Thirty Halloweens Ago



On Halloween day in 1985, I packed up my clothes, a roll up mattress,  grabbed one lonely pumpkin from our small garden, locked our rental house door for the last time, climbed in my car and headed north out of Seattle. I don’t recall looking back in the rear view mirror at the skyline after nine years living in the city. My husband had moved to Whatcom County two months earlier to start his new job. I had stayed behind to wrap up my Group Health family practice in the Rainier Valley of Seattle. I was leaving the city for a new rural home and an uncertain professional future.

I knew two things for sure: I was finally several months pregnant after a miscarriage and two years of infertility, so our family was on its way, and we were going to actually live in our own house, not just a rental, complete with a few acres and a barn. A real (sort of) farm. Since no farm can be complete without animals, I stopped at the first pet store I drove past and found two tortoise shell calico kitten sisters peering up at me,  just waiting for new adventures in farmland. Their box was packed into the one spot left beside me in my little Mazda. With that simple commitment to raise and nurture those kittens, life seemed very complete.

I will never forget the freedom I felt on that drive north. The highway seemed more open, the fall colors more vibrant, the wind more brisk, our baby happily kicking my belly, the kittens plaintively mewing from their box. There seemed to be so much potential even though I had just left behind the greatest job that could be found in any urban setting: the ideal family practice with a delightfully diverse patient population of African Americans, Cambodians, Laotians, Vietnamese, Muslims and Orthodox Jews. I would never know so much variety of background and perspective again and if I could have packed them all into the Mazda and driven them north with me, I would have.

We started our farm with those kittens dubbed Nutmeg and Oregano, soon adding an ethnic diversity of farm animals:  Belgian Tervuren dog Tango, Haflinger horse Greta, Toggenburg goats Tamsen and her kids, a few Toulouse geese, Araucana chickens, Fiona the Scottish Highland cow, then another Haflinger Hans and another, Tamara. I worked as a fill in locums doctor in four different clinics before our first baby, Nate, was born. Again, we had new commitments and life felt complete– but not for long, as we soon added little brother Ben and seven years later,  sister Lea. Then it really was complete. Or so I thought.

Thirty years later our children have long ago grown and gone, off to their own adventures beyond the farm.  Our sons are married to wonderful women, our daughter is finishing her student teaching and starting the job hunt. Each child moved to a different big city spread out in three different time zones from us. A few cats, two Cardigan Corgi dogs, and a hand full of ponies remain at the farm with us. We are now both gray and move a bit more slowly, enjoy our naps and the quiet of the nights and weekends. Our second larger farm is more than we can realistically manage by ourselves in our spare time. My work has evolved from four small jobs to two decades of two part time jobs to one more than full time job that fits me like a well worn sweater 24 hours a day.

My husband is talking retirement in a little over two years. I’m not so sure for myself. I have never not worked and don’t know how I can stop when the need in health care is greater than ever.

The freedom I felt that rainy Halloween day three decades ago, as Seattle disappeared in the rear view mirror,  meant I no longer sat captive in freeway rush hour bumper to bumper traffic jams.  I celebrate my daily commute through farm fields, watching eagles fly, and new calves licked by their mamas. I am part of a community in a way I never could manage in the city, stopping to visit with friends at the grocery store, playing piano and teaching at church and serving on various community boards. Our home sits in the midst of woods and corn fields, with deer strolling through the fields at dawn, coyotes howling at night, Canadian geese and trumpeter swans calling from overhead and salmon becoming more prolific every year in nearby streams. The snowy Cascades greet us in the morning and the sunset over Puget Sound bids us good night.

It all started October 31, 1985 with two orange and black kittens and a pumpkin sitting beside me in a little Mazda, my husband waiting for my homecoming 100 miles north. Now, thirty years and three grown children later, we celebrate this Halloween transition anniversary together, still pregnant with the possibility that life is never truly complete when there is always a new day just around the corner.




Listening to Silence



I saw old Autumn in the misty morn
stand shadowless like silence,
listening to silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn,
Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn;—
Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright
With tangled gossamer that fell by night,
Pearling his coronet of golden corn. 

But here the Autumn melancholy dwells,
And sighs her tearful spells
Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain.
Alone, alone,
Upon a mossy stone,
She sits and reckons up the dead and gone
With the last leaves for a love-rosary,
Whilst all the wither’d world looks drearily,
Like a dim picture of the drownèd past
In the hush’d mind’s mysterious far away,
Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last
Into that distance, gray upon the gray.
~Thomas Hood from “Autumn”


These cooling mornings are so silent~
no bird song
the dogs still asleep
no cows bellowing
only the sound of a horse
leaning heavy on a barn wall.

The gray on gray of this morning
interrupted by the painting of sky and leaf,
silence to the ear
is a symphony for the eye.


All’s Changed

The trees are in their autumn beauty,   
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water   
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones   
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me   
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings   
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,   
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;   
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,   
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,   
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?
~William Butler Yeats “The Wild Swans at Coole”
All’s changed
yet even though
my pace has slowed
from younger days,
my heart still sings
of such mysterious beauty
when I no longer
need to hurry.

The Original Self


The original shimmering self gets buried so deep
that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all.
Instead we live out of all our other selves,
which we are constantly putting on and taking off
like coats and hats against the world’s weather.

~Frederick Buechner from Telling Secrets


Generally late September is when we start to see our Haflinger horses growing in their longer coat for winter. Their color starts to deepen with the new hair as the sun bleached summer coat loosens and flies with the late summer breezes. The nights here, when the skies are cloudless, can get perilously close to freezing this time of year, though our first frost is generally not until well into October. The Haflingers, outside during the day, and inside their snug stalls at night, don’t worry too much about needing their extra hair quite yet, especially when the day time temperatures are still comfortably in the 70s. So they are not in a hurry to be furrier. Neither am I. But I enjoy watching this daily change in their coats, as if they were ripening at harvest time. Their copper colors are so rich against the green fields and trees, especially at sunset when the orange hue of their coat is enhanced by the sunlit color palette of fall leaves undergoing their own transformation in their dying.

In another six months, it will be a reverse process once again. This heavy hair will have served its purpose, dulled by the harsh weather it has been exposed to, and coming out in clumps and tufts, revealing that iridescent short hair summer coat that shines and shimmers metallic in comparison, although several shades lighter, sometimes with nuances of dapples peeking through. Metamorphosis from fur ball to shimmering copper penny.

It occurs to me our old barn buildings on our farm are in need of a similar transformation, having received a new coat of paint over ten years ago and overdue for another.  As a dairy farm for its previous owners starting in the early 1900s until a few years before we purchased it in the late 80s, it has accumulated more than its share of sheds and buildings constructed over the years to serve one purpose or another: the big hay barn with mighty old growth beams and timbers in its framework (still hay storage), the attached milking parlor (converted by us to individual box stalls for our weanlings and yearlings) and milk house where the bulk tank once stood, the older separate milk house where the milk used to be stored in cans waiting for pick up by the milk truck (now garden shed and harness storage), the old smoke house for smoking meats (was our chicken coop, but now the dogs claim it), the old bunk house and root cellar (more storage), the old large chicken coop (now parking for our carts and carriage), and the garage (a Methodist church in its former life and moved 1/4 mile up the road to our farm some 70 years ago when the little community of Forest Grove that had formed around a saw mill, store, school and church disbanded after 30 years of prosperity when there were no more trees to cut down in the area). When we bought this farm, these buildings had not seen a coat of paint in many many years. They were weathering badly–we set to work right away in an effort to save them if we could, and got them repainted–“barn red” for the barn and cream white for the other buildings with red trim around the windows and roof lines.

That was over 25 years ago now and we’ve been trying to hold off on another round of painting. With a fresh coat of paint, these old buildings would appear to have new life again, though it is only on the surface. We know there are roofs that need patching, wiring that needs to be redone, plumbing that needs repair, foundations that need shoring up, broken windows that are drafty and need replacing, doors that don’t shut properly anymore–the list goes on. That superficial coat of paint does not solve all those problems–it will help prolong the life of the buildings, to be sure, but in many ways, all we’ve done is cosmetic surgery. What we really need is a full time carpenter –which neither of us is and at this point can’t afford.

In my late middle age, there are times when I wish fervently for that “new coat” for myself–i.e. fewer gray hairs, fewer pounds, fewer wrinkles and one less chin, less achy stronger muscles. I buy a new fall jacket and realize that all my deficiencies are simply covered for the time being. I may be warmer but I’m not one bit younger. That jacket will, I hope, protect me from the brisk northeast winds and the incessant drizzle of the region, but it will not stop the inevitable underneath. It will not change my original self and what I will become.

True shimmering change can only come from within, from deep inside our very foundations, requiring a transforming influence that comes from outside. For the Haflingers, it is the diminishing light and lower temperatures. For the buildings, it is the hammer and nail, and the capable hands that wield them. For me, it is knowing there is salvage for people too, not just for old barns and sheds. Our foundations are hoisted up and reinforced, and we’re cleaned, patched and saved despite who we have become. And unlike new paint, or a winter coat, it lasts forever.




Called to Make a Comment



And that is just the point… how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?
~Mary Oliver

Some mornings it is impossible to stay a silent observer of the world.  It demands a response.
The overnight wind and rain have pulled down nearly every leaf, the ground is carpeted with the dying evidence of last spring’s rebirth, the dropping temperatures robing the surrounding foothills and peaks in a bright new snow covering.

There can be no complacency in witnessing this startling transition in progress.   It blusters, rips, drenches, encompasses, buries. Nothing remains as it was.

And here I am, alive.
A witness.
Called to comment.
Dying to respond.








l (a



~e.e. cummings




So many feel they are the only one
to fall
until they land in a cushion of others

Some dangle suspended
twisting and turning in the slightest breeze
not knowing when the fall will come.

I know I’m both~
one alone
and many together

held by a slender silken thread
until the moment comes
when I’m let go.


Red-Cheeked Company




You are company, you red-cheeked spitz, or you salmon-fleshed greening!
I toy with you; press your face to mine, toss you in the air, roll you on the ground,
see you shine out where you lie amid the moss and dry leaves and sticks.
You are so alive! You glow like a ruddy flower.
You look so animated I almost expect to see you move.
How compact; how exquisitely tinted!
Stained by the sun and varnished against the rains.
An independent vegetable existence, alive and vascular as my own flesh;
capable of being wounded, bleeding, wasting away, and almost of repairing damages!

I think if I could subsist on you or the like of you,
I should never have an intemperate or ignoble thought,
never be feverish or despondent.
So far as I could absorb or transmute your quality
I should be cheerful, continent, equitable, sweet-blooded,
long-lived, and should shed warmth and contentment around.
~from John Burrough’s essay on “The Apple”



Lo! sweetened with the summer light,
The full-juiced apple, waxing over-mellow,
Drops in a silent autumn night.
~Lord Alfred Tennyson