Hung Out to Dry

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Ninety degrees Fahrenheit
(free solar energy),
5-10 mph breeze blowing from the south
(free wind generation),
mother and teenage daughter
(mostly free muscle power with occasional grumbling attached).

A basket of wet clothes,
a bag of recycled wooden clothes pins,
two lines of white plastic cord stretched 20 feet between posts
and a little bit of time.

Hanging clothes outdoors
doesn’t slow global warming;
it is a selfish act.
Who can resist a night’s sleep
with the smell of line-dried sheets
and dry off with bath towels line-snapped rough?

Underwear stiff
dish rags sun-bleached
bras dangling like empty shells
socks mismatched in a row.

A household of truths and dares
hangs for all to bear witness
without need for xray vision;
no hidden agendas,
no wondering “briefs or jocks”
no wondering about sizes or shapes or undercover secrets.

Return in the late afternoon as a rain shower threatens
to undo the dry cycle, piling loads of freshness in our arms,
clasping eight, ten, twelve clothespins in one hand
in a clean sweep to see who can hold the most.

If only my personal laundry basket
overflowing with sweaty muddy moldy yucky stuff
could be so simply transformed in an afternoon
of sweet breezes, purifying light and open scrutiny.

Then I could sleep so much better tonight knowing
The Lord washes and dries, folds and softens
what I wish to keep hidden~ my dirty laundry.

I rest in His basket of renewal,
His clean sweep of freshness gathering me up
before the storm.

Abandon

RoyalAnn

A few yards from the old homestead foundation of
Partially buried cement chunks covered with sod;
An ancient cherry tree leans to the south,
Its northern half bare, the other half
Bearing century old promises.

Once orchard lifeblood of this farm
Its fruit picked for farmers’ market
An early dawn hour’s wagon ride to town;
Now breaking down, forgotten
Until this week of fruitful surrender.

Almost finished, but not quite,
Rooted deep for one more season;
Faithful cycle blooming forth
With budding life from gnarled knots
Yielding glorious from ancient branches.

Glistening amber globes with rosy sheen
Cling clustered on crooked lichened limbs
Gathered heaping in bowls of gold,
Ecstatic burst of savored perfection,
Fulfilling a promise of sweet abandon.

Pea Picking

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It’s pea picking time this week,  thanks to my husband’s dedicated gardening.  The vines are thick with pods and the harvest full and plenty.  As peas are always the first freezable vegetable to ripen in the garden, I’m now full of all sorts of energy for picking, shelling, podding, blanching and freezing.   Ask me again in two weeks how enthusiastic I am about my pea patch…

My earliest childhood memories include the taste and smell of fresh peas.  We lived in farming country north of Seattle where 50 years ago hundreds of acres of peas were grown for canning and freezing.  During the harvest, large pea harvesting machines would arrive for several days and travel down the road in caravans of 10 or 12, going from farm to farm to farm. They worked 24 hours a day to harvest as quickly as possible and traveled the roads late at night because they were so huge, they would take up both lanes of the country roads.  Inevitably a string of cars would form behind the pea harvesters, unable to pass, so it became a grand annual parade celebrating the humble pea.

The smell in the air when the fields were harvested was indescribable except to say it was most definitely a “green” and deliciously fresh smell.  The vines and pods would end up as silage for cattle and the peas would be separated to go to the cannery.  I figured those peas were destined for the city dwellers because in our back yard garden, we grew plenty of our own.

Pea seeds, wrinkled and frankly a little boring, could be planted even before the last frost was done with us in March, or even sometimes on Washington’s birthday in February.  The soil needed to not be frozen and not be sopping.  True, the seeds might sit still for a few weeks, unwilling to risk germination until the coast was clear and soil warmed a bit, but once they were up out of the ground, there was no stopping them.  We would generally have several rotations growing, in the hope of a 6 week pea eating season if we were fortunate, before the heat and worms claimed the vines and the pods.

We always planted telephone peas, so the support of the vines was crucial–we used hay twine run up and down between two taut smooth wires attached high and low between two wooden posts.  The vines could climb 6 feet tall or better and it was fascinating to almost literally watch the pea tendrils wind their way around the strings (and each other), erotically clinging and wrapping themselves in their enthusiasm.

Once the pods start to form,  impatience begins.  I’d be out in the garden every day copping feels, looking for that first plump pod to pick and pop open.  It never failed that I would pick too soon, and open a pod to find only weenie little peas, barely with enough substance to taste.  Within a day or two, however, the harvest would be overwhelming, so we’d have to pick early in the morning while the peas were still cool from the night dew.

Then it was shelling time, which involved several siblings on a back porch, one mother supervising from a distance to make sure there weren’t too many peas being pelted in pique at an annoying little brother, and lots of bowls to catch the peas and the pods.  A big paper sack of intact pods would yield only a few cups of peas, so this was great labor for small yield.   Opening a pod of peas is extremely satisfying though;  there is a tiny audible “pop” when the pod is pressed at the bottom, and then as your thumb runs down the inner seam of the pod loosening all the peas, they make a dozen little “pings” in the bowl when they fall.  A symphony of pea shelling often accompanied by the Beach Boys and the Beatles.

Once the weather got hot, the pea worms would be at work in the pods, so then one encountered wiggly white larvae with little black heads and their webs inside the pods.  We actually had a “Wormie” song we sung when we found one, even in the 60’s recognizing that our organic garden meant sharing the harvest with crawling protein critters. The peas would be bored through, like a hollowed out jack o’lantern, so those got dumped in the discard bowl.

The dull green coat of the raw pea turns bright green during the several minutes of blanching in boiling water, then they are plunged into ice water until cool and packed in ziplock bags.  Those peas are welcomed to the table during the other 11 months out of the year, sometimes mixed with carrots, sometimes with mushrooms, sometimes chased with a little fresh garlic.  They are simply the most lovely food there is other than chocolate.

From an undistinguished pea seed to intricate vines and coiling tendrils–from pregnant pods bursting at the seams to a bounty of meals: the humble pea does indeed deserve a grand parade in the middle of the night.

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The Farm Dream

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This time of year our farm is brilliant, verdant and delicious to behold.  The cherry orchard blossoms yield to fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass.  By mid-June, the daylight starts creeping over the eastern foothills at 4 AM and the last glimpse of sun disappears at nearly 10 PM.   So many hours of light to work with!  I yearn for a dark rainy day to hide inside with a book.  Instead the lawnmower and weed whacker call my name, and the fish pond needs cleaning and the garden must be weeded.  It’s not that things don’t happen on the farm during months like this.  It’s just that nothing we do is enough.  Blackberry brambles have taken over everything, grass grows faster than we can keep it mowed down, the manure piles spread on the fields in May are growing exponentially again.  The fences always need fixing.  The stall doors are sticking and not closing properly.  Foals have gotten large and strong without having the good halter lessons they needed when they were much smaller and easier to control.   The supply of bedding shavings is non-existent due to the depressed lumber industry, so our shavings shed is bare and old hay is now serving as bedding in the stalls. The weather has become iffy in the last week so no string of days has been available for hay cutting– we are low on the priority list of the local dairy man who cuts and bales our hay,  so we may not have anything but junk hay in the barn this winter in a year when hay will cost a premium.  No one is buying horses in this economy, not even really well bred horses, so we are no longer breeding our stallion and mares, and for the first time in 18 years, have made the painful decision not to be part of our regional fair.

Suddenly our farm dream seems not nearly so compelling.

We have spent many years dreaming about the farm as we hoped it would be.  We imagined the pastures managed perfectly with fencing that was both functional and beautiful.  Our barns and buildings would be tidy and leak-proof, and the stalls secure and safe.  We’d have a really nice pick up truck with low miles on it, not a 25 year old hand me down truck with almost 200,000 miles. We would have trees pruned expertly and we’d have flower beds blooming as well as a vegetable garden yielding 9 months of the year.  Our hay would never be rained on. We would have dogs that wouldn’t run off and cats that would take care of all the rodents.  We wouldn’t have any moles, thistles, dandelions or buttercup.  The pheasant, deer, coyotes, raccoons, and wild rabbits would only stroll through the yard for our amusement and not disturb anything.  We’d have livestock with the best bloodlines we could afford and a steady demand from customers to purchase their offspring at reasonable prices so that not a dime of our off-farm income would be necessary to pay farm expenses.   Our animals (and we) would never get sick or injured.

And our house would always stay clean.

Dream on.  Farms are often back-breaking, morale-eroding, expensive sinkholes.   I know ours is.  Yet here we be and here we stay.

It’s home.  We’ve raised three wonderful children here.  We’ve bred and grown good horses and great garden and orchard crops and tons of hay from our own fields.  We breathe clean air and daily hear dozens of different bird songs and look out at some of the best scenery this side of heaven.  Eagles land in the trees in our front yard. It’s all enough for us even if we are not enough for the farm.  I know there will come a time when the farm will need to be a fond memory and not a daily reality.  Until then we will keep pursuing our dream as we and the farm grow older.   Dreams age and mature and I know now what I dreamed of when I was younger was not the important stuff.

We have been blessed with one another, with the sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between.  This is the stuff of which the best dreams are made.

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Solstice

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Photo by Nate Gibson of sunset from Point No Point, Vancouver Island

Darkness ebbs in subtle drift,
Each day a little more
Exposed to light
Another languid hour.

Ebbs uncovered
Swayed by glowing
Tidal push of night
A deepened moon pool flowing.

Sun’s waves retreat in
Lengthening shadow stream
Restoring forfeited sleep
And shoring up midsummer’s dream.

Rescue Mission

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Ever have one of those days when it doesn’t really matter what you do, what you don’t do, what you say, what you don’t say—you find yourself sitting on top of a hornet’s nest, and at the slightest provocation, you’ll get nailed, but good.

The hardest reality of all is that you may have actually invited and fostered the hornets that are now ready to attack you.  You offered them shelter, a safe haven, a place to come home to and what happens in return?  You’re stung because you happen to be there, perched in a precarious position. What difficult lessons life tosses at us sometimes.  And this little drama is happening in my own backyard.

As I headed to the barn for chores and walked past our happy little gnome, I gave him my usual smile, wave and morning greeting, but something was different and I looked a little closer.  He looked suddenly anatomically correct.  And the look on his face had taken on a distinctly worried cast.  How had he gotten himself into this predicament of harboring a hornet’s nest in his lap?

He reminded me we should be worried too.  When we’re feeling very hospitable, welcoming and willing to share what we have with others, it can be the best feeling in the world.  There is a sense of graciousness and gratitude in being able to give something of one’s self, and a distinct “need to be needed” that is rewarded.  Yet it is often no selfless sacrifice, this “offering our lap”. We give because it feels good to give; share because we feel rewarded by gratitude, or because it is the “right thing to do”.  Perhaps we even expect something in return for our kindness. Indeed, that is the problem—often there is no acknowledgment or gratitude and that can hurt a lot.  I too occasionally share space with “hornets”, sometimes unwittingly, until I get stung and am sorely reminded of just what I’ve sat down in.  I’m rewarded, all right, and I get exactly what I deserve.

Yet what should worry us even more is that sometimes we’re the ones building a nest in an opportunistic place where we have been invited to take refuge.  In our most selfish moments, we’re looking for that lap to settle in where we can have the most control either by threat or worse.   We’re ready to sting at the slightest provocation, or perhaps for no reason at all.   How do we get ourselves into such a predicament that we sometimes hurt those that harbor us and who have been generous to us?

My little backyard friend is in a dilemma, pleading with his eyes to be saved from his agony.  I’m planning a stealth rescue mission.  Without warning, in the dark of night, I’ll turn a hose on that nest, sweep it to the ground and crush it, hornets and all.  A “take no prisoners” approach to a gnome held hornet-hostage.

We’ve at least been warned about our life’s precarious perch and to not sting the lap that holds us.  When we offer up ourselves, it must be without expectation, simply pure gift.  And every time I look at my gnome’s gracious cheerful face I will smile too, knowing that our rescue is at hand.

Postscript:

I didn’t execute the “save our gnome”  rescue mission soon enough.  While I was foolish enough to mow the grass under our swing set today, the offending hornet nailed me in the neck.  I walked right into it, forgetting there was a hornet hazard over my head.  One ice bag and benedryl later, I dispatched hornet and nest to the great beyond.  There are times when we need to be an active participant in our own rescue…

Answering the Knock on the Door

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From Spring 2004 with an update at the bottom:

It’s been a challenging few weeks at our farm because one of our two year old geldings, Wallenda, had an emotional crisis of sorts that I’ve been trying to understand and deal with.

Wallenda has always been on the “sensitive” side–not the most laid back of our youngsters, and far more apt than others to need to look at new things closely, stop and stare, and give a snort or two. He’s lived a trauma-free, non-demanding existence, asked only to lead and stand quietly, allow shots and worming, and get his feet trimmed. He has not been a classic Haflinger pocket pony, begging for attention, but he’s never turned away from our attention either.

One day, about a month ago, his world turned upside down. During the day while we were at work, he had managed, in an effort to reach green grass, to wiggle his way under a 12 foot pipe gate in his paddock, getting it partially off its hinges, but still barring the opening enough that his brother and sister opted not to follow him. I came home from work to find him grazing peacefully in the orchard, near the paddock, without a halter on of course. When I tried to approach him with his halter to catch him and bring him in, he reacted fearfully, running madly up and down the fence line, looking very much as if he might jump the tape and wire, just to get away from me. I solved his panic (and my concern) by bringing his brother around on a lead and Wallenda followed him back into the barn and into a stall.

But nothing seemed the same for him. This young horse who formerly would always come up to us in the stall when we opened the door to feed him or put on his halter would bolt for a corner if we approached, literally climbing the walls to get away from us. He wouldn’t take food offered from our hands, and wouldn’t even approach his grain until we moved away from the stall. He was petrified, eyes wide and white, muscles trembling and tense.

We were completely baffled. No one else works or handles the horses here except my husband and I, and no one was at home when Wallenda got out. We wondered if he had, in fact, somehow gotten out to the road
and been frightened there by someone trying to shoo him home, but it seemed so unlikely that he would leave lots of grass and his buddies to venture out that far. Clearly there had been a major emotional trauma over the course of the day, as he didn’t have a mark on him anywhere to indicate he’d been harmed or hurt.

If both of us went into his stall together, we could approach him slowly from either side and he would stand for haltering, but if only one of us went in the stall, he’d immediately turn his butt to us, and swing his front end away, very effectively keeping out of reach, and threatening us with his hind legs and once, when Dan was trying to halter him alone, landed a painful kick on Dan’s ribs. It was clear to us that he was reacting out of fear, not aggression, but that realization didn’t make him any safer to interact with.

We tried to keep his routine the same as best we could. He was haltered, with us approaching him in the stall together, and he would lead fine out to his paddock. However, once in the paddock, there was no way he’d allow himself to be caught to come in at night and the paddock was too large for us to be able to position him to be caught. When we tried once, he ran for the 5 foot board fence, jumped, landed on this belly on the top cracking the top rail and landing in the paddock unhurt on the other side. We were incredulous.

He spent several lonely nights alone in the outdoor paddock because he absolutely would not be caught–not with grass, not with grain, nothing. He would snort and toss his head repeatedly, telling us emphatically not to touch him. I even delayed his meals, thinking a hungry stomach would bring him close as I held out hay to him, but it did not help. It was so un-Haflinger-like that I started to wonder if he had some brain injury causing this aberrant behavior–could he have had a concussion? a tumor? or do horses sometimes go psychotic?

We’ve had a breakthrough over the past week. We started to allow the horses some pasture time, building it up gradually, and he has been out with his siblings in a big field, free to run and eat. At night, they come to the gate to be led in one at a time, and though he would hang back, he would follow the others in to the barn. Each day, I could tell he knew the destination was the pasture and that was where he wanted to be. So it took less and less time to position him for safe haltering in the morning in the stall. He accepted grain from my hand. Two mornings ago, I walked into the stall, he turned and faced me, and ate grain from my hand and then allowed me to halter him, without ever turning his butt to me once. This morning, he came right to the stall door, just like old times, and dove his nose right into the halter without hesitation. I feel like my horse has come back from whatever hell he was in for 4 weeks. His eyes are softer again, and he doesn’t toss his head at me when I look him in the eye and talk to him.

Whatever happened? All I know is that he lost all trust for us, through no action of ours that we can define, and we had to slowly patiently gain it back. It was tempting to get angry with him and his behavior, and react with punishment, but clearly that would be exactly the wrong thing to do as it would only affirm his fear. What he needed was consistency, reassurance, predictability and calmness. And it has worked. I certainly won’t assume that his fear is gone forever but I have a relationship to build from again.

Addendum:  Wallenda went on to become a star student for his trainer, learned dressage, jumping and is now a successful eventing sport horse in Wyoming.
Fear is a powerful emotion that we all know well. It is disabling to the point of causing us to harm others and ourselves in our effort to flee.

I thought about Wallenda when a young depressed college student I’ve been working with for several weeks in my clinic suddenly canceled an upcoming follow up appointment and did not reschedule.  It gave me a bad feeling that she was “turning her back” and not wanting to be approached, just as Wallenda had done. I could have just put on my coat and headed home at the end of a long Friday but decided to call my patient and see what was going on with her. She didn’t answer her phone. I looked up her apartment address and headed over there. I could hear her moving around in her apartment, but she didn’t respond to my knocks or my voice. I decided to stay right there, talking to her through the door, letting her know I wasn’t leaving until she opened up the door, and eventually, tears streaming down her face, she did. She had been drinking heavily, with the intent to overdose herself on aspirin and vodka, and I was the last person she expected to see at her door. Her fear of life was such that she wanted to “flee” so badly that it didn’t matter to her if she died in the process.

She agreed to come with me to the hospital and be admitted for stabilization and when I went this morning to visit her, her eyes were brighter and more hopeful and she greeted me with a hug and thanked me for not giving up on her when she had given up on herself. She never expected anyone to care enough to come looking for her, and to stand firm when she was rejecting all approaches. She was astounded and grateful, and frankly, so was I.

Addendum:  Four years later, a small card arrived this week in my clinic mailbox on a most challenging work day, from an unfamiliar address two thousand miles away. The name looked vaguely familiar to me but when I opened and read the contents, this time it was my turn to let tears flow:

“Dear Doctor,
I am not sure if you will remember me considering you see a number of patients daily; however, I am a patient whose life you changed in the most positive way. I never truly THANKED YOU for listening to me and hearing my silent words of grief and hearing my cries for help when all I could feel was anger and hopelessness. If it had not been for you, had you not knocked on my door, I would not be writing this letter to you today. I don’t know exactly what to say to the person who saved me from hurting myself fatally. You were a stranger in my life, but a dear friend in my time of need. THANK YOU, for everything that you did for me. You have a permanent place in my heart, you have given my spirit hope, you have reminded me that a life is worth living. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Sincerely, ______”

I’m grateful 4 years ago I had the sense to go knock on her door, the stubbornness to stay put until she responded, and most of all, I’m appreciative for her gracious gesture in letting me know it made a difference. Instead of being consumed by her anger to the point of harming herself, she was now reaching out in gratitude.

On a most difficult day this week, this student made a difference for ME. She knocked on my door and I opened it, awash in my own tears of relief at the healing that had taken place.