Eavesdropping on Private Voices

When I opened the door
I found the vine leaves
speaking among themselves in abundant
whispers.
                   My presence made them
hush their green breath,
embarrassed, the way
humans stand up, buttoning their jackets,
acting as if they were leaving anyway, as if
the conversation had ended
just before you arrived.
                                               I liked
the glimpse I had, though,
of their obscure
gestures. I liked the sound
of such private voices. Next time
I’ll move like cautious sunlight, open
the door by fractions, eavesdrop
peacefully.
~Denise Levertov, “Aware” from This Great Unknowing.

If we’re not careful around here, we would be swallowed inch by inch by a variety of vines surrounding our home and farm buildings. Between the ivy, the Virginia creeper and the ubiquitous blackberry vines, we’re mere audience to a variety of opportunistic expansion efforts of the local flora.

When I open the front or back door during these days of late summer, I peek out to see what might be reaching out to grab me for a toehold as I pass by. The vines crawl up the window screens and reach their little tendrils inside to see if the house is fair game. The leaves whisper to each other about their best strategy for total domination; I eavesdrop on them as they drop from the eaves and their discussions are private and hushed, as if they were meeting in a backroom with the shades pulled down.

We humans think we’re in control, but we’re not. Not even close. We pull them down when they are most bare and vulnerable in the winter and still they’re back with gusto in the spring. These vines and creepers are the epitome of resiliency and I’m convinced they conspire among each other, plotting the eventual takeover.

I don’t mind so much, I guess. I respect a robust growth and survival instinct but I’m all for keeping our boundaries intact.

We’re good as long as they don’t expect to come in for a cup of coffee or share my pillow with me. My welcome mat only extends so far…

If you enjoy the Barnstorming blog, consider ordering our book, available here:

An Ordinary Sunday

Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday.
It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain.
You can feel the silent and invisible life.
~Marilynne Robinson from Gilead

It is ordinary time,
in the church calendar and in my life…

As I am covered with Sabbath rest
quiet and deep
as if planted in soil finally
warming from a too long winter~

I realize there is nothing ordinary
about what is happening
in the church, in the world,
or in me.

We are called by the Light
to push away from darkness,
to reach to the sky,
to grasp and bloom and fruit.

We begin as mere and ordinary seed.

Therefore, nothing is more extraordinary
than an ordinary Sunday.

A new book available from Barnstorming can be ordered here:

Hold Fast

The art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
~Henry Havelock Ellis

…God’s not nonexistent;
He’s just been waylaid
by a host of what no one could’ve foreseen.   

He’s got plans for you

 …it’s true that my Virginia creeper praises Him,   
its palms and fingers crimson with applause,   
that the local breeze is weaving Him a diadem…
~Jacqueline Osherow from “Autumn Psalm”

With what stoic delicacy does
Virginia creeper let go:
the feeblest tug brings down
a sheaf of leaves kite-high,
as if to say, 
To live is good
but not to live—to be pulled down
with scarce a ripping sound,
still flourishing, still
stretching toward the sun—
is good also, all photosynthesis
abandoned, quite quits. Next spring
the hairy rootlets left unpulled
snake out a leafy afterlife
up that same smooth-barked oak.
~John Updike “Creeper”

The Virginia Creeper vine, its crimson leaves
crawl over the brow of our ancient shed
like a lock of unruly hair or a flowing stream.
This humble building was a small chapel a century ago,
moved from the intersection of two country roads to this raised knoll
for forever sanctuary.

It is befitting that every fall this former church,
now empty of sermons and hymns,
weeps red.

Each winter the stripped bare vine
clings tightly through thousands of “holdfast” suckers.
The glue keeps the vine attached
where no vine has gone before.
Once there, it stays until pulled away;
it becomes an invincible foundation
to build upon in the spring.

Do not despair in this austere winter.
The Lord has plans and will not be moved
or ripped away,
even when His name is removed
from schools or public squares,
He’s holding on, waiting on us,
waiting for the spring
and won’t ever, no never, let go.


The Vine That Tendrils Out Alone

A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall.
Even the one vine that tendrils out alone
in time turns on its own impulse,
twisting back down its upward course
a strong and then a stronger rope,
the greenest saddest strongest
kind of hope.
~Kay Ryan from “A Certain Kind of Eden”
from Flamingo Watching

This is the season for entwining enchantment.

Simply walking out in the garden in the morning, the tendrils are reaching out and grabbing onto my shirt and my jeans. If I stood still for an hour, they would be wrapping up my legs and clinging to my arms. There I would be, held hostage by these insistent vines for the duration of the season.

There are worse fates: a verdant Garden is exactly where we were placed to begin with.

The vines that don’t find a grab-hold, end up bending back onto themselves, curling back down the ladder they just created, sometimes knotting themselves into a nest. They wind up and down in nothingness and sadly cannot hold fast enough to be fruitful except creeping along the ground itself.

May there always be Someone Solid to cling to, to wrap around, to hold fast. May we once again know the glories of His Garden.

Holding Fast

creepertwirls1Virginia Creeper Holdfasts in Winter

creepertwirls2

creeperdec

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
~Henry Ellis

The Virginia Creeper vines,
stripped bare by winter,
cling steadily in winds and rain
through thousands of tiny “holdfast” suckers.
The glue holds tight, taking the vine
where no vine has gone before.
Once there, it stays put–
an invincible foundation.

Letting go comes as
spring and summer surge forth
through the veins of the vine,
branches and berries
dangle daringly in mid-air,
reaching for the next grab-hold,
the next surface to be conquered.
I wish I were as adventuring
as I creep through my days.
My fingers and toes tend to
cling fast to home,
to become adhesive
for what grows from me,
from which a glorious and unforgettable
autumn is flung
into the future.creepergarage

creeperwebberry

creeperchurch

creeperrain2

Advent Meditation–Vine

watercolor by Janet Vanderhoof

There is something reassuring about knowing I’m attached and nurtured by something bigger, stronger, more deeply rooted and permanent.  There are times when I’m buffeted in the wind, beaten by the rain, burned by the hot sun, or crushed under the snow,  yet I’m unbroken because of the foundation I’m connected to.   I’m fed so I bear fruit that will nourish and sustain others.  My thirst is quenched so I can grow taller to provide shade and shelter.

To produce fruit is to fulfill the purpose for which I was created.   And so the vine can reach far beyond its root and trunk.

John 15:5