Getting a Grip

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In the Pasture–Julien Dupre`

 

This painting by French realist Julien Dupre` resonated with me this past week. I know well the feeling of pulling against a momentum determined to break free of the strength I can muster to keep it under control. This is what my life often feels like, both on the farm and at work. It seems I am barely hanging on, at times losing my grip, my feet braced but slipping beneath me.

The full-uddered cow in the painting is compelled to join her herd in a pastoral scene just across the creek, but the milk maid must resist the cow’s escape. For the cow’s benefit and comfort, she must be milked. The cow has another agenda. She has snapped her rope tie, almost pulled up the stake, and in a show of strength and determination, the maid braces to pull a much larger animal around to retie her and restore things to how they were.

The action suggests the maid may succeed, but the cow’s attention is directed far afield. She doesn’t even feel the tug on her halter. We’re not fully convinced the cow won’t suddenly pull loose and break away from the maid’s grip, leaping the stream, tail raised straight in the air like a flag of freedom.

Right now, as spring advances rapidly with grass growing thick in the pastures, our horses can smell that richness in the air. Sometimes this tug of war takes place when my plan is different than the horse’s. The fields are too wet for them to be out full time yet, so they must wait for the appropriate time to be released to freedom. The grass calls to them like a siren song as I feed them their portion of last summer’s uninviting hay. They can pull my shoulders almost out of joint when they are determined enough, they break through fences in their pursuit of green, they push through stall doors and lift gates off hinges. Right now I’m barely an adequate counterbalance to the pursuit of their desires and I struggle to remind them I’m on the other end of their lead rope.

Each day I try too hard to restore order in my life, on the farm, in the house, in my clinic, with my patients and coworkers, with my family. I want to pull that cow back around, get her tied up and relieved of her burden of milk so that it can nurture and replenish others. Sometimes I hang on, only to be pulled along on the ground, roughed up in the process. Sometimes I just let go and have to try to catch that cow all over again.

Once in awhile I successfully get the cow turned around and actually milked without a spill.

I’ve held on. I’ve got a grip.
And maybe, just maybe, I will make cheese….

tony2017

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The Raggedy Wandering Gypsy

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April is like the raggedy, wandering gypsy lad of the fairy tale.
When he moves, streaks of gold show beneath his torn garments
and you suspect that this elfin creature is actually a prince in disguise.

April is just that.

There are raggedy, cold days, dark black ones,
but all through the month for a second, for an hour, or for three days at a stretch you glimpse pure gold.

The weeks pass and the rags slip away, a shred at a time.
Toward the end of the month his royal highness stands before you.
~Jean Hersey from The Shape of a Year

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I avoid mirrors now as I age, knowing I’m clothed in rags, thinning here, thickening there, sagging and stretching, wrinkled and patched up.

Still, if I look closely past the rags and sags, I see the same eyes as my nine year old self peering back at me.

The lightness of youth and freshness may be disguised, but it is still there.
Every once in awhile, I glimpse pure gypsy gold.

dandyyellow

Turn Aside and Look: Cleaning Up the Mess

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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 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

 

Turn Aside and Look: To Laugh and To Cry

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It is in these afflictions, which succeed one another each moment,
that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself,
mysteriously bestowing his grace in a manner
quite unrecognized by the souls
who feel only weakness in bearing their cross…

~Jean Pierre du Caussade from The Sacrament of the Present Moment

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The past few mornings have been unveiled in snow flurries, mist and fog, tentative spring dawns of freezing air and warming soil trying to break loose from the vise grip of a tired and dying winter.

I am struggling under the load of 14 hour days working with despairing and suicidal people,  in addition to keeping a barn clean and animals and humans fed.  Even sleep is not restful when there is so little time to quiet myself in reflection and gratitude.

I am keenly reminded of my weakness as my strength wanes at the end of a long day, having slipped in the mud while trying to gain traction unloading a couple hundred pounds of manure from the wheelbarrow.  Landing on my backside, my pants soaking through,  I can choose to laugh or cry.

I choose to see the baptism of mud as a sacrament of the present moment,  reminding me of my need for a cleansing grace.

I laugh and cry.

Though obscured from view, God is nevertheless revealed in these moments of being covered in the soil of earth and the waste of its creatures.

He knows I need reminding that I too am dust and to dust shall return.

He knows I am too often wasteful and a failed steward,
so need reminding by landing me amidst it.

He knows I need to laugh at myself,
so puts me right on my backside.

He knows I need to cry,
so sends me those with the saddest stories and greatest needs.

He knows I need Him, always and ever more,
to restore a sacrament of grace evident in the present moment
and every moment to come.

To be known for who I am
by a God who laughs with me,
weeps for me
and groans with pain I have caused~
I will know
no greater love.

snowyoldtree

 

When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
~William Billings

 

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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strolling
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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)

icyfarm

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.

amberhomer

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