Farm Rhythms and Seasons

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photo by Lea Gibson

When I pull open the barn doors,
every morning
and each evening,
as my grandfathers did
one hundred years ago,
seven rumbling voices
rise in greeting.
We exchange scents,
nuzzle each others’ ears.

I do my chores faithfully
as my grandfathers once did–
draw fresh water
into buckets,
wheel away
the pungent mess underfoot,
release an armful of summer
from the bale,
reach under heavy manes
to stroke silken necks.

I don’t depend
on our horses’ strength
and willingness to
don harness
to carry me to town
or move the logs
or till the soil
as my grandfathers did.

Instead,
these soft eyed souls,
born on this farm
two long decades ago,
are simply grateful
for my constancy
morning and night
to serve their needs
until the day comes
they need no more.

And I depend on them
to depend on me
to be there
to open the doors;
their low whispering welcome
gives voice
to the blessings of
living on a farm
ripe with rhythms and seasons,
as if today and tomorrow are
just like one hundred years ago.

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photo by Emily Dieleman

Thanking the Light

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Now a red, sleepy sun above the rim
Of twilight stares along the quiet weald,
And the kind, simple country shines revealed
In solitudes of peace, no longer dim.
The old horse lifts his face and thanks the light,
Then stretches down his head to crop the green.
All things that he has loved are in his sight;
The places where his happiness has been
Are in his eyes, his heart, and they are good.
~Siegfried Sassoon from “Break of Day”

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Dazzle Gradually

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The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.
~Emily Dickinson from “Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant…”

We can’t always handle all the truth all at once.  It is best for the truth to slowly bring us out of the shadows where we tend to hide to become an illuminating back drop to our lives that transforms, depending on the slant.

We begin a two dimensional silhouette and, in the light of the Truth, become fully realized, bright shining and dazzled.

And dazzling to behold.

I once was lost, but now am found.  Was blind but now I see.

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Lie Light, Good Night

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“Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;
Warm southern wind, blow softly here;
Green sod above, lie light, lie light -
Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.”
~Mark Twain

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August rushes by like desert rainfall,
A flood of frenzied upheaval,
Expected,
But still catching me unprepared.
Like a match flame
Bursting on the scene,
Heat and haze of crimson sunsets.
Like a dream
Of moon and dark barely recalled,
A moment,
Shadows caught in a blink.
Like a quick kiss;
One wishes for more
But it suddenly turns to leave,
Dragging summer away.
-  Elizabeth Maua Taylor, August  

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“Let me enjoy this late-summer day of my heart while the leaves are still green and I won’t look so close as to see that first tint of pale yellow slowly creep in. I will cease endless running and then look to the sky ask the sun to embrace me and then hope she won’t tell of tomorrows less long than today. Let me spend just this time in the slow-cooling glow of warm afternoon light and I’d think I will still have the strength for just one more last fling of my heart.”
- John Bohrn, Late August

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Borne Our Loads

photo by Nate Gibson

photo by Nate Gibson

And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.

In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.

Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

~Edwin Muir from “The Horses”

There is nothing that truly compels a horse to wear a saddle, pull a heavy burden, chew a cold bit until it foams warm, no fear of whip or spur or harsh word.  They, so much more powerful than we are, choose the work, to do what is needed, to serve freely, to be there because they were asked.

How much more we learn from the lather of their sweaty grace –  how to choose the labor that changes lives, how to offer up love in gratitude for the reward of a nose buried in sweet clover.

photo by Nate Gibson

photo by Nate Gibson

The Love of Farming

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Farmers farm for the love of farming. They love to watch and nurture the growth of plants. They love to live in the presence of animals. They love to work outdoors. They love the weather, maybe even when it is making them miserable. They love to live where they work and to work where they live. If the scale of their farming is small enough, they like to work in the company of their children and with the help of their children.
~Wendell Berry from Bringing it to the Table: Writings on Farming and Food

and I may I add to Wendell’s truths:

Farmers love what they do even when a *certain* horse manages to find a way for the second time in his life to tear his lower lip playing with a simple water bucket in a simple stall,  then gets it repaired by a gracious vet on Mother’s Day, and then finds a way five days later while out innocently eating grass in the pasture to rip open all his stitches again which will require a far more complicated plastic surgery type repair in ten days after plenty of antibiotics and prayer.

We love our horses, oh yes we farmers do, even the accident-prone, self-injuring ones.  We love our vet even more.

And the vets do love their farmers who need them.

(no, sorry, no graphic pictures will be posted of a very gruesome lip wound — I need a little serenity today)

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Breaking into Blossom

photo by Emily Dieleman

photo by Emily Dieleman

photo by Emily Dieleman

photo by Emily Dieleman

photo by Emily Dieleman

photo by Emily Dieleman

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness   
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.   
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.   
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me   
And nuzzled my left hand.   
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.
~James Wright, “A Blessing”
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Lenten Grace — Barnstormed

(Emily’s note: I’ve been asked how my blog came to be named “Barnstorming” — most assume it is a doctor-farmer’s twist on “brainstorming” which didn’t occur to me until someone mentioned it to me.  Instead, the name has nothing to do with brains, baseball teams, politics or daredevil piloting of small airplanes.  It has everything to do with a storm taking place in our barn at the beginning of Holy Week a few years ago.  This is a repost.)

An unexpected southerly wind hit suddenly late Sunday night, gusting up to 40 miles an hour and slamming the house with drenching rain as we prepared to go to bed. Chores in the barn had been done hours before, but as we had not been expecting a storm, the north/south center aisle doors were still open, and I could hear banging and rattling as they were buffeted in the wind. I quickly dressed to go latch the doors for the night, but the tempest had done its damage. Hay, empty buckets, horse blankets, tack and cat food had blown all over, while the Haflingers stood wide-eyed and fretful in their stalls. A storm was blowing inside the barn as well as outside it.

It took some time to tidy up the mess after the doors were secured but all was soon made right. The wind continued to bash at the doors, but it no longer could touch anything inside them. The horses relaxed and got back to their evening meal though the noise coming from outside was deafening. I headed back up to the house and slept fitfully listening to the wind blow all night, wondering if the metal barn roof might pull off in a gust, exposing everything within.

Yet in the new daylight this Monday morning, all is calm. The barn is still there, the roof still on, the horses are where they belong and all seems to be as it was before the barnstorming wind. Or so it might appear.

This wind heralds another storm coming this week that hits with such force that I’m knocked off my feet, swept away, and left bruised and breathless. No latches, locks, or barricades are strong enough to protect me from what will come over the next few days.

Yesterday he rode in on a donkey softly, humbly, and wept at what he knew.

Today, he overturns the tables in his fury.

Tomorrow he echoes the destruction that is to happen.

Wednesday, he teaches the people to prepare them, then rests in anticipation.

On Thursday, he kneels, pours water over dusty feet, presides over a simple meal, and then, abandoned,  sweats blood in agonized prayer.

By Friday, all culminates in the perfect storm, transforming everything in its path, leaving nothing untouched.

The silence on Saturday is deafening.

Next Sunday, the Son rises and returns, all is calm, all is well, all set to right.  He calls my name, my heart burns within me at his words and I can never be the same again.

Barnstormed to the depths of my soul. Doors flung open wide, the roof pulled off, everything blown away and now replaced, renewed and reconciled.

May it be done as he has said, again and yet again.

Tangled Up

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It did seem odd this morning during my barn chores that our six year old Haflinger gelding stood facing the back wall as I opened his stall door to give him his hay.  For a moment I wondered if there was a problem with his appetite as he usually would dive right into his hay as soon as I threw it to him.  A closer look told me the problem was with his hind end, not his front end:  his heavy white tail was wrapped snugly around a J hook hanging on the stall wall meant to hold his water bucket.  Instead now it held him — and wasn’t letting go.  He had apparently been itching his butt back and forth, round and round on the handy hook and managed to wrap his tail into such tight knots on the hook that he was literally tethered to the wall.  He was very calm about the whole thing only maybe just a little embarrassed.

He turned his head to look at me, pitiful. How long he’d been standing there like that through the night was anyone’s guess.  I bet he no longer was itchy.

I started to work at untying the tail knots to free him and found them wound so tight that loosening them required significant cooperation from my 1200 pound buddy.  Unfortunately, any time I managed to almost unloop a knot over the hook end, he would pull forward, snugging it even tighter.  Out of desperation I pulled out the scissors I keep in my barnjacket pocket.  I cut one knot hoping that would be sufficient.   Then I cut through another knot.  Still not enough.  I cut a third big knot and thank God Almighty, he was free at last.  He sauntered over to his hay now with a chunk of his tail in my hand and a big gap in what was still left hanging on him.  It may take a year to grow that missing hair back out.  But hey, it is only hair and at least someone kind and caring came along with a set of shears to release him painlessly from his captivity.  We aren’t all so lucky.

I know what it is like to get tangled up in things I should probably give wide berth.  I have a tendency, like my young horse, to butt in where I best not be and then become so bound I can’t get loose again.   It can take forever to free myself,  sometimes painfully leaving parts of my hide behind.

So when I inevitably get tied up in knots again, I hope someone will come along to save me.  Better yet, I hope someone might warn me away from the things that hook me before I foolishly back right into them.  I’ve got to loosen up and quit pulling the knots tighter.

It’s best to always have a detangler handy.  You never know when you might need one.

Good Enough

photo by Lea Gibson

photo by Lea Gibson

“and there was once, oh wonderful,
a new horse in the pasture,
a tall, slim being–a neighbor was keeping her there–
and she put her face against my face,
put her muzzle, her nostrils, soft as violets,
against my mouth and my nose, and breathed me,
to see who I was,
a long quiet minute–minutes–
then she stamped her feet and whisked tail
and danced deliciously into the grass away, and came back.
She was saying, so plainly, that I was good, or good enough.”
~Mary Oliver from “The Poet Goes to Indiana”

Our farm has had many muzzles over the years–

Pink noses,
gray noses,
nondescript not-sure-what-color noses,
noses that have white stripes, diamonds,  triangles,
or absolutely no marks at all.

Hot breath that exudes warm grassy fragrance
better than any pricey perfume,
lips softer than the most elegant velvet.

Noses that reach out in greeting,
blow,
sniff,
nuzzle,
caress,
push,
search,

to smudge faces and
shower snot.

Because we’re just good enough
to warrant
such a baptism.