An Olfactory Journey

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“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 how effectively smells can transport me than any other mode of travel.  One whiff of a familiar scent can instantly take me back years to another decade and place, almost in time traveling mode.  I am so suspended in the moment, both present and past, my brain sees, hears, tastes, feels everything as it was before.

The most vivid are kitchen smells, to be sure.  Cinnamon takes me back to my Grandma’s farm house, roasting turkey to my mother’s early morning labors on Thanksgiving Day, fresh baked bread to the years I needed to knead as tactile therapy during medical school training.

Today it is the smell of oatmeal on the stove that reminds me of those frosty winter mornings rushing to get out the door in time to catch the bus for the long ride to school.

It’s not just food smells.  When I have the privilege of babysitting infants, I drink in their smell of baby shampoo and powder, so like the soft velvety smell of my own children a quarter century ago.   Out in the barn, 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.

My garden yields its own treasures: tea roses, sweet peas, heliotrope, lemon blossom take me back to lazy breezes past blossoms planted along the house, wafting through open bedroom windows.  The fragrance of the earth after a long awaited rain– petrichor — reminds me of dusty dry summers crying for relief.

I doubt any aromatherapy kit would include my most favorite–the 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 on hand 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 with a purring contented cat, listening to the soft rolling twitter of my sleepy canary, then close my eyes, open this bottle of memories and take a whiff now and then.

What a journey I will take, back to a day like today, a day that speaks to me with no uncertain voice.

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So Gruntled

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I was introduced to the word gruntled  a few years ago and instantly knew what it was meant to describe– that unsurpassed feeling of contentment.

 

the rumbling vibration of a cat’s purr,
flannel sheets warmed when wind and snow blur,

a filling meal of fresh home grown food
a cow chewing cud, eyes closed in serene mood,

the slow wakening after a full night’s sleep,
a pig’s wallow in cool mud so deep,

the low-throated nicker of a mare to her foal,
a tub of warm water when muscles exert a toll,

the sucking hungry baby in rocking chair bliss,
a cuddle in jammies before bed with a book not to miss.
~Emily Gibson

 

And so every day, I seek the momentary and fleeting bliss of gruntlement.  So simple, so honest, so true, so gruntled.

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Foggy and Fine Days

 

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The weather and my mood have little connection.
I have my foggy and my fine days within me;
my prosperity or misfortune has little to do with the matter.
- Blaise Pascal

There has been freezing fog the last several mornings when I’ve gone out to do barn chores. This is fog that literally sticks to the world, dripping in tiny icicles from everything, swallowing up all visible landscape, hushing bird song, erasing all color, homogenizing everything.

It also sucks up my horses as I send them out to the field from the barn. They lead slowly out to the gate, sniffing the wet cold air, hesitant to be turned out into the grey sea surrounding them. What is there to eat out here in this murk? Each one, when turned loose, wanders into the soup, disappearing, as if never to be seen again. One by one they move boldly forward to look for their buddies, although seeing nothing, hearing nothing, smelling nothing–lost and alone and bewildered until somehow they meet up in the mist.

I muse at their initial confusion and then their utter conviction there must be “something out there” worth finding. They are dependent on all the usual cues–visual, auditory, olfactory–all useless in the fog. Instead they rely on some inner sonar to find each other and bunch together in a protective knot, drops of fog dew clinging to their manes, their eyelashes and their muzzle whiskers. As day wears on, the fog dissipates, their coats dry under the warming sun, and the colors of the fields and trees and palomino horses emerge from the cocoon of haze.

Too often I feel lost in fog too–disconnected, afloat and circling aimlessly, searching for a touch point of purpose and direction and anything that is not smothering and gray. Perhaps I’ll bump into a fellow fog wanderer and we’ll remain knotted together, relieved in the connection to something solid and familiar. The isolation I sometimes feel may simply be a self-absorbed state of mind, sucking me in deep, separating me from others, distancing me from joy. I’m soaked, dripping and shivering.

If I only had the faith of my horses in the mist, I’d charge into the fog fearlessly, knowing there are others out there ready to band together for company, comfort and support, to await the sun. When that warm rejuvenation arrives, though not always as quickly as I would wish for, it will be enough to dry my whiskers, put color back in my cheeks and refresh my hopes and dreams.

Being lost in the fog is never forever.  The sun is always up there somewhere and all will be fine.

 

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Best of Barnstorming Photos Summer/Fall 2014

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photo by Tomomi Gibson

photo by Tomomi Gibson

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Awaiting His Arrival: From Burdened to Blessed

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The winds were scornful,
Passing by;
And gathering Angels
Wondered why

A burdened Mother
Did not mind
That only animals
Were kind.

For who in all the world
Could guess
That God would search out
Loneliness.
~Sr. M. Chrysostom, O.S.B.  “The Stable”

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Twenty Nine Halloweens

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On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress,  grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car and headed north out of Seattle. I don’t recall looking back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months before to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle. I was leaving the city for a new rural home and an uncertain professional future.

I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family was on its way, and we were going to live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with five acres and a barn. A real (sort of) farm. Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two little sister tortoise shell calico kittens peering up at me,  just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that simple commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed very complete.

I will never forget the freedom I felt on that drive north. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting: the ideal family practice with a delightfully diverse patient population of African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all with me into the Mazda, I would have.

We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding a dog Tango, then a Haflinger horse Greta, then Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. Again, new commitments and life felt complete– but not for long, as we soon added another baby, Ben and then another, Lea. Then it really was complete. Or so I thought.

Twenty nine years later our children have long ago grown and gone, off to their own adventures beyond the farm.  Our sons each married in the last year, our daughter becoming more independent as she finishes her college career in another year, each child to a different big city spread out in three different time zones from us. A few cats, two corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends. Our second larger farm seems more than we can realistically manage by ourselves in our spare time. My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fits me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day.

My husband is talking retirement in a little over three years. I’m not so sure for myself. I have never not worked and don’t know how I can stop when the need in health care is greater than ever.

The freedom I felt that rainy Halloween day three decades ago, watching Seattle disappear in the rear view mirror,  meant I no longer sat captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams for an hour, but now commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano at church and serving on various community boards. I love how our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn,  coyotes howling at night, Canadian geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet me in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids me good night.

It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin beside me in a little Mazda and a husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, twenty nine years and three grown children later,  I celebrate my Halloween transition anniversary once more.  We find ourselves on our own yet again, still pregnant with possibility for our future together.

 

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Thistledown Flying

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The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.
~John Clare “Autumn”
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