A Residual Celestial Heat

grumpyfinch

 

“Somehow the question of identity is always emerging on this farm. I found the body of a barn swallow lying just inside the barn the other day. There was no telling how it died. I noticed the intense particularity of its body, its sharply cut wings, the way its plumage seemed to glow with some residual celestial heat. But it was the particularity of death, not the identity of life, a body in stillness while all around me its kin were twittering and swooping in and out of the hayloft.”
~Verlyn Klinkenborg from “A Swallow in the Hand”

 

 

crowdedout

 

molepaw

 

Stumbling across death on the farm is always startling.  The farm teems with life 24 hours a day: frogs croaking, dawn bird chorus, insects buzzing and crawling, cats stalking, coyotes yipping, raccoons stealing, dogs wagging, horses galloping, owls and bats swooping.  Amid so much activity, it doesn’t seem possible that some simply cease to be.

An ancient apple tree mysteriously topples over one morning, a beloved riding horse dies of colic, another dies of lymphoma, an old cat finds her final resting place in the hay loft, another old cat naps forever under a tree,  a newborn foal fails to break free of its amniotic sac, another foal delivered unexpectedly and prematurely lies still and lifeless in the shavings of the stall, a vibrantly alive dog is put to sleep due to a growing tumor,  an old dog passes during an afternoon nap, a predator raids the dove cage and leaves behind carnage, our woods bears its own tragic history.

Yet, as often as it happens,  there is a unique particularity about the end of life.  The stillness of death permits a full appreciation of who this individual is, the remarkable care that went into creating every molecule of its being.

The sudden presence of absence is a stark and necessary reminder of what I myself want to leave behind.

In truth, we will glow with residual celestial heat, still warm even after our hearts cease to beat.  We are distinct individuals in our own particularity:  living and dying at a particular time and place as a unique creature, given a chance in the cosmos of infinite possibilities.  The Creator knit us together specially, every feather, hair, bone and sinew a unique work of His Hands, and what we do with what we are given is the stuff between our first God-given breath and our last, handed back to Him.

May we not squander our particular role in the history of the world.

 

redfinch

 

evening72182

 

ladderup

 

 

Not a Leg to Stand On

mourning_dove_birds_eye_view

Three weeks old
when his mother allowed me
a peek in the nest
to spy his fledging wings;
he did his best to hide beneath her.

It was another week before
it was clear
this little dove could not stand or perch,
his deformed legs sprawled
and spraddled aside.

He flopped rather than hopped
out of the nest at five weeks,
fluttering to the cage floor
in search of a world
outside his mother’s wings.

Crouched next to seed and water
he fed himself, tucked in a corner
watching the other doves come and go.
Soon he jumped out the door
to join them.

Now it was up to me:
walk away or put feed and water
on the ground where he could reach.
His desire to live so strong,
his voice just forming in his throat.

Now two months later I fret
as the night grows chill
and the rain falls,
his makeshift shelter will fail
to protect him.

He can not stand
and will never fly,
yet he sings
and does only
so my heart may hear.

 

 

A Nation-Healing Tree of Life

eaglecouple2

morningbird

Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray–
For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife.
Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest
May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast
Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;–
Moveless there sit through all the burning day,
And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay.
~George MacDonald from Diary of an Old Soul

octevening2910

There can be no response today but to bow in earnest prayer, waiting for the hatch of a healing peace among the diverse peoples and opinions of our nation.

Our lives are half-fledged, not yet fully delivered nor understood, doubt burning into our flesh like thorns on fire.  We are an angry and hurting nation — today becoming those who won and those who lost.  The gloating bloats who we are, beyond recognition.

May our prayers rise like a dove from hearts in turmoil,  once again to soar on the wings of eagles.

Peace, come quickly.
Be no longer moveless.
Move us to higher ground.
Plow deep our hearts.

fallleaf162

octevening298

A Hollow to be Hallowed

We are being warned by local meteorologists that the Pacific Northwest will be hit by a powerful windstorm blowing in off the ocean over the next two days.  We are told to “batten down the hatches” and prepare for power outages.  This reminds me of another November windstorm a few years ago that took down a ninety plus year old orchard tree on our farm.

The old Spitzenberg tree, the favorite variety of Thomas Jefferson, had been failing over the previous ten years. It was rotting centrally with holes that housed squirrels and their treasure trove of filbert nuts, and bearing fruit that was startling red and sweet but diminishingly small and scabbed, dropping to the ground beneath like so many drops of blood. Blue jays loved the branches and quarreled relentlessly with the squirrels over prime real estate and mountain view property in the crown of the tree.

No more. As it was eased on to its side in the night storm, swept up in the torrent of air and rain, it went quite peacefully, gracefully with nary a broken branch as they reached out to touch the ground, almost gratefully, breaking neatly at the base of its trunk, not even disturbing the sod. The roots remain covered underground, still clinging to rocky soil, with no where to pump to any longer. The old tree had simply bled out.

Somehow we needed to dispose of the remains. As my husband made several chain saw cuts through the trunk to make pieces easily movable, the extent of the astonishing hole in this old tree became visible. It was suffering from an extreme equivalent of human osteoporosis with a brittle skeleton that somehow had lasted through innumerable windstorms until this week, even while still bearing apples, still trying its best to be fruitful.

When it fell, the trunk oriented itself so it provided a view right through to the barnyard down the hill, telescoping what the tree had surveyed for so many years of its life. Clearly this had been a holey trunk for some years; within the cavity at the base were piles of different size rocks stashed there by the Lawrence children two generations ago and more recently our Gibson children. There was also a large tarnished spoon, lost decades ago into the dark center of the apple tree and now retrieved at its death. At some point in the last quarter century, a Gibson child playing a farm version of frisbee golf must have flung a bucket lid at the hole in the tree, and it disappeared into the gap and settled at the bottom.

All this, like a treasure trove of history, was just waiting for the time when the tree would give up its secrets at its death. There were no gold or silver coins, no notes to the future like a glass bottle put out to sea. This well hidden time capsule held simply rocks and spoon and lid.

I realized as I stared into the gulf of that empty trunk that I’m hollow too, more hollow than I care to admit. Like so many of us, stuff is hidden deep inside that we’d just as soon not have discovered. Our outside scaffolding braces against the buffeting by the winds and storms of life, as we cling to this mortal soil. It is clear we’d be much stronger if we were wholly solid throughout, filled with something stronger even than our outsides.

But we tend to get filled up with a lot of nothing, or even worse than nothing, a lot of garbage. This is stuff that weakens us, furthers the rot, shortens our fruitful life, doing nothing to make us more whole and holy.

I’m looking more critically now at what fills my empty spots since staring down the barrel of that old apple tree trunk. May the hollow be hallowed.

The Muttering Hens

johnshens
hayfield
frontyard2915
Every few minutes, he wants
to march the trail of flattened rye grass
back to the house of muttering
hens. He too could make
a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh
it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it
to his ear while the other children
laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him,
so little yet, too forgetful in games,
ready to cry if the ball brushed him,
riveted to the secret of birds
caught up inside his fist,
not ready to give it over
to the refrigerator
or the rest of the day.
~Naomi Shibab Nye “Boy and Egg”
fresheggs

Gathering eggs on my childhood farm
was a source of wonder and terror:
the amazing pleasure of reaching under a downy breast
to wrap my fingers around a smooth warm wholeness;
overcoming the fear of a hen muttering under her breath
and defending what is rightfully hers
and not mine.
It was a game of chicken
in the truest sense,
a stand-off between four year old farmgirl
and two year old hen.
We locked each other’s eyes
while I held the egg,
and I will never let go,
not now,
not ever.
chicken2
briarcroftponies

What I’m Meant to Be

treeclimbers

 

treeclimbers1

 

(to my three good friends from down the road who love our big leaf maple tree, and who always request this song when I’m playing piano for Sunday School at Wiser Lake Chapel)

 

I’ve got roots growing down to the water,
I’ve got leaves growing up to the sunshine and the fruit that I bear is a sign of life in me,
I am shade from the hot summer sundown,
I am nest for the birds of the heaven,
I’m becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be.
A strong young tree….

~Ken Medema from “The Tree Song”

 

 

treeclimbers3

Crooked Furrow

 

photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard

My father swerves the team
to miss the quail’s nest
hidden in the furrow
she rises up beating her wings
her cries fill all the world
of sky and cloud echoing her call…

and so he passes
the caring farmer with his crooked furrow
saluting life the warm round eggs
hidden in the spring grass
the quail rising and falling
pulled by invisible heartstrings.
~Dorothy Hewitt  “Quail’s Nest”

 

I remember my father driving a stake
where the killdeer nest held 6 speckled eggs,
and the mother would run off crying,
flapping and appearing wounded
to lure him away from her precious brood.

He would drive the plow around those nests,
marking their spot for the season,
respecting their presence,
preserving their future,
without anyone telling him
he should or he must
because his heart told him
it was the right thing to do.

thank you to Joel DeWaard for giving me permission to use his recent photos from the Lynden International Plowing Match that takes place just down the road apiece.

photo by Joel DeWaard
photo by Joel DeWaard