Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
~Jane Kenyon, “Let Evening Come“
There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on,
and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.
The sunshine is peculiarly genial;
and in sheltered places, as on the side of a bank, or of a barn or house,
one becomes acquainted and friendly with the sunshine.
It seems to be of a kindly and homely nature.
And the green grass strewn with a few withered leaves looks the more green and beautiful for them.
If I were a month, I would want to be October…
A kindly and homely nature, with comfortable temperatures and a bit foggy,
with flashes of burnt umber, misty gold in the relinquishing light.
Why, who makes much of miracles?
As to me, I know nothing else but miracles…
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me [all] is a continual miracle…
When I go to our 100+ year old hay barn to fetch a couple of bales for the horses, I stop to marvel at the continual miracle of this barn. It is breaking down along its roof crest, yes. It is sorely in need of another coat of paint, yes. It has leaks where the winter winds have blown shingles off so the rain and snow come straight indoors, yes.
Yet these old growth beams and rafters, recycled from a nearby dismantled saw mill over a century ago, continue to do their job of holding up the world encased within. This home of pigeons, swallows, bats, barn owls, mice, rats, raccoons, skunks and possum remains a steadfast sanctuary for the harvest of our hill. For decades it has remained steep and silent, serene and solace-filled.
Every cubic inch, the streams of light and the shadowy dark, inside and out, is wonder-full, even when it is empty in the late spring and especially when packed to the rafters, as it is now, with this summer’s hay crop. The miraculous is grown, cut, dried, raked, baled, hauled, stacked and piece by piece, stem by stem, as it sustains living creatures through three seasons of the year.
I have the privilege of entering here every day and witnessing the miracle year after year.
I know nothing else but miracles, despite my own sagging, my weakening foundation and some *occasional* inopportune leaking of my own.
I know where and to whom I belong.
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Jesus, sovereign over all, does not cry “Mine!”
The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.
And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.
Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
~E.B. White “Natural History”
No matter where I go to complete farm chores, I’m getting a face full of spider web and often a spider or two or three in my hair. The spinners are very busy in the night dropping from rafters and branches, leaping courageously into uncharted territory with only their thread as rescue cable.
I am not so brave as they, nor as industrious. Instead, I’m lollygagging in the art gallery of their fine work, appreciating the abundant crop of silken ladders and hammocks, and harvesting what I can on this page.
I’m drawn back morning after morning to see what they’ve caught and how well they endure. As long as I keep my face out of their masterpiece, all is well.
All is well.
A sudden light transfigures a trivial thing, a weather-vane, a wind-mill, a winnowing flail, the dust in the barn door; a moment,- -and the thing has vanished, because it was pure effect; but it leaves a relish behind it, a longing that the accident may happen again.
~Walter Pater from “The Renaissance”
The accident of light does happen, again and again, but when I least expect it. I need to be ready for it; in a blink, it can be gone. Yet in that moment, everything is changed and transformed forever. The thing itself, trivial and transient becomes something other, merely because of how it is illuminated. And so am I, trivial and transient, lit from outside myself, transfigured by a love and sacrifice that I can never expect or deserve. I need to be ready for it.
“Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light -
Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.”
August rushes by like desert rainfall,
A flood of frenzied upheaval,
But still catching me unprepared.
Like a match flame
Bursting on the scene,
Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.
Like a dream
Of moon and dark barely recalled,
Shadows caught in a blink.
Like a quick kiss;
One wishes for more
But it suddenly turns to leave,
Dragging summer away.
- Elizabeth Maua Taylor, August
“Let me enjoy this late-summer day of my heart while the leaves are still green and I won’t look so close as to see that first tint of pale yellow slowly creep in. I will cease endless running and then look to the sky ask the sun to embrace me and then hope she won’t tell of tomorrows less long than today. Let me spend just this time in the slow-cooling glow of warm afternoon light and I’d think I will still have the strength for just one more last fling of my heart.”
- John Bohrn, Late August
They put up hay loose there, the old way,
forking it into the loft from the wagon rack
while the sweaty horses snorted and switched off flies
and the littlest kids were commanded to trample it flat
in between loads until the entire bay
was alight with its radiant sun-dried manna….
It was paradise up there with dusty sun motes
you could write your name in as they skirled and drifted down.
There were ropes we swung on and dropped from and shinnied up
and the smell of the place was heaven, hurling me back
to some unknown plateau, tears standing up in my eyes
and an ancient hunger in my throat, a hunger….
~Maxine Kumin from “Hay”
My parents knew that ancient hunger, both born on farms with teams of horses that brought in hay the old way while the children tramped and stamped the loose piles firm.
I’ve known that ancient hunger, having grown up on a farm that brought in to the barn loose hay the old way by tractor and wagon, having danced in the dusty sun motes on the top of the hay on a bright afternoon, the light cut in stripes over the sweet smelling grass.
We’ve made sure our three children knew that ancient hunger, born to a farm that brought in hay bales stacked to the rafters through community effort, those same dusty sun motes swirling about their heads as they learned their jobs, from bale rolling to lifting to tossing and stacking.
And now the next generation of neighborhood children arrive with shouts on haying days to clamor up and down the bale mountains, answering to the same hunger, blowing the same dusty snot and thrilling to the adventure of tractors, wagons and trucks, celebrating the gathering in of sun-dried manna together.
Surely this is what heaven will be like: we are all together, dancing in the light of the sun motes, our hunger filled to the brim by manna provided from above.
Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.
When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
I should understand the land, not as a commodity, an inert fact to be taken for granted, but as an ultimate value, enduring and alive, useful and beautiful and mysterious and formidable and comforting, beneficent and terribly demanding, worthy of the best of man’s attention and care… [My father] insisted that I learn to do the hand labor that the land required, knowing–and saying again and again–that the ability to do such work is the source of a confidence and an independence of character that can come no other way, not by money, not by education.
And yet they seem
Too deeply and too fiercely occupied
To bother to attend.
Perhaps they sense
I’ll never deal the blow,
For, though I am not in nor of them,
Still I think I know
What it is like to live
In an alien and gigantic universe, a stranger,
Building the fragile citadels of love
On the edge of danger.
~James Rosenberg from “The Wasps’ Nest”
It hangs undisturbed from the eastern eave of the old milk shed, away from view from the house but its busy citizens visit our picnics, greedily buzz our compost bin, shoot bullet-like out of the garbage can when I lift the lid. This nest is their nighttime respite for a few more months before a freeze renders the them to slow motion. Winter hibernation will be a tenuous business for this paper home, as it faces battering from northeasters, likely to be soaked, torn and shredded in the harsh winds.
Yet for now, their fierce hold to security will remain undisturbed. Let the winter deal the blow.
Anger is as a stone cast into a wasp’s nest.
~Pope Paul VI
“A barn is a sanctuary in an unsettled world, a sheltered place where life’s true priorities are clear. When you take a step back, it’s not just about horses — its about love, life, and learning.”
~ Lauren Davis Barker, editor of “Flying Changes”
Most people who know me would say I do live in a barn, and it is true that many of my waking hours at home are spent in the barn — cleaning, feeding, storing away, mulling and just being. But I have never actually lived in a barn, that is, until today.
Dan and I are spending much of the next week living in a old stone barn built around 1802 in County Down in Northern Ireland, on the old Jones farm where Dan’s great great grandmother Susan Jones Macrory, was born and lived. Now owned by Jones’ descendants Keith and Elizabeth Smith, Moydalgan Barn has been converted into a cottage that is set in the middle of some of the most beautiful farmland. I am now sitting the loft, in a bedroom where hay once was piled high. Dan is overwhelmed by the emotions of staying on the farm where his Scottish-Irish ancestors were born and lived and walked.
It is the beginning of two weeks of local countryside travels that will take us to landscapes I hope to remember here.
And to remember, anything that is important, anything that means anything, started in a barn.