The trees are undressing, and fling in many places— On the gray road, the roof, the window-sill— Their radiant robes and ribbons and yellow laces; A leaf each second so is flung at will, Here, there, another and another, still and still.
A spider’s web has caught one while downcoming, That stays there dangling when the rest pass on; Like a suspended criminal hangs he, mumming In golden garb, while one yet green, high yon, Trembles, as fearing such a fate for himself anon. ~Thomas Hardy “Last Week in October”
We too are flung into the unknown, trembling tethered in the breezes, unready to let go of what sustains us, fated to be tossed wherever the wind blows us.
If caught up by a silken thread, left to dangle, suspended by faith, we await the hope of rescue, alone and together, another and another, still and still.
In the gloaming when death comes clearly into view as the horizon of life’s landscape, the call is to illumination, to focus the shining darts of life’s lessons as a magnifying glass focuses rays of light. The task of middle age is to dispose of the extraneous, to focus desire’s flickering until it flames at the incendiary point of an undivided heart and makes of love a pure, bright blaze before a falling night. ~Bonnie Thurston “Late Vocation”by Paraclete Press
In this, my third trimester of life, I try to find a focal point in all I do.
The blaze of my days glow under that magnifying glass, yet do not incinerate.
God shows me how in evening light. His Love focused bright and pure.
Like the burning bush that embodied His presence, I am sustained, enlivened, illuminated, shoeless, but never reduced to ashes.
Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries. ~Elizabeth Barrett Browning
What words or harder gift does the light require of me carving from the dark this difficult tree?
What place or farther peace do I almost see emerging from the night and heart of me?
The sky whitens, goes on and on. Fields wrinkle into rows of cotton, go on and on. Night like a fling of crows disperses and is gone.
What song, what home, what calm or one clarity can I not quite come to, never quite see: this field, this sky, this tree. ~Christian Wiman, “Hard Night”
Even the darkest night has a sliver of light left, if only in our memories. We remember how it was and how it can be — the promise of better to come.
While the ever-changing sky swirls as a backdrop, a tree on a hill became the focal point, as it must, like a black hole swallowing up all pain, all suffering, all evil threatening to consume our world.
What clarity, what calm, what peace can be found at the foot of that tree, where our hearts can rest in this knowledge: our sin died there, once and for all and our names are carved into its roots for all time.
To every man His treehouse, A green splice in the humping years, Spartan with narrow cot And prickly door.
To every man His twilight flash Of luminous recall of tiptoe years in leaf-stung flight;
To every man His house below And his house above— With perilous stairs Between. ~James Emmanuel from “The Treehouse”
A shudder of joy runs up The trunk; the needles tingle; One bird uncontrollably cries. The wind changes round, and I stir Within another’s life. Whose life? Who is dead? Whose presence is living? When may I fall strangely to earth,
Who am nailed to this branch by a spirit? Can two bodies make up a third? To sing, must I feel the world’s light? My green, graceful bones fill the air With sleeping birds. Alone, alone And with them I move gently. I move at the heart of the world. ~James Dickey from “In the Treehouse at Night”
My father’s treehouse is twenty five years old this summer, lonesome and empty in our front yard, a constant reminder of his own abandoned Swiss Family Robinson dreams. Over the years, it has been the setting for a local children’s TV show, laser tag wars, sleep overs and tea parties, even my writer’s retreat with a deck side view of the Cascades to the east, the Canadian Coastal Range to the north and Puget Sound to the west. Now it is a sad shell no longer considered safe, as the support branches in our 100+ year old walnut tree are weakening with age and time. It is on our list of farm restoration projects, but other falling down buildings must be prioritized first.
My father’s dream began in February 1995 when our sons were 8 and 6 years old and our daughter just 2. We had plenty of recycled lumber on our old farm and an idea about what to build. Dad, retired from his desk job and having recently survived a lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, had many previous daunting building projects to his credit, and a few in his mind that he was yet to get to. He was eager to see what he could construct for his grandkids by spring time. He doodled out some sketches of what might work in the tree, and contemplated the physics of a 73 year old man scaling a tree vs. building on the ground and hoisting it up mostly completed. I got more nervous the more I thought about it and hoped we could consider a project less risky, and hoping the weather wouldn’t clear enough for construction to start any time soon.
The weather cleared as simultaneously my father’s health faded. His cancer relapsed and he was sidelined with a series of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations and treatment courses. He hung on to that hope of getting the treehouse going by summer, still thinking it through in his mind, still evaluating what he would need to buy to supplement the materials already gathered and piled beneath the tree. In the mean time he lost physical strength day by day.
His dream needed to proceed as he fought his battle, so I borrowed library books on treehouses, and hired two college age brothers who lived down the road to get things started. I figured if my dad got well enough to build again, at least the risky stuff could be already done by the young guys. These brothers took their job very seriously. They pored over the books, took my dad’s plans, worked through the details and started in. They shinnied up the tree, put up pulleys on the high branches and placed the beams, hoisting them by pulling on the ropes with their car bumper. It was working great until the car bumper came off.
I kept my dad updated long distance with photos and stories. It was a diversion for him, but the far off look in his eye told me he wasn’t going to be building anything in this world ever again. He was gone by July. The treehouse was done a month later. It was everything my dad had dreamed of, and more. It had a deck, a protective railing, a trap door, a staircase. We had an open tree celebration and had 15 neighbors up there at once. I’m sure dad was sipping lemonade with us as well, enjoying the view.
Now all these years later, the treehouse is tilting on its foundation as the main weight bearing branch is weakening. We’ve declared it condemned, not wanting to risk an accident. As I look out my front window, it remains a daily reminder of past dreams fulfilled and unfulfilled. Much like my father’s body, the old walnut tree is weakening, hanging on by the roots, but its muscle strength is failing. It will, sometime, come down in one of our frequent fierce windstorms, just as its nearby partner did a few years ago.
The treehouse dream branched out in another way. One of the construction team brothers decided to try building his own as a place to live in his woods, using a Douglas Fir tree as the center support and creating an octagon, two stories, 30 feet off the ground. He worked on it for two years and moved in, later marrying someone who decided a treehouse was just fine with her, and for 20+ years, they’ve been raising five children there. The treehouse kids are old enough to come work for me on our farm, a full circle feeling for me. This next generation is carrying on a Swiss Family Robinson dream that began in my father’s mind and our front yard.
I still have a whole list full of dreams myself, some realized and some deferred by time, resources and the limits of my imagination. I feel the clock ticking too, knowing that the years and the seasons slip by me faster and faster as I near the age my father was when he first learned he had cancer. It would be a blessing to me to see others live out the dreams I have held so close.
Like my father, I will some day teeter in the wind like our old tree, barely hanging on. When ready to fall to the ground, I’ll reach out with my branches and hand off my dreams too. The time will have come to let them go. Thank you, Dad, for handing me yours.
And God held in his hand A small globe. Look, he said. The son looked. Far off, As through water, he saw A scorched land of fierce Colour. The light burned There; crusted buildings Cast their shadows; a bright Serpent, a river Uncoiled itself, radiant With slime. On a bare Hill a bare tree saddened The sky. Many people Held out their thin arms To it, as though waiting For a vanished April To return to its crossed Boughs. The son watched Them. Let me go there, he said. ~R.S. Thomas “The Coming”
“Let me go there”
And He did. Knowing what awaited Him.
As a result, we are forever changed.
Fifty weeks of dirt rows Plain and unnoticed. Could be corn, could be beans Could be anything; Drive-by fly-over dull.
Yet April ignites an explosion: Dazzling retinal hues Singed and scorched, crying Grateful tears for such as this Grounded rainbow on Earth
Transient, incandescent Brilliance hoped for. Remembered in dreams, Promises realized, Housed in crystal before shattering.
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors which it passes to a row of ancient trees. You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth.
leaving you, not really belonging to either, not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent, not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing that turns to a star each night and climbs–
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads) your own life, timid and standing high and growing, so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out, one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star. ~Rainer Maria Rilke “Sunset” (Trans. by Robert Bly) from The Soul is Here for Its Own Joy
We, frail people that we are, live out our lives between heaven and earth, sometimes in an uneasy tug-of-war between the two. We feel not quite ready for heaven as our roots go deep here, yet the challenges of daily life on this soil can seem overwhelmingly difficult and we seek relief, begging for mercy.
As we struggle to stay healthy during a spreading pandemic, it is frightening to watch others suffer as death tolls rise. We pray for safety for ourselves and those we love, knowing we are living “in between” where we are now and where we soon will be.
Shall we remain stones on the ground, still and lifeless, or are we destined to become a star glistening in the firmament?
Or are we like a tree stretching between soil and sky trying to touch both and remain standing while buffeted by forces beyond our control?
Christ the Son, on earth and in heaven, maintains an eternal connection to above and below. In His hands and under His protection, we are safe no matter where we are and where He takes us.
We can be mere stones no more.
This year’s Barnstorming theme for the season of Lent:
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
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. ~Martin Luther
There is big excitement in C block today. On the window sill, in a plastic ice cream cup a little plant is growing. This is all the men want to talk about: how an apple seed germinated in a crack of damp concrete; how they tore open tea bags to collect the leaves, leached them in water, then laid the sprout onto the bed made of Lipton. How this finger of spring dug one delicate root down into the dark fannings and now two small sleeves of green are pushing out from the emerging tip. The men are tipsy with this miracle. Each morning, one by one, they go to the window and check the progress of the struggling plant. All through the day they return to stand over the seedling and whisper. ~Nancy Miller Gomez “Growing Apples”
As a child I was fascinated by the early 1800’s story of John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) who traveled on foot around the eastern United States creating nurseries of apple trees. When our family traveled in Ohio and Pennsylvania in the 1960s, we visited places that claimed to have apple trees planted by John Chapman. I marveled at how one little seed planted in such confident faith had the potential to produce decades of fruit and hope for generations of folk.
My two childhood farms had old apple trees–gravensteins and transparent varieties–good for climbing in and always great as scratching branches and shady snoozing spots for the horses and cows. One had a platform fort where I spent hours sitting munching on apple cores, surveying the fields and enjoying watching the animals standing beneath me, relaxed, napping, chewing cud and swatting flies.
When we bought our farm here in Whatcom County over thirty years ago, there were left a few antique variety apple trees of a once vital orchard. They were aging, with bent and broken branches and hollowed trunks, but still continued to produce fruit, great for baking, sauce, cider and winter storage. We’ve lost a few of the old trees over the years to the wind and elements, though now nearly a century old, the survivors keep providing.
It seems God has accepted I follow my own appleseed trail, so no matter what may happen in my own life, if I’ve planted a seed that takes root, there will be fruit and hope for the future. The Lord Himself continues to plant seeds and words in the midst of a world going to pieces.
Some day fifty years from now, a kid sitting high up in the branches of an apple tree, contemplating life and its meaning, will have an apple to munch and words to chew.
“O the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need- the sun, the rain, and my appleseeds- the Lord is good to me!”
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
The tree of life my soul hath seen, Laden with fruit and always green: The trees of nature fruitless be Compared with Christ the apple tree.
His beauty doth all things excel: By faith I know, but ne’er can tell The glory which I now can see In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought, And pleasure dearly I have bought: I missed of all; but now I see Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil, Here I will sit and rest awhile: Under the shadow I will be, Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive, It keeps my dying faith alive; Which makes my soul in haste to be With Jesus Christ the apple tree.