The Melancholy Days

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The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds and naked wood, and meadows brown and sear.
~William Cullen Bryant

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These are the dark and sodden days we can scarcely recall while basking in the brightness of June when sun graces us 19 hours a day.  There is no way but to ease into this a few minutes at a time, otherwise the shock would be too great.  The howling wind continually knocks and batters, the rain beats mercilessly at the window panes, the puddles stand deeper than they appear, the leaves now thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.

There is no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to the pervasive sogginess.

Nevertheless, melancholy days have their usefulness and there are times they can be a source of joy when snuggled deep under quilts, safe, dry and warm.  Without the stark contrast, the light time of year would become routine and under-appreciated, only another sunny day.

That never happens here.

We celebrate the light with real thanksgiving and in turn can acknowledge the darkness makes our gratitude more genuine.

We are privileged to live the paradox:  there is gladness in our sadness.

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A Frayed and Beautiful Land

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Here is a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world…: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling — not held aloft on a cloud in the air but bumbling pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land.
~Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

 

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The weather is getting brisker so the outdoor critters, some invited, some not,  are starting to move inside.  The cats scoot between our legs as we open the front door, heading straight for the fireplace to bask in the warmth rather than a cold wind.  The corgis come in from the yard for a nightly snack and chew bone, and stretch out on the rug, acting every bit like pieces of furry furniture.  And today there was another mouse in the trap under the sink.  I almost thought we were mouse-free with three weeks of none sighted and none trapped, but there he was waiting for me when I got home from work, well fed and quite dead.  He became an opportune meal for a cat too lazy to go get himself a living breathing mouse.

From nibbling to nibbled.  It is a tough world, inside and out.

Our most numerous and ambitious visitors from outside are the spiders, appearing miraculously crawling futilely up the sides in the bathtub, or scurrying across the kitchen floor, or webbing themselves into a corner of the ceiling with little hope of catching anything but a stray house moth or two this time of year.   Arachnids are certainly determined yet stationary predators, rebuilding their sticky traps as needed to ensure their victims won’t rip away, thereby destroying the web.

I don’t really mind sharing living quarters with another of God’s creatures, but I do prefer the ones that are officially invited into our space and not surprise guests.  The rest are interlopers that I tolerate with grudging admiration for their instinctive ingenuity.  I admit I’m much too inept and bumbling to find my way into someone else’s abode through a barely perceptible crack, and I’m certainly incapable of weaving the intricate beauty of a symmetrical web placed just so in a high corner.

After all, I am just another creature in the same boat.  There is something quite humbling about being actually invited into this frayed and beautiful, this complex and broken world, “pitted and scarred” as I am.    I’m grateful I’ve so far escaped capture in the various insidious traps of life,  not just the spring-loaded kind and the sticky filament kind.

So it is okay that I’m settled in, cozy in front of the fireplace, just a piece of the furniture.  Just so long as I don’t startle anyone or nibble too much of what I shouldn’t, I just might be invited to stay awhile.

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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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Damp All Through

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Early morning, everything damp all through.
Cars go by. A ripping sound of tires through water.
For two days the air
Has smelled like salamanders.
The little lake on the edge of town hidden in fog,
Its cattails and island gone.
All through the gloom of the dark week
Bright leaves have been dropping
From black trees
Until heaps of color lie piled everywhere
In the falling rain.
~Tom Hennen “Wet Autumn” from Darkness Sticks to Everything.

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There is no one home but me—
and I’m not at home; I’m up here on the hill,
looking at the dark windows below.
Let them be dark…

…The air is damp and cold
and by now I am a little hungry…
The squirrel is high in the oak,
gone to his nest , and night has silenced

the last loud rupture of the calm.
~Jane Kenyon from “Frost Flowers”

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Even when the load grows too heavy,
weariness rolling in like a fog to
dampen all that was once vibrant,
even then

~even then~

there awaits a nest of nurture,
a place of calm
where we are fed
when we are tired and hungry.

We will be filled;
we will be restored;
the load will lighten.

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The Beauty of the Bone

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The stripped and shapely
Maple grieves
The ghosts of her
Departed leaves.

The ground is hard
As hard as stone.
The year is old
The birds are flown.

And yet the world,
Nevertheless,
Displays a certain
Loveliness—

The beauty of
The bone. Tall God
Must see our souls

This way, and nod.

Give thanks: we do,
Each in his place
Around the table
during Grace.
~John Updike  “November” from A Child’s Calendar

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The maple’s leaves have let go
in the wind and rain
in a bid for freedom,
swirling slowly to new adventure,
ending in a soft landing.

There they lay in leafy graveyard
atop others seeking release
from branching bondage,
each shaped differently
in designed diversity.

Once distinctive foliage,
so green and grand,
oak, chestnut, walnut,
dogwood, birch, maple
assimilated in color and wilt.

In death
mirroring each other
just as leaf buds
appeared indistinguishable
a mere eight months ago.

A ghostly mosaic of July shade,
they dress the ground
as they once adorned branches,
lifting and dancing
in the breeze.

Distressed and done,
fallen and sodden,
each one lies alone
together,
a carpeted coda to a summer past.

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Diffuse Light of a Foggy Sky

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And then in the falling comes a rising,
as of the bass coming up for autumn’s last insects
struggling amid the mosaic of leaves on the lake’s surface.
We express it as the season of lacking, but what is this nakedness
— the unharvested corn frost-shriveled but still a little golden
under the diffuse light of a foggy sky,
the pin oak’s newly stark web of barbs, the woodbine’s vines
shriven of their scarlet and left askew in the air
like the tangle of threads on the wall’s side
of the castle tapestry—what is it but greater intimacy,
the world slackening its grip on the veils, letting them slump
to the floor in a heap of sodden colors, and saying,
this is me, this is my skeletal muscle,
my latticework of bones, my barren winter skin,
this is it and if you love me, know that this is what you love.
~Laura Fargas “October Struck” from Animal of the Sixth Day

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Something about the emerging nakedness of autumn reassures that we can be loved even when stripped down to our bones. We do make quite a show of shedding our coverings, our bits and pieces fluttering down to rejoin the soil, but what is left is meager lattice.

But when the light is just right, we are golden, illuminated and illuminating, even if barely there.

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Radical Amazement

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An open heart is alive to wonder, to the sheer marvel of “isness.”
It is remarkable that the world is,
that we are here,
that we can experience it.
The world is not ordinary.
Indeed, what is remarkable is that
it could ever look ordinary to us.
An open heart knows “radical amazement.”
An open heart and gratitude go together.
We can feel this in our bodies.
In the moments in my life
when I have been most grateful,
I have felt a swelling,
almost a bursting in my chest.
~Marcus Borg from The Heart of Christianity

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I shall open my eyes and ears. Once every day I shall simply stare at a tree, a flower, a cloud, or a person. I shall not then be concerned at all to ask what they are but simply be glad that they are. I shall joyfully allow them the mystery of what C.S. Lewis calls their “divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic” existence.
~Clyde Kilby in “Amazed in the Ordinary”

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Most of the time I’m sleep walking through each day, oblivious, as if in dense fog with unseeing wide-open eyes.  There is a slow motion quality to time as it flows from one hour to the next to the next.

Am I continually asleep or shall I wake to the radical amazement of each moment?

To be amazed, everything becomes more vivid, as in a dream — the sounds of geese flying overhead, the smell of the farm, the layers of a foggy landscape, the taste of an autumn apple right from the tree, the string of fog-drop pearls on a spider web, the intensity of every breath, the reason for being.

I stumble through life asleep, the path indiscernible, my future uncertain, my purpose illusive.

So wake me to dream some more.    I want to chew on it again and again, savoring.

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