The Secret of Who I Am

You never know what may cause them. The sight of the ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it. Almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the Second World War, a horse cantering across a meadow…

You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.  They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.
~Frederick Buechner from
 Whistling in the Dark

photo by Emily Vander Haak

I’m not paying close enough attention to the meaning of my leaking eyes if I’m constantly looking for kleenex to stem the flow.  During the holidays it seems I have more than ample opportunity to find out the secret of who I am, where I have come from and where I am to be next.

So I keep my pockets loaded with kleenex.

It mostly has to do with welcoming family members back home for the holidays to become a full-out noisy messy chaotic household again, with puzzles and games and music and laughter and laundry and meal preparation.  It is about singing grace together before a meal in five-part harmony and choking on precious words of gratitude.  It is about remembering the drama of our youngest’s birthday twenty six years ago today, when she was saved by a snowstorm.

It certainly has to do with bidding farewell again as we will this weekend, gathering them all in for that final hug and then letting go.

We urge and encourage them to go where their hearts are telling them they are needed and called to be, even if that means thousands of miles away from their one-time home on the farm.

I too was let go once and though I would try to look back, too often in tears, I set my face toward the future.  It led me here, to this marriage, this family, this farm, this work, our church, to more tears, to more letting go if I’m granted more years to weep again and again with gusto and grace.

This is the secret of me: to love so much and so deeply that letting go is so hard that tears are no longer unexpected or a mystery to me or my children and grandchildren.   They are the spill-over of fullness that can no longer be contained: God’s still small voice spills down my cheeks drop by drop like wax from a burning candle.

No kleenex are needed with these tears.

Let them flow as I let them go.

Best of Barnstorming Photos Summer/Fall 2018

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I walked

on New Year’s Day

beside the trees

my father now gone planted

evenly following

the road

Each

            spoke

~Lorine Niedecker (1967)

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With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

~W.S. Merwin “To the New Year”

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The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.
~G.K. Chesterton
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No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference.
It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left.
It is the nativity of our common Adam.

~Charles Lamb 

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We come to this new year
naked as dormant branches
in the freezing night.

Mere potential barely budded,
nothing covered up,
no hiding in shame.

A shared and common birthday of renewal,
a still life nativity in a winter garden,
a roaring fire refining what is no longer of use,
another chance to make it right.

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Grant, O Lord,
that as the years change,
I may find rest in Your eternal changelessness.

May I meet this new year bravely,
secure in the faith that,
while we come and go,
and life changes around us,

You are always the same,
guiding us with Your wisdom,
and protecting us with Your love.
Amen.

~William Temple (1881–1944)

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Alive to Happiness

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We hadn’t seen each other
for days, only three days, to be
exact, but when I came through
the door and she turned
her head, the way she smiled
changed me again from one
who passes from this world to the next,
back to one who falls
into his wife’s arms and rests
his head on her shoulder and feels
when they lie down together her warm heart
beating against his chest,
     her hands hungry for his holding,
     his hands alive to her happiness.
~Shann Ray, “Mountain Homecoming” from Balefire: Poems

 

 

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On this day,
this tragically public day
when lives shatter before cameras

it is important to remind myself
that not all couplings happen
in blinding drunkenness
in a power differential
in utter selfishness
in a way the truth can never be known
nor trusted.

I need to know
this travesty called investigation
has nothing to do with truth and justice
but is politically sanctioned assault
of two people.
I won’t give it my approval by watching.

I want to know
in our joining
there is joy,
there is sweetness
in need
and sacrifice,
in giving
and taking,
in loving
and staying steadfast,
still alive, always alive
to happiness.

 

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A Need to Kneel

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I know this happiness
is provisional:

the looming presences –
great suffering, great fear –

withdraw only
into peripheral vision:

but ineluctable this shimmering
of wind in the blue leaves:

this flood of stillness
widening the lake of sky:

this need to dance,
this need to kneel:

this mystery:
~Denise Levertov “Of Being” from The Stream and the Sapphire

 

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Last night the sky was dancing;
waves and sweeps and swoops of clouds feathering the horizon.

I am mere audience, not dancer,
too weak in the knees to do anything but kneel in witness,
knowing that fear and suffering lies beyond this hill
and how much I don’t understand of what has been
and what is to come.

Even so
even so
I was happy the sky was dancing amid
the mystery.

 

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Willingness to Give Something

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For a long time
     I was not even
        in this world, yet
           every summer

every rose
     opened in perfect sweetness
        and lived
           in gracious repose,

in its own exotic fragrance,
     in its huge willingness to give
        something, from its small self,
           to the entirety of the world...
~Mary Oliver from “The Poet Visits The Museum of Fine Arts

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This time of year, I go out to our flower garden twice a week and pick several fresh rosebuds for the bud vase on our kitchen table.  This feels like a luxury to interrupt the natural unfolding of a blossom simply so it can be enjoyed indoors for a few days.  Yet “its huge willingness to give something” grants me permission to do this.  I am consoled that there will be more buds where those came from.  The blooms will continue to grace our table until October when the first hard frost will sap them of all color and fragrance, leaving them deadened knots of brown curled petals.  They give no more for seven long months.

I wait impatiently for that first spring bud to appear, forcing myself to wait several weeks before I begin rosebud harvesting.  Although roses from the florist may be perfect color and long lasting,  they are neither as sweet nor their scent as exotic as those growing in the soil right under our windows.

It is a wee joy receiving this humble gift from the garden.  It is enough that a rosebush in gracious repose gave its small self long before I was and will continue long after me.   I hope I am as willing to give something from my small self during my time here, and may it ever be as sweet.

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A Miracle Like Pink Dogwood

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After all, I don’t see why I am always asking
for private, individual, selfish miracles
when every year there are miracles like … dogwood.

~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

 

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It started last week.  The tree right in front of our porch, having looked dead for the past six months, started to bud out in subtle pink petalled blossoms. The previous week there had been nothing remarkable whatsoever about the tree.

This week it is a feast for the eyes, almost blinding in its brilliance.

Each year the dogwood startles me.  From dead to brilliant in a mere two weeks.  And not only our tree, but every other pink dogwood within a twenty mile radius has answered the same late April siren call:
bloom!
bloom your heart out!
dazzle every retina in sight!

And it is done simultaneously on every tree, all the same day, without a sound, without an obvious signal, as if an invisible conductor had swooped a baton up and in the downbeat everything turned pink.

Or perhaps the baton is really a wand, shooting out pink stars to paint these otherwise plain and humble trees, so inconspicuous the rest of the year.

Ordinarily I don’t dress up in finery like these trees do.  I prefer inconspicuous for myself.  But I love the celebratory joy of those trees in full blossom and enjoy looking for them in yards and parks and along sidewalks.

Maybe there is something pink in my closet I can wear.  Maybe conspicuously miraculous every once in awhile is exactly what is needed.

Then again, I think I’ll leave the miracles to the trees…

 

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If you stand in an orchard
In the middle of Spring
and you don’t make a sound
you can hear pink sing,
a darling, whispery song of a thing.
~Mary O’Neill from Hailstones and Halibut Bones “Pink”
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The Tree That Stands Alone

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For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves.

And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons.

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk:
in the rings of its years,
its scars,
all the struggle,
all the suffering,
all the sickness,
all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written,
the narrow years and the luxurious years,
the attacks withstood,
the storms endured.

And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.

That is home. That is happiness.
~ Hermann HesseBäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

 

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Solitary trees, if they grow at all, grow strong.
~Winston Churchill

 

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A wind has blown the rain away
and blown the sky away
and all the leaves away,
and the trees stand.
I think, I too, have known autumn too long.

~e.e. cummings

 

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Trees are Earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.
~Rabindranath Tagore

 

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Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?
~Walt Whitman

 

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I don’t know why, of all the trees that peppered this hill over a century ago, this one was spared.  Perhaps she was the tallest at the time, or the straightest, or just didn’t yield to the ax as the others did.

She has become the sentinel on our farm, a focal point:
the marker by which all else is measured.

She is unchanging as the backdrop of clouds and seasons, color and light shift and swirl.

Visitors climb the hill to her first before seeing anything else on the farm, to see the expanse that she surveys.  Her branches oversee gatherings of early Easter morning worship, summer evening church services, winter sledding parties, and Fourth of July celebrations.

This one special tree stands alone, apart from the others, but is never lonely – not really.  She shares her top with the eagles and hawks, her shadow with humans and other critters in her century-long vigil with people all around the globe in these photos.

Never lonely — no, never.

This is her home.  This is happiness.

 

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