Remains of the Day

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Every moment is a fresh beginning.
~T.S. Eliot

Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint you can on it.
~Danny Kaye

What is pertinent is the calmness of beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it…
For a great many people, the evening is the most enjoyable part of the day. Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?
~Kazuo Ishiguro from The Remains of the Day

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A Light in the Barn

 

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The floor was mouse-grey, smooth, chilly concrete.
There were no windows, just two narrow shafts
Of gilded motes, crossing, from air-holes slit
High in each gable. The one door meant no draughts

All summer when the zinc burned like an oven.
A scythe’s edge, a clean spade, a pitchfork’s prongs:
Slowly bright objects formed when you went in.
~Seamus Heaney from “The Barn”

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A Few Feathery Flakes

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A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air,
and hover downward with uncertain flight,
now almost alighting on the earth,
now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.
~Nathaniel Hawthorne

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It was a fairy-tale world, child-like and funny.
Boughs of trees adorned with thick pillows,
so fluffy someone must have plumped them up;
the ground a series of humps and mounds,
beneath which slinking underbrush or outcrops of rock lay hidden;
a landscape of crouching, cowering gnomes in droll disguises—
it was comic to behold, straight out of a book of fairy tales.
But if there was something roguish and fantastic
about the immediate vicinity through which you laboriously made your way,
the towering statues of snow-clad Alps,
gazing down from the distance,
awakened in you feelings of the sublime and holy.
~Thomas Mann from The Magic Mountain

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“You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there–
the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall.
All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home,
which is no less shimmering and white as it falls.
The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence.
It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at,
but unless the child in you is entirely dead,
it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way,
before your defenses are up.
It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.”
~Frederick Buechner

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You should see my corgis at sunset in the snow.
It’s their finest hour. About five o’clock they glow like copper.
Then they come in and lie in front of the fire like a string of sausages.
~Tasha Tudor

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“one day you stepped in snow,
the next in mud,
water soaked in your boots and froze them at night,
it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry,
it was weather that wouldn’t let you settle.”
~E.L. Doctorow

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coyote in the field

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Snow not falling but flying sidewise, and sudden,
not signaled by the slow curdling of clouds all day
and a flake or two drifting downward,
but rushing forward all at once as though sent for.
And filling up the world’s concavities,
pillowing up in the gloaming,
making night light with its whiteness,
and then falling still in every one’s dreams…
~John Crowley

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blowing snow in the barn

blowing snow in the barn

another barnstorming

another barnstorming

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“The smallest snowstorm on record took place an hour ago in my back yard.
It was approximately two flakes.
I waited for more to fall, but that was it.
The entire storm was two flakes.”
~Richard Brautigan

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Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
~Robert Frost “Reluctance”

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Stumbling Upon Spring Again

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repost from 2004 (published in May 2007  Country Magazine)

The past few weeks have been particularly dark and dank.  February often feels like this: the conviction winter will never be finished messing with us.
Our doldrums are deep; brief respite of sun and warmth too rare.

I feel it in the barn as I go about my daily routine.   The Haflingers are impatient and yearn for freedom, over-eager when handled, sometimes banging on the stall doors in their frustration at being shut in,  not understanding that the alternative is  to stand outside all day in cold rain and wind.  To compensate for their confinement, I do some grooming of their thick winter coats, urging their hair to loosen and curry off in sheets over parts of their bodies, yet otherwise still clinging tight.  The horses are a motley crew right now, much like a worn ’60s shag carpet, uneven and in dire need of updating.  I prefer that no one see them like this and discourage visitors to the farm, begging people to wait a few more weeks until they (and I) are more presentable. Eventually I know the shag on my horses will come off, revealing the sheen of new short hair beneath, but when I look at myself, I’m unconvinced there is such transformation in store for me. Cranky, I  put one foot ahead of the other, get done what needs to be done, oblivious to the subtle renewal around me, refusing to believe even in the possibility.

It happened today.  Dawn broke bright and blinding and after escorting horses out to daytime paddocks for a sun bath, I heard the fields calling, so I heeded, climbing the hill and turning my face to the eastern light, soaking up all I could.  It was almost too much to keep my eyes open, as they are so accustomed to gray darkness. And then I stumbled across something extraordinary.

A patch of snowdrops sat blooming in an open space on our acreage, visible now only because of the brush clearing that was done last fall. Many of these little white upside down flowers were planted long ago around our house and yard, but  I had no idea they were also such a distance away, hiding underground. Yet there they’ve been, year after year, harbingers of the long-awaited spring to come in a few short weeks, though covered by the overgrowth of decades of neglect and invisible to me in my self-absorbed blindness.  I was astonished that someone, many many years ago, had carried these bulbs this far out to a place not easy to find, and planted them, hoping they might bless another soul sometime somehow.  Perhaps the spot marks a grave of a beloved pet, or perhaps it was simply a retreat of sorts, but there the blossoms had sprung from their sleep beneath the covering of years of fallen leaves and blackberry vines.

It was if I’d been physically hugged by this someone long dead,  now flesh and blood beside me, with work-rough hands, and dirty fingernails, and broad brimmed hat, and a satisfied smile.  I’m certain the secret gardener is no long living, and I reach back across those years in gratitude, to show my deep appreciation for the time and effort it took to place a foretaste of spring in an unexpected and hidden place.

I am thus compelled to look for ways to leave such a gift for someone to find 50 years hence as they likewise stumble blindly through too many gray days full of human frailty and flaw. Though I will be long gone,  I can reach across the years to grab them, hug them in their doldrums, lift them up and give them hope for what is to come.  What an astonishing thought that it was done for me and in reaffirming that promise of renewal,  I can do it for another.

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Night-Weary Heavens

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Suddenly a blackbird flew to the top of a beech. She perched way up on the tompost twig that stuck up thin against the sky and sat there watching how, far away over the trees, the night-weary pale-gray heavens were glowing in the distant east and coming to life. Then she commenced to sing.

Her little black body seemed only a tiny dark speck at that distance. She looked like a dead leaf. But she poured out her song in a great flood of rejoicing through the whole forest. And everything began to stir. The finches warbled, the little red-throat and the gold finch were heard. The doves rushed from place to place with a loud clapping and rustling of wings. The pheasants cackled as though their throats would burst. The noise of their wings, as they flew from their roosts to the ground, was soft but powerful. They kept uttering their metallic, splintering call with its soft ensuing chuckle. Far above the falcons cried sharply and joyously, “Yayaya!”

The sun rose.
~Felix Salten from Bambi

 

I had not actually been aware of the silence of the winter sunrise until the birds returned this week and the stillness retreated.   Last autumn their joyous morning songs had gradually ebbed as darkness expanded,  the heavy frosts driving them south to more hospitable climates.  Once in a while, if I listened carefully, there would be geese and trumpeters flying overhead with audible wing rushes and an occasional honk, though invisible in the fog and morning clouds.

Otherwise the eastern winter horizon would be lit to glowing each morning in stillness, without announcement or heralding song.  As if no one was there to notice.

The sunrises have a soundtrack again, just a few lines to introduce the symphony of spring around the corner.   In a short few weeks it will be all out booming chorus and I’ll be wishing for bird mufflers at 4:15 AM.

And so joy returns in the morning and I’m noticing.

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Our Real Journey

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“It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey…
And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye clear. What we need is here.”
~Wendell Berry 
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Farm Rhythms and Seasons

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photo by Lea Gibson

When I pull open the barn doors,
every morning
and each evening,
as my grandfathers did
one hundred years ago,
seven rumbling voices
rise in greeting.
We exchange scents,
nuzzle each others’ ears.

I do my chores faithfully
as my grandfathers once did–
draw fresh water
into buckets,
wheel away
the pungent mess underfoot,
release an armful of summer
from the bale,
reach under heavy manes
to stroke silken necks.

I don’t depend
on our horses’ strength
and willingness to
don harness
to carry me to town
or move the logs
or till the soil
as my grandfathers did.

Instead,
these soft eyed souls,
born on this farm
two long decades ago,
are simply grateful
for my constancy
morning and night
to serve their needs
until the day comes
they need no more.

And I depend on them
to depend on me
to be there
to open the doors;
their low whispering welcome
gives voice
to the blessings of
living on a farm
ripe with rhythms and seasons,
as if today and tomorrow are
just like one hundred years ago.

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photo by Emily Dieleman