Making Scents

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I admit it.  Right this minute, I should be doing our taxes.  We’re down to the last minute and I have all the paperwork stacked on the desk beside me, but I’m not doing it.  It is too miserable a task to even contemplate.  Instead I go outside to capture spring.

The last few mornings, when I have risen just before dawn, I have gone outside to breathe deeply of the scents that hang heavy in the cool moist air.  The perfume from thousands of orchard blossoms on our farm is heady and intoxicating.  There is nothing quite like these two weeks each year when our farm becomes a mass of snow white and pink scented flowers, busy with honey bees and eventually showering petals to the ground as the fruit starts to form.

Unfortunately, I’m allergic to tree pollen.  I breathe deeply and… sneeze and wheeze.  Even the best medicine can’t stop my reaction. So much loveliness causes so much misery.  So I retreat back to the house and look out the window and enjoy the view from afar, dabbing my dripping nose.

Ironically, this is the same time of year our dairy farm neighbors start to empty their manure lagoons and begin to spread their thousands of gallons of liquid manure on the surrounding fields, readying the ground for the hay or corn crop to come later on this summer. That scent hangs heavy in the cool moist air as well, pungent and unforgettable, penetrating even into our clothing so we carry the smell back into the house with us.  Of course I’m not allergic to manure.  After all, it’s only grass and water transformed.  In fact, as nasty a smell as it is, it’s invigorating in a perverse sort of way.  I know where it comes from, I know what its potential is, and I know the crop it yields.  It is, in itself, as treasured as the blossoms that yield fruit on our farm.

Taxes are the manure in our lives.  They are pretty stinky too, just like manure, an inevitable part of our daily existence, yet even more onerous.  However, spread out where needed, those collective taxes fertilize and grow our communities, our schools, our roads, our health care (and a few other things we may wish would not be funded).

So I must get to work spreading numbers across my desktop in the hope they may make sense and yield fruit of their own, sometime, somewhere.

The Cents of Spring.

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Heart, Round Me Right

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Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ‘ vaulty, voluminous, . . . stupendous
Evening strains to be time’s vást, ‘ womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ‘ her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ‘ stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven.
Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ‘ whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ‘ thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.
 ~Gerard Manley Hopkins — stanzas from “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves”

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A descent into night is overwhelming relief from the stress of the day, an all-encompassing comfort as the fire of the sun warms and then extinguishes, leaving only moon, stars and the infinite heavens we bend backwards to see.

A descent into night is overwhelming loss, an emptying of all that is familiar, as we are overtaken by darkness that is not only outside us, but within us.

Heart, oh dear Heart, please round me right so my thoughts reflect Your thoughts, your Light to illuminate me from within.

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Here God Lives

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Here God lives, burrowing among
the petals, cross-
pollinating. Here is Christ’s mind
juiced, joined, fleshed, celled.
Here is the clash,
the roil, an invasion, not gentle
as dew; the rose is unfurled
violently until the scent explodes
and detonates in the air
And oh, it trembles—
thousands of seeds ripen in it as
it reels in the wind.
~Luci Shaw from “Flower Head”
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I often awake with my mind as askew as my hair,
brushing away the cobwebs of dreams,
smoothing down worries ever present,
curling the whiff of memories long forgotten.
And I realize these same molecules transmitting thoughts
also carried Christ’s while He walked this earth,
the earthbound thoughts of God Himself,
borne by integration of chemistry and ions,
in millions of electrical explosions per second.
My mind is ready to burst with the thought of it:
Here God lives, here He thinks, here He loves.
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The Path Taken

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Twice each day I walk the same downhill path to the barn for chores.  Sometimes I’m half asleep, sometimes weary from working a long day at the clinic, most often in the dark,  sometimes sliding on icy snow, sometimes slipping in mud from unending rain, sometimes wading through a sea of overgrown grass.   The constant in this twice daily journey is the path itself and where it always takes me– no matter what time of year, the state of the weather, or how temporarily difficult to discern. My feet have learned the way by feel as much as by sight–the twist here, the dip there, the curve around the septic tank lid, the aromatic stretch through the stand of wild mint, all while trying to avoid stepping on the playful farm dogs or the swerving barn cat perpetually underfoot.

I prefer to take the demarcated path to the barn as it keeps me focused on the task ahead of me.  If I happen to deviate, I will surely find weeds to pull, a woodpecker to admire, a cluster of cherries to eat, or a sweet pea blossom to smell.  The distraction may bring me momentary pleasure but so much work remains yet to be done. I must find my way back to the path and stick to it.

As a teenager, I was a trailblazer, bushwhacking my way through brambles to see what might be on the other side, or to discover a new favorite place in the woods, or simply to prove I was stronger than the brush that yielded to me.  In my middle age, I tend to stick to the familiar.   I like knowing where my feet will land, what work my hands will touch, and where my head will rest.  The adventure of the unknown, so attractive in my youth that it took me to remote Tanzania, is less appealing now.  The visible path, even when difficult to follow due to cover of snow, sea of mud, or abundance of overgrowth, is reassurance that I have a purpose and a destination.   I can see where I am going and I know where I’ve been.

We tread many paths during our time on this soil–some routine and mundane, leading to the barns and chores in our life, and others a matter of faith, trust, heart and spirit.  As tempting as it is to deviate, the path is there for good reason.  It doesn’t have to be a super highway, or lined with gold or even paved with good intentions. It is rarely straight. But it must be true, steadfastly leading us to where we are called and back again to where we belong.

It’s time to pull on my boots.

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Leaping into Nothingness

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toad picture by Josh Scholten

Toads are smarter than frogs. Like all of us who are not good-
looking they have to rely on their wits. A woman around the
beginning of the last century who was in love with frogs wrote
a wonderful book on frogs and toads. In it she says if you place
a frog and a toad on a table they will both hop. The toad will
stop just at the table’s edge, but the frog with its smooth skin
and pretty eyes will leap with all its beauty out into nothing-
ness. I tried it out on my kitchen table and it is true. That may
explain why toads live twice as long as frogs. Frogs are better at
romance though. A pair of spring peepers were once observed
whispering sweet nothings for thirty-four hours. Not by me.
The toad and I have not moved.
~Tom Hennen  “Plains Spadefoot Toad”

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I too am like a toad.
Plain, immobile,
risk-averse, contemplative,
tending to plop or splat
rather than a graceful carefree
leaping into nothingness.

Someone has to hold down the swamp,
peering over the edge of the abyss
belching out an occasional thoughtful croak
while dainty peepers sing their hearts out
like so many sleighbells jingling gaily
throughout the endless night.

 

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The Heart of the World

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The mares go down for their evening feed
                                                                            into the meadow grass.
Two pine trees sway the invisible wind 
                                                                       some sway, some don’t sway.
The heart of the world lies open, leached and ticking with sunlight
For just a minute or so.
The mares have their heads on the ground,
                                           the trees have their heads on the blue sky.
Two ravens circle and twist.
                On the borders of heaven, the river flows clear a bit longer.
~Charles Wright “Miles Away”

 

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It isn’t yet time to turn the Haflingers out on pasture.  The fields still squish from our heavy winter rains when I check the grass growth and test how firm the ground feels.

But spring is in the air, with pollens flying from the trees and the faint scent of plum and cherry blossoms wafting across the barn yard.  The Haflingers know there are green blades rising out there.

There is a waning pile of hay bales in the barn being carefully measured against the calendar.  We need to make it last until the fields are sufficiently recovered, dried out and growing well before the horses can be set free from their confinement back on the green.

Haflingers don’t care much about the calendar.  They know what they smell and they know what they see and they know what they want.

One early spring some years ago,  as I opened the gate to a paddock of Haflinger mares to take them one by one back to the barn, their usual good manners abandoned them.  Two escaped before I could shut the gate, the siren call of the green carrying them away like the wind, their tails high and their manes flying.  There is nothing quite as helpless as watching escaped horses running away as fast as their legs can carry them.

They found the nearest patch of green and stopped abruptly, trying to eat whatever the meager ground would offer up.    I approached,  quietly talking to them, trying to reassure them that, indeed,  spring is at hand and soon they will be able to eat their fill of grass.   Understandably suspicious of my motives, they leaped back into escape mode, running this time for the pasture across the road.

We live on a road that is traveled by too many fast moving cars and trucks and our farm on a hill is hampered by visibility issues –my greatest fear is one of our horses on the road would cause an accident simply because there would be no time for a driver to react after cresting a hill at 50 mph and finding a horse a mere twenty yards away.

I yelled and magically the mares turned, veering back from the road.  As I marveled at my ability to verbally redirect them from dashing into potential disaster,  they were heading back to the barn on their own, where their next most attractive feature on the farm dwelled:  our stallion.  He was calling them, knowing things were amiss, and they responded, turning away from the green to respond to the call of the heart.

So that was where I was able to nab them in their distracted posing for the guy in their lives.  Guys can do that to a gal.  You can end up completely abandoning thoughts of running away with the wind when the right guy calls your name.

Lured from the green grassy borders of heaven, we respond to the call of the heart from the world.

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Nothing Else But Miracles

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Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I …
…wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the
water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,

Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer
forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so
quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the
same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the
ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
~Walt Whitman “Miracles”

 

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The miraculous is not extraordinary, but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air, and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances, will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine – which was, after all, a very small miracle. We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes.
~Wendell Berry

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A lily shivered
at His passing,
supposing Him to be
the Gardener.
~Margaret D. Smith “Easter morning, yesterday”
from A Widening Light -Poems of the Incarnation

 

So ordinary, so much like one of us~
in the manger or later in the garden,
just another baby
just another man
but more, much more
than we ever could have imagined.
The fields of our hearts, bare and dead,
spring back to life again.

 

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