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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So Then, My Brethren, Live

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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 go to communion worthily gives God great glory,
but to take food in thankfulness and temperance gives him glory too.
To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,
but a man with a dung fork in his hand, a woman with a slop pail, give him glory too.

He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should.
So then, my brethren, live.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from Seeking Peace

 

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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 must 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 over an hour every day year round through all seasons and weather, carrying dirty buckets and wielding a pitchfork and moving manure down this barnyard lane 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.

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 our God with dungfork and slop pail and wheelbarrow.

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

It is Grace that comes alongside me, helping me to live out each day,  pitching the muck and carrying the slop and making me clean again – spring, summer, fall and winter.

Amen.

 

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photo from Emily Vander Haak

Divine Discontent and Longing

 

 

 

…the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror–indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy–but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.  All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered. 

…Spring was moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing…
~Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

 

 

 

 

It is as true for me as it is for Mole in Grahame’s wonderful story:  I must stray from my comfortable little home to look and wonder at the world around and above me.  Spring drives me forth with awe and longing and discontent more than any season: the light is so different and compelling, the clouds dramatic and ever-changing, the greens never more vivid, the smell of the air perfumed and enticing.

What seems so plain, so ordinary at other times of year, becomes magical and beautiful in the spring;

…maybe, just maybe, so do I.

 

 

 

Visitors to the Farm

 

 

 

Fingers of twilight shadow
begin to reach over the hill
crawling down through the field
up unto the bank of blackberries
covering fences along the alder grove.

The horses chew their last
leaves of clover before
coming to the barn for night, eyelids heavy,
relaxed and full, drowsy with spring evening
peace at hand and hoof.

A sudden change in the air forces
their heads up and ears forward;
they form a line, staring at the hilltop
above them, riveted to the spot, alert
to an coming intruder, unfamiliar and foreign.

The roar is intermittent, like a warm wind
rattling a barn roof, but inconstant;
then peaking over the crest of the hill
a rounded top of technicolor glory:
The hot air balloon rises.

The horses silenced, baffled, fascinated;
no alpine instinct prepares their response
to this wizard’s act from Oz in their own backyard.
The basket riders wave and laugh at the equine audience below
in formation with golden noses in the air and white manes blowing in the breeze.

The balloon summits the hill, dipping low, almost touchable
before moving back up to race the sunset,
and search out other pastures, other valleys and hills.
The horses released from the spell
leap in response, snowy tails high, noses flared-

To race up the hill to catch impending darkness,
night mares cavort, float suspended
until their air is let out, gently, in softening snorts,
to settle down in a shavings bed in the barn
where night, blissful, becomes ordinary again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for Parable: New Treasures as Well as Old

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Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.
Matthew 13:52

 

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Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!
Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath. 
~Theodore Roethke “Root Cellar”

 

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On our farm there is an underground storehouse in the form of a root cellar. I tug on the handle of the heavy cover to lift it to one side in order to descend the steps to the underground room that serves as a year round natural refrigerator.  At the bottom of the stairs, I open the thick sealed door to permit a shaft of sunlight to illuminate the inner darkness–there is always a moment of wondering what I might find on the other side in such a mysterious place.  A rush of cool earthen air blows back at me as if displaced by the light that has rushed in.  Until I snap on the lights, it is as secret as a womb harboring its precious cargo.  This place smells of dirt and moisture–the lifeblood of the fruits and roots that tarry here until it is finally their turn to be brought up into the light.  Potatoes, onions, apples, pears, nuts all resting and waiting, as if suspended in time.

This is the old, waiting for me to partake and be nurtured. The old covenant.

It has been awhile since my last visit.  As the lights blink on, I blink too in unbelief.  There had been a startling transformation, as time no longer stands still as it had through the winter.  Long white arms, almost waving with enthusiasm, were reaching out from the potato bin in a desperate searching plunge through the blackness.   In this dark place, their blind eyes must sense a better place and have set out on a mission to get there.  The naked shoots are so entangled one with the other, it feels voyeuristic, as if I were witnessing something private and personal.

I gather them up,  apologetic for causing them a moment’s doubt about their destiny.  A trench must be dug, so they are placed gently at the base with shoots pointed toward the sky, and the dirt swept over them in a burial that is more commencement than coda.

And so the eyes have it, having reached for a light not seen but sensed.  Through a glass darkly, we try to understand – no more dust, cobwebs, murkiness.

This is the new, reaching out to us, never to leave us the same ever again.  The new covenant, a new life.

…even the dirt kept breathing a small breath…

Was blind, but now can see.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

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Preparing Through Parable: In His Joy

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The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
Matthew 13:44

 

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i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
~e.e. cummings from Complete Poems 1904-1962

 

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Many of us are just going about our lives, not expecting much from each day that passes by.  Each moment is like the last and will be like the next and the next.

Imagine in the midst of the mundane and banal there is the discovery of a once in a lifetime treasure, a gift out of the blue that changes everything and changes you. You can’t bear to leave it behind, so in joy and celebration you sell everything you have, give away everything that previously mattered to you, knowing that the treasure you have found is the source of all joy and fulfillment.

This is what happens when people find the Word, sometimes in the most unexpected place, open it up and are embraced by it.  You hide it in your heart to keep it safe.  You want to know it is yours forever.

And it is.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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Preparing Through Parable: The Rain Came Down

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Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
~Matthew 7: 24-27

 

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Our house is built on sandstone, on a rise on the farm.  It is strong and solid, warm and cozy.  We don’t worry about rising waters from the perpetual rains this time of year.

But the barns are built on lower ground where the waters come in torrents down the hill in fierce storms and fill the floors and cause chaos.  Add in the winter winds, and we worry about whether the structures and their inhabitants can survive another season.

The wise man who built the barns on solid rock knew there would be hard times on that low ground yet his buildings have remained standing for decades despite the storms and threats.  We too stay standing on the Word, even when tossed to and fro, though stuck in the mud and muck of life.

May my eyes see, my ears hear, my heart understand.  He prepares me with parable.

 

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