The Dying of the Year

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Now winter downs the dying of the year,   
And night is all a settlement of snow; 
From the soft street the rooms of houses show   
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,   
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin   
And still allows some stirring down within. 
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.   
We fray into the future, rarely wrought 
Save in the tapestries of afterthought. 
More time, more time. Barrages of applause   
Come muffled from a buried radio. 
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
snowycottonwood

 

The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s tread.
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.
~William Cullen Bryant from “The Death of the Flowers”

 

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These dark, icy,  and sodden days are scarcely recalled while basking in the lightness of June when the sun shines 19 hours a day.

There is no way to cope with such overwhelming darkness except by adding in a few minutes more a day over six months, otherwise the shock of leaving behind the light would be too great.  Howling wind knocks and batters, freezing rain beats mercilessly at the window panes to coat everything with a 1/4 inch of ice,  puddles stand deeper than they appear, mud sucks off boots, leaves are thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.

We have no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to a pervasive sogginess.

Nevertheless, these melancholy days have their usefulness — there are times of joyful respite from frenetic activity while reading, snuggled deep under quilts, safe and warm.  Without such stark contrast, the light and bright time of year would become merely routine, yet just another sunny day.

That never happens here in the Pacific northwest.

We celebrate the emerging light with real thanksgiving and acknowledge this encompassing darkness makes our gratitude more genuine.

We are privileged to live within such a paradox:  there is, after all, a certain gladness in our sadness.

 

 

 

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You Are Worth Profound Care

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You can change the world with a hot bath,
if you sink into it from a place of knowing
you are worth profound care,
even when you are dirty and rattled.
Who knew?
~Anne Lamott from Small Victories

 

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As a farmer, I spend at least a part of every day muddy and up to my elbows in muck.  I call my barn life “the real stuff” when the rest of my day is spent dealing with “virtual stuff ” which leaves me dirty and rattled nonetheless.  I prefer the real over virtual muck although it smells worse, leaves my fingernails hopelessly grimy and is obvious to everyone where I’ve been.

The stains of the rest of my day are largely invisible to all but me and far harder to scrub away.

It is so much easier to deal with the barnyard over bureaucracy; what soils us can be washed off and we’re restored for another day of wallowing in our muck boots.  On the farm is the grace of drawing up clean warm water, soaping with the suds that truly cleanse, a sinking down into a deep tub of renewal.

God knows well what a washing we need.

 

 

 

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Turn Aside and Look: To Laugh and To Cry

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It is in these afflictions, which succeed one another each moment,
that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself,
mysteriously bestowing his grace in a manner
quite unrecognized by the souls
who feel only weakness in bearing their cross…

~Jean Pierre du Caussade from The Sacrament of the Present Moment

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The past few mornings have been unveiled in snow flurries, mist and fog, tentative spring dawns of freezing air and warming soil trying to break loose from the vise grip of a tired and dying winter.

I am struggling under the load of 14 hour days working with despairing and suicidal people,  in addition to keeping a barn clean and animals and humans fed.  Even sleep is not restful when there is so little time to quiet myself in reflection and gratitude.

I am keenly reminded of my weakness as my strength wanes at the end of a long day, having slipped in the mud while trying to gain traction unloading a couple hundred pounds of manure from the wheelbarrow.  Landing on my backside, my pants soaking through,  I can choose to laugh or cry.

I choose to see the baptism of mud as a sacrament of the present moment,  reminding me of my need for a cleansing grace.

I laugh and cry.

Though obscured from view, God is nevertheless revealed in these moments of being covered in the soil of earth and the waste of its creatures.

He knows I need reminding that I too am dust and to dust shall return.

He knows I am too often wasteful and a failed steward,
so need reminding by landing me amidst it.

He knows I need to laugh at myself,
so puts me right on my backside.

He knows I need to cry,
so sends me those with the saddest stories and greatest needs.

He knows I need Him, always and ever more,
to restore a sacrament of grace evident in the present moment
and every moment to come.

To be known for who I am
by a God who laughs with me,
weeps for me
and groans with pain I have caused~
I will know
no greater love.

snowyoldtree

 

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
~William Billings

 

A Search for Solid Footing

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A few days of heavy rain have transformed our farm to mush. Puddles are everywhere, the ground is saturated and mushrooms are sprouting in the most unlikely places. Slugs are seeking out mushrooms for refuge from the deluge. It’s even too wet for the trumpeter swans and Canadian geese who glean in the nearby harvested cornfields, filling up on dropped corn kernels. They now are flying overhead to head south to drier places, noisily honking, their wings swooshing the air as they pass over.

The wet weather means chores are more challenging on our farm. Some of the stalls in the barn have flooded so moving the horses out to pasture for the day means braving wind and rain and soppy footing. At the end of the day, they eagerly walk back to the barn, soaked and dripping, diving into fresh shavings for a good roll and shake. I can appreciate the relief they feel as I like getting back to solid footing too at the end of the day. Much of my day also seems to be spent navigating slippery slopes and muddy terrain, both real and figurative.

It isn’t always apparent what ground is treacherous from appearance alone. The grassy slope heading down to the barn from the house looks pretty benign until I start navigating in a driving rainstorm in the dark, and suddenly the turf becomes a skating rink and I’m finding I’m picking my way carefully with a flashlight. The path I seek is to find the patches of moss, which happily soaks up the water like a sponge carpet, so not as slick to walk on. Even if moss ordinarily is not a welcome addition to lawn or pasture–I do appreciate it this time of year.

Another challenge is pushing a wheelbarrow with two 60 pound bales of hay back up that slope to our largest paddock for the day’s feeding. There is no traction underneath to help my feet stick to the ground for the push uphill. I can feel particularly foolish at this futile effort–my feet sometimes slide out beneath me, landing me on my knees down on the ground, soaked and humiliated, and the wheelbarrow goes skidding right back down to the barn door where it started.

Trusting the footing underneath my feet is crucial day to day. If I am to get work done most efficiently and make progress, I must have solid ground to tread. But the stuff of real life, like our farm’s ground, doesn’t come made to order that way. Some days are slick and treacherous, unpredictable and ready to throw me to my knees, while other days are simple, easy, and smooth sailing. Waking in the morning, I cannot know what I will face that day–whether I need my highest hip boots to wade through the muck or whether I can dash about in comfy house slippers. My attitude has something to do with it–sometimes my “internal” footing is loose and slippery, tripping up those around me as well as myself. That is when I need most to plant myself in the solid foundation that I know will support me during those treacherous times.

I need my faith, my need to forgive and experience forgiveness, my people holding me when I fall, and to help pick them up when they are down. Without those footings every day, I’m nothing more than a muddy soiled mess lying face down on the ground wondering if I’ll ever walk again.

There is good reason I end up on my knees at times. It is the best reminder of where I should be full time if it were not for stronger hands that lift me up, clean me up and guide my footsteps all the rest of my days.

 

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The Path Taken

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Twice each day I walk the same downhill path to the barn for chores.  Sometimes I’m half asleep, sometimes weary from working a long day at the clinic, most often in the dark,  sometimes sliding on icy snow, sometimes slipping in mud from unending rain, sometimes wading through a sea of overgrown grass.   The constant in this twice daily journey is the path itself and where it always takes me– no matter what time of year, the state of the weather, or how temporarily difficult to discern. My feet have learned the way by feel as much as by sight–the twist here, the dip there, the curve around the septic tank lid, the aromatic stretch through the stand of wild mint, all while trying to avoid stepping on the playful farm dogs or the swerving barn cat perpetually underfoot.

I prefer to take the demarcated path to the barn as it keeps me focused on the task ahead of me.  If I happen to deviate, I will surely find weeds to pull, a woodpecker to admire, a cluster of cherries to eat, or a sweet pea blossom to smell.  The distraction may bring me momentary pleasure but so much work remains yet to be done. I must find my way back to the path and stick to it.

As a teenager, I was a trailblazer, bushwhacking my way through brambles to see what might be on the other side, or to discover a new favorite place in the woods, or simply to prove I was stronger than the brush that yielded to me.  In my middle age, I tend to stick to the familiar.   I like knowing where my feet will land, what work my hands will touch, and where my head will rest.  The adventure of the unknown, so attractive in my youth that it took me to remote Tanzania, is less appealing now.  The visible path, even when difficult to follow due to cover of snow, sea of mud, or abundance of overgrowth, is reassurance that I have a purpose and a destination.   I can see where I am going and I know where I’ve been.

We tread many paths during our time on this soil–some routine and mundane, leading to the barns and chores in our life, and others a matter of faith, trust, heart and spirit.  As tempting as it is to deviate, the path is there for good reason.  It doesn’t have to be a super highway, or lined with gold or even paved with good intentions. It is rarely straight. But it must be true, steadfastly leading us to where we are called and back again to where we belong.

It’s time to pull on my boots.

mowedyard

canadabarnpath

These Melancholy Days

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The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s tread.
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.

Where are the flowers, the fair young flowers, that lately sprang and stood
In brighter light, and softer airs, a beauteous sisterhood?
Alas! they all are in their graves, the gentle race, of flowers
Are lying in their lowly beds, with the fair and good of ours.
The rain is falling where they lie, but the cold November rain
Calls not from out the gloomy earth the lovely ones again.
~William Cullen Bryant from “The Death of the Flowers”

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These dark and sodden days are scarcely recalled while basking in the lightness of June when the sun shines 19 hours a day.  There is no way to cope with such overwhelming darkness except by adding in a few minutes more a day over six months, otherwise the shock of leaving behind the light would be too great.  The howling wind knocks and batters, the rain beats mercilessly at the window panes, the puddles stand deeper than they appear, the mud sucks off boots, the leaves thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.

We have no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to a pervasive sogginess.

Nevertheless, these melancholy days have their usefulness — there are times of joyful respite from frenetic activity while reading, snuggled deep under quilts, safe and warm.  Without such stark contrast, the light and bright time of year would become merely routine, yet just another sunny day.

That never happens here in the north.

We can now celebrate the emerging light with real thanksgiving and acknowledging this darkness makes gratitude more genuine.

We are privileged to live within a paradox:  there is, after all, a gladness in our sadness.

 

barnrooflines

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Prepare for Joy: Took Flesh and Flew

morningswans
Out of the shame of spittle,
the scratch of dirt,
he made an anointing.

Oh, it was an agony-the gravel
in the eye, the rude slime, the brittle
clay caked on the lid.

But with the hurt
light came leaping; in the shock and shine,
abstracts took flesh and flew;

winged words like view and space,
shape and shade and green and sky,
bird and horizon and sun,

turned real in a man’s eye.
Thus was truth given a face
and dark dispelled and healing done.
~Luci Shaw  “The Sighting” John 9 from God for Us-Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter

 

Blinded I am by clinging to my finite understanding. I resist digging deeper than necessary in order to get by each day, skimming the surface of existence to avoid getting down and dirty.  But He doesn’t allow the easy way of darkness to continue.

He smears me with mortal mud made of His spit — essentially soiling my soul — and only then can I see His truth when opening my eyes.

The dark dispelled, winged words turned real.

No longer blind, I stare afresh, pondering the Face of Truth through muddy lashes.