Earth Day Lament

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More often than not, I’m still groggy every morning when I step out the front door onto the porch to make my way down the gravel driveway to fetch the newspaper. More often than not, it is still quite dark out at 5:15 AM.  More often than not, my slippered foot lands on something a little crunchy and a little squishy and a lot icky on the welcome mat in front of my door.

The front porch cat (as opposed to the back porch cat, the garden shed cat, the hay barn cat, the horse barn cat and an average of 3 additional stray cats), predator that he is, leaves behind certain remnants of his prey’s….um, body parts.  Mousey body parts or birdie body parts.  I assume, from the consistency of this little carnivore compost pile, these are unappealing to the kitty, so become the “leavings”, so to speak,  of the kill. Typically, it is a little mouse head, complete with little beady eyes, or a little bird head, complete with little beak, and something that looks suspiciously green and bulbous, like a gall bladder.  I don’t think heads or gall bladders are on my preferred delicacy list either. And they are certainly not on my list of things I like to wear on the bottom of my slipper.  Yet I do and I have.

I’m perplexed by this habit cats have of leaving behind the stuff they don’t want on the welcome mat, even the occasional whole shrew or field mouse, seemingly untouched by claw or incisor, but yet dead as a doornail on the doormat.  Some cat owners naively think their cats are presenting them with “gifts” –kind of a sacrificial offering to the human god that feeds them.  Nonsense.  The welcome mat is the universal trash heap for cats and a testimony to their utter disdain for humans.   Leave for the human the unappetizing and truly grotesque…

 

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So humanity is not alone of earth’s creatures to create garbage heaps of unwanted stuff.  Not only cats, but barn owls are incredibly efficient at tossing back what they don’t want out of their furry meals.   Our old hay barn is literally peppered with pellets, popular with high school biology classes and my grand-nephews for dissection instruction.  These dried up brown fuzzy poop shaped objects are regurgitated by the owl after sitting in one of its  two stomachs for a number of hours.  Bird barf.   It’s fairly interesting stuff, which is why these pellets (which we recycle by donating by the  dozens to local schools) are great teaching material.  It is possible to practically reconstruct a mouse or bird skeleton from a pellet, or perhaps even both on a night when the hunting was good.  There is fur and there are feathers.  Whatever isn’t easily digestible doesn’t have much purpose to the owl, so up it comes again and becomes so much detritus on the floor and rafters of our barn.  Owl litter.  There should be a law.

 

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Then there is the rather efficient Haflinger horse eating machine which leaves no calorie unabsorbed, which vacuums up anything remotely edible within reasonable reach, even if reasonable means contortions under a gate or fence with half of the body locked under the bottom rung, and the neck stretched 6 feet sideways to grab that one blade of grass still standing.  The reason why Haflingers don’t eventually explode from their intake is that Haflinger poop rivals elephant poop pound for pound per day, so there must be a considerable amount ingested that is indigestible and passed on, so to speak–like part of a tail wrap, and that halter that went missing… you know, like those black holes in outer space–that’s what a  Haflinger represents on earth.

 

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This is quite different from the recycled “cud” of the typical herbivore cow who regurgitates big green gobs of  grass/hay/silage to chew it  again in a state of (udder) contentment and pleasure.   If humans could figure out how to recycle a good meal for another good chew or two, the obesity rate would surely drop precipitously.   So would attendance at most happy hours. But then, how many skinny cows have I seen?  Probably as many as purple cows.  I never hope to see one, but I’d rather see than be one.

In my daily walk through life, I have my share of things I unceremoniously dump that I don’t want, don’t need,  can’t use, or abandon when I only want the palatable so the rest can rot.  Today is Earth Day, and I feel properly shamed and guilty for my contribution to landfills, despite my avid recycling efforts for the past 40 years.  Nonetheless, I am in good company with my fellow carnivores and omnivores who daily leave behind what they don’t want or need.

I now need to figure out that herbivore cud thing.  I can go green and just might save on the grocery bill.

 

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Ease Into the Conversation

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My bird, my darling,
Calling through the cold of afternoon—
Those round, bright notes,
Each one so perfect
Shaken from the other and yet
Hanging together in flashing clusters!
The small soft flowers and the ripe fruit
All are gathered.
It is the season now of nuts and berries
And round, bright, flashing drops
In the frozen grass.
~Katherine Mansfield “Winter Bird”

 

 

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Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone…

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
~David Whyte from “Everything is Waiting for You”

 

 

 

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This time of year we sit in silence, waiting for the conversation to resume.

There are hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer.  The typical day-long serenade of birdsong is now replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle’s mating chitters from the treetops, with the bluejays arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.

The song birds have ceased their usual constant conversation.  They swoop in and out to the feeders, intent on survival, less worried about mating rituals and territorial establishment.

On the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant dialogue echoing back and forth.

But no birdsong arias;  I’m left bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wakes me at 4 AM in the spring and summer. And the rising and falling of the annual evening peeper orchestra tuning up in the swamps is still two months away.

It is much too quiet now, this time of winter bereavement, this feeling of being alone in a cold and hostile world. The chilly silence of the darkened days, interrupted by gunshot percussion, feels like a baton raised in anticipation after rapping the podium to bring us all to attention. I wait and listen for the downbeat — the return of birds and frogs tuning their throats, preparing their symphony to ease themselves back into the conversation, to express joy and wonder and exuberance at the return of spring.

I want to stick around for the whole concert, hoping always for an encore.

 

 

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A Lingering Season

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Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.
~  John Boswell

 

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As temperatures rose 40 degrees from a snowy/icy first half of January to a balmy third week, it feels like our winter isn’t going to linger long after all.  As much as my frozen fingers appreciate the reprieve while during barn chores, I am wistful that winter may have already decided to pack up and move on for another year. It seems its departure was a bit hurried from the scattered reminders left behind — a bejeweled owl feather here, a molding leaf there, crusts of melting ice everywhere.

We need a little more of this season of bare bones and stark landscapes, of time for remembrance and restoration.  I won’t bid goodbye yet, hoping it may yet linger a while longer.

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A narrow pond would form in the orchard, water clear as air covering grass and black leaves and fallen branches, all around it black leaves and drenched grass and fallen branches, and on it, slight as an image in an eye, sky, clouds, trees, our hovering faces and our cold hands.
~Marilynne Robinson from Housekeeping

 

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Birdsong Bereft

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Silence and darkness grow apace, broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods.  Songbirds abandon us so gradually that, until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay, we haven’t fully realized that we are bereft — as after a death.  Even the sun has gone off somewhere…

Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed, and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head.  
~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”

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Every day now we hear hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer.   The usual day-long serenade of birdsong is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering from the treetops,  the occasional dog barking, with the bluejays and squirrels arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.

In the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, the owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant conversation echoing back and forth.    The horses confined to their stalls in the barns snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.

But there are no longer birdsong arias;  I’m left bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wakes me at 4 AM in the spring.

And no peeper orchestra tuning up in the swamps in the evenings, rising and falling on the breeze.

It is too quiet, a time of bereavement. The chilly silence of the darkened days, interrupted by gunshot percussion, is like a baton raised in anticipation after rapping the podium to bring us all to attention. I wait and listen for the downbeat — the return of birds and frogs tuning their throats, preparing their symphony.

May their concert never end.

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Every Cubic Inch of Space

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Why, who makes much of miracles?
As to me, I know nothing else but miracles…
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me [all] is a continual miracle…
~Walt Whitman

When I go to our 100+ year old hay barn to fetch a couple of bales for the horses, I stop to marvel at the continual miracle of this barn.  It is breaking down along its roof crest, yes.  It is sorely in need of another coat of paint, yes.  It has leaks where the winter winds have blown shingles off so the rain and snow come straight indoors, yes.

Yet these old growth beams and rafters, recycled from a nearby dismantled saw mill over a century ago, continue to do their job of holding up the world encased within.  This home of pigeons, swallows, bats, barn owls, mice, rats, raccoons, skunks and possum remains a steadfast sanctuary for the harvest of our hill.  For decades it has remained steep and silent, serene and solace-filled.

Every cubic inch, the streams of light and the shadowy dark, inside and out, is wonder-full, even when it is empty in the late spring and especially when packed to the rafters, as it is now, with this summer’s hay crop.  The miraculous is grown, cut, dried, raked, baled, hauled, stacked and piece by piece, stem by stem, as it sustains living creatures through three seasons of the year.

I have the privilege of entering here every day and witnessing the miracle year after year.
I know nothing else but miracles, despite my own sagging, my weakening foundation and some *occasional* inopportune leaking of my own.

I know where and to whom I belong.

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Jesus, sovereign over all,  does not cry “Mine!”
~Abraham Kuyper

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Late February Days

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

Late February days; and now, at last,
Might you have thought that
Winter’s woe was past;
So fair the sky was and so soft the air.
The happy birds were hurrying here and there,
as something soon would happen…

–  William Morris from Earthly Paradise

We’ve had a pair of bald eagles who return every winter to our hilltop farm.  They like the high perches offered by our tall Douglas fir trees providing them a 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside and fields.  I suspect their nest is nearby, if not in our woods.  They were back today, full of conversation and gossip, chittering back and forth like a couple of sparrows, only much louder and much much bigger/grander.  The regular inhabitants of our fir trees — crows and red-tailed hawks — are quite put out at the encroachment of eagles on their territory.  They fly about the trees angrily, with scolding and harassing calls.

But the eagles reign wherever they set down talons.  There is simply nothing to argue about.  My only worry about having them in the yard is how vulnerable our cats might be when the wild bunny pickings get thin.   Otherwise I appreciate the eagles for the good neighbors they are.  They keep the rodent population under control, they are polite and don’t throw raucous parties at night, and they have a stable long term marriage, something I deeply respect.

So when their chirpy dialogue quiets down for the night and the hoot owls start in, I think about how much I always miss all this conversation during the silent nights of deep winter.  Happy birds are back, a truly hopeful sign that we are passing into spring, and something soon will happen…

Bereft of Birdsong

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Silence and darkness grow apace, broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods.  Songbirds abandon us so gradually that, until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay, we haven’t fully realized that we are bereft — as after a death.  Even the sun has gone off somewhere… Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed, and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head.  
~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”

Every day now we hear hunters firing in the woods and the wetlands around our farm, most likely aiming for the few ducks that have stayed in the marshes through the winter, or possibly a Canadian goose or a deer to bring home for the freezer.   The usual day-long symphony of birdsong is replaced by shotguns popping, hawks and eagle screams and chittering, the occasional dog barking, with the bluejays and squirrels arguing over the last of the filbert nuts.

In the clear cold evenings, when coyotes aren’t howling in the moonlight, the owls hoot to each other across the fields from one patch of woods to another, their gentle resonant conversation echoing back and forth.    The horses confined to their stalls in the barns snort and blow as they bury their noses in flakes of summer-bound hay.

But there is no birdsong arias,  leaving me bereft of their blending musical tapestry that wake me at 4 AM in the spring.   No peeper orchestra from the swamps in the evenings, rising and falling on the breeze.
It is too too quiet.

The chilly silence of the darkened days is now interrupted by all percussion, no melody at all.   I listen intently for early morning and evening serenades returning.
It won’t be long.
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