God Was Here: My Soul to Thrive

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But I am done with apple-picking now. 
Essence of winter sleep is on the night, 
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off. 
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight 
I got from looking through a pane of glass 
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough 
And held against the world of hoary grass. 
It melted, and I let it fall and break. 
But I was well 
Upon my way to sleep before it fell, 
And I could tell 
What form my dreaming was about to take. 
For I have had too much 
Of apple-picking: I am overtired 
Of the great harvest I myself desired. 
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, 
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall. 
For all 
That struck the earth, 
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble, 
Went surely to the cider-apple heap 
As of no worth. 
One can see what will trouble 
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is. 
Were he not gone, 
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his 
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on, 
Or just some human sleep.
~Robert Frost from “After Apple-Picking”
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This fall I picked up windfall apples to haul down to the barn for a special treat each night for the Haflingers. These are apples that we humans wouldn’t take a second glance at in all our satiety and fussiness, but the Haflingers certainly don’t mind a bruise, or a worm hole or slug trails over apple skin.

I’ve found over the years that our horses must be taught to eat apples–if they have no experience with them, they will bypass them lying in the field and not give them a second look. There simply is not enough odor to make them interesting or appealing–until they are cut in slices that is. Then they become irresistible and no apple is left alone from that point forward.

When I offer a whole apple to a young Haflinger who has never tasted one before, they will sniff it, perhaps roll it on my hand a bit with their lips, but I’ve yet to have one simply bite in and try. If I take the time to cut the apple up, they’ll pick up a section very gingerly, kind of hold it on their tongue and nod their head up and down trying to decide as they taste and test it if they should drop it or chew it, and finally, as they really bite in and the sweetness pours over their tongue, they get this look in their eye that is at once surprised and supremely pleased. The only parallel experience I’ve seen in humans is when you offer a five month old baby his first taste of ice cream on a spoon and at first he tightens his lips against its coldness, but once you slip a little into his mouth, his face screws up a bit and then his eyes get big and sparkly and his mouth rolls the taste around his tongue, savoring that sweet cold creaminess. His mouth immediately pops open for more.

It is the same with apples and horses. Once they have that first taste, they are our slaves forever in search of the next apple.

The Haflinger veteran apple eaters can see me coming with my sweat shirt front pocket stuffed with apples, a “pregnant” belly of fruit, as it were. They offer low nickers when I come up to their stalls and each horse has a different approach to their apple offering.

There is the “bite a little bit at a time” approach, which makes the apple last longer, and tends to be less messy in the long run. There is the “bite it in half” technique which leaves half the apple in your hand as they navigate the other half around their teeth, dripping and frothing sweet apple slobber. Lastly there is the greedy “take the whole thing at once” horse, which is the most challenging way to eat an apple, as it has to be moved back to the molars, and crunched, and then moved around the mouth to chew up the large pieces, and usually half the apple ends up falling to the ground, with all the foam that the juice and saliva create. No matter the technique used, the smell of an apple as it is being chewed by a horse is one of the best smells in the world. I can almost taste the sweetness too when I smell that smell.

What do we do when offered such a sublime gift from Someone’s hand? If it is something we have never experienced before, we possibly walk right by, not recognizing that it is a gift at all, missing the whole point and joy of experiencing what is being offered. How many wonderful opportunities are right under our noses, but we fail to notice, and bypass them because they are unfamiliar?

Perhaps if the Giver really cares enough to “teach” us to accept this gift of sweetness, by preparing it and making it irresistible to us, then we are overwhelmed with the magnitude of the generosity and are transformed by the simple act of receiving.

We must learn to take little bites, savoring each piece one at a time, making it last rather than greedily grab hold of the whole thing, struggling to control it, thereby losing some in the process. Either way, it is a gracious gift, and how we receive it makes all the difference.

 

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1. The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

2. His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

3. For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

4. I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

5. This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
~Elizabeth Poston From Divine Hymns or Spiritual Songs,
compiled by Joshua Smith, New Hampshire, 1784

 

 

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Apples Plummet Like Rain

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And then there is that day when all around,
all around you hear the dropping of the apples, one
by one, from the trees. At first it is one here and one there,
and then it is three and then it is four and then nine and
twenty, until the apples plummet like rain, fall like horse hoofs 
in the soft, darkening grass, and you are the last apple on the
tree; and you wait for the wind to work you slowly free from 
your hold upon the sky, and drop you down and down. Long 
before you hit the grass you will have forgotten there ever 
was a tree, or other apples, or a summer, or green grass below,
You will fall in darkness…
~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine

 

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We are in the midst of our annual October storms complete with pelleting sheets of rain and gusty breezes.  Along with power outages and an ever-present risk of flooding, these storms facilitate the annual “falling of the fruit” from our trees.  It is risky to walk in the orchard this time of year – one could stroll about enjoying the brisk temperatures and autumn colors and be unexpectedly bonked on the head and knocked out cold.

The apples thud like horse hooves in the grass as our Haflingers race about in the cool wet weather enjoying the last bit of freedom before the winter lock up.  Apples thud like over large rain drops but without the splatter.  Apples thud after gradually loosening their hold on the sky and plummeting to come to rest on a soft carpet of green.

I recognize this call to let go,  although clinging tenaciously when buffeted, my strength waning.  Thought I fret and worry, the time must come for the pulled-forth fall.  I may land a bit bruised, but will glisten golden from the journey.

 

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Kiss the Light

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…I have been younger in October
than in all the months of spring
walnut and may leaves the color
of shoulders at the end of summer
a month that has been to the mountain
and become light there
the long grass lies pointing uphill
even in death for a reason
that none of us knows…

my love is for lightness
of touch foot feather
the day is yet one more yellow leaf
and without turning I kiss the light
by an old well on the last of the month
gathering wild rose hips
in the sun
~W. S. Merwin from “The Love of October” from Migration

 

 

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A wind gusts through shedding branches
stripping them bare
and carrying the leaves to yards
far away, to a diverse gathering
they have never known:
chestnut, cherry, birch, walnut, apple,
maple, parrotia, pear, oak, poplar
suddenly sharing the same fate and grave,
each wearing a color of its own,
soon to blend with the others
as all slowly melt to brown.

There is lightness in letting go,
for reasons none of us knows.

 

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Falls and Falls of Rain

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In Summer, in a burst of summertime
Following falls and falls of rain,
When the air was sweet-and-sour of the flown fineflower of
Those goldnails and their gaylinks that hang along a lime;
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Cheery Beggar”

 

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Sweet and sour extends far beyond a Chinese menu; it is the daily air I breathe.  Dichotomy is so much of my life and times,  more distinct than the bittersweet of simple pleasures laced with twinges and tears.

I am but a cheery beggar in this world,
desiring to hang tight to the overwhelming sweetness of each glorious moment–

the startling late summer sunrise,
the renewed green coming through the dead of spent fields,
the warm hug of a compassionate word,
a house filled with love and laughter.

But as beggars aren’t choosers, I can’t only have sweet alone;
I must endure the sour that comes as part of the package —

the deepening dark of a sleepless night,
the muddy muck of endless rain,
the sting of a biting critique,
the loneliness of a home emptying and much too quiet.

So I slog through sour to revel some day, even more so, in sweet.  Months of manure-permeated air is overcome one miraculous morning by the unexpected and undeserved fragrance of apple blossoms, so sweet, so pure, so full of promise of the wholesome fruit to come.

The manure makes the sweet sweeter months later, long after the stench is gone.

And I breathe in deeply now, content and grateful for this moment of sweet grace and bliss, wanting to hold it in the depths of my lungs forever and overwhelm the memory of sour.

 

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Throwing Off the Covers

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Why do we bother with the rest of the day,
the swale of the afternoon,
the sudden dip into evening,
then night with his notorious perfumes,
his many-pointed stars?
This is the best—
throwing off the light covers,
feet on the cold floor,
and buzzing around the house on espresso—
maybe a splash of water on the face,
a palmful of vitamins—
but mostly buzzing around the house on espresso,
dictionary and atlas open on the rug,
the typewriter waiting for the key of the head,
a cello on the radio,
and, if necessary, the windows—
trees fifty, a hundred years old
out there,
heavy clouds on the way
and the lawn steaming like a horse
in the early morning.
~Billy Collins “Morning”

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This is the best~~
heading with dogs and camera up the hill
on an early spring morning,
with nothing more than the hope
I can bring this magic back to the house
and preserve it long after the foglight evaporates,
the day moves on and distracted by life,
I’ve forgotten all about how
this is the best~~

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A Burst of Fruit Flies

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The whiskey stink of rot has settled
in the garden, and a burst of fruit flies rises
when I touch the dying tomato plants.

Still, the claws of tiny yellow blossoms
flail in the air as I pull the vines up by the roots
and toss them in the compost.
 
It feels cruel. Something in me isn’t ready
to let go of summer so easily. To destroy
what I’ve carefully cultivated all these months.
Those pale flowers might still have time to fruit.
 
My great-grandmother sang with the girls of her village
as they pulled the flax. Songs so old
and so tied to the season that the very sound
seemed to turn the weather.
~Karina Borowicz  “September Tomatoes”
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I have an uncomfortable relationship with fruit flies this time of year. The compost bin erupts with a black cloud of fruit flies when I throw in the day’s cast offs. The fruit I bring in from the orchard and garden must be preserved before it rots, but hundreds of Drosophila melanogaster decide their breeding grounds are far more hospitable in a warm kitchen than in the chilly outdoors.  And breed they do, each female laying up to 100 eggs a day just like in biology lab at Stanford 40+ years ago where we traced recessive vs. dominant genetic traits of curly deformed wings, stubby bristles and colored eyes. I am not interested in such subtlety in my current crop of flies.  In fact I have no sympathy for them at all.
I have laid out killing fields everywhere on the cupboards — fruit fly traps (paper cones feeding into apple cider vinegar baths in water glasses), a cautionary tale to the daily burden of fresh fruit flies.

It feels so cruel.

As rot and degradation is their happy place, the flies will win until the fruit is harvested, preserved and put away for a winter day.  Then the kitchen becomes my happy place again, fly-free with no more killing fields.
Then I must face the cruel task of pulling up carefully tended garden plants to ready the beds for winter.  Perhaps if I remember to sing as I pull them out by the roots, they won’t see me weep.
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On Mine Aëry Nest

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And when Sunset may breathe, from the lit sea beneath,
Its ardours of rest and of love,
And the crimson pall of eve may fall
From the depth of Heaven above,
With wings folded I rest, on mine aëry nest,
As still as a brooding dove.
~Percy Bysse Shelley from “The Cloud”
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To make myself understood and to diminish the distance between us, I called out: “I am an evening cloud too.” They stopped still, evidently taking a good look at me. Then they stretched towards me their fine, transparent, rosy wings. That is how evening clouds greet each other. They had recognized me.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from Stories of God

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From this hill, we can see for miles.  At certain times of morning and evening, it can feel as if we are aloft, closer up to the clouds, seeing the terrain from their vantage point.  There are the snow-covered peaks to the east, the craggy Canadian coastal range to the north, the stretch of river valley to the north west, the Salish Sea to the west and the forest to the south.

Surrounding us is the farmland and the good people who feed this community: the expanse of dairy land and its vast pastures, the corn fields, berry rows and potato mounds, acres of orchard espaliers and local farm-to-market and CSA growers.

The ever-moving, ever-changing immensity of the clouds covers us all.  As those clouds touch, embrace, release, mold and transform, they show us how connection with others is done.  As we county folk pass on the roads during an evening walk, as we are running late to town jobs, as we meet in the store or at church or community events, we too should touch and greet one another, nod and encourage, acknowledge the shared light that comes from beyond us that restores and transforms us.

Most of all, like the clouds, we are too often full to brimming, a shedding of shared tears at how easily this land can be taken away — whether remembering the sad history of people group domination and removal from their ancestral homes, or the ravages of flood or volcanoes, the effects of drought and wildfire, of blight or sickness, or the currentover-regulation of government ensuring no farmer can afford to continue to do what they know best to preserve the land, the habitat and their crops.

We weep in recognition, like these clouds, to make ourselves understood and to diminish the distance between us.

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