slithery yellows, the hopefulness of early spring. All grass is flesh, says the prophet. Here, there are no gorgeous azures stamped with almond blossoms, no screaming sky clawed with crows, no sunflowers roiling gold and orange, impasto thick as Midi sunlight. His brush herringboned up each stalk, the elemental concerns of sun, rain, dirt, while his scrim of pain receded into the underpainting. He let the wind play through the stems like a violin, turning the surface liquid, a sea of green, shifting eddies and currents. No sky, no horizon; the world as wheat. ~Barbara Crooker, “Ears of Wheat, 1890” from Les Fauves
I continually fall in love with the fields in my world – I’m unable to take my eyes off them as they green up in the spring, as they wave in the breeze in June, as they turn into gold in August.
Each day brings a change to record and remember.
The colors pile on, one after another after another until it all must be cut short, harvested, stored and consumed, leaving behind the raw shorn remnants.
Yet in stubble is the memory of something that was once truly grand and beautiful and will be again.
Even stubble in a simple field reminds me of what is yet to come.
God makes us happy as only children can be happy. God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart Of feeling the full weight of our burdens It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind And knowing we are not alone in fear Not alone in the dark
Don’t forget Don’t forget I love I love I love you ~Vienna Teng “The Atheist Christmas Carol”
Over the years I have found I don’t do alone well. Never have. I’ve always preferred plenty of activity around me, planning gatherings and communal meals, and filling up my days to the brim with all manner of socializing.
Typically I don’t prefer my own company. There is no glossing over my flaws nor distracting myself from where I fall short. Alone is an unforgiving mirror reflecting back what I have kept myself too overly busy to see.
I’ve never even lived alone except for short times when Dan is traveling. I didn’t like that either.
We have had a taste of quiet aloneness together during the last two weeks of social isolation on the farm, with more time alone to come. I continue to work, able to do my behavioral health medical consultations “virtually” as I am now in an age category that would not do well if exposed to COVID19 in the clinic. These days have had a slower pace and cadence, blessed with a gained hour by not commuting to the clinic. There is more time to take walks, often in silence together, bowing our heads to the wind, taking cover from chilling spring rains.
Despite our isolation, we know we are not alone in our fear of the darkness happening in the world around us. The headlines buzz on our phones; there is no ignoring the suffering happening to so many around us. I hear the fear of uncertainty in my patient’s voices as we talk.
Yet I remind myself of the certainty that I know is the truth:
We need not be afraid. We are not alone in the dark. We are loved. And don’t forget, don’t forget: God is with us even through this.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
We are not alone. We are not alone. We are not alone. God is with us. We are not alone. We are not alone. We are not alone. God is with us.
We are never alone (We are not alone 3x) For (God is with us) We (We are not alone 3x) We are never alone For (God is with us)
Now (We are not alone) Through all our days(We are never alone) (We are not alone. We are never alone) Always (God is with us 2x) For(ever and ever) We are never alone
Are not alone. We are not alone. We are not alone. God is with us. We are not alone. We are not alone. We are not alone. God is with us.
It’s a motley lot. A few still stand at attention like sentries at the ends of their driveways, but more lean askance as if they’d just received a blow to the head, and in fact they’ve received many, all winter, from jets of wet snow shooting off the curved, tapered blade of the plow. Some look wobbly, cocked at oddball angles or slumping forlornly on precariously listing posts. One box bows steeply forward, as if in disgrace, its door lolling sideways, unhinged. Others are dented, battered, streaked with rust, bandaged in duct tape, crisscrossed with clothesline or bungee cords. A few lie abashed in remnants of the very snow that knocked them from their perches. Another is wedged in the crook of a tree like a birdhouse, its post shattered nearby. I almost feel sorry for them, worn out by the long winter, off-kilter, not knowing what hit them, trying to hold themselves together, as they wait for news from spring. ~Jeffrey Harrison “Mailboxes in Late Winter”
This time of year I too often feel like an off-kilter mailbox – rusty, dented, leaning rather than upright, covered with mildew and lichens — it will take some effort to look presentable after a long winter.
There isn’t much that would recommend me as a potential destination; most of the mail that is delivered to me is junk mail or bills. It is a rare pleasure to find a hand-addressed card or note. I have myself to thank for that: I rarely send one to anyone else. I’m not even sure I could find a stamp at home if I wanted one.
It reminds me how infrequently I actually hand write any form of communication any more, how dependent I’ve become on the instantaneous nature of texting and email, and how much I used to enjoy writing letters back and forth to family and friends, in what feels like another life.
Letters can be forever–a tangible representation of the writer illustrated by their choice of envelope, stamp and paper, writing utensil, style of script, sometimes a scent. The neatness or hurried nature of the writing says something about the urgency with which it was written. Emails have none of those features, and can feel ephemeral, although we know they can always be found and retrieved, for good and for ill, by those who know how to look for them.
It has been too long. It’s time to commit to writing a letter a week to someone who needs to be able to tangibly feel my caring about them, right in their hands.
Then just maybe, I can share news of the spring to come.