Why “Barnstorming”?

(I’ve been asked how my blog came to be named “Barnstorming” — most assume it is a doctor-farmer’s twist on “brainstorming” which didn’t occur to me until someone mentioned it to me.  Instead, the name has nothing to do with brains, baseball teams, politics or daredevil piloting of small airplanes.  It has everything to do with a storm taking place in our barn at the beginning of Holy Week a few years ago.)

An unexpected southerly wind hit suddenly late Sunday night, gusting up to 40 miles an hour and slamming the house with drenching rain as we prepared to go to bed. Chores in the barn had been done hours before, but as we had not been expecting a storm, the north/south center aisle doors were still open, and I could hear banging and rattling as they were buffeted in the wind. I quickly dressed to go latch the doors for the night, but the tempest had done its damage. Hay, empty buckets, horse blankets, tack and cat food had blown all over, while the Haflingers stood wide-eyed and fretful in their stalls. A storm was blowing inside the barn as well as outside it.

It took some time to tidy up the mess after the doors were secured but all was soon made right. The wind continued to bash at the doors, but it no longer could touch anything inside them. The horses relaxed and got back to their evening meal though the noise coming from outside was deafening. I headed back up to the house and slept fitfully listening to the wind blow all night, wondering if the metal barn roof might pull off in a gust, exposing everything within.

Yet in the new daylight this Monday morning, all is calm. The barn is still there, the roof still on, the horses are where they belong and all seems to be as it was before the barnstorming wind. Or so it might appear.

This wind heralds another storm coming this week that hits with such force that I’m knocked off my feet, swept away, and left bruised and breathless. No latches, locks, or barricades are strong enough to protect me from what will come over the next few days.

Yesterday he rode in on a donkey softly, humbly, and wept at what he knew.

Today, he overturns the tables in his fury.

Tomorrow he echoes the destruction that is to happen.

Wednesday, he teaches the people to prepare them, then rests in anticipation.

On Thursday, he kneels, pours water over dusty feet, presides over a simple meal, and then, abandoned,  sweats blood in agonized prayer.

By Friday, all culminates in the perfect storm, transforming everything in its path, leaving nothing untouched.

The silence on Saturday is deafening.

Next Sunday, the Son rises and returns, all is calm, all is well, all set to right.  He calls my name, my heart burns within me at his words and I can never be the same again.

Barnstormed to the depths of my soul. Doors flung open wide, the roof pulled off, everything blown away and now replaced, renewed and reconciled.

May it be done as he has said, again and yet again.

Many readers of this blog have taken the time to write to me over the years to tell me how Barnstorming makes a difference in some way in their lives.  Here are some of those comments and reviews as an encouragement to them and to me.  Thank you, thank you, more than you can know.


From Mary:
Thank you for capturing the wonder…it is my ‘food’ – those moments of knowing what I don’t know.
I ramble on only to share my appreciation of your writing and honoring of the good and goodness of living in love.

from Sally:
the photographs in your blog lift it into the spiritual pantheon alongside Isaiah, Robert Frost and Mary Oliver by bringing visual life to their written images.  Your blog is either the conclusion to my daily prayer, or it serves as the intro to lead the day prayerfully.

from Teresa:
You are a master of metaphor. How beautifully you move between the natural and the supernatural, the imminent and the transcendent in your writing. The use of metaphor in your essays is so weightless that if one weren’t truly reading, one might miss the slight lifting of the hand in blessing, might fail to see the thin places where the solid day-to-day world wisps like a vapor into the eternal. What a gift you have and what a blessing you are for those of us who get to read you regularly. As the late Brian Doyle would say, “And so: Amen.”

from Leslie:
Dear Dr. Gibson, I wanted to let you know how much I enjoy Barnstorming.  Your writing is lovely and heartfelt.

from Carol:
Oh, thank you, Emily, for such beauty in image and word~and such poignant prayer to live more fully in
God and the grandeur of his gifts~

from Sally:
Can there really be a place so beautiful with sunsets so moving?
Why not with a God who said, “Behold I make all things new!”
Thank you for sharing your Thin Place.

from Richard:
Beautiful photos and words to remind me to pay attention to the day.

from Lindsey (again!):
Oh, this photographs and these words – yours most of all – are astonishing, glorious, comforting. Thank you, thank you.

from Celia:
Your blog was recommended to me by a friend a few days ago; I began reading and didn’t want to stop. Your words and photos helped me touch once more the beauty of this world. I very much need that. … thank you for reminding me of my need for renewal and beauty and slowing down.

from Katrina:
Oh Emily, I adore your blog.  It is a balm for the soul in these times.  I so appreciate your beautiful images, your tender words, the selections you offer.  I don’t always comment, but I’m always there and always grateful.

from Bessie:
“The bright light of a few well chosen words can ring us like a bell; we are struck dumb that such clarity comes to a place so well hidden that it was easy to evade.”
 Emily, that’s what Barnstorming is to me.

from Barb in Oregon:
Thank you for being you and for sharing. I need to get out to do farm chores (the dog is lifting and the rains are coming) so I must be brief. …it occurred to me that I believe the lack of ads is part of what makes your blog so peaceful, meditative and wonderful. There is no competition for my easily distracted attention. The well curative poems and writings of others and your well crafted thoughts and observations are allowed to sink in. Many, many thanks!!

from This Holy Hour
…sharing this lovely blogpost I serendipitously stumbled upon by farmer and family physician Emily Polis Gibson, which reminds me that blessing others is also (and should often be) a silent gift, a benediction of attentive listening.

from Kelley:

…just acknowledging a deep gratitude that you are here and doing this so faithfully every day. Your posts are just about the only thing (other than emails from family) that I never delete no matter how busy I am. I cannot even express how deeply or how often the beauty of your photographs and the depth of your words touch me, in my daily-ness and root me in beauty rather than fear or sorrow. There is a depth to it that is holy. A joy that is sorrows companion. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being faithful.

from Amy Towne Whitford:

In a season of winter, your daily work of words have been nourishment to my soul… thank you for the extraordinary gift of daily glimpses of glory in the ordinary. I wait for them like the fragrance of warm bread freshly made.

From the good folks at www.glacierhub.org at Columbia University:

Nearly all the images that appear in Photo Friday on this site are taken by travelers. Whether as scientists, as artists, or as adventurers, the photographers have undertaken journeys to mountain areas. They have sought out glaciers as visual subjects that illustrate their understanding of our world—its beauty, its fascination, its fragility.

By contrast, these images are taken by an individual very much rooted in place, Emily Gibson,  who describes herself as “a wife, mother, farmer and family physician.”  A third-generation of the Pacific Northwest, she presents images and essays from her life on and around a farm on her website Barnstorming. She includes glaciers along with other subjects  that express her understanding of our world—the ability to cherish its beauty and meaning, the responsibilities of people to care for one another, feelings of humility and gratitude in the presence of immensity.

Her images do not illustrate a journey to a mountain, but a settling into place.  These images show her capacity to sense freshness not in something distant or new, but in something nearby and familiar. The glaciers of Mt. Baker lie on her horizon. Her photographs make it possible for others, who live at greater distances from mountains, to keep glaciers on our horizons as well.

From William Littleton in Tennessee from The Bridgeworks about Awash with Angels

All of these are nice, Emily, but the first one may be the best-composed landscape I’ve ever seen. I have a mania for Picasso’s definition: “Art is a lie that tells the truth.” So I’m always taken by some image on a flat piece of page, scant millimeters thin, whose surface has been manipulated to suggest great depths into which one feels one could walk. I can literally feel the gravel under my shoes in this scene. Thank you.

From Lindsey Mead from A Design So Vast:

Barnstorming – “It’s rare that I find a blog that I relate to this intensely.  I read the whole thing in one single gulp, practically, tears rolling down my face, gasping often.  Emily refers to the top of the ferris wheel, she quotes Madeleine L’Engle, she talks about how what she witnesses in this world brings her to her knees, she cites my favorite poem, Wendell Berry’s The Work.  I’ve found a more elegant, more eloquent version of myself.”

From Pastor Paul McKay from Jitterbugging for Jesus:

“From my “Stories that make you go ‘Wow!’” file: This is from one of my must-read bloggers Dr. Emily in Washington state, a physician and wonderful, spiritual writer who worked with Jane Goodall back in the day.”

From Anglican Prayer Blog:

“If I had to pick just one devotional blog to read during Lent, it would probably be Emily Polis Gibson’s Barnstorming blog.  Emily is a family physician and farmer in rural Washington State.  I discovered her blog last year during Lent and fell in love with it.  The combination of astounding beautiful photographs, quotes from Christian classics and poems, original poetry, and deep soul-stirring reflections has made this a blog I turn to again and again for encouragement and deep soul-refreshment.  Here is Emily’s Lent Category.”

From Alice in Albany:

“It began with Chesterton’s evocative quote, Josh’s lifelike pictures, and continued seamlessly with your inspired thoughts. In all, truly a breathtaking emotional experience that, at first, caught me off guard. I read this post over three times. Each time, it became more beautiful and sunk deeper and deeper into my soul. I have never, ever read anything so metaphorically descriptive of our human spiritual journey. It also describes perfectly the meaning of the Paschal Season in the Christian calendar that begins this Wednesday. You have captured in exquisite symbolism our human journey that begins with the ashes that we receive on Ash Wednesday, through the 40 days of penitence and remembrance of Jesus’ final earthly journey, ending with the dark days of His Passion and death upon the cross, and culminating with His glorious Resurrection, all of which has purchased for us the gift of eternal life.

You have been filled with the Holy Spirit, Emily. This posting, and so many that you write, are the result of that indwelling. Thank you for sharing your gift with us.

I am sending this post to all on my e-mail list, asking them to forward it appropriately. I am also suggesting that they clip it and place it where they will see it for use as a meditation every day during the Paschal Season.
I am also sending a copy to our local diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist, asking them to print it.”

From Peggy in Spokane:

Emily ,
I enjoy that the treasures of writings from you, come one at a time to me … as it gives me time to savory each one and dwell on them alone, to reflect how they touch my life even though I live clear across the state , amazed at how each different story is part of my life as well as a part of all others that might have the joy to read them .
How we live different lives but in our hearts and mind they are not so different .
Our feelings… they are so shared in how you touch my life in ways I don’t allow others to touch .
How open and honest you are in them …
How we all need to be more tolerant of people in our families as they are doing the best they can in their own way … thanks again .
Peggy in a freezing foggy morning
thinking how nice it would be to wake up to spring

From Nancy in Shelton:

Want to let you know that every posting in an inspiration. I am amazed at your ability to have such an important job, family and farm…all demanding. Thank you for taking the time to post photos and poems and sweet messages. The departure of the children after the holidays really hit home. I grew up in Shelton and on the bay. So much of what you speak of I can relate to. You are offering the world a very valuable service and are much appreciated. Sincerely, Nancy

From Sr. Dorcee from Witnesses to Hope:

“I love this doctor . . .”

From Vicky in California:

You are an amazing writer.  Your words have an uncanny effect on me.  Several times I have happened  to read one of your posts when I have been inwardly tense about something or unavailable on a certain level. Then I read your poem or your essay and I can feel a release, an opening. ( often accompanied by tears! ).  A few times I wasn’t even aware of being stuck in some way until I became unstuck after reading your words. I think because you inwardly live at a place that is open, receptive and grateful you bring out those qualities in your readers.  In this day and age it is a rarity to find someone who resides in that place and even rarer someone who can share it through words.  You make it contagious!

That is truly a gift you have!   And a gift to me. Thank you so much!

From Amanda in Southern California:

I read this post at a Starbucks in the middle of suburban California, on my 10 minute lunch break from my home visits as a hospice nurse. I thought to myself, what can I read at this moment that will be good for me, and decided to read you. I came across your blog this season of Lent because I googled “Blogs about Lent,” and you were highly recommended. I was drawn in by the imagery of your writing, the beautiful quotes and pictures, and the candid way that you share your feelings about life, death, faith and everything in between. I’m two years into nursing, and 5 months into working in hospice and I constantly need the reminder that, in healthcare settings, we humans are not god but mere reflections of grace to each other. And on Thursday I needed to read this. I teared up at the reminder that someday summer with last forever. Your “joy to joy to joy to joy to impossible joy” rang through my heart as grace to grace to grace to impossible grace. I want to live in that grace and joy regardless of the circumstance and despite the suffering all around. Thank you for sharing so regularly and with such vulnerability.

4 thoughts on “Why “Barnstorming”?

  1. Discovering a kindred community stewarding the gifts of creation and redemption in the wonders of Western Washington is a wonderful gift…..I think it is what is meant by the term “fellowship”! Thank you!


  2. Beautiful, brought tears to my eyes! Loved the seque between your storm and Good Friday week. Looking forward to new materal. Photography lovely as well!


  3. my sister in law gave me a card for my birthday because she loved the saying scattered joy. which is what brought me here. i loved the saying and being the dreamer i am, i always am looking for a unique name for my craftstore/coffe shop. Which is only a dream, it does not exsist, but only in my heart. i started reading about barnstorming….and all the sudden i seen Jesus, my savoior…..this story touched me deeper than you know.. Thanks for sharing this..God bless you in everything you do……this is when i smile and say…. i know that was you God and i needed this right now…:)


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