The Muttering Hens

Every few minutes, he wants
to march the trail of flattened rye grass
back to the house of muttering
hens. He too could make
a bed in hay. Yesterday the egg so fresh
it felt hot in his hand and he pressed it
to his ear while the other children
laughed and ran with a ball, leaving him,
so little yet, too forgetful in games,
ready to cry if the ball brushed him,
riveted to the secret of birds
caught up inside his fist,
not ready to give it over
to the refrigerator
or the rest of the day.
~Naomi Shibab Nye “Boy and Egg”

Gathering eggs on my childhood farm
was a source of wonder and terror:
the amazing pleasure of reaching under a downy breast
to wrap my fingers around a smooth warm wholeness;
overcoming the fear of a hen muttering under her breath
and defending what is rightfully hers
and not mine.
It was a game of chicken
in the truest sense,
a stand-off between four year old farmgirl
and two year old hen.
We locked each other’s eyes
while I held the egg,
and I will never let go,
not now,
not ever.

The Essence of August










No wind, no bird. The river flames like brass.
On either side, smitten as with a spell
Of silence, brood the fields. In the deep grass,
Edging the dusty roads, lie as they fell
Handfuls of shriveled leaves from tree and bush.
But ’long the orchard fence and at the gate,
Thrusting their saffron torches through the hush,
Wild lilies blaze, and bees hum soon and late.
Rust-colored the tall straggling briar, not one
Rose left. The spider sets its loom up there
Close to the roots, and spins out in the sun5
A silken web from twig to twig. The air
Is full of hot rank scents. Upon the hill
Drifts the noon’s single cloud, white, glaring, still.
~Lizette Woodworth Reese “August”


This poem written decades ago
by a poet now long departed
describes in detail
what I see outside my back door today.
Yet an unknowing detail of her foresight
includes a truth of this August:
her flaming river
is flowing across thousands of acres
only a few dozen miles away,
leaving behind ashes,
and little else.

An essence of August:
drying to dust – only a little
remains of the day.











Things That Go Splash in the Night


most definitely not a picture taken by me; I’d never get close enough to even consider it…

(a Barnstorming reblog)

Seventeen years ago we were in the middle of a hot August like this one.  With no air conditioning then, as now, we use fans and at night hope for comfort from any cooling breeze drifting through the window curtains. Sleep is elusive when one is very busy sweating.

I remember waking suddenly from a fitful sleep in the dark of night, startled by a sound I could not readily identify.  I lay still, my eyes wide open staring into the black space of our bedroom, discerning the sound of intermittent splashing in the adjacent bathroom. What the heck?

Our five year old daughter’s bedroom was the next room in the hallway on the other side of the bathroom.  I called out her name, wondering what she could possibly be doing in the middle of the night, making splashing noises in the bathroom.

No answer.  More splashing.

Now I was worried.  I got up, walked into the hallway, peered into the dark bathroom, unable to see anything amiss.  I flipped on the light switch.  As my eyes tried to adjust to the sudden illumination, I was able to see one thing that most definitely did not belong in this picture:  a rat’s hind end and long tail disappearing back down into the toilet.    I gasped, shut the bathroom door quickly and gathered my wits.   There is nothing that will turn one’s stomach quite like seeing a rat in a place it absolutely should not be.

I checked my daughter’s room, flipped the light on quickly to scan the floor and her bed, and she was soundly sleeping and all seemed fine.  I shut off her light and shut her door quietly.

Then I woke the man of the house, the only reasonable thing to do in such a situation.

I’m not sure he believed me.  Maybe I had only imagined I’d seen a rat?  Maybe it was all a dream?  Maybe the heat was getting to me?

I went and got a broom and handed it to him.  He opened the door to the bathroom a crack, and saw little puddles on the bathroom floor and dirty wet marks on the toilet seat.   He quickly closed the door again and looked at me.  There definitely had been a grimy little something in that bathroom.  But where was it now??

He opened the door again and went in, getting the broom handle ready to clobber the varmint.  He peeked into the toilet and there was nothing to be found except some scummy debris floating in the water and scattered on the seat.  He flushed.  He flushed again.  Nothing.

It was really hard to believe that a rat would voluntarily dive back into a toilet bowl and swim into the pipes …. unless it was headed for another toilet bowl.  We quickly closed the toilet lid, piled books on top and went to check the other bathrooms–no signs of disturbance, wet paw prints or other ratty evidence of invasion.

There is little rational thinking that goes on in the middle of the night when a rat has swum up your pipes into a toilet.   I admit to being a little emotional.  That’s when we went for the bleach and poured a gallon down each toilet bowl, flushing a dozen times each, thoroughly disrupting all the healthy bacterial flora in our septic drain field.  It did make me feel better momentarily.    We closed all the toilet lids, closed all the bathroom doors and didn’t sleep a wink the rest of the night.  When we inspected the toilets in the morning, one of the other toilets had been “visited” as well, but with the lid shut, the rat had disappeared back down the pipe.

In the morning, we coolly told lies to our three children.  We told them two of our toilets were plugged up and they had to use one only, and always put the lid down afterward.  We decided if we told them about a rat in the bowl, they would never feel safe about sitting on the toilet again.   There is the potential of a real psychological PTSD (post-toileting stress disorder) entity.   I certainly didn’t feel safe about sitting on the toilet and kept furtively looking down, which doesn’t make for a very relaxed bathroom visit.   It can be positively constipating.

We did a search under the house, around the house, trying to figure out where rats could have found access to our septic system.  Finally, we discovered that a pipe previously connecting the septic drain field to our temporary single-wide trailer living quarters during our major farm house remodel the previous year had never been completely sealed off when the trailer was removed.  It was an open invitation to rodents seeking a cool dark (and wet) place to hide during a hot summer.

It wasn’t the end of our rat woes, but it was the last time they breached our plumbing.  We later had a major invasion of our barns, requiring the ongoing services of expert exterminators as well as super duper cat defense.    I’m proud to say I’ve not seen evidence of rats or their homely furry selves for years now.

We never told anyone about this little middle-of-the-night episode.   In fact, our children thought for years we had sudden massive toilet failure at our house.

Until I blogged about it because it is a good tale (tail??) to tell…

Sorry, kids.

the defense

the defense to the rescue

Fingerprints of the Creator






C.S. Lewis said, “Most of us miss our cues repeatedly.” 
Or, as Sherlock Holmes commented to Watson:
“You see, but you do not observe.” 
Artist Thomas La Duke noted: 
“Some things are so common that they disappear. 
They’re all around us, but they vanish.” 
Missing our cues, we fail to notice the fingerprints of the Creator
in the ordinary textures and phenomena of living
because we are distracted by daily urgencies,
by things we consider more important,
which in the end may prove to be both trivial and transient.
Mary Oliver wrote:  
“If you notice anything
it leads you to notice
and more.”
~Luci Shaw from Breath for the Bones


How is it I see more at 61 than I ever did at 20, 30, 40, or even 50?
It is like being ten again when everything was a discovery; everything is worth notice.







Morning By Morning New Mercies I See





Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
~Thomas Chisholm “Great is Thy Faithfulness”

Same scene of our barn weathervane,
through the years
through the seasons
through the changes

of children growing up
of children flying away
of our heads getting grayer
our steps now slower.

Morning by morning
this manifold witness
to such steadfast love
to infinite mercies
to unending faithfulness.

















A Meadow to Wander


On days when there was a break in the fighting, the two of us drank hot tea.
We were rattled by the same passions.
Both of us looked upon the world as a meadow in May
over which women and horses wander.

~Isaac Babel “The Story of a Horse”

War and détente will go on, détente and renewed tearings asunder,
we can never break free from the dark and degrading past.
Let us see life again, nevertheless, in the words of Isaac Babel
as a meadow over which women and horses wander.
~Maxine Kumin “Women and Horses”

I believe in the gift of the horse, which is magic,
their deep fear-snorts in play when the wind comes up,
and the ballet of nip and jostle, plunge and crow hop.

I trust them to run from me, necks arched in a full
swan’s S, tails cocked up over their backs
like plumes on a Cavalier’s hat. I trust them
to gallop back, skid to a stop, their nostrils

level with my mouth, asking for my human breath
that they may test its intent, taste the lure of it.
I believe in myself as their sanctuary
and in the earth with its summer plumes of carrots,

its clamber of peas, beans, masses of tendrils
as mine.
~Maxine Kumin from “Credo”


So this is a picture of peacefulness,
the carelessness of a summer afternoon on horseback,
wandering along a hilltop
a gallop through a meadow,
a sharing of breath with an animal that chooses,
instead of running far away,
to circle around
and come back
again and yet again.


The Broken Secret Heart

The nest was hanging like the richest fruit
against the sun. I took the nest
and with it came the heart, and in my hand
the kingdom and the queen, frail surfaces,
rested for a moment. Then the drones
awoke and did their painful business.
I let the city drop upon the stones.

It split to its deep palaces and combs.

The secret heart was broken suddenly.
~Michael Schmidt — “Wasps’ Nest”
A thing of beauty outside
harbors danger and threat inside.
I can’t touch this tissue paper football nest
with its beating buzzing hornet hearts
yet the dwellers inside allow me
to admire their craftsmanship.In a few short weeks, as they sleep,
the north winds will tear it free from its tight hold,
bear it aloft in its lightness of being,
and it will fall, crushed, broken,
its secret heart revealed
and all that stings will be let go.


last year’s nest, basketball-size