Dancing in Dust Motes

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ready
emptied and ready

They put up hay loose there, the old way,
forking it into the loft from the wagon rack
while the sweaty horses snorted and switched off flies
and the littlest kids were commanded to trample it flat
in between loads until the entire bay
was alight with its radiant sun-dried manna….
It was paradise up there with dusty sun motes
you could write your name in as they skirled and drifted down.
There were ropes we swung on and dropped from and shinnied up
and the smell of the place was heaven, hurling me back
to some unknown plateau, tears standing up in my eyes
and an ancient hunger in my throat, a hunger….
~Maxine Kumin from “Hay”

filling
filling up

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My parents knew that ancient hunger, both born on farms with teams of horses that brought in hay the old way while the children tramped and stamped the loose piles firm.

I’ve known that ancient hunger, having grown up on a farm that brought in to the barn loose hay the old way by tractor and wagon, having danced in the dusty sun motes on the top of the hay on a bright afternoon, the light cut in stripes over the sweet smelling grass.

We’ve made sure our three children knew that ancient hunger, born to a farm that brought in hay bales stacked to the rafters through community effort, those same dusty sun motes swirling about their heads as they learned their jobs, from bale rolling to lifting to tossing and stacking.

And now the next generation of neighborhood children arrive with shouts on haying days to clamor up and down the bale mountains, answering to the same hunger, blowing the same dusty snot and thrilling to the adventure of tractors, wagons and trucks, celebrating the gathering in of sun-dried manna together.

Surely this is what heaven will be like: we are all together, dancing in the light of the sun motes, our hunger filled to the brim by manna provided from above.

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Bound to the Earth

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My grandparents owned the land,
worked the land, bound
to the earth by seasons of planting
and harvest.

They watched the sky, the habits
of birds, hues of sunset,
the moods of moon and clouds,
the disposition of air.
They inhaled the coming season,
let it brighten their blood
for the work ahead.

Soil sifted through their fingers
imbedded beneath their nails
and this is what they knew;
this rhythm circling the years.
They never left their land;
each in their own time
settled deeper.
~Lois Parker Edstrom “Almanac” from Night Beyond Black. © MoonPath Press, 2016.

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Photo of Aaron Janicki haying with his Oberlander team in Skagit County courtesy of Tayler Rae

I am old enough to have parents who grew up on farms worked by horses, one raising wheat and lentils in the Palouse country of eastern Washington and the other logging in the woodlands of Fidalgo Island of western Washington.  The horses were crucial to my grandparents’ success in caring for and tilling the land, seeding and harvesting the crops and bringing supplies from town miles away.  Theirs was a hardscrabble life in the early 20th century with few conveniences.  Work was year round from dawn to dusk; caring for the animals came before any human comforts.  Once night fell, work ceased and sleep was welcome respite for man and beast.

In the rural countryside where we live now, we’ve been fortunate enough to know people who still dabble in horse farming, whose draft teams are hitched to plows and mowers and manure spreaders as they head out to the fields to recapture the past.  Watching a good team work with no diesel motor running means hearing bird calls from the field, the steady footfall of the horses, the harness chains jingling, the leather straps creaking, the machinery shushing quietly as gears turn and grass lays over in submission.  No ear protection is needed.  There is no clock needed to pace the day.   There is a rhythm of nurture when animals instead of engines are part of the work day.   The gauge for taking a break is the amount of foamy sweat on the horses and how fast they are breathing. It is time to stop and take a breather, it is time to start back up and do a few more rows, it is time to water, it is time for a meal, it is time for a nap, it is time for a rest in a shady spot.  This is gentle use of the land with four footed stewards who deposit right back to the soil the digested forage they have eaten only hours before.

Our modern agribusiness megafarm fossil-fuel-powered approach to food production has bypassed the small family farm which was so dependent on the muscle power of humans and animals.    In our move away from horses worked by skilled teamsters,  what has been gained in high production values has meant loss of self-sufficiency and dedicated stewardship of a particular plot of ground.  Draft breeds, including the Haflinger horses we own, now are bred for higher energy with lighter refined bone structure meant more for eye appeal and floating movement,  rather than the sturdy conformation and unflappable low maintenance mindset needed for pulling work.   Modern children are bred for a different purpose as well, no longer raised to work together with other family members for a common purpose of daily survival.   Their focus at school is waning as they have no morning farm chores when they get up, too little physical work to do before they arrive at their desks in the morning.   Their physical energy, if directed at all,  is directed to competitive sports, engaged in fantasy combat rather than winning a very real victory over hunger.

I am encouraged when young people still reach for horse collars and bridles, hitch up their horses and do the work as it used to be done.   All is not lost if we can still make incremental daily progress,  harnessed together as a team with our horses, tilling for truth and harvesting hope.

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I like farming. I like the work. I like the livestock and the pastures and the woods.  It’s not necessarily a good living, but it’s a good life.  I now suspect that if we work with machines the world will seem to us to be a machine, but if we work with living creatures the world will appear to us as a living creature.  That’s what I’ve spent my life doing, trying to create an authentic grounds for hope. –Wendell Berry, horse farmer, essayist, poet, professor

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photo by Tayler Rae

 

A Free Servitude

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homertony

And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.

In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.

Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads,
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

~Edwin Muir from “The Horses”

sashaeye

There is nothing that truly compels a horse to wear a saddle, pull a heavy burden, chew a cold bit until it foams warm — no fear of whip or spur or harsh word.  They, so much more powerful than we are, choose the work, to do what is needed, to serve freely, to be there because they were asked — whether asked nicely or not.

How much more we learn from the lather of their sweaty grace —  how to choose the labor that changes lives, how to offer up love in gratitude for the reward of a scratch in just the right place and a nose buried in sweet clover.

 

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A Steward of Creation

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marshmallowmorning1

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

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When it is understood that one loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them, the essence of natural farming will be realized. 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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cedargrove2

I should understand the land, not as a commodity, an inert fact to be taken for granted, but as an ultimate value, enduring and alive, useful and beautiful and mysterious and formidable and comforting, beneficent and terribly demanding, worthy of the best of man’s attention and care… [My father] insisted that I learn to do the hand labor that the land required, knowing–and saying again and again–that the ability to do such work is the source of a confidence and an independence of character that can come no other way, not by money, not by education.
~Wendell Berry

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He knows all about the cycle of the seasons
When to plow, when to disc, when to harrow,
When to plant, when to fertilize,
When to irrigate, when to weed,
When to harvest, when to leave stubble and
When to lie fallow.

He knows to read the sky and feel the wind
When the forecast is right,
When it is just plain off,
When to quit early for the day,
When to keep going beyond dark and
When to give up and go to bed.

He knows his animals and what they need
When to bring them in, when to turn them out,
When to doctor them himself,
When to call the vet,
When to use heroics and
When to let go.

He knows his family and friends
When to tease his wife, when to hug her,
When to be tough on the kids, when to love them
When to give all he’s got, when to withhold
When to bid at the sale barn, when to just smile and
When to go home empty handed but full of stories.

He knows his Bible and his faith
When to pray aloud, when to be silent,
When to trust through hard times,
When to share abundance,
When to believe with burning heart and
When to forgive and be forgiven.

He knows his time is coming
When his worn and tired body slows down,
When he drives his pickup and takes a wrong turn,
When he shows up for chores breathing hard,
When he bids at auction just because and
When he lies down for a nap and doesn’t get up.

He lies fallow, sleeping,
Having given up and let go
To head home, without getting lost,
Stubbled, forgiven and loved,
Storing the rest of his harvest
For a new and glorious day.

 

tractorguy

Simple Little Pleasures

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photo by Nate Gibson
samgrass
photo by Nate Gibson

I believe the nicest and sweetest days
are not those on which anything very splendid
or wonderful or exciting happens
but just those that bring simple little pleasures,
following one another softly,
like pearls slipping off a string.
~L.M. Montgomery from Anne of Avonlea

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homerroller

I’ve never owned pearls
but can imagine watching them slip off a string
would provoke anxiety they could be lost to me forever.

Instead, I seek the simple pleasure
of a run in the field at dusk
just to follow my nose wherever it takes me:
to find the smelliest spot
to roll about, ecstatic with life,
knowing I carry that scent with me
the rest of my days, never to be lost.

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photo by Nate Gibson
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photo by Nate Gibson

Spending My Days Grazing

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Just past dawn, the sun stands
with its heavy red head
in a black stanchion of trees,
waiting for someone to come
with his bucket
for the foamy white light,
and then a long day in the pasture.
I too spend my days grazing,
feasting on every green moment
till darkness calls,
and with the others
I walk away into the night,
swinging the little tin bell
of my name.
~Ted Kooser “A Birthday Poem”

morningonthefarm

I usually go in to work on my birthday,
just a regular day most summers~
instead today decided to catch up
on weeding, reading and needing
a day of quiet:

To notice each blade of grass while grazing through the hours,
transformed by something so simple,
to be called as the time comes
to return to the barn
in fullness,
ready to give all I have until empty.

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Crowded With God

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gladjuly

We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.
The world is crowded with Him.
He walks everywhere incognito.
And the incognito is not always easy to penetrate.
The real labor is to remember to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more to remain awake.

~C.S.Lewis

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sumasmountain

The older I get, the more I recognize the need to be alert and awake to the presence of God in the crowded world around me.

It doesn’t come naturally.

We humans have an attention deficit, choosing to focus inwardly on self and ignoring the rest.  If it isn’t for me, or like me, or about me, it somehow is not worthy of my consideration.

We wear blinders, asleep.

We need help to recognize the presence of God, to peel the layers off the ordinary and find Him at the extraordinary core, incognito.  He reveals Himself to us, invisible, yet right in plain sight.

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