A Free Servitude

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And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.

In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.

Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

~Edwin Muir from “The Horses”

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There is nothing that truly compels a horse to wear a saddle, pull a heavy burden, chew a cold bit until it foams warm — no fear of whip or spur or harsh word.  They, so much more powerful than we are, choose the work, to do what is needed, to serve freely, to be there because they were asked — whether asked nicely or not.

How much more we learn from the lather of their sweaty grace —  how to choose the labor that changes lives, how to offer up love in gratitude for the reward of a scratch in just the right place and a nose buried in sweet clover.

 

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Time at Arm’s Length

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Light wakes us – there’s the sun
climbing the mountains’ rim, spilling across the valley,
finding our faces.
It is July,
            between the hay and harvest,
a time at arm’s length from all other time…

It is the time
to set aside all vigil, good or ill,
to loosen the fixed gaze of our attention
as dandelions let seedlings to the wind.
Wake with the light.
Get up and go about the day and watch
its surfaces that brighten with the sun.
~Kerry Hardie from “Sleep in Summer”

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During intense election seasons like this one, I find myself seeking safety hiding under a rock where moderates tend to congregate.   There is no political convention for us with rousing impassioned speeches, photo-op embraces for the cameras, or balloons falling on our heads.

Extremist views serve to keep us at arm’s length, to make the opposition appear more clearly the “other.”  There is no discussion of compromise, negotiation or collaboration as that would be perceived as a sign of weakness.  Instead it is “my way or the wrong way” rather than “our way.”

No way.
There is no choosing a “lesser of evils” this time.
When evil is too great, it is never a choice.

And so it goes.  Each election cycle brings out the worst in our “leadership” as facts are distorted, the truth is stretched or completely abandoned, unseemly pandering abounds and curried favors are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Enough already.

I’m ready to come out from under the rock,
loosen my attention from campaign and election news
and find the Light on my face.

Thank God there is still a Light to shine in the darkness.

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A Steward of Creation

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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.
~Wendell Berry

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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.”
~Masanobu Fukuoka 

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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.
~Wendell Berry

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He knows all about the cycle of the seasons
When to plow, when to disc, when to harrow,
When to plant, when to fertilize,
When to irrigate, when to weed,
When to harvest, when to leave stubble and
When to lie fallow.

He knows to read the sky and feel the wind
When the forecast is right,
When it is just plain off,
When to quit early for the day,
When to keep going beyond dark and
When to give up and go to bed.

He knows his animals and what they need
When to bring them in, when to turn them out,
When to doctor them himself,
When to call the vet,
When to use heroics and
When to let go.

He knows his family and friends
When to tease his wife, when to hug her,
When to be tough on the kids, when to love them
When to give all he’s got, when to withhold
When to bid at the sale barn, when to just smile and
When to go home empty handed but full of stories.

He knows his Bible and his faith
When to pray aloud, when to be silent,
When to trust through hard times,
When to share abundance,
When to believe with burning heart and
When to forgive and be forgiven.

He knows his time is coming
When his worn and tired body slows down,
When he drives his pickup and takes a wrong turn,
When he shows up for chores breathing hard,
When he bids at auction just because and
When he lies down for a nap and doesn’t get up.

He lies fallow, sleeping,
Having given up and let go
To head home, without getting lost,
Stubbled, forgiven and loved,
Storing the rest of his harvest
For a new and glorious day.

 

tractorguy

Simple Little Pleasures

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photo by Nate Gibson
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photo by Nate Gibson

I believe the nicest and sweetest days
are not those on which anything very splendid
or wonderful or exciting happens
but just those that bring simple little pleasures,
following one another softly,
like pearls slipping off a string.
~L.M. Montgomery from Anne of Avonlea

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I’ve never owned pearls
but can imagine watching them slip off a string
would provoke anxiety they could be lost to me forever.

Instead, I seek the simple pleasure
of a run in the field at dusk
just to follow my nose wherever it takes me:
to find the smelliest spot
to roll about, ecstatic with life,
knowing I carry that scent with me
the rest of my days, never to be lost.

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photo by Nate Gibson
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photo by Nate Gibson

The Dome of Heaven

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photo of Mt. Baker reflected in Wiser Lake by Joel DeWaard

Alone in the night
On a dark hill

With pines around me
Spicy and still,

And a heaven full of stars
Over my head,
White and topaz
And misty red;

Myriads with beating
Hearts of fire
That aeons
Cannot vex or tire;

Up the dome of heaven
Like a great hill,
I watch them marching
Stately and still,

And I know that I
Am honored to be
Witness
Of so much majesty.
~Sara Teasdale “Stars”

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photo by Joel DeWaard

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
…while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?”
Job 38 4a, 7

God Himself tells Job the first song was sung in celebration of the beginning of all things.  We weren’t there to hear it because we were not — yet.  A joyous celestial community of stars and angels sang as the world was pieced and sewn together bit by bit.  Man was the last stitch God made in the tapestry.

As the coda of the created world, we tend to take all this for granted as it was already here when we arrived on the scene: the soil we tread, the water we drink, the plants and creatures that are subject to us.  Yet this creation was already so worthy it warranted a glorious anthem, right from the beginning, before man.  We were not yet the inspiration for singing.

We missed the first song but we were there to hear it reprised a second time, and this time it really was about us–peace on earth, good will to men.  The shepherds, the most lowly and humble of us, those who would be surely voted least likely to witness such glory,  were chosen to hear singing from the heavens the night Christ was born.    They were flattened by it, amazed and afraid.  It drove them right off the job, out of the fields and into town to seek out what warranted such celebration.

Surely once again this song will ring out as it did in the beginning and as it did on those hills above Bethlehem.
The trumpet will sound.
In a twinkling of an eye we will all be changed.
And we will be able to sing along.
Hallelujah!
Amen and Amen.

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photo by Joel DeWaard
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photo by Josh Scholten

Spending My Days Grazing

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Just past dawn, the sun stands
with its heavy red head
in a black stanchion of trees,
waiting for someone to come
with his bucket
for the foamy white light,
and then a long day in the pasture.
I too spend my days grazing,
feasting on every green moment
till darkness calls,
and with the others
I walk away into the night,
swinging the little tin bell
of my name.
~Ted Kooser “A Birthday Poem”

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I usually go in to work on my birthday,
just a regular day most summers~
instead today decided to catch up
on weeding, reading and needing
a day of quiet:

To notice each blade of grass while grazing through the hours,
transformed by something so simple,
to be called as the time comes
to return to the barn
in fullness,
ready to give all I have until empty.

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To Return Seems Like a Sacrament

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There are landscapes one can own,
bright rooms which look out to the sea,
tall houses where beyond the window
day after day the same dark river
turns slowly through the hills, and there
are homesteads perched on mountaintops
whose cool white caps outlast the spring.

And there are other places which,
although we did not stay for long,
stick in the mind and call us back—
a valley visited one spring
where walking through an apple orchard
we breathed its blossoms with the air.
Return seems like a sacrament.

Then there are landscapes one has lost—
the brown hills circling a wide bay
I watched each afternoon one summer
talking to friends who now are dead.
I like to think I could go back again
and stand out on the balcony,
dizzy with a sense of déjà vu.

But coming up these steps to you
at just that moment when the moon,
magnificently full and bright
behind the lattice-work of clouds,
seems almost set upon the rooftops
it illuminates, how shall I
ever summon it again?
~Dana Giola “Places to Return”

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A week away, experiencing new landscapes, seeing orcas and humpbacks and bears (oh my!) – this is the stuff of stories and memories.

Yet nothing about vacation compares to the sacrament of the moment of return, pulling into our own driveway, and settling back into the routine of home where the men are strong, the women are (ahem) good looking and the children are above average.

There’s no better place to summon up the sacrament of remembrance.

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