All afternoon his tractor pulls a flat wagon with bales to the barn, then back to the waiting chopped field. It trails a feather of smoke. Down the block we bend with the season: shoes to polish for a big game, storm windows to batten or patch. And how like a field is the whole sky now that the maples have shed their leaves, too. It makes us believers—stationed in groups, leaning on rakes, looking into space. We rub blisters over billows of leaf smoke. Or stand alone, bagging gold for the cold days to come. ~David Baker “Neighbors in October”
There is a desperation to these October days: the leaves torn from branches by unrelenting gusts with no thought to where they may land~ upon which patch of grass or gravel will be their final resting place to wilt and wither in the rain, under frost, buried by eventual peaceful snowbanks until they return to dust.
Or in my need to hold on to what I can of what was, I preserve a few like precious treasure, tucked between book pages to remain forever neighbors with the words they embrace.
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Enter autumn as you would a closing door. Quickly, cautiously. Look for something inside that promises color, but be wary of its cast — a desolate reflection, an indelible tint. ~Pamela Steed Hill “September Pitch”
Summer begins to have the look Peruser of enchanting Book Reluctantly but sure perceives– A gain upon the backward leaves
Autumn begins to be inferred By millinery of the cloud Or deeper color in the shawl That wraps the everlasting hill.
The eye begins its avarice A meditation chastens speech Some Dyer of a distant tree Resumes his gaudy industry.
Conclusion is the course of All Almost to be perennial And then elude stability Recalls to immortality. ~Emily Dickinson, Poem 65
This hot summer now wanes, wistful; it has the look of packing up, and moving on without bidding adieu or looking back over its shoulder.
I wave goodbye without regret; it leaves behind a hot mess of burned landscape and drought.
Blustery winds have carried in darkening clouds spread green leaves, chestnuts and walnuts everywhere, loosened before their time. Long overdue rain gave us a good drenching worth celebrating.
Overhead skies are heavily burdened with clues of what more is coming: earlier dusk, the cool feel of moisture, the deepening graying purplish hues, the briskness of breezes.
There is no negotiation possible. I steel myself and get ready, wrapping myself in my perennial soft shawl of inevitability.
So autumn advances forth with its clouds, taking up residence as summer moves out, bringing its own unique plans for redecorating using an array of hues and textures.
The truth is we’ve seen nothing yet.
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A lurking man in that half light, there where eye imagines sight, stops my heart until I see Lurking man is leaning tree.
What changed? The man? There was none. Tree? The tree was always there. Then me? I did not change. I came to see and what I saw, what was could be. ~Archibald MacLeish, from Collected Poems 1917 to 1982
Every day I look for what is obvious on the farm – the trees, the flowers, the animals, the clouds, the lighting – all the daily and mundane things surrounding me. More often than not, what I see is straight-forward, needing no extra mental processing or interpretation.
Occasionally, my mind’s eye sees more and I’m stopped in my tracks. What is it I’m seeing and how much am I simply imagining? I see what “could be” and that alone creates a new dimension to what, on the surface, is plain and simple. Suddenly what is plain becomes glorious – a flower is otherworldly, a cat transformed by light, a wet feather a thing of beauty, a tree moves and breathes as if it is on fire.
Because my mind’s eye wants to look deeper, I see more detail. Because I myself am complex, I seek out complexity. Because I need transformation and renewal, my mind seeks to transform and renew. Because nothing around me is quite as it seems on the surface, I am called upon to notice it, in its beauty and in its simplicity.
I am changed by imagining how glorious things could be.
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I am still skeptical about the reasons some seek spirituality in the land, for the spirituality the land offers is anything but easy.
It is the spirituality of a God who would, with lightening and earthquakes, sneeze away the bland moralism preached in many pulpits, a wildly free, undomesticated divinity, the same God who demands of Moses from a burning bush, “Remove your shoes, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
When God appears to Job, the comforting sentiments we might expect to feel are absent because such sentiments are at most God’s trappings, not the infinite himself. The God who speaks to Job from the whirlwind reminds him that, comforting or terrifying, he alone is God. To be satisfied with anything less would be the spiritual catastrophe the Old Testament calls idolatry.
Some of our idols shatter in the West’s rugged vastness, others remain.
Perhaps God leaves exposed the land’s brokenness – the scars of forest fires, the fossils of extinct biospheres, rifts showing ancient continents now scattered like puzzle pieces – to remind us that he is greater than the icon, too.
The heavens and earth will wear out like a garment, the Psalmist says, like clothes that are changed.
We are now 45 days into a hotter dry spell this summer with a slight possibility of some rain next week. Everything here in the Pacific Northwest is looking as it would in late August with the snow melt in the Cascades much accelerated from its usual timeline. With the fires already happening for weeks on the eastern side of the state, as well as to the north of us in British Columbia and south in Oregon and California, we are looking at a withering August of smoke and ash.
Dan and I headed up the Mt. Baker Highway yesterday evening to see how bare Baker and Shuksan look up close. We wonder what snow will be left before our typical precipitation begins in earnest in early October. These seemingly unchanging monoliths are being stripped of their usual garments, now naked and vulnerable. They are subject to God’s transforming power just as surely as we are.
When I stand at the foot of these peaks, I never fail to be awed to a whisper, as if I were inside an immense cathedral. God reminds us to remove our shoes out of respect for His holy ground. Yet I worship not the mountains nor the awe-inspiring landscape they are placed in, but worship their Creator whose strength and love is greater than all.
I tread lightly. I speak softly. I remove my shoes. I witness the fading light.
God, the eternal, the unchangeable, takes my breath away, as only He can..
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This upstart thistle Is young and touchy; it is All barb and bristle,
Threatening to wield Its green, jagged armament Against the whole field.
Butterflies will dare Nonetheless to lay their eggs In that angle where
The leaf meets the stem, So that ants or browsing cows Cannot trouble them.
Summer will grow old As will the thistle, letting A clenched bloom unfold
To which the small hum Of bee wings and the flash of Goldfinch wings will come,
Till its purple crown Blanches, and the breezes strew The whole field with down. ~Richard Wilbur “A Pasture Poem” from Anterooms
Not unlike the thistles that dot our pastures, I can have a tendency to be a bristly, barbed and sharp – some is simply my nature, but also long years of relentless training to become tough and impenetrable. Perhaps it represents my need for self-protection, but like the thistle, though having spiky thorns may keep me from being “eaten”, it doesn’t deter the gentle approach of butterfly or bee.
As a result, I have been softened over time (in more ways than one!) by forces outside of myself – a ripening that means I am less threat and more welcoming. My unfolding into fluffy blossom became my way of enveloping myself around my world as grace enveloped me.
With the breezes, the softest of thistle down spreads afar rather than standing stock-still in self-defense. I find in my seventh decade, I’m actually meant to fly, settling into nooks and crannies I never could have dreamed while barbed and spiky.
That is how grace and redemption works on thistles and bristly people: from sharp edges to delicate downiness.
We are all in need of such transformation.
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Once again a child asks me suddenly What is a poem?, And once again I find myself riffing freely and happily Without the slightest scholarly expertise or knowledge; But I am entranced by how poems can hint and suggest And point toward things deeper than words. A poem is An owl feather, I say. It’s not the owl—but it intimates Owlness, see what I mean? You imagine the owl, owls, Silent flight, razors for fingers, a wriggle of mouse tail Slurped up right quick like the last strand of angel hair, A startle of moonlight, a fox watching from the thicket, All that from a feather. It’s like an owl is in the feather. A poem is a small thing with all manner of bigger in it. Poor poems only have a writer in them, but better ones Have way more in them than the writer knew or knows About. This poem, for example, amazingly has owls in It—who knew we’d see a flurry of owls this afternoon? ~Brian Doyle, “A Flurry of Owls”
I ask them to take a poem and hold it up to the light like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski across the surface of a poem waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do is tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it.
I walked into our big hay barn this week, finding scattered atop the few remaining bales from last summer these few owl feathers…
they were waiting for a poem to hide within, just as the barn owls are tucked invisibly in the rafters until the cool air of dusk and hunger lures them to the hunt, swooping outside to capture both moonlight and mice to be coughed up in pellets of fur and bones.
These feathers, dropped like so many random snowflakes, carry within them the glint and glow of the moon, a reminder what we leave behind matters, whether it be feather or fur or a wee dry skeleton, a shell of who we once were yet are no longer.
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It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity
….in the garden there was nothing which was not quite like themselves— nothing which did not understand the wonderfulness of what was happening to them— the immense, tender, terrible, heart-breaking beauty and solemnity of Eggs.
… if an Egg were taken away or hurt the whole world would whirl round and crash through space and come to an end— ~Frances Hodgson Burnett from The Secret Garden
I revel in being the good egg. Smooth on the surface, gooey inside, often a bit scrambled, yet ordinary and decent, indistinguishable from others, blending in, not making waves.
It’s not been bad staying just as I am. Except I can no longer remain like this.
A dent or two have appeared in my outer shell from bumps along the way, and a crack up one side extends daily.
It has come time to change or face inevitable rot.
Nothing can be the same again: the fragments of shell left behind must be abandoned as useless confinement.
Newly hatched and transformed: there is the wind beneath my wings. I’ll soar toward an endless horizon that stretches beyond eternity, no longer ordinary.
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There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparell’d in celestial light, The glory of a dream.
The rainbow comes and goes, And lovely is the rose; The moon doth with delight Look round her when the heavens are bare; Waters on a starry night Are beautiful and fair; The sunshine is a glorious birth; But yet I know, where’er I go, That there hath pass’d away a glory from the earth.
Though nothing can bring back the hour Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find Strength in what remains behind. ~William Wordsworth from Intimations of Immortality
I woke immersed in sadness; it doesn’t happen often. Whether a dream surrounded me in sorrow, or perhaps the weight of grayness of the morning, I couldn’t tell.
I felt burdened and weepy, wondering where hope had fled just overnight.
Even though I know true glory lies beyond this soil, I still look for it here, seeking encouragement in midst of trouble. I set out to find light which clothes the ordinary, becoming resplendent and shimmering from celestial illumination.
Though I may sometimes grieve for what is lost, there is enough, there is always enough each morning to remind me God’s gift of grace and strength transforms this day and every day.
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The air was soft, the ground still cold. In the dull pasture where I strolled Was something I could not believe. Dead grass appeared to slide and heave, Though still too frozen-flat to stir, And rocks to twitch and all to blur. What was this rippling of the land? Was matter getting out of hand And making free with natural law, I stopped and blinked, and then I saw A fact as eerie as a dream. There was a subtle flood of steam Moving upon the face of things. It came from standing pools and springs And what of snow was still around; It came of winter’s giving ground So that the freeze was coming out, As when a set mind, blessed by doubt, Relaxes into mother-wit. Flowers, I said, will come of it. ~Richard Wilbur “April 5, 1974”
As the ground softens with the warming sun, so do I. Winter freeze was comforting as nothing appeared to change, day after day.
Neither did I, staying stolid and fixed and frozen.
But now the fixed is flexing its muscles, steaming in its labor, greening and growing transformed.