Cure for Every Hurt

hankerchief tree (Ireland)
Baby Barn Owlet hiding in the rocks and grass
River carp (2-3 feet long) in Higashi-Kurume, Tokyo

Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies   
and trip over the roots   
of a sweet gum tree,   
in search of medieval   
plants whose leaves,   
when they drop off   
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they   
plop into water.

Suddenly the archetypal   
human desire for peace   
with every other species   
wells up in you. The lion   
and the lamb cuddling up.
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,   
queen of the weeds, revives   
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt   
there is a leaf to cure it.

~Amy Gerstler “Perpetual Spring” from Bitter Angel

photo by Tomomi Gibson

We all want to fix what ails us: that was the point of my many years of medical training and over 40 years “practicing” that art. We want to know there is a cure for every hurt, an answer for every question, a resolution to every mystery, or peace for every conflict.

And there is. It just isn’t always on our timeline, nor is it always the answer we expect, nor the conflict magically dissolved. The mystery shall remain mystery until every tear is dried, as we stand before the Face of our Holy God who both loves and judges our hearts.

Sometimes this life hurts – a lot – but I believe in the perpetual Spring and Resurrection that guarantees our complete healing.

Soli Deo Gloria

A new book available to order https://barnstorming.blog/new-book-available-almanac-of-quiet-days/from Barnstorming and poet Lois Edstrom!

Spines at the Ready

Sheep will not eat it
nor horses nor cattle
unless they are starving.
Unchecked, it will sprawl over
pasture and meadow
choking the sweet grass
defeating the clover
until you are driven
to take arms against it
but if unthinking
you grasp it barehanded
you will need tweezers
to pick out the stickers.

Outlawed in most Northern
states of the Union
still it jumps borders.
Its taproot runs deeper
than underground rivers
and once it’s been severed
by breadknife or shovel
—two popular methods
employed by the desperate—
the bits that remain will
spring up like dragons’ teeth
a field full of soldiers
their spines at the ready.

Bright little bursts of
chrome yellow explode from
the thistle in autumn
when goldfinches gorge on
the seeds of its flower.
The ones left uneaten
dry up and pop open
and parachutes carry
their procreant power
to disparate venues
in each hemisphere
which is why there will always
be thistle next year.
~Maxine Kumin “Why There Will Always Be Thistle” from The Long Marriage. 

Against the rubber tongues of cows and the hoeing hands of men
Thistles spike the summer air
And crackle open under a blue-black pressure.

Every one a revengeful burst
Of resurrection, a grasped fistful
Of splintered weapons and Icelandic frost thrust up

From the underground stain of a decayed Viking.
They are like pale hair and the gutturals of dialects.
Every one manages a plume of blood.

Then they grow grey, like men.
Mown down, it is a feud. Their sons appear,
Stiff with weapons, fighting back over the same ground.

~Ted Hughes “Thistles”

Reluctantly the summer goes
In a cloud of thistledown.
~Beverly Ashour from “September”

It is armored, it is deeply rooted, it is relentless.
Highly ambitious, it produces downy tasty dancing seeds ready to soar far. Generation after generation of thistles persist due to this delicate ballerinas’ flight to the next horizon.

I should be strive to be as persistent, as rooted, as determined, yet as fluffy and tender under my defensive prickles and spines.

And then, may I softly dance in the journey to the next life.

For Every Hurt

oakleafhydrangeabug
 
 
Gardens are also good places
to sulk. You pass beds of
spiky voodoo lilies   
and trip over the roots   
of a sweet gum tree,   
in search of medieval   
plants whose leaves,   
when they drop off   
turn into birds
if they fall on land,
and colored carp if they   
plop into water.
 
Suddenly the archetypal   
human desire for peace   
with every other species   
wells up in you. The lion
and the lamb cuddling up. 
The snake and the snail, kissing.
Even the prick of the thistle,   
queen of the weeds, revives   
your secret belief
in perpetual spring,
your faith that for every hurt   
there is a leaf to cure it.
~Amy Gerstler  from “In Perpetual Spring

Try as we might to find common ground with those so unlike ourselves, it is the differences we focus on despite our efforts to understand and befriend. Whether it is cranky politicians sparring in the headlines, or the perpetual struggle between weak and strong, we miss seeing Creation’s intended balance all around us.

We can dwell compatibly, lion and lamb, without one becoming a meal for the other. Indeed, prey transforms the predator.

Even the barbed and bloody thistle releases its seeds in the cushion of thistledown, drifting gently where the wind will take it next, at once forgiven for the scars it inflicted.

May I strive to be comforting rather than prickly, healing rather than inflicting, wherever I may land.

Declensions of the Day

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thistle8215

 

octoberrose15

 

octroses3

 

The thistles, rooted out, throng in again;
The single regal rose is mobbed by weeds;
The plums, the pears, the ripening apples, rain
In the sun; and past summer plants new seeds.

Here, or there, these common yearly things
Repeat, repeat, and gardens do not range:
Yet thistles, roses, fruit trees, birds, and stings
Come to an end, and the church bells sound a change.

These many soft declensions of the day,
So hard to take to heart, bear life away.
~Dunstan Thompson from “Passage”

 

 

pears9614

 

fallenpear

 

This winding down,
this descent into
shorter days and longer nights,
this preparation for an autumn austerity,
reminds me of my ongoing emptying,
once so full of fruit and seed,
now clinging to what is left me~
the joys, the tears,
the eyes of my brimming heart.

 

wetoctleaves

 

verywetrainyday

 

sunriserain

 

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The Light Again of Beginnings

rain918173

 

fieldofgreen

 

thistledowndrizzle

For seasons the walled meadow
south of the house built of its stone
grows up in shepherd’s purse and thistles
the weeds share April as a secret
finches disguised as summer earth
click the drying seeds
mice run over rags of parchment in August
the hare keeps looking up remembering 
a hidden joy fills the songs of the cicadas

two days’ rain wakes the green in the pastures
crows agree and hawks shriek with naked voices
on all sides the dark oak woods leap up and shine
the long stony meadow is plowed at last and lies
all day bare
I consider life after life as treasures
oh it is the autumn light

that brings everything back in one hand
the light again of beginnings
the amber appearing as amber
~ W. S. Merwin, “September Plowing” from Flower & Hand

 

 

rain918175

 

terrystree

 

The rain has returned –
too many weeks of parchment leaves and soil,
now moistened and refreshed.

The light is so different in the evenings,
autumnal beginnings and summer endings,
a burning amber of sky and earth.

It is treasured up and stored,
to be harvested in the dead of winter
when such amber light is only remembrance
in the midst of so much gray.

 

rain918171

 

amberfield

 

ambernight

Tarnished and Dry

thistlebugs

thistledown1

thistlegrass2

In a patch of baked earth
At the crumbled cliff’s brink,
Where the parching of August
Has cracked a long chink,

Against the blue void
Of still sea and sky
Stands single a thistle,
Tall, tarnished, and dry.

Frayed leaves, spotted brown,
Head hoary and torn,
Was ever a weed
Upon earth so forlorn,

So solemnly gazed on
By the sun in his sheen
That prints in long shadow
Its raggedness lean?

From the sky comes no laughter,
From earth not a moan.
Erect stands the thistle,
Its seeds abroad blown.
~Robert Laurence Binyon –“The Thistle”

 

thistle8215

 

thistlesunset

 

There isn’t much that thrives in a dry summer like this other than mounds of blackberry bushes and scattered clusters of thistle.  They both are defended by thorns to keep them from being eaten by all but the most persistent and hungry grazing animals.

I admire and recognize such tenacity, knowing I too have held tightly to my own defenses to keep from being swallowed up. I approach these weeds with respect for the scars they can leave behind – their roots go deep, their seeds travel far.

We coexist because we must.

How else would beauty come from our bleeding wounds?

 

thistle816

 

A Thoughtful Dripping Muzzle

drippingmuzzle
Scottish Watering Trough (like many American Troughs, it had a previous life)

 

Belted Galloways in the Galloway region of Scotland

Let the end of all bathtubs
be this putting out to pasture
of four Victorian bowlegs
anchored in grasses.

 

Let all longnecked browsers
come drink from the shallows
while faucets grow rusty
and porcelain yellows.

Where once our nude forebears
soaped up in this vessel
come, cows, and come, horses.

Bring burdock and thistle,
come slaver the scum of
timothy and clover
on the cast-iron lip that
our grandsires climbed over

and let there be always
green water for sipping
that muzzles may enter thoughtful
and rise dripping.
~Maxine Kumin “Watering Trough”

 

thistlebud3

 

thistle8215

 

burdock

 

burdockhorsehair

 

cloverbeauty

 

sunsetgrassplume

 

Farmers became the original recyclers before it was a word or an expectation — there isn’t anything that can’t be used twice or thrice for whatever is needed, wherever and whenever, especially far from the nearest retail outlet or farm supply store.

The water troughs on the farm where I grew up were cast-off four-legged bath tubs hauled home from the dump, exactly like the old tub I bathed in when staying overnight at my grandma’s farm house.  She needed her tub to stay put right in the bathroom, never considering an upgrade and remodel; she would never offer it up to her cows.

But there were people who could afford to install showers and molded tubs so out their tubs went to find new life and purpose on farms like ours.

We kept goldfish in our bathtub water trough, to keep the algae at bay and for the amusement of the farm cats. The horses and cows would stand drowsily by the tub, their muzzles dripping, mesmerized by flashes of orange circling the plugged drain.

I often wondered what they thought of sharing their drinking water with fish, but I suspect they had more weighty things to ponder: where the next lush patch of grass might be, how to reach that belly itch,  finding the best shade with fewest flies to take that afternoon nap.

When it comes to sharing a tub, maybe farm animals aren’t that different from their farmer keepers after all:  they both stand dripping and thoughtful alongside the tub, wondering about the next thing to be done, which may well be a well-earned rest.

 

redbelt

 

drippingmuzzle3

 

 

 

Sun and Wind Muscle

sunset626163

poplarwind

There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of wind.
~Annie Dillard

sunset76162

thistleseeds

I tend to think of the wind, not the sun, having all the weather muscle, especially in the midst of a brisk northeaster blow in the dead of winter, far outperforming the meager and anemic sunlight.  Memories of northeast blizzard muscle are still fresh in my mind, even in the first half of August.

But earlier this week, on a warm summer day,  it was both sun and wind competing with their mustered energy.  With all the house windows kept wide open to keep things cool there were frequent door-slamming, blinds-beating, leaf-loosening, windchime-clattering, hay-drying gusts.  Muscle was all around and through us.

There was enough sun to create a shadow tree blending like a holograph projected onto the woods.  There was enough wind to shake the grasses and thistles and scatter their seed.  There was enough sun to dip the evening with orange smoothie and enough wind to clear the haze from the air.

For now there is plenty of energy to spare: spirit-filled muscle to pick me up, bend me over, warm my heart, all bottled and ready to release on that inevitable wintry day that will come,  sooner than I want.

shadow of the lone fir cast upon the woods at sunset

sunset626162

A Tender Heart

choke

The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable, She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to an Artichoke”

I first encountered a globe artichoke in my first week at college in California.  I’d never seen one before, much less dismantled and actually eaten one.  The California natives around me in the dining hall were astonished my world view had never before included artichoke leaves and heart.   After all, we were only an hour away from the artichoke capital of the world, Watsonville,  where the motto for the annual artichoke festival was “Thistle Be Fun!”

My frame of reference growing up on a farm was that thistle-looking plants were noxious weeds and needed to be chopped down before going to seed and reproducing even more noxious weeds.  This spiny looking bud that was about to bloom a purple thistle flower looked highly suspicious to me and not to be trusted.

But then someone showed me how to peel off a leaf, dip the base in mayonnaise or lemon garlic butter and scrape off the soft part with my teeth.  Noxious?  Not even close.  Absolutely delicious!  It was a revelation.

The circumferential peeling of leaves one by one leads deeper to softer petals and fewer prickles, with the flavor becoming less subtle and more distinct.  Once the leaves are all off, there lies uncovered at the base a heart to be scooped out.  The round meaty heart is the point of all this effort.  It is the gold in the buried treasure chest, the pot at the end of the rainbow. It takes work to reach it, but it never disappoints.

How to mentally get past the plainness and prickles?  How to recognize what appears so undesirable as something to preserve and nurture?   There are so many times in my day I walk right past such people or opportunities as not worth the trouble.  Sometimes I myself am the one with the prickles, protective as they seem to me yet cautionary to others, not to be trusted.

How could anyone know the tender heart that dwells within unless we gently, graciously, gratefully peel the prickles away?

thistle22

 

 

 

Hard to Take to Heart

downtothree
IMG_4394
octrose3

The thistles, rooted out, throng in again;
The single regal rose is mobbed by weeds;
The plums, the pears, the ripening apples, rain
In the sun; and past summer plants new seeds.

Here, or there, these common yearly things
Repeat, repeat, and gardens do not range:
Yet thistles, roses, fruit trees, birds, and stings
Come to an end, and the church bells sound a change.

These many soft declensions of the day,
So hard to take to heart, bear life away.
~Dunstan Thompson from “Passage”

 

This winding down,
this descent into
shorter days and longer nights,
this preparation for an autumn austerity,
reminds me of my ongoing emptying,
once so full of fruit and seed,
now clinging to what is left me~
the joys, the tears,
the eyes of my brimming heart.

 

pears9614

appledew2

thistledown915

thistle9281sunset822153