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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Acres and Acres

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I never met a man who was shaken by a field of identical blades of grass. An acre of poppies and a forest of spruce boggle no one’s mind. Even ten square miles of wheat gladdens the hearts of most.
No, in the plant world, and especially among the flowering plants, fecundity is not an assault on human values. Plants are not our competitors; they are our prey and our nesting materials.

Fecundity is anathema only in the animal.
“Acres and acres of rats” has a suitably chilling ring to it that is decidedly lacking if I say, instead, “acres and acres of tulips”.

~Annie Dillard from “The Force That Drives the Flower”

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This time of year our farm is brilliantly lit by sun and teeming with fecundity.  The cherry orchard blossoms have yielded to fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass.  By this time in June, the daylight starts creeping over the eastern foothills at 4 AM and the last glimpse of sun disappears at nearly 10 PM.   So many hours of light to work with!

I yearn for a dark rainy day to hide inside with a book.  Instead the lawnmower and weed whacker call my name, and the fish pond needs cleaning and the garden must be weeded.

It’s not that things don’t happen on the farm during months like this.  It’s just that nothing we do is enough.  Blackberry brambles have taken over everything, grass grows faster than we can keep it mowed down, the manure piles spread on the fields in May are growing exponentially again.  The fences always need fixing.

The weather has been hot and the hay is ready to cut but no string of days has been available for harvest – we are low on the priority list of the local dairy man who cuts and bales our hay.  We no longer breed our Haflinger horses, so we are feeding and caring for a retired herd.

Suddenly our farm dream seems not nearly so compelling.

We have spent many years dreaming about the farm as we hoped it would be.  We imagined the pastures managed perfectly with fencing that was both functional and beautiful.  Our barns and buildings would be tidy and leak-proof, and the stalls secure and safe.  We’d have a really nice pick up truck with low miles on it, not a 35 year old hand me down truck with almost 250,000 miles. We would have trees pruned expertly and we’d have flower beds blooming as well as a vegetable garden yielding 9 months of the year.  Our hay would never be rained on. We would have dogs that wouldn’t run off and cats that would take care of all the rodents.  We wouldn’t have any moles, thistles, dandelions or buttercup.  The pheasant, deer, coyotes, raccoons, and wild rabbits would only stroll through the yard for our amusement and not disturb anything.  We’d have livestock with the best bloodlines we could afford and a steady demand from customers to purchase their offspring at reasonable prices so that not a dime of our off-farm income would be necessary to pay farm expenses.   Our animals (and we) would never get sick or injured.

And our house would always stay clean.

Dream on.  Farms can be back-breaking, morale-eroding, expensive sinkholes.   I know ours is.  Yet here we be and here we stay.

It’s home.  We’ve raised three wonderful children here.  We’ve bred and grown good horses and great garden and orchard crops and tons of hay from our own fields.  We breathe clean air and daily hear dozens of different bird songs and look out at some of the best scenery this side of heaven.  Eagles land in the trees in our front yard. It’s all enough for us even if we are not enough for the farm.  I know there will come a time when the farm will need to be a fond memory and not a daily reality.  Until then we will keep pursuing our dream as we and the farm grow older.   Dreams age and mature and I know now what I dreamed of when I was younger was not the important stuff.

We have been blessed with the abundance of one another, with the sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between.  This is the best of fecundity.

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Spring’s Ephemeral Cathedral

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You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.

We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers—
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.

Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me…but I stopped.

What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.
~Dana Giola “The Apple Orchard”

 

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
―  J.R.R. Tolkien

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In despairing moments, we recollect and hold on to memories most precious to us, recalling what makes each moment, indeed life itself,  special and worthwhile.

It can be something so seemingly simple that becomes the most cherished and retrievable–the aroma of cinnamon in a warm kitchen, the splash of colors in a carefully tended garden spot, the cooing of mourning doves as light begins to dawn, the velvety soft of a newborn foal’s fur, the embrace of welcoming arms, the wish that we had reached out and grasped something forever lost to us due to our hesitation in the moment.

As we approach the memories brought fresh by upcoming Mother’s, Father’s and Memorial Days,  it is those simple things we recall and treasure, pass on in stories, and never leave buried in the ground.  The legacy of these memories lives and thrives in the next and then the next generation, to be told and retold, not to rest, eventually to be forgotten, under a marker.

Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo?  Do you remember?

 

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