…Then how his muffled armies move in all night And we wake and every road is blockaded Every hill taken and every farm occupied And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling. And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming We have to watch more coming.
Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world Is a bridesmaid at her miracle. Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle. The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood Are a wedding of lace Now taking place. ~Ted Hughes from “Snow and Snow”
I wish one could press snowflakes in a book like flowers. ~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”
It’s true that three snow days in a row is unprecedented in our part of the world. Being snowbound by driveway-blocking drifts has its advantages until it isn’t fun any longer and means even more work to be done both on and off the farm, especially for a physician stranded from her closed clinic.
I’ve been doing my best taking care of our clinic’s patients via messaging, text and other media, but there is a limit to my virtual reach: I can’t palpate a tender belly, or feel swollen lymph nodes or listen to someone’s palpitations, though it is a little easier to discern despair, anticipate anxiety and work out someone’s worries from afar.
But I do have a view of the wedding lace of our woods and the sparkling chapels made of our tired old barns and buildings on the farm. I’m reminded that even I can be dressed up with a covering as white as snow. So lovely to look at, if only to be preserved for the long summer days that lie ahead — a wilting snowflake pressed into a book like a flower remembered, its fragrance still attached.
Deep in the grip of the midwinter cold The stars glitter and sparkle. All are asleep on this lonely farm, Deep in the winter night. The pale white moon is a wanderer, snow gleams white on pine and fir, snow gleams white on the roofs. Only tomten is awake.
Rubs his hand through his beard and hair, Shakes his head and his cap. Turns at his own command, Turns to the task at hand. He must appreciate what life he’s got By finding ways to tie time’s knot.
The ponies dream on in the cold moon’s light, Summer dreams in each stall. And free of harness and whip and rein, Tomten starts to twist and twirl each mane While the manger they drowse over Brims with fragrant clover.
Still is the forest and all the land, Locked in this wintry year. Only the distant waterfall Whispers and sighs in his ear. The tomten listens and, half in dream, Thinks that he hears Time’s endless stream, And wonders, how can its knots be bound? Where will its eternal source to be found? ~adapted from “Tomten” by Viktor Rydberg
It is hard to say exactly when the first one moved in. This farm was distinctly gnome-less when we bought it, largely due to twenty-seven hungry barn cats residing here at the time, in various stages of pregnancy, growth, development and aging. It took awhile for the feline numbers to whittle down to an equilibrium that matched the rodent population. In the mean time, our horse numbers increased from three to seven to over fifteen with a resultant exponential increase in barn chores. One winter twenty years ago, I was surprised to walk in the barn one morning to find numerous complex knots tied in the Haflingers’ manes. Puzzling as I took precious time to undo them, (literally adding hours to my chores), I knew I needed to find the cause or culprit.
It took some research to determine the probable origin of these tight tangles. Based on everything I read, they appeared to be the work of Gernumbli faenilesi, a usually transient species of gnome called “tomtens” preferring to live in barns and haylofts in close proximity to heavy maned ponies. In this case, as the tangles persisted for months, they clearly had moved in, lock, stock and barrel. The complicated knots were their signature pride and joy, their artistic way of showing their devotion to a happy farm and trying to slow down time so they can stay in residence eternally.
All well and good, but the extra work was killing my fingers and thinning my horses’ hair. I plotted ways to get them to cease and desist.
I set live traps of cheese and peanut butter cracker sandwiches, hoping to lure them into cages for a “catch and release”. Hoping to drive them away, I played polka music on the radio in the barn at night. Hoping to be preemptive, I braided the manes up to be less tempting but even those got twisted and jumbled. Just as I was becoming ever more desperate and about to bring in more feral cats, the tangling stopped.
It appeared the tomtens had moved on to a more hospitable habitat. I had succeeded in my gnome eradication plan. Or so I thought.
Not long after, I had the distinct feeling of being watched as I walked past some rose bushes in the yard. I stopped to take a look, expecting to spy the shining eyes of one of the pesky raccoons that frequents our yard to steal from the cats’ food dish. Instead, beneath the thorny foliage, I saw two round blue eyes peering at me serenely. This little gal was not at all intimidated by me, and made no move to escape. She was an ideal example of Gernumbli gardensi, a garden gnome known for their ability to keep varmints and vermin away from plants and flowers. They also happen to actively feud with Gernumbli Faenilesi so that explained the sudden disappearance of my little knot-tying pests in the barn.
It wasn’t long before more Gardensi moved in, a gnomey infestation. They tended to arrive in pairs and bunches, liked to play music, smoked pipes, played on a teeter totter, worked with garden tools, took naps on sun-warmed rocks and one even preferred a swing. They are a bit of a rowdy bunch but I enjoy their happy presence and jovial demeanor.
As long as they continue to coexist peaceably with us and each other, keep the varmints and their knot tying cousins away, and avoid bad habits and swear words, I’m quite happy they are here. Actually, I’ve given them the run of the place. I’ve been told to be cautious as there are now news reports of an even more invasive species of gnome, Gernumbli kitschsi, that could move in and take over if I’m not careful.
I shudder to think. One has to consider the neighborhood.
She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation! How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes-or, to give them their correct names, the Gernumbli gardensi. ‘Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words,’ said Ron… ~J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
I do not know what gorgeous thing the bluebird keeps saying, his voice easing out of his throat, beak, body into the pink air of the early morning. I like it whatever it is. Sometimes it seems the only thing in the world that is without dark thoughts. Sometimes it seems the only thing in the world that is without questions that can’t and probably never will be answered, the only thing that is entirely content with the pink, then clear white morning and, gratefully, says so. ~Mary Oliver “What Gorgeous Thing” from Blue Horses by Penguin Press
We are experiencing a short reprieve this week from gray and drear and rain and typical April chill temperatures. It is suddenly fantastically spring, all in a big headlong rush toward summer. Our windows are wide open, there are apple-blossom breezes wafting through the house, the bees are busy, the birds singing at the top of their lungs as soon as daylight appears at 5:15AM.
What gorgeous thing it is to see and hear and smell and taste this glory if only for a day or two. So full of promise and potential.
Even if, as predicted,
the rain returns this weekend,
even if the grey clouds come back hovering heavily on our shoulders,
even if the air no longer carries forth this incredible perfume,
it did happen
and for the moment,
just a moment,
the world felt entirely content to simply be.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows. My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make. ~Robert Frost in “Mowing”
The grass around our orchard and yet-to-be-planted garden is now thigh-high. It practically squeaks while it grows. Anything that used to be in plain sight on the ground is rapidly being swallowed up in a sea of green: a ball, a pet dish, a garden gnome, a hose, a tractor implement, a bucket. In an effort to stem this tidal flood of grass, I grab the scythe out of the garden shed and plan my attack. The pastures are too wet yet for heavy hooves so I have hungry horses to provide for and there is more than plenty fodder to cut down for them.
I’m not a weed whacker kind of gal. First there is the necessary fuel, the noise necessitating ear plugs, the risk of flying particles requiring goggles–it all seems too much like and act of war to be remotely enjoyable. Instead, I’m trying to take scything lessons from my husband. Emphasis on “trying”.
I grew up watching my father scythe our hay in our field because he couldn’t afford a mower for his tractor. He enjoyed physical labor in the fields and woods–his other favorite hand tool was a brush cutter that he’d take to blackberry bushes. He would head out to the field with the scythe over this shoulder, grim reaper style. Once he was standing on the edge of the grass needing to be mowed, he would then lower the scythe, curved blade to the ground, turn slightly, positioning his hands on the two handles just so, raise the scythe up past his shoulders, and then in a full body twist almost like a golf swing, he’d bring the blade down. It would follow a smooth arc through the base of the standing grass, laying clumps flat in a tidy pile alongside the 2 inch stubble left behind. It was a swift, silky muscle movement — a thing of beauty.
I’ve yet to manage anything nearly as graceful. I tend to chop and mangle rather than effect an efficient slicing blow. I unintentionally trample the grass I mean to cut. I get blisters from holding the handles too tightly. It feels hopeless that I’ll ever perfect that whispery rise and fall of the scythe, with the rhythmic shush sound of the slice that is almost hypnotic.
Not only am I an ineffective scything human, but I have also learned what it is like to be the grass I am unintentionally mutilating, on the receiving end of a glancing blow that misses the mark. I bear plenty of footprints from the trampling. It can take awhile to stand back up after being knocked repeatedly to the ground.
Sometimes it makes more sense to simply start over as stubble, oozing and bleeding green, with deep roots that no one can reach. As I grow back, I will sing rather than squeak, and I’ll forgive the scythe every time it comes down on my head.
I wished to wade in the trillium and be warmed near the white flames. I imagined the arch of my foot massaged by the mosses. This field immersed in gravity defying growth. Green and glorious. It let me know that out of the soil came I, and green I shall be. Whether an unnamed weed or a wild strawberry I will join in the hymn. ~Luci Shaw from “Spring Song, Very Early Morning”
Spring is finally in full swing here on the farm. Grass grows so fast that mowing could be a twice a week activity, dandelions are dotting the fields in a yellow carpet, the flowering plums and cherries are peaking, the daffodils are spent and the tulips are bursting forth.
The koi and goldfish in our pond have decided to surface from underneath all the winter debris and have grown to another 6 inches over the winter and now are busy feasting on mosquito larvae as the insects have awakened as well. At times I feel so overwhelmed by the accelerated pace of growth and activity that I sheepishly long for the dark quiet gray days of winter, if just for the respite of a nap.
Instead of a nap, I hunt for trillium. They are the traditional harbinger of spring and without them, it all seems like just so much pretending. These are somber plants that will only grow in certain conditions of woods and shade, with leafy mulched soil. Once established, they reliably spring up from their bulbs every spring with their rich green trio of leaves on each stem that are at once soft and slightly shimmery, and at the top the purest of three white petals, one per leaf cluster. The blossoms last a week or two, then turn purplish and fade away, followed weeks later by the fading of the foliage, not to arise again from the soil until the following year.
Picking a trillium blossom necessitates picking the leaf foliage beneath it, and that in turn destroys the bulb’s ability to nourish and regenerate, and the plant never forms again. I think I have known this from my earliest childhood days as I was a compulsive wildflower gatherer as a little kid, having devastated more than my share of trillium bulbs until I learned the awful truth of the damage I had done. I have since treated them as sacrosanct and untouchable.
There are trillium blossoms to be found on our farm, a few steadfast survivors, yet completely vulnerable to someone’s impulse to bring the beauty indoors for a few days in a vase. What a tenuous grip on life when people are desiring to pluck them, with their resulting oblivion. How unknowingly destructive we are in our blind selfish pursuit of beauty for our own pleasure and purposes. These pure triad blossoms and leaves, representing all that is preciously drawn from the earth and enriched and nourished by sunlight, can be obliterated, never to return, never to bloom, never to rise again from the dust to be green and glorious.
How much more precious is that which rises again to bloom and flourish forever despite our senseless destructiveness? And He is here, among us, waiting for us, forgiving us for our thoughtless actions.
I look at the trillium longingly, wanting to touch them, wanting to own them and hold them, and knowing I never will. They are meant to stay where they are, as I hope to remain, rooted and thriving, yet still fragile in the everlasting soil of life.
I wish one could press snowflakes in a book like flowers. ~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”
More snow predicted before winter is done with us.
Despite my fervor for spring, lit by the appearance of a snow drop here and a crocus there, I still want to acknowledge this winter for the adventure it has been:
like a momento snowflake preserved between two pages, it fades quickly from memory but the damp spot remains behind. It is not lost — simply a mere wrinkle in time.