After the Potluck

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We celebrate end of winter’s overlong stay,
And find a respite from embittered mood,
Ignore our sagging incomes for a day,
With shared potluck communion of comfort food.

Beef stew stocked with veggies and potatoes,
Drizzled bread cubes over macaroni and cheese,
Salted nachos dotted with ripened tomatoes,
Meat loaf topped with ketchup to please.

Home made bread from the oven, steaming and soft
Fresh hot chocolate and coffee provide reason to stay,
Remember the smell of shared food will lazily waft
So welcome and hardy with no debt to pay.

When the job is lost or the family is sour,
Too many nights lonely and aching in pain,
Fellowship together for only an hour,
Nurtured and nourished, is never in vain.

Once gratefully finishing up the last crumb,
When life’s feast is done, the journey’s end near
Hang on to your fork awaiting dessert that’s to come
Instead of clinging to worry and unknown fear.

Keep your fork when uncertain about what comes tomorrow
It will remind you of what you can not yet see;
The meal’s not quite over, there’ll be sweetness, not sorrow:
We’ll celebrate together, the best yet to be.

Cow Path

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Each day and night fly by faster than the previous.  It is as if time becomes exponentially more compressed than in the past, hurtling forward to an inevitable destination but the estimated time of arrival is unknown.

I struggle in my middle age to keep perspective while traveling this road of life, remembering where I’ve been, and hoping for the best about where I’m headed, but nevertheless sticking to the path without deviation.  My regret about this journey is that I rarely stop to simply take in the scenery, listen to the birds, smell the orchard blossoms, and feel the grass under my bare feet.  In other words, I’m getting really rusty at doing nothing and as a result, might end up doing nothing well. It is the conundrum of following the cow path laid down before me (see Sam Foss’ poem below).

Nevertheless, as with all cow paths, there may have been no greater reason for the bend or curve than a patch of tall appealing grass at one time, or a good itching spot on a tree trunk, the path I take may seem random without the focus on the destination.  I need to stop once in awhile, settle down for a really good nap, enjoy a particularly fine meal, read an insightful book, or play a lovely hymn.  It is not just the path traveled but the quality of journey we experience, some of which has little to do with “getting there”.

I enjoy the twists and turns of life, but only if I take the time to appreciate them.  Perhaps I’ll add a few of my own for those who follow after me.

COW PATH

One day thru the primeval wood
A calf walked home, as good calves should,
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail, as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And I infer, the calf is dead;
But still behind he left his trail,
And thereon hangs my mortal tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way,
And then a wise bell-weather sheep
Sliding into a rut now deep,
Pursued that trail over hill and glade
Thru those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,
And dodged and turned and bent about,
and uttered words of righteous wrath
Because “twas such a crooked path”
But still they follow-do not laugh-
The first migrations of that calf.

The forest became a lane
That bent and turned and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road
where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.


The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The village road became a street,
And this, before the men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare.

And soon a central street was this
In a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Followed the wanderings of this calf.

Each day a hundred thousand strong
Followed this zigzag calf along;
And over his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.

A hundred thousand men were led
By one poor calf, three centuries dead.
For just such reverence is lent
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach
Were I ordained and called to preach.

For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf paths of the mind;
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.

by Samuel Walter Foss 1895

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Sleep Well

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For my father on Memorial Day

It was always a part of what we knew about you-
Serving three long years in the South Pacific,
Spoken of obliquely
If asked about, but never really answered.

We knew you were a battalion leader
Knew you spent many nights without sleep,
Unsure if you’d see the dawn
Only to dread what the next day would bring.

We knew you lost friends
And your innocence;
Found unaccustomed strength
For the mama’s boy who cried too easily.

Somehow life had prepared you for this:
Pulling your daddy out of bars when you were ten
Watching him beat your mama
And finally getting big enough to stand in the way.

Tarawa, Saipan, Tinian beaches
Blood soaked battles won.
Now restored and recreated
As vacation resorts.

We let you go without knowing
Your full story–even Mom didn’t know.
You could not share the depth
Of horror and the fear you felt.

It was not shame that kept you silent but
Simply no need to revisit the pain
Of recollection.
It was done; it was finished, you had done your duty.

So as we set flowers and flag
On your grave, now reunited with Mom
I regret so many questions unasked and unanswered
Of a sacrifice beyond imagining.

Sleep well, Dad, with Mom now by your side.
I rejoice you both now wake to a new dawn.

It’s a Jungle Out There

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We’re drowning in grass. Only 6 weeks ago, it lay gray, still frost-laden and dead, but now, in a burst of green enthusiasm and fueled by a short cluster of warm days and nights of heavy rain, it is knee high most places, and waist high in others. If I listen hard enough, I swear I can hear it growing, just like the squeaks that corn makes as it grows. It is not just a carpet, it is a jungle now and just as I did as a child, it is pure pleasure to sit down in the middle of it, tamping down a nest of sorts, with the grassy walls and a blue sky ceiling.

Instead of snow drifts, we have grass drifts and we trail blaze through the grass in the same way we did the snow in January, leaving our foot prints behind.

The Haflingers are being eased out into this bounty a few hours each day, a slow transition from last year’s bailed grass crop which now seems quite tasteless in comparison. All that can lure the horses back to the barn after a little grazing time is the shake of the grain bucket–the grass is an incredible powerful magnet.

I understand the pull the Haflingers feel. They are centuries-bred on forage sparse mountain pasture and what they consumed during the growing season would supply the fat needed for the long winters. Some inner drive tells them “eat now! eat fast! store up!” and they are most efficient eating machines. Trouble is, in this part of the world, where forage is plentiful and high in protein this time of year, they’ll eat themselves sick if given the opportunity. Their internal survival drive paradoxically could destroy them and destroy the pasture needed to sustain them year round.

We humans need that same control over our desire to consume everything around us, in our fear that it might not always be there. Eating without real hunger, drinking without real thirst, wanting without real need. Without boundaries around us, we plunge into life greedy and selfish, not unlike our Haflingers. Our boundaries may not be visible like the fences that surround the Haflingers, but they have been set there, nevertheless, to remind us of our crucial inner need for limits.

I know I push against my boundaries just as the Haflingers push down fences that bar them from what they think they want on the other side.

May they always be strong enough to hold me in, or keep me out.   I need to stay where I belong.

Cast Your Cares

asset_upload_file707_2983-1In late May, on our farm,  there is only a brief period of utter silence during the dark of the night.  Up until about 2 AM, the spring peepers are croaking and chorusing vigorously in our ponds and wetlands, and around 4 AM the diverse bird song begins in the many tall trees surrounding the house and barnyard.

In between those bookend symphonies is stillness–usually.

I woke too early this morning aware of something being unstill.  It was an intermittent banging, coming from the barn.  I lay in bed, trying to discern the middle of the night noise that could be a sign of a major problem, like a horse stuck up against a stall wall or “cast” in horseman’s parlance,  or simply one of my water-bucket-banging youngsters who enjoys nocturnal percussion.

This was not sounding like a bucket drum set.  It was emphatic hooves frantically banging against metal walls.

Throwing on sweats and boots, I head out the back door into the mere light of pre-dawn, dewy, with the birds just starting to rouse from sleep, the floral perfume of lingering apple blossoms heavy in the air.  Entering the barn, I throw on the lights and start to count the noses I can see in the stalls as I walk down the aisle~all present and accounted for until I get to the very end of the row.  No nose.   Down in the corner is our eleven year old mare on her side, too close to the wall, her feet askew up against the boards and metal siding.  She nickered low to me, and my entering the stall sent her into a renewed effort to right herself, but all she could do was scrabble against the wall, digging an even bigger hole beneath her body.

This has happened infrequently over our 25 years of owning horses, usually when a horse is rolling to scratch their back and rolls too close to the wall, and becomes lodged there.  Haflingers, who have a fairly round conformation, are a bit prone to being cast.  Our older barn,  with dirt floors, is particularly likely to having this happen, as depressions in the floor where horses have been digging end up becoming deeper and trap a hapless horse that was nonchalantly rolling.  The horse literally is trapped like a turtle on its back.

Righting a 1000 lb. horse that is frantically flailing and struggling is not a particularly easy or safe task.  Thankfully Haflingers tend to be pretty sensible in this situation and will calm when spoken to and reassured.  I looped a rope around each lower leg, and with my tall strong son’s help, we were able to pull her back over and then jump out of the way quickly.  She got up, shook herself off and immediately asked for breakfast–a good sign this was not a horse in distress or colicking with abdominal pain.

So my day started early.

I hope when I find myself trapped in a hole of my own making, when I’ve been careless about watching where I’m heading and find myself helpless and hopeless with no where to turn, someone will hear my struggles and come rescue me.  I promise not to kick out or bite,  but to wait patiently, in gratitude, for such gracious liberation.   My cares will be cast upon my rescuer.

And then please, feed me breakfast.

Floating Downstream

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First fluid
Flows in subtle stream
then
Gushes in sudden drench
Soaking, saturating,
Precipitating
Inevitability.
No longer cushioned
Slick sliding forward
Following the rich river
Downstream

The smell of birth
Clings to shoes, clothes, hands
As soaked in soupy brine
I reach to embrace new life
Sliding toward me.
I too was caught once;
Three times emptied into other hands
My babies wet on my chest
Their slippery skin
Under my lips
Salty sweet

In a moment’s scent
The rush of life returns;
Now only barn birthings
Yet still as sweet and rich.
I carry the smell of damp foal fur
With me all day to
Recall from whence I came.
I floated once
And will float someday again.

Beneath the Bedroom Window

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Rain soaked grass springs vibrant
Spongy sop underfoot
Deluged backyard turned marsh
Over night

A new voice outside
My bedroom window
Insistent rhythmic song of desire
Goes unanswered

I lie drowsing, grateful
For love that envelopes
Without bogged or swampy
Submersion

Sated I ponder
The lonely peeper’s voice-
And sing a response of
Passion saturated.

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