To Balance Upon a Broken World

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Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the
Stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what
lovely behavior
Of silk-sack clouds!  Has wilder, willful-waiver
Meal-drift molded ever and melted across the skies?
~Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Hurrahing in Harvest”

 

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This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight;
The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves;
The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves,
And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows.
Under a tree in the park,
Two little boys, lying flat on their faces,
Were carefully gathering red berries
To put in a pasteboard box.
Some day there will be no war,
Then I shall take out this afternoon
And turn it in my fingers,
And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate,
And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves.
To-day I can only gather it
And put it into my lunch-box,
For I have time for nothing
But the endeavour to balance myself
Upon a broken world.
~Amy Lowell “September 1918”
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Am I the only one who awakes this morning with a prayer asking
that today be a day of healing between peoples rather than conflict and pain,
that the barbaric become peaceable~
no missiles launched,
no one gunned down in the streets,
no vehicles used as weapons,
no child misused,
no one sold into slavery,
no one abandoned, homeless and starving.
Am I the only one who awakes this morning and seeks only
to watch the clouds
to praise the heavens
to see the leaves turn color
to take out this day and taste it
and save it away somehow
so as to balance myself on this brokenness all around?
I am not the only one.
I know I am not.
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The Cathedral to Memory

 

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I planted an apple tree in memory
of my mother, who is not gone,
 
but whose memory has become
so transparent that she remembers
 
slicing apples with her grandmother
(yellow apples; blue bowl) better than
 
the fruit that I hand her today. Still,
she polishes the surface with her thumb,
 
holds it to the light and says with no
hesitation, Oh, Yellow Transparent . . .

they’re so fragile, you can almost see
to the core. She no longer remembers how
 
to roll the crust, sweeten the sauce, but
her desire is clear—it is pie that she wants.
 
And so, I slice as close as I dare to the core—
to that little cathedral to memory—where
 
the seeds remember everything they need
to know to become yellow and transparent.
~Catherine Essinger “Summer Apples”  from What I Know About Innocence

 

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A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. 
~Welsh Proverb

 

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It is at late summer and harvest time when I most clearly remember my mother – she is standing for hours at the kitchen sink peeling yellow transparent apples, readying them for sauce, and always a pie.

The apples were only part of her daily work:  she canned quarts and quarts of green beans, peeled the peaches and pears for canning, sauced the plums, pickled the cucumbers, jammed the strawberries and raspberries, syruped the blackberries, froze the blueberries, cut the kernels off the corn cobs, baked up the zucchini into breads and cakes, dried the filberts, dug and stored the potatoes,  dehydrated the tomatoes.

Over the years I’ve stood by the sink and the stove and have done what my mother used to do, usually not as well but with the same mission of preserving what I can for another day.  We have been fed from our summer labors.

I know well these trees and vines from which the fruit grows.  I plant the seeds which somehow know to produce when tended and nurtured.  I stand and peel and wash and boil and stir as this is what generations of my family’s women did before me.

May it ever be.

 

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Plum-Tuckered

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And somehow <she> thrived anyway–the blossom of our family,
like one of those miraculous fruit trees that taps into an invisible vein of nurture
and bears radiant bushels of plums while the trees around it merely go on living.

~Barbara Kingsolver in Animal Dreams

 

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There is a plum tree on our farm that is so plain and unassuming much of the year that I nearly forget that it is there.  It is a bit off by itself away from the other fruit trees; I have to make a point of paying attention to it otherwise it just blends into the background.

Despite not being noticed or having any special care, this tree thrives.  In the spring it is one of the first to bud out into a cloud of white blossoms with a faint sweet scent.  Every summer it is a coin toss whether it will decide to bear fruit or not.  Some years–not at all, not a single plum.  Other years, like this one, it is positively glowing with plum harvest– each a golden oval with a pink blush.   These plums are extraordinarily honey flavored and juicy, a pleasure to eat right off the tree if you don’t mind getting past a bitter skin and an even more bitter pit inside.   This is a beauty with a bite — sweet surrounded by bitter.

I think the tree secretly grins when it sees puckering taking place all around it.

This tree is a lot like some people I know: most of the time barely noticeable, hanging on the periphery,  fairly reserved and unobtrusive.  But when roots go deep and the nourishment is substantial,  they bear a bounty of fruit, no doing things half-way.   The feast is plentiful and abundant, the meal glorious despite the hint of sour.  Maybe it is even more glorious because of sweet within bitter.

If “tucker” describes a great down-home meal, then being “plum-tuckered” would be eating our fill of the bitter-sweet.  Even when the bitter in this life is plentiful,  the sweet will always overwhelm and overcome.

 

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The Root Goes Deep

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Spun silk of mercy,
long-limbed afternoon,
sun urging purple blossoms from baked stems.   
What better blessing than to move without hurry   
under trees?
Lugging a bucket to the rose that became a twining   
house by now, roof and walls of vine—

you could live inside this rose.

 

I want to know the root goes deep   
on all that came before,
you could lay a soaker hose across   
your whole life and know
there was something
under layers of packed summer earth   
and dry blown grass
to moisten.
~Naomi Shihab Nye from “Last August Hours Before the Year 2000”
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Parched as I might feel,
drying and fragile,
crumbling at the edges
there is still the hope of my roots down deep
waiting patiently
for some moisture to bring me backso I can once again
be blossom
and fragrance
and fruit
and blessing
restored.
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The World as Wheat

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I tried to paint the sound of the wind in the ears of wheat.
~Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to Paul Gauguin
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Ears of Wheat ~ Vincent Van Gogh 1890 in Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

There is nothing here but wheat, no blade
too slight for his attention: long swaying
brush strokes, pale greens, slithery yellows,
the hopefulness of early spring. All grass
is flesh, says the prophet. Here, there are no
gorgeous azures stamped with almond blossoms,
no screaming sky clawed with crows, no sunflowers
roiling gold and orange, impasto thick as Midi sunlight.
His brush herringboned up each stalk, the elemental
concerns of sun, rain, dirt, while his scrim of pain receded
into the underpainting. He let the wind play
through the stems like a violin, turning the surface
liquid, a sea of green, shifting eddies and currents.
No sky, no horizon; the world as wheat.
~Barbara Crooker, “Ears of Wheat, 1890” from 
Les Fauves

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I come from this – these green-ripening-to-amber wheat fields.
My mother was born nearly a century ago in a house built in a swale of these Palouse hills, where grain rose prolific each year from the soil.  Her father used horses and harvester over hill and dale to bring in the wheat, and piled it high in the local elevator until the train could pick it up.
My grandfather, grandmother, uncle and my mother are no more, now but dust, yet this land continues to produce and yield without their help.
When I return for a visit, I listen for what Van Gogh must have heard and seen in his own fertile land: the sound of the wind in the ears of wheat, the grain moving in waves across the landscape, the complexity of color of each individual stalk blending together to become an unending carpet undulating over the earth.
Yet to really take it in and not be overwhelmed, (to get out of the weeds, so to speak), I go high on the butte to see the world as wheat from above.  I then can imagine God’s own view of our grassy flesh which withers and fades away, as we shrivel in the sun and fall – yet the harvest of His Word endures forever.
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Coming to the End of Things

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And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things,
and he was silent,
and he sat there, looking out over the world,
just wishing it wouldn’t stop.

~A.A. Milne from The House at Pooh Corner

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Yes, long shadows go out
from the bales; and yes, the soul
must part from the body:
what else could it do?

…These things happen … the soul’s bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses …

The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird;
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew.
~Jane Kenyon from “Twilight: After Haying”

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Bliss and suffering are bound together like the grasses; we are like the grasses withered and ravaged by time, released reluctant to the wind.

Tears flow today as they must, wetting the stubble left behind,  clinging and sparkling like dew.

We weep in sorrow for those we have lost;
we weep for joy each time we’re able to wake to another day.

For what else can a soul do but weep at parting and weep at welcoming?

These things happen, oh yes, they happen. I just wish it wouldn’t cut us so.

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Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
~Psalm 103: 15

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The Small and The Good

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There was an entire aspect to my life that I had been blind to — the small, good things that came in abundance.
~Mary Karr from The Art of Memoir

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Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.
Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?
We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
~Thornton Wilder, quotes from “Our Town”

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I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see…
~John Newton from “Amazing Grace”

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~~And so I continue to work in the soil of this life, this work, this farm, this faith
to find what yearns to grow, to bloom, to fruit and be harvested to share with others.

With deep gratitude to those of you who visit here and let me know it makes a difference in your day — here is the small and the good from my harvest of words and pictures for you.

With blessings for our joint Thanksgiving,
Emily

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