The Rough Made Smooth

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All day the blanket snapped and swelled
on the line, roused by a hot spring wind….
From there it witnessed the first sparrow,
early flies lifting their sticky feet,
and a green haze on the south-sloping hills.
Clouds rose over the mountain….At dusk
I took the blanket in, and we slept,
restless, under its fragrant weight.
~Jane Kenyon “Wash”

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How much better it is
to carry wood to the fire
than to moan about your life.
How much better
to throw the garbage
onto the compost, or to pin the clean
sheet on the line,
With a gray-brown wooden clothes pin.
~Jane Kenyon “The Clothespin”

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I grew up hanging clothes outside to dry on a clothesline on all but the rainiest stormiest days.  It was a routine summer chore for our family of five–there was almost always a load or two a day to wash and hang outside, then to gather in and fold into piles before the air and clothes grew moist with evening dew.  I would bury my little girl face in the pile of stiff towels and crispy sheets to breathe in the summer breezes–still apparent when pulled from the linen closet days later.

Over my adult years on this farm, we’ve not had a consistent spot for our clothesline so I had gotten out of the habit of hanging them up wet and pulling them down dry.  We finally decided the time had come to use less dryer energy and more solar energy, so the line went back up a few years ago.

I’ve discovered modern bath towels are not meant for clothesline drying–they are too plush, requiring the fluffing of a dryer to stay soft and pliant.  On the clothesline they dry like sandpaper, abrasive and harsh.  I heard a few complaints about that from my tender-skinned children.  I decided it is good for us all to wake up to a good buffing every morning, smoothing out our rough edges, readying us for the day.

We live in a part of the county up on an open hill with lots of windy spells, but those breezes carry interesting smells from the surrounding territory that the drying laundry absorbs like a sponge.  On the good days, it may be smells of blooming clover from the fields or the scent of apple and pear blossoms during a few spring weeks.  On other differently-fragranced days, local manure spreading or wood stove burning results in an earthy odor that serves as a reminder of where we live.  It isn’t all sunshine and perfume all the time–it can be smoke and poop as well.

The act of hanging up and gathering in the laundry remains an act of faith for me.  It is trusting, even on the cloudy or chilly days, that gravity and wind and time will render all dry and fresh.  And thanks to those line-dried bed sheets and those sandpaper bath towels, I’ll surely end up buffed and smoothed, my rough edges made plain.

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Care and Feeding of a Writer

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Be a good steward of your gifts.
Protect your time.
Feed your inner life.
Avoid too much noise.
Read good books,
have good sentences in your ears.
Be by yourself as often as you can.
Walk.
Take the phone off the hook.
Work regular hours.

~Jane Kenyon from A Hundred White Daffodils

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There’s nothing “regular” about the hours I work and I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to obsessive commitment of my time.  My phone is attached to me day and night for good reason.  I don’t read enough, don’t particularly enjoy being alone, don’t spend enough time walking nowhere in particular and am immersed in the noise of life.

Since I have flunked care and feeding of a writer, I am taking a remedial course this week at the Festival of Faith and Writing @Calvin.   Maybe I’ll see you there.

In the meantime,  I cleave to good sentences in my heart and the cadence of good phrases in my ears.  It’s what a good steward of words must do.

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Rhubarb Wrinkles

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Like a mad red brain
the involute rhubarb leaf
thinks its way up
through loam.
~Jane Kenyon from “April Chores”

Over the last few weeks, our garden is slowly reviving, and rhubarb “brains” have been among the first to appear from the garden soil, wrinkled and folded, opening full of potential, “thinking” their way into the April sunlight.

Here I am, wishing my own brain could similarly rise brand new and tender every spring from the dust rather than leathery and weather-toughened, harboring the same old thoughts and patterns.

Indeed, more wrinkles seem to be accumulating on the outside of my skull rather than the inside.

Still, I’m encouraged by my rhubarb cousin’s return every April.  Not unlike me, it may be a little sour necessitating some sweetening, but its blood courses bright red and it is very very much alive.

Between Midnight and Dawn: A Child of Peace

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 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1: 9-11

 

O Holy Father,
I will be a child of peace and purity
For well I know
Thy Hand will bless
the seeker after righteousness
~Shaker Hymn

 

We live in an imperfect world, with imperfect characters to match. Our imperfections should not keep us from dreaming of better things, or even from trying, within our limits, to be better stewards of the soil, and more ardent strivers after beauty and a responsible serenity.
~Jane Kenyon from “In the Garden of My Dreams”

 

The beauty of peace and purity is right outside my back door, whether it is in a misty dawn moment of drizzle-sprinkled flowers.  They heal me after an imperfect yesterday and an imperfect night’s sleep.

Today I will strive to be a steward for a garden of righteousness and serenity, aiding their growth and helping them flourish.

I can never do it perfectly but am not giving up, as His hand will bless my seeking and my efforts.

 

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A Gate We Enter

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The juncture of twig and branch,
Scarred with lichen, is a gate
We might enter, singing.”
~Jane Kenyon, “Things”

 

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 60 years, and on this farm for 25 years.  The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains to the north and east and the peaceful shore to the west overwhelms everything in between.  I’ve walked past these bare antique apple trees autumn after autumn, but had never stopped to really look at the landscape growing on their shoulders and arms.  There is a whole other ecosystem on each tree, a fairy land of earth bound dryland seaweed, luxuriant in the fall rains, colorful in the winter, dried and hidden behind leaves and fruit in the hot summer.

This is the world of lichen, a mixed up cross between mold and fungus, opportunistic enough to thrive on rock faces, but ecstatic on absorbent bark.

I had never really noticed how proudly diverse they are.  I had, for year, blindly walked right by their rich color and texture.

Yet it hasn’t bothered them not to be noticed as they are busy minding their own business.  As John McCullough writes:

“It is merely a question of continuous adjustment, of improvising a life. When I’m far from friends or the easing of a wind against my back, I think of lichen—
never and always true to its essence, never and always at home.”

Instead of lifting my eyes to the hills for a visual feast, I need only open the back gate to gaze on this landscape found on the ancient branches in my own back yard.

It’s a rich life indeed.

 

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The lichen raised its fragile cup,
and rain filled it, and in the drop
the sky glittered, holding back the wind.

The lichen raised its fragile cup:
Now let’s toast the richness of our lives.
~Helvi Juvonen  “Lichen Cup”

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In the Dusk

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Sap withdraws from the upper reaches
of maples; the squirrel digs deeper
and deeper in the moss
to bury the acorns that fall
all around, distracting him.

I’m out here in the dusk…
where the wild asters, last blossoms
of the season, straggle uphill.
Frost flowers, I’ve heard them called.
The white ones have yellow centers
at first: later they darken
to a rosy copper.  They’re mostly done.
Then the blue ones come on. It’s blue
all around me now, though the color
has gone with the sun.

There is no one home but me—
and I’m not at home; I’m up here on the hill,
looking at the dark windows below.
Let them be dark…

…The air is damp and cold
and by now I am a little hungry…
The squirrel is high in the oak,
gone to his nest , and night has silenced

the last loud rupture of the calm.
~Jane Kenyon from “Frost Flowers”

 

Even when the load grows too heavy,
our misery rolling in like a fog that
covers all that was once vibrant,even then
even then
there waits a nest of nurture,
a place of calm
where we are fed
when we are tired and hungry.
We will be filled;
we will be restored.

 

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Alms to the Poor

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That year I discovered the virtues
of plants as companions: they don’t
argue, they don’t ask for much,
they don’t stay out until 3:00 A.M., then
lie to you about where they’ve been…

I can’t summon the ambition
to repot this grape ivy, or this sad
old cactus, or even move them out
onto the porch for the summer
where their lives would certainly
improve.  I give them
a grudging dash of water-
that’s all they get.

The truth is that if I permit them
to live, they will go on giving
alms to the poor: sweet air, miraculous
flowers, the example of persistence.
~Jane Kenyon from “Killing of Plants”

During my dorm room years
and city apartment dwelling days,
this former farm girl was reconciled
to no pets allowed,
so I surrounded myself with an indoor garden,
every square inch of window sill
occupied by a living thing
whose survival depended only partially on me.

Those plants sustained me,
cheered me, moved me,
moved with me to windows
with better light and grander views.
Despite my neglect,
they persisted, often thrived,
and gave back to my shriveled city spirit
far beyond any water or repotting offered.

Somehow these miracles in chlorophyll
knew just what I needed when I needed it:
they fed me when I was starving
for something live,
something beautiful,
something that knew exactly what to do
and what to become
when I had no clue.

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