Standing Together and Apart

sunset92horses

In southern France live two old horses,
High in the foothills, not even French,
But English, retired steeplechasers
Brought across to accept an old age
Of ambling together in the Pyrenees.
At times they whinny and kick
At one another with impatience,
But they have grown to love each other.

In time the gelding grows ill
And is taken away for treatment.
The mare pines, pokes at her food,
Dallies on her rides until the other
Comes home.
                        She is in her stall
When the trailer rumbles
Through the gate into the field,
And she sings with impatience
Until her door is opened.
                                             Then full
Of sound and speed, in need of
Each other, they entwine their necks,
Rub muzzles, bumping flanks
To embrace in their own way.
Together they prance to
The choicest pasture,
Standing together and apart,
To be glad until
They can no longer be glad.
~Paul Zimmer, “Love Poem”

outongrass2

pastureoctober

 

There is security in a basic routine, especially on our farm – predictable things happening in predictable ways, day after day, week after week, year after year.  Somehow, dull as it may seem, the “norm” is quite comforting, like each breath taken in and let go, each heart beat following the next. We depend on it, take it for granted, forget it until something doesn’t go as it should.

Mornings are very routine for me.  I wake before the alarm, usually by 5:30 AM, fire up the computer and turn the stove on to get my coffee water boiling.  I head down the driveway to fetch the paper, either feeling my way in the dark if it is winter, or squinting at the glare of early morning sunlight if it is not.  I make my morning coffee, check my emails, eat my share of whole grains while reading the paper, climb into my rubber boots and head out for chores.

Some years ago, as I was leading a mare and her colt out to pasture for their daytime turnout, I was whistling to the wandering colt as he had his own ideas about where he wanted to be, and it wasn’t where I was leading. Fifty yards away, he decided he was beyond his comfort zone so whirled around, sped back to his mom and me, and traveling too fast to put his brakes on ended up body slamming her on her right side, putting her off balance and she side stepped toward me, landing one very sizeable Haflinger hoof directly on my rubber booted foot.  Hard.

I hobbled my way with them to the pasture, let them go, closed the gate and then pulled my boot off to see my very scrunched looking toes, puffing up and throbbing.  I still had more horses to move, so I started to limp back to the barn, biting my lip and thinking “this is no big deal, this is just a little inconvenience, this will feel better in the next few minutes”  but each step suggested otherwise.  I was getting crankier by the second when I passed beneath one of our big evergreen trees and  noticed something I would not have noticed if I hadn’t been staring down at my poor sore foot.  An eagle feather, dew covered, was lodged in the tall grass beneath the tree, dropped there as a bald eagle had lifted its wings to fly off from the tree top, probably to dive down to grab one of the many wild bunnies that race across the open pasture, each vulnerable to the raptors that know this spot as a good place for lunch .  The wing feather lay there glistening, marking the spot, possessing the tree, claiming the land, owning our farm.  It belonged there and I did not–in fact I can’t even legally keep this feather–the law says I’m to leave it where I find it or turn it over to the federal government.

I am simply a visitor on this acreage, too often numbly going through my morning routine, accomplishing my chores for the few years I am here until I’m too old or crippled to continue. The eagles will always be here as long as the trees and potential lunch remain to attract them.

Contemplating my tenure on this earth, my toes didn’t hurt much anymore.  I was reminded that nothing truly is routine about daily life, it is gifted to us as a feather from heaven, floating down to us in ways we could never expect nor deserve.  I’d been body slammed that morning all right, but by the touch of a feather.  Bruised and broken but then built up, carried and sustained, standing together but yet apart.

I am glad for the gifts of this life, for the ache that love inevitably brings, as pain such as this can bring revelation and renewal.  Sometimes it is the only thing that does.

feather

sasha1015

Bereft of Birdsong

newyearbaker

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.
jansunset

Advent Sings: Carried Aloft

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

He shielded him and cared for him;
    he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
11 like an eagle that stirs up its nest
    and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
    and carries them aloft.
12 The Lord alone led him;
Deuteronomy 32: 10b-12a from the Song of Moses

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
Exodus 19: 3-6. 25

We live where eagles live.  It is a rare day to not see an eagle sitting in the tall firs around our farm, or flying over the river in search of salmon, or circling high above the valley.   They command awe and my attention is riveted by their strength and beauty.

The eagle, of all God’s creatures, is used as metaphor by God Himself for the care He feels for His people.   The wings of an eagle carry the weight of the world’s cares.

So too, the weight of the world is carried by a baby earth-bound, born in a barn to eventually die on a cross.  Either soaring on the wings of eagles, lying helpless in the straw or hanging forsaken on a tree so we are forever forgiven.

That is man, that God is mindful of us.

That is God, wanting us to know He loves us enough to carry us.

…those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40: 31

Half Fledged

photo by Emily Gibson, just outside our front door

Sometimes, hard-trying, it seems I cannot pray–
For doubt, and pain, and anger, and all strife.
Yet some poor half-fledged prayer-bird from the nest
May fall, flit, fly, perch–crouch in the bowery breast
Of the large, nation-healing tree of life;–
Moveless there sit through all the burning day,
And on my heart at night a fresh leaf cooling lay.
~George MacDonald from Diary of an Old Soul

There can be no response but to bow in earnest prayer, waiting for the hatch of a healing peace among the diverse peoples and opinions of our nation.   Our lives are half-fledged, not yet fully delivered nor understood, doubt burning into our flesh like thorns on fire.  We have become an angry and hurting nation– those who won and those who lost.  The gloating bloats who we are, beyond recognition.

May our prayers rise like a dove from hearts in turmoil,  once again to soar on the wings of eagles.

Peace, come quickly.
Be no longer moveless.
Move us to higher ground.
Plow deep our hearts.

photo of “firethorn” bush (pyracanthus) by Emily Gibson

The Farm Dream

n148300158_30188070_8736

5145_512481287714_148300158_30504624_8229602_n

This time of year our farm is brilliant, verdant and delicious to behold.  The cherry orchard blossoms yield to fruit and the pastures are knee high with grass.  By mid-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 stall doors are sticking and not closing properly.  Foals have gotten large and strong without having the good halter lessons they needed when they were much smaller and easier to control.   The supply of bedding shavings is non-existent due to the depressed lumber industry, so our shavings shed is bare and old hay is now serving as bedding in the stalls. The weather has become iffy in the last week so no string of days has been available for hay cutting– we are low on the priority list of the local dairy man who cuts and bales our hay,  so we may not have anything but junk hay in the barn this winter in a year when hay will cost a premium.  No one is buying horses in this economy, not even really well bred horses, so we are no longer breeding our stallion and mares, and for the first time in 18 years, have made the painful decision not to be part of our regional fair.

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 25 year old hand me down truck with almost 200,000 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 are often 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 one another, with the sunrises and the sunsets and everything in between.  This is the stuff of which the best dreams are made.

1eagle