To Keep Us Warm

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“I make them warm to keep my family from freezing;
I make them beautiful to keep my heart from breaking.”
–From the journal of a prairie woman, 1870
To keep a husband and five children warm,
she quilts them covers thick as drifts against
the door. Through every fleshy square white threads
needle their almost invisible tracks; her hours
count each small suture that holds together
the raw-cut, uncolored edges of her life.
She pieces each one beautiful, and summer bright
to thaw her frozen soul. Under her fingers
the scraps grow to green birds and purple
improbable leaves; deeper than calico, her mid-winter
mind bursts into flowers. She watches them unfold
between the double stars, the wedding rings.
~Luci Shaw “Quiltmaker”

in the unknown world
the woman
threading together her need
and her needle
nods toward the smiling girl
remember
this will keep us warm

~Lucille Clifton from “quilting”

 

It could be the world was made this way:
piecemeal, the parts fitting together
as if made for one another~
disparate and separate
coming together.
The point of its creation
to be forever functional,
a blanket of warmth and security
but its result is so much more:
beauty arising from scraps,
the broken stitched to broken
to become holy and whole.

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This Mysterious Passage

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But a dragon lies in ambush for the traveler;
take care he does not bite you and inject you his poison of unbelief.
Seeing this numerous company winning salvation,
he selects and stalks his prey.
In your journey to the Father of souls,
your way lies past that dragon. |
How shall you pass him?
You must have “your feet stoutly with the gospel of peace,”
so that, even if he does bite you,
he may not hurt you.
~St. Cyril of Jerusalem

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote:
“The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass.
Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls,
but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.”
No matter what form the dragon may take,
it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws,
that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell,
and this being the case, it requires considerable courage
at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.

~Flannery O’Connor

Here be dragons
was any place on the ancient maps
that was unknown and unexplored,
much like the remainder of our days
are on the edge of any map we know.

So many dragons to pass,
so many mysteries remain unsolved,
so many stories of journey to be told,
and above all,
we must listen to what all have to teach us
and not stray from the worn path of the faithful.

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His Unfinished Business

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Written in remembrance of my brother-in-law,  Mike Casey
1947-2007
husband, father, grandfather, son, brother, friend, musician, carpenter

~you were tragically lost too soon~

August 25, 2007

We always assumed there would be
another day
for the next remodel,
the next project,
the next concert;
plenty of time
to explore how
to bring people joy
and help them feel at home.

You rebuilt the old
with tools in your hands,
both people and houses
molded with encouragement and humor
created through wood, music
and friendship

Your four grandchildren
-brand new construction-
now growing tall
sanded and shaped
smooth
varnished
glowing
reflecting your love and skill.

You are in their hands,
their eyes,
their hearts
forever more
your knowledge
becoming theirs.

It is much too soon
to be called upon to move on,
leaving behind unfinished business;
yet you are building afar
a new song
a new foundation
a new hope
new construction
for the rest of us to come home to
someday.

When August Burning Low

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Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.

No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify

Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now
~Emily Dickinson

“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time.  The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world.  She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:

So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Enlarging Loneliness.

But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others.  The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state.  Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.”
~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words

 

On the first day of his class in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this poem on the blackboard and told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written.  In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a New England recluse  — someone as culturally distant from him as possible.

But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences.  What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song, doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our appreciation of nature. Just as the fires in our state are incinerating everything, even the insects of the fields, in its path, we still find grace and meaning in the destruction.  There is no one as lonely as the fire fighter facing the flame and no one as lonely as the poet facing the empty page, in search of words.

Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone.  The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man.

There is no furrow on the glow.  There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already planted and yielding a fruited plain.

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Fair Thee Well

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The Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden wrapped up last night and our farm and Haflingers weren’t there waiting in our stalls for a ride home after a week of display.  I can imagine it in my mind: the many smells of fried food in the smoky dark filled with carnival bright flashing lights in a cacophony surreal to humans and horses.  We are no long “doing” the fair as a farm, a fact with which I’m reconciled…finally.

BriarCroft had been a consistent presence at this fair for nearly two decades, promoting the Haflinger breed in a well  decorated display, providing 24 hour a day coverage for the horses for the 6 days of the fair. We petitioned the Fair Board for 5 years in the late eighties to allow us to display at the fair, and they finally said “okay, here’s the space, build it yourself” and we did! We were not there for classes, competition, or ribbons. We were there because people enjoyed our Haflingers and we enjoyed the people.

But our children Nate, Ben and Lea have grown up and moved away so are no longer available to help “man” the horse stalls.  Our other long term helpers like Emily, Chris and David are now adults with “real” jobs and obligations, and our faithful trick riders Kelsy and Chesna who performed daring feats on their Haflingers in front of the grandstand crowds have gone on to other careers.   I miss spending that intense one week time with all of the several dozen “kid” helpers from over the years, many of them now with children of their own.

Every year since 1992, we evaluated whether we had the energy and resources to do it  again–for the initial 6 years when Dan and I were the sole Haflinger farm doing the display, it meant a week of vacation from work, and very very long days, juggling our small children as well as several horses. Then, with the help of the Rodenbergers of 3R Farms and McKees of Teaglach Farm, we were able to rotate shifts, still work at our “real” jobs part days, share duties and expenses together. The older kids watched the younger kids, the inbetween kids did most of the horse stall cleaning duty, and the adults sat and shot the breeze.

Did this sell horses for us? Not really. But it sure did create good will for the fair visitors who depended on us every year to be there with horses that they and their children could actually pet (and sit on ) without fear, who enjoyed our braiding demonstrations, and our various Haflinger trivia contests with prizes.

Most of all, why we continued to do this so long, was that we provided what dreams are made of. I’m not sure how many times a day there would be a bright eyed child who approached our stalls, climbed up on the step stools and reached up to pet a Haflinger nose or neck and looked deep into those big brown Haflinger eyes, and lost their heart forever to the breed. They will not forget that moment when a horse they had never met before loved them back. Haflingers are magic with children and we saw that over and over again.

Our first year, in 1992, a mom and her 6 year old son came up to our stalls, as do some  10,000 people a day, and spent a long time petting the horses and talking to them, and enjoying them. They walked off, with the little boy looking over his shoulder at the Haflingers until they turned a corner and went out of sight. An hour later they were back and spent more time with the Haflingers. I offered the little boy a chance to sit on a Haflinger, and he agreed readily, and sat and sat and sat, playing with the mane and petting the shoulder and neck and was simply in heaven, quietly dreaming his own dreams on the back of a horse. His mom told me that they lived in a suburb near Seattle, but always spent this particular week in August at a local beach cabin, and the fair was one of their favorite activities each year. Her son Gary had never had an opportunity to sit on a horse before.

Next year, they were back, and Gary was a little taller, but still a quiet boy, and he kept dragging his mom back to the Haflingers, and she’d sit and visit as he’d sit on the Haflingers. He watched as we watered the horses, or fed them hay, or cleaned their stalls, and pretty soon he was asking if he could do the scooping, or dump the buckets or brush the horses. So he became, out of his own initiative, a helper.

By the time he was 8, he was spending several hours at a time with us at the stalls, taking his turn at the chores, and his mom, trusting that he was in good hands, and that he certainly wasn’t going to wander away from the Haflingers, would check back with him now and then to see if he wanted to go on rides, or see a performance, and his response was always “no, I can do that anytime, but I don’t get to see Haflingers very often!” He would talk a little about his hope someday to have a farm where he could raise Haflingers, and one year even said that his folks were looking at property to buy with acreage, but apparently a job for his dad didn’t materialize, so he remained a city kid in reality, even if he was a future farm kid in his heart.

He was one of our regular kid helpers every year until he was 12 when he started turning out for junior high football, and the football summer camp coincided with our fair week, so we’d only see him briefly on Saturdays as he got into his teens. He’d stop by to say hi, pet the horses, catch up on the Haflinger news, and because he only had a few hours to spend at the fair, he’d head off to other things. I really missed him and his happy smile around the stalls.

When he was 15, I missed seeing him because I was working when he stopped by. When he stopped by at age 16, he strolled up to me and I found I was looking up at this young man who I had to study to recognize. I’m a tall woman of 5’10”–he was at least 4 inches taller than me! He told me he wanted to come by because some of his best summer memories were of spending time with the Haflingers at the fair and he wanted me to know that. He thanked me for welcoming him and allowing him to “hang out” with the Haflingers. He told me his hope and dream someday was to live somewhere where he could raise Haflingers, and he was working hard in school so he could make that happen. He was a  4.0 student and the first string quarterback on his high school football team. I was as proud as if he was my own son.

This young man received a full scholarship to play football at a major university, and over four years waited his turn to be the starting quarterback.  Once he had his chance, after only a few games of being the starter, he was tackled hard, sustaining a neck fracture which thankfully resulted in no permanent damage, but his college football career was suddenly over.

I hope someday to see Gary again–it would be great to see this tall accomplished young man who so recently was a shy quiet little city boy of 6, draped across the broad back of a Haflinger, and lost in his dreams of a “someday” Haflinger of his own. This is why we’ve done what we have at the fair all these years. It was for people like Gary who made a connection with a horse and never ever forget it. I’d like to think that a little bit of who Gary is and what he is becoming is because he had a dream of a horse farm that he held onto all these years.

We do hope the fair-goers miss the friendly golden horses with the big brown eyes that help make dreams come true.

The Essence of August

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No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one
Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun5
A silken web from twig to twig. The air
Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still.
~Lizette Woodworth Reese “August”

 

This poem written decades ago
by a poet now long departed
describes in detail
what I see outside my back door today.
Yet an unknowing detail of her foresight
includes a truth of this August:
her flaming river
is flowing across thousands of acres
only a few dozen miles away,
leaving behind ashes,
and little else.

An essence of August:
drying to dust – only a little
remains of the day.

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Things That Go Splash in the Night

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most definitely not a picture taken by me; I’d never get close enough to even consider it…

(a Barnstorming reblog)

Seventeen years ago we were in the middle of a hot August like this one.  With no air conditioning then, as now, we use fans and at night hope for comfort from any cooling breeze drifting through the window curtains. Sleep is elusive when one is very busy sweating.

I remember waking suddenly from a fitful sleep in the dark of night, startled by a sound I could not readily identify.  I lay still, my eyes wide open staring into the black space of our bedroom, discerning the sound of intermittent splashing in the adjacent bathroom. What the heck?

Our five year old daughter’s bedroom was the next room in the hallway on the other side of the bathroom.  I called out her name, wondering what she could possibly be doing in the middle of the night, making splashing noises in the bathroom.

No answer.  More splashing.

Now I was worried.  I got up, walked into the hallway, peered into the dark bathroom, unable to see anything amiss.  I flipped on the light switch.  As my eyes tried to adjust to the sudden illumination, I was able to see one thing that most definitely did not belong in this picture:  a rat’s hind end and long tail disappearing back down into the toilet.    I gasped, shut the bathroom door quickly and gathered my wits.   There is nothing that will turn one’s stomach quite like seeing a rat in a place it absolutely should not be.

I checked my daughter’s room, flipped the light on quickly to scan the floor and her bed, and she was soundly sleeping and all seemed fine.  I shut off her light and shut her door quietly.

Then I woke the man of the house, the only reasonable thing to do in such a situation.

I’m not sure he believed me.  Maybe I had only imagined I’d seen a rat?  Maybe it was all a dream?  Maybe the heat was getting to me?

I went and got a broom and handed it to him.  He opened the door to the bathroom a crack, and saw little puddles on the bathroom floor and dirty wet marks on the toilet seat.   He quickly closed the door again and looked at me.  There definitely had been a grimy little something in that bathroom.  But where was it now??

He opened the door again and went in, getting the broom handle ready to clobber the varmint.  He peeked into the toilet and there was nothing to be found except some scummy debris floating in the water and scattered on the seat.  He flushed.  He flushed again.  Nothing.

It was really hard to believe that a rat would voluntarily dive back into a toilet bowl and swim into the pipes …. unless it was headed for another toilet bowl.  We quickly closed the toilet lid, piled books on top and went to check the other bathrooms–no signs of disturbance, wet paw prints or other ratty evidence of invasion.

There is little rational thinking that goes on in the middle of the night when a rat has swum up your pipes into a toilet.   I admit to being a little emotional.  That’s when we went for the bleach and poured a gallon down each toilet bowl, flushing a dozen times each, thoroughly disrupting all the healthy bacterial flora in our septic drain field.  It did make me feel better momentarily.    We closed all the toilet lids, closed all the bathroom doors and didn’t sleep a wink the rest of the night.  When we inspected the toilets in the morning, one of the other toilets had been “visited” as well, but with the lid shut, the rat had disappeared back down the pipe.

In the morning, we coolly told lies to our three children.  We told them two of our toilets were plugged up and they had to use one only, and always put the lid down afterward.  We decided if we told them about a rat in the bowl, they would never feel safe about sitting on the toilet again.   There is the potential of a real psychological PTSD (post-toileting stress disorder) entity.   I certainly didn’t feel safe about sitting on the toilet and kept furtively looking down, which doesn’t make for a very relaxed bathroom visit.   It can be positively constipating.

We did a search under the house, around the house, trying to figure out where rats could have found access to our septic system.  Finally, we discovered that a pipe previously connecting the septic drain field to our temporary single-wide trailer living quarters during our major farm house remodel the previous year had never been completely sealed off when the trailer was removed.  It was an open invitation to rodents seeking a cool dark (and wet) place to hide during a hot summer.

It wasn’t the end of our rat woes, but it was the last time they breached our plumbing.  We later had a major invasion of our barns, requiring the ongoing services of expert exterminators as well as super duper cat defense.    I’m proud to say I’ve not seen evidence of rats or their homely furry selves for years now.

We never told anyone about this little middle-of-the-night episode.   In fact, our children thought for years we had sudden massive toilet failure at our house.

Until I blogged about it because it is a good tale (tail??) to tell…

Sorry, kids.

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the defense to the rescue