My hands are torn by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced by my ulcer, not a lance. ~Hayden Carruth from “Emergency Haying”
Blessed are the miles of baling twine encircling tons of hay in our barn, twice daily cut loose, freed of grasses and hung up to reuse again in myriad ways:
~~tighten a sagging fence latch a swinging gate tie shut a gaping door replace a broken handle hang a water bucket suspend a sagging overalls fix a broken halter entertain a bored barn cat snug a horse blanket belt~~
Blessed be this duct tape of the barn when even duct tape won’t work; a fix-all handy in every farmer’s pocket made beautiful by a morning fog’s weeping.
My farm work gloves look beat up after a year of service. They keep me from blistering while forking innumerable loads of smelly manure into wheelbarrows, but also help me unkink frozen hoses, tear away blackberry vines from fencing, pull thistle from the field and heavy hay bales from the haymow. Over the years, I’ve gone through several dozen gloves, which have protected my hands as I’ve cleaned and bandaged deep wounds on legs and hooves, pulled on foals during the hard contractions of difficult births, held the head of dying animals as they sleep one final time.
Without my work gloves over the years, my hands would be full of rips and holes from the thorns and barbs of the world, sustaining scratches, callouses and blisters from the hard work of life.
But they aren’t scarred and wounded.
Thanks to these gloves, I’m presentable for my “day” work as a doctor where I don a different set of gloves many times a day.
The gloves don’t tell the whole story of my gratitude.
I’m thankful to a Creator God who doesn’t need to wear gloves when He goes to work in our world.
Who gathers us up even when we are dirty, smelly, and unworthy.
Who eases us into this life when we are vulnerable and weak,
and carries us gently home as we leave this world, weak and vulnerable.
Who holds us as we bleed from self and other-inflicted wounds.
Who won’t let us go, even when we fight back, or try not to pay attention, or care who He is.
And who came to us
with hands like ours~
tender, beautiful, easy to wound hands
because He didn’t need to wear gloves~
The smell of that buttered toast simply spoke to Toad, and with no uncertain voice;
talked of warm kitchens,
of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings,
of cozy parlour firesides on winter evenings,
when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender;
of the purring of contented cats,
and the twitter of sleepy canaries. ~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
I’m not a practitioner of the ancient art of aromatherapy for medicinal purposes but I do know certain smells transport me more effectively than any other mode of travel. One whiff of a familiar scent can take me back years to another decade and place, almost in time traveling mode. I am so in the moment, both present and past, my brain sees, hears, tastes, feels everything just as it was before.
The most vivid are kitchen smells, to be sure. Cinnamon becomes my Grandma’s farm kitchen full of rising breakfast rolls, roasting turkey is my mother’s chaotic kitchen on Thanksgiving Day, fresh baked bread is my own kitchen during those years I needed to knead as therapy during medical training.
Sometimes I have the privilege of holding infants whose skin smells of baby shampoo and powder, so like the soft velvet of my own childrens’. The newly born wet fur of my foals carries the sweet and sour amnion that was part of every birth I’ve been part of: delivering others and delivering my own. My heart races at the memory of the drama of those first breaths.
The garden yields its own treasure: tea roses, sweet peas, heliotrope, mint, lemon verbena and lemon blossom take me back to lazy breezes wafting through open bedroom windows in my childhood home. And of course the richness of petrichor: the fragrance of the earth after a long awaited rain will remind me of how things smell after a dry spell.
I doubt any aromatherapy kit available includes my most favorite farm smells: newly mown hay, fresh fir shavings for stall bedding, the mustiness of the manure pile, the green sweetness of a horses’ breath.
Someday I’ll figure out how to bottle all these up to keep forever. Years from now my rambles will be over, when I’m too feeble to walk to the barn or be part of the hay harvest crew any longer, I can sit by my fireplace, close my eyes, open it up and take a whiff now and then and remind me of all I’m grateful for. It’ll take me back to a day just like today when I cooked in the kitchen, held a friend’s sweet infant, moved hay to the horses and cleaned the barn:
I’ll breathe deeply of the smells that speak to me with no uncertain voice.
When I work outdoors all day, every day, as I do now, in the fall, getting ready for winter, tearing up the garden, digging potatoes, gathering the squash, cutting firewood, making kindling, repairing bridges over the brook, clearing trails in the woods, doing the last of the fall mowing, pruning apple trees, taking down the screens, putting up the storm windows, banking the house—all these things, as preparation for the coming cold…
when I am every day all day all body and no mind, when I am physically, wholly and completely, in this world with the birds, the deer, the sky, the wind, the trees…
when day after day I think of nothing but what the next chore is, when I go from clearing woods roads, to sharpening a chain saw, to changing the oil in a mower, to stacking wood, when I am all body and no mind…
when I am only here and now and nowhere else—then, and only then, do I see the crippling power of mind, the curse of thought, and I pause and wonder why I so seldom find this shining moment in the now. ~David Budbill “The Shining Moment in the Now”
I spend only a small part of my day doing physical work – clearly not enough – as most of my waking time is spent almost entirely within the confines of my skull.
It is too much “internal” time, to be sure. My body needs to lift and push and dig and toss so I head outside on the farm twice daily to do farm chores. This physical activity gives me the opportunity to be “in the moment” and not crushed under “what was, what is, what needs to be and what possibly could be” happening mostly in my head.
I’m grateful for some tenuous balance in my life, knowing as I do that I would not make a good full time farmer. There is comfort in the glow of those moments of “living it now” rather than dwelling endlessly in my mind about the past or the future.
Toward the end of August I begin to dream about fall, how this place will empty of people, the air will get cold and leaves begin to turn. Everything will quiet down, everything will become a skeleton of its summer self. Toward
the end of August I get nostalgic for what’s to come, for that quiet time, time alone, peace and stillness, calm, all those things the summer doesn’t have. The woodshed is already full, the kindling’s in, the last of the garden soon
will be harvested, and then there will be nothing left to do but watch fall play itself out, the earth freeze, winter come. ~David Budbill “Toward the End of August”
As the calendar page flips to September this morning, I feel nostalgic for what is coming.
Summer is filled with so much overwhelming activity due to ~18 hours of daylight accompanying weeks of unending sunny weather resulting in never-enough-sleep. Waking on a summer morning feels so brim full with possibilities: there are places to go, people to see, new things to explore and of course, a garden and orchard always bearing and fruiting out of control.
As early September days usher us toward autumn, we long for the more predictable routine of school days, so ripe with new learning opportunities. This week my teacher friend Bonnie orchestrated an innovative introduction to fifth grade by asking her students, with some parental assistance, to make (from scratch) their own personalized school desks that will go home with them at the end of the year. These students have created their own learning center with their brains and hands, with wood-burned and painted designs, pictures and quotes for daily encouragement.
For those students, their desks will always represent a solid reminder of what has been and what is to come.
So too, I welcome September’s quieting times ushering in a new cool freshness in the air as breezes pluck and toss a few drying leaves from the trees. I will watch the days play themselves out rather than feeling I must direct each moment. I can be a sponge.
Each morning as I rise to let the horses out to graze for the day,
I’m once again that girl who woke early
to climb on horseback to greet the summer dawn,
with mist in my hair and dew on my boots,
picking ripe blackberries and blueberries as we rode past.
The angled light always drew sharper shadow lines as the sun rose
until I knew it was time to turn around, each hoof step taking us home
to clean barn, do chores, hang the laundry, weed the garden until sunset.
All day he’s shoveled green pine sawdust out of the trailer truck into the chute. From time to time he’s clambered down to even the pile. Now his hair is frosted with sawdust. Little rivers of sawdust pour out of his boots.
I hope in the afterlife there’s none of this stuff he says, while I broom off his jeans, his sweater flocked with granules, his immersed-in-sawdust socks. I hope there’s no bedding, no stalls, no barn
no more repairs to the paddock gate the horses burst through when snow avalanches off the roof. Although the old broodmare, our first foal, is his, horses, he’s fond of saying, make divorces.
let’s walk up to the field and catch the sunset and off we go, a couple of aging fools.
I hope, he says, on the other side there’s a lot less work, but just in case I’m bringing tools.
~Maxine Kumin from “Chores”
They do not speak,
And when they speak at last it is to say
What each one knows the other knows. They have
One mind between them, now…
~Wendell Berry from “They Sit Together on the Porch”
We know that comfortable silence when all that needs to be said is said and the rest is shared without words. And so it will be.
Two weeks from now, you’ll pack up the files in your desk, box up the legal books, take down the diplomas from your office wall, and close the door on a long lawyering life. The next day you’ll pull on your worn-thin coveralls, lace up your work boots, grab your cap and head out to the barn and wonder what needs fixing next.
There is so much to be done yet, so many tools to use, so much more to be lived.
Let’s walk up the field to catch the sunset, just a couple of aging fools.