Turn Aside and Look: Cleaning Up the Mess

twilightbarn

It is not only prayer that gives God glory,
but work.
Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam,
whitewashing a wall, driving horses,
sweeping, scouring,
everything gives God some glory
if being in his grace you do it as your duty.
To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,
but a man with a dungfork in his hand,
a woman with a slop pail,
give Him glory, too.
God is so great
that all things give Him glory
if you mean that they should.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Thanks in large part to how messy we humans are, this world is a grimy place.   As an act of worship, we keep cleaning up after ourselves.  The hands that clean the toilets, scrub the floors, carry the bedpans, pick up the garbage might as well be clasped in prayer–it is in such mundane tasks God is glorified.

I spend an hour every day carrying dirty buckets and wielding a pitchfork because it is my way of restoring order to the disorder inherent in human life.  It is with gratitude that I’m able to pick up one little corner of my world, making stall beds tidier for our farm animals by mucking up their messes and in so doing, I’m cleaning up a piece of me at the same time.

I never want to forget the mess I’m in and the mess I am.  I never want to forget to clean up after myself.  I never want to feel it is a mere and mundane chore to worship with dungfork and slop pail in hand.

It is my privilege to work.  It is His gift to me.

It is Grace who has come alongside me, pitching the muck and carrying the slop when I am too weary, and most amazing of all, cleans me up as well.

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Farmer with a pitchfork by Winslow Homer
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Photo of Aaron Janicki haying with his Oberlander team in Skagit County courtesy of Tayler Rae

 

A Wild Ancestry Ignited

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Dog sees white. Arctic
light, the bright buzz in the brain
of pure crystal adrenaline. In a flash
he is out the door and across the street
looking for snowshoe hares, caribou, cats.
His wild ancestry ignited, Dog plunges
his nose into snow up to his eyes. He sees
his dreams. Master yells from the front porch
but Dog can’t hear him. Dog hears nothing
except the roar of the wind across the tundra, the ancient
existential cry of wolves, pure, devastating, hungry.
Time for crunchies. Taking many detours, Dog
returns to the porch. Let master think what he
wants. Freedom comes at a price.
~Paul Piper “Dog and Snow”
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amberhomer
Last week’s major snow and ice storm is nearly a memory.  On the north side of our buildings there is still a slick skiff of white here and there, but it actually is feeling like spring could erupt any moment.
The corgis are brokenhearted though.  They loved plunging through the snow, burying their faces deep, tussling each other to the ground in a continuing pro-corgi-wrestling tournament, hearing the call of the wild.  They weren’t aware the coyotes were circling out in the field, hungry for a meal — even a meal of corgi meat if need be.
Now that we are back to the usual mud of winter, I’m actually feeling a little nostalgic for the wildness of the white storm and the wildness it brought out in our dogs.  However, I don’t descend from wolves like the corgis.
I’m much more like sheep, seeking out the comfort of the flock when the chill gets to be too much.
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Lonely Fir

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A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh,
a breath;
One group of trees, lean,

naked and cold,
Inking their cress ‘gainst a
sky green-gold;

One path that knows where the
corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the
fields went brown
~Angelina Weld Grimke “A Winter Twilight”

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Our farm’s lone fir is a focal point of the neighborhood,
standing grand on the highest hill for several miles around.

Raptors use this tree for views of the surrounding fields.
The horses love the shade on hot summer days.
It is backdrop for glorious sunsets and waning moons.

Yet in winter I find myself admiring it most —
Its steadfast presence, so stoic and unyielding
though buffeted by cold wind and icy storms.

Decades of seasons flow past the lone fir,
“silence slipping around like death,
yet chased by a whisper, a sigh,
a breath.”

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So God Made a Farmer

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And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper and then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board.” So God made a farmer.

“I need somebody with arms strong enough to rustle a calf and yet gentle enough to deliver his own grandchild. Somebody to call hogs, tame cantankerous machinery, come home hungry, have to wait lunch until his wife’s done feeding visiting ladies and tell the ladies to be sure and come back real soon — and mean it.” So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody willing to sit up all night with a newborn colt. And watch it die. Then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’ I need somebody who can shape an ax handle from a persimmon sprout, shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire, who can make harness out of haywire, feed sacks and shoe scraps. And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.” So God made a farmer.

God had to have somebody willing to ride the ruts at double speed to get the hay in ahead of the rain clouds and yet stop in mid-field and race to help when he sees the first smoke from a neighbor’s place. So God made a farmer.

God said, “I need somebody strong enough to clear trees and heave bails, yet gentle enough to tame lambs and wean pigs and tend the pink-combed pullets, who will stop his mower for an hour to splint the broken leg of a meadow lark. It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, feed, breed and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk and replenish the self-feeder and finish a hard week’s work with a five-mile drive to church.

“Somebody who’d bale a family together with the soft strong bonds of sharing, who would laugh and then sigh, and then reply, with smiling eyes, when his son says he wants to spend his life ‘doing what dad does.'” So God made a farmer.
~Paul Harvey (1978)

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Good farmers, who take seriously their duties as stewards of Creation and of their land’s inheritors, contribute to the welfare of society in more ways than society usually acknowledges, or even knows. These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.
~Wendell Berry

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

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The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”
~Masanobu Fukuoka 

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photo by Nate Gibson

It is hard for my husband and I to ignore our genetic destiny to struggle as stewards of the land through the challenges of economics and weather. Our blood runs with DNA of dairy farmers, wheat and lentil growers, loggers, cattle ranchers, work horse teamsters, and flower and vegetable gardeners. A farm eventually called us from the city and our professional lives to come back home and care for a piece of ground and its animals. So we heeded and here we remain, some 32 years later, children raised and gone.

Perhaps the call of the farmer genes will bring one of them back to the land.  Because farmers are hand-picked for the job by God Himself.

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Still Radiance

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There is nothing in the world more beautiful than the forest clothed to its very hollows in snow.  It is the still ecstasy of nature, wherein every spray, every blade of grass, every spire of reed, every intricacy of twig, is clad with radiance.
–  William Sharp

 

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Roused by faint glow
between closed slats
of window blinds
at midnight

Bedroom suffused
in ethereal light
from a moonless sky~
a million stars fall silent

Snow light covers all,
settling gently while it
tucks the downy corners
of snowflake comforter

as heaven
plumps the pillows,
cushions the landscape,
illuminates the heart.

 

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To Leave Nothing Concealed

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icymaplebranch

 

In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.
~Brennan Manning from Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging

 

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Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others.

Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift for others, especially when we have received good care. As long as our wounds are open and bleeding, we scare others away. But after someone has carefully tended to our wounds, they no longer frighten us or others….We have to trust that our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole being. That is healing.
— Henri Nouwen from Bread for the Journey

 

icymaplebud

rhodieice

There are unconcealed and transparent wounds all around me today.  Our yard is frozen in time with glaze ice entrapping newly budded twigs alongside glass-like showcases of old dead weeds.  Some forty foot trees are bent over in half, their tops brushing the ground, burdened with such a heavy load.  During the northeast wind last night we heard crack after crack as branches gave way, unable to sustain in such conditions.

This morning, in the illumination of day light,  it looks like a tornado hit the yard — broken branches and wounded trees everywhere. The wind continues and the temperatures stay sub-freezing.  Winter is not done messing with us yet.

It is conditions like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, firestorms and silver thaws that remind us how little control we have over our environment and how much control it has over us. Being unable to walk anywhere outdoors that isn’t coated with ice is a humbling, helpless feeling. Yet I’m grateful for the reminder of our helplessness and woundedness. We dwell in this often hostile world and try to steward it, but we adapt to it, not the world adapting to us. We cannot stop the frozen rain from falling, but must wait patiently for the southerly winds to blow.

In fact, the warming and healing will come. Soon will I listen out our back door to the south, and hear the frozen trees in our woods knocking their branches together in a noisy cacophony as the south wind warms the ice, causing chunks to drop from the branches, clattering and clacking their way to the ground.

…from stony frozen silence of the wounded to animated noisemakers with a steady puff of warm wind.
…from bleeding to bandaged thanks to the warmth of family, a friend, a neighbor.

At times when I’m iced over –
rigid in my opinions, frozen in emotion, silent and cocooned –
the approach of a warm touch, an empathetic word, or heartfelt outreach breaks me free.

Perhaps I remain frostbitten around the edges, but I am whole again, grateful for the healing of the warm wind.

It is well worth the wait.

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An Indecision of Weather

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…step outside into an indecision of weather,
night rain having fallen into frozen air,
a silver thaw where nothing moves or sings
and all things grieve under the weight of their own shining.
~ James McKean  from “Silver Thaw”

 

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Freezing rain needs to happen once a decade just to remind Pacific Northwesterners that regular rain isn’t such a bad thing.  We’re in the midst of just such a silver thaw right now. Trees and heavy branches are crashing everywhere, the power is off, the farm generator is on and life as we know it comes to a standstill under an inch thick blanket of ice.

We webfoot Washingtonians tend to grouse about our continuously gray cloud-covered bleak dreary drizzly wet mildew-ridden existence. But that’s not us actually grumbling.  That’s just us choosing not to exhibit overwhelming joy.  They don’t call Bellingham, the university town ten miles from our farm,  the “city of subdued excitement” for no good reason.

 

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When the temperatures drop in our moderate climate and things start to ice up, or the snowflakes start to fall, we celebrate the diversion from rain.  Our children are out building snowmen when there is a mere 1/2 inch of snow on the ground, leaving lawns bare and green with one large snowman in the middle.  Schools start to cancel at 2 inches because of the lack of snow removal equipment and no bunkers of stored sand for the roads.  We natives are pitifully terrible snow drivers compared to the highly experienced (and at times overconfident) midwestern and northeastern transplants in our midst.

But then the weather gets indecisive and this little meteorologic phenomenon known as freezing rain with its resultant silver thaw happens.  It warms up enough that it really isn’t snowing but it also really isn’t raining because the temperatures are still subfreezing at ground level, so it spills ice drops from the sky–noisy little splatters that land and stay beaded up on any surface.  Branches resemble botanical popsicles, sidewalks become bumpy rinks, roads become sheer black ice, cars are encased in an impenetrable glaze of ice and windows are covered with textured glass twice as thick as usual.

In the midst of this frozen concoction coming from the sky, we delay farm chores as long as possible, knowing it will take major navigation aids to simply make our way out the back steps, across the sidewalk and down the hill, then up the slick cement slope to open the big sliding barn doors.  Chains on our muck boots help, to a degree.  The big rolling barn doors ice together when the northeast wind blows freezing rain into the tiny gap between them, so it is necessary to break foot holds into the ice on the cement to roll back the doors just enough to sneak through before shutting them quickly behind us, blocking the arctic wind blast.  Then we can drink in the warmth of six stalls of hungry Haflinger horses, noisily greeting us by chastising us for our tardiness in feeding them dinner.

 

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Wintertime chores are always more time-consuming but ice time chores are even more so.  Water buckets need to be filled individually because the hoses are frozen solid.  Hay bales stored in the hay barn must be hauled up the slick slope to the horse barn.  Frozen manure piles need to be hacked to pieces with a shovel rather than a pitchfork.   Who needs a bench press and fancy weight lifting equipment when you can lift five gallon buckets, sixty pound bales and fifteen pounds of poop per shovel full?  Why invest in an elliptical exerciser?  This farm life is saving us money… I think.

 

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Once inside each stall, I take a moment to run my ungloved hand over a fluffy golden winter coat, to untangle a mane knot or two, and to breathe in sweet Haflinger hay breath from a velvety nose.   It is the reason I will slide downhill, land on my face pushing loads of hay uphill to feed these loved animals no matter how hazardous the footing or miserable the weather.  It is why their stalls get picked up more often than our bedrooms, their stomachs are filled before ours, and we pay for hoof trims for the herd but never manicures and pedicures for the people residing in the house.

 

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The temperatures will rise, the overwhelming ice covering will start to thaw and our farm will be happily back to drippy and overcast.  No matter what the weather,  the barn will always be a refuge of comfort, even when the work is hard and the effort is a challenge for these middle aged farmers.

It’s enough to melt even the most grumbly heart and therefore the thickest coating of ice.

 

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brrrr

 

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