The Winding Pathway of Least Resistance

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.
~Sam Walter Foss “Cow Path”


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

I struggle in late middle age to keep perspective while traveling this road of life, looking back at where I’ve been, and hoping for the best about where I’m headed, and trying to stick to the winding path ahead without deviation.  My regret about this journey is that I haven’t stopped nearly often enough to simply take in the scenery, listen to the birds, smell the orchard blossoms, and feel the grass under my bare feet.

It is the conundrum of following the cow path laid down before me, traveling the well-worn pathway of precedent.

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 or a boulder obstructing the way.  Still I follow the curve, dodge the boulder, tread the zig zag. My path may appear random without focus on the destination and that’s okay:   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 which path I’ve traveled to my eventual destination but the quality of my journey along the way.

I enjoy the twists and turns of life if I take the time to appreciate them.  Just maybe – I’ll throw in a few curves of my own for those who are following behind me.


The Heart of the Field

sam7months
photo by Nate Gibson

 

 

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Remember that meadow up above the ridge
where the dog ran around in circles
and we were tired from the climb up
and everything was tilted sideways
including the running in circles
of the ecstatic dog his bright tongue
lapping at the air and we were
leaning into the heart of the field
where no battle ever took place
where no farmer ever bothered
to turn the soil yet everything
seemed to have happened there everything
seemed to be happening at once enough
so we’ve never forgotten how full the field
was and how we were there too and full
~Tim Nolan “The Field”

 

 

 

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This hill on our farm is for running, for sunning, for lolling, for rolling, for pondering, for wandering.
With dogs or without them, our time spent here is full and fulfilling.

 

 

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damppups

 

 

 

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Memorizing End of Summer Light

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For today, I will memorize
the two trees now in end-of-summer light

and the drifts of wood asters as the yard slopes away toward
the black pond, blue

dragonflies
in the clouds that shine and float there, as if risen

from the bottom, unbidden. Now, just over the fern—
quick—a glimpse of it,

the plume, a fox-tail’s copper, as the dog runs in ovals and eights,
chasing scent.

The yard is a waiting room. I have my chair. You, yours.

The hawk has its branch in the pine.

White petals ripple in the quiet light. 
~Margaret Gibson from “Solitudes”

 

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I want to memorize it all before it changes:
the shift of sun from north to south
balances on our east- west road at equinox.

The flow of geese overhead, honking and waving farewell,
hawks’ screams in the firs,
dragonflies trapped in the barn light fixtures
several generations of coyotes hollering at dusk.

The koi pond quiets with cooler nights,
hair thickens on horses, cats and dogs,
dying back of the garden vines to reveal what lies unharvested beneath.

We part again, Summer –
your gifts were endless
until you ended.

I sit silenced and brooding, waiting for what comes next.

 

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homer918

 

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A Council of Clowns

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Coyotes have the gift of seldom being seen; they keep to the edge of vision and beyond, loping in and out of cover on the plains and highlands. And at night, when the whole world belongs to them, they parley at the river with the dogs, their higher, sharper voices full of authority and rebuke. They are an old council of clowns, and they are listened to.
N. Scott Momaday in House Made of Dawn

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On summer nights like this, with light just fading from the sky at 10 PM, it will be only a few minutes before the local coyote choristers begin their nightly serenade.   This can be a surround-sound experience with coyote packs echoing back and forth from distant corners of farmland and woodlands below the hill where we live.  Their shrill yipping and yapping song, with hollering, chortling and hooting, is impossible to ignore just as it is time to go to sleep.  Like priming a pump, the rise and fall of the coyote ensemble inevitably inspires the farm dogs to tune up, exercising their vocal cords with a howl or two.  It becomes canine bedlam outside our windows, right at bedtime.

Coyotes send a mixed message:  they insist on being heard and listened to, yet are seldom visible.  In a rare sighting, it is a low slung slinking form scooting across a field with a rabbit in its mouth, or patiently waiting at a fence line as a new calf is born, hoping to duck in and grab the placenta before the cow notices.   They are not particularly brave nor bold yet they insist on commanding attention and ear drums.

Irritating not only for their ill-timed concerts, they also have a propensity for thieving sleeping chickens from coop roosts in the night.  Despite my disgust for that behavior, I have to grudgingly admire such independent self sufficient characters.   They do know how to take care of themselves in a dog-eat-dog world, primarily by eating whatever they can get their jaws around and carry away, no matter who it may belong to.

I can just envision this old council of clowns gathered around giggling and sniggering in the dark at their own silly stories of the hunt.   As I listen from a distance, sometimes just a few yards, sometimes miles, I wish to be let in on the joke.

Just once I want to howl back, plaintive, pleading, pejorative–another bozo adding my voice to the noisy nocturnal chorus– hoping somebody, anybody might listen, hear and join in the laughter.

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A Residual Celestial Heat

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“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”

 

 

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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.

 

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The Blessing of Hairy Toes

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“May the hair on your toes never fall out!”
— J.R.R. Tolkien in The Hobbit (Thorin Oakenshield addressing Bilbo Baggins)

 

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It’s a safe bet my toes and your toes have never been subjected to a blessing.   But I like the idea of being blest starting from the bottom up,  encompassing my most humble and homely parts first.

The world would be a better place if we rediscovered the art of bestowing blessings–those specific prayers of favor and protection that reinforce community and connection to each other and to something larger than ourselves.   They have become passé in a modern society where God’s relationship with and blessing of His people is not much more than an after-thought.   Benedictions can extend beyond the end of worship services to all tender partings;  wedding receptions can go beyond roasting and toasting to encompass sincere prayers for a future life together.

But let’s start at the very beginning: let’s bless our hairy toes.

That is a very good place to start…

 

homer818

 

“I can, with one eye squinted, take it all as a blessing.” 
— Flannery O’Connor

 

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May you always have…
Walls for the winds
A roof for the rain
Tea beside the fire
Laughter to cheer you
Those you love near you
And all your heart might desire

May those who love us, love us;
and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles
so we’ll know them by their limping.
Traditional Irish Blessing

 

homerroller

That Rank Odor of Passing Springtime

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With what deep thirst
we quicken our desires
to that rank odor of a passing springtime!

Must you taste everything? Must you know everything?
Must you have a part in everything?
~William Carlos Williams from “Smell”

 

notadeaddog

 

I realize I am not so different than my dogs rolling happily in the stinkiest thing they can find  – I want to taste and know and be part of everything whether it is good or not:

I tend to douse myself with whatever I wish to carry with me through the rest of my days, even if smelling like something just died repels others.

Maybe, like my dogs, it is to conceal who I really am.

Maybe, like my dogs, I would rather fit in with the barnyard than a palace.

Or maybe, just like my dogs, I simply like getting down and dirty and too proud of it.

Human nature being what it is — the desire to blend in with the world’s sordid and sin-ridden surroundings — this is why I, like my dogs, am in constant need of a good bathing.
It would be best to smell like that rank odor of too-swiftly passing springtimes – we all need a renewal and reminder of our rebirth rather than immersion in the stench of death.

May I, like my dogs,
recognize I must be cleansed –
again and again and again.

 

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