A Gate We Enter

lichen6

lichen10

lichen32

 

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.

 

lichenmoss13115

lichen9

lichen18

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”

feblichenwoods

lichen26

lichen11

lichen7

In the Dusk

evening115157

evening115156

 

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.

 

evening11515

evening1151513

Alms to the Poor

thanksgivingcactus1

cactus5

cactus4

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.

cactus2

cactus3

cactus6

halloweencactus

An Intricate Dusk

287530_534324987764_148300158_30899579_7339161_o

frontyardspring

dusk11714

 

Black birds slice their evening patterns—
long curves in the sky. Everything
is drawing down into shade.
But the dark, which is at first so simple
is not simple. Away from the farmhouse
with its slits of yellow, the monochrome
develops like a print in the chemical bath.

The unbroken velvet swims
with complications so subtle that
seeing and hearing must take their time
to know. The shadow purples,
the dusk intricate with crickets. The sky
infested with pricks of light.
My whole body an ear, an eye.
~Luci Shaw “A Simple Dark”

 

Let it come, as it will, and don’t   
be afraid. God does not leave us   
comfortless, so let evening come.
~Jane Kenyon from “Let Evening Come”

Wandering the evening farm,
I feel the darkness,
more than see or hear
the settling of birdsong,
the rise of coyote calls,
the horizon’s firelight,
the slowing of my pulse,
and the deepening of my breaths.

I let it come, this most intricate dusk.

sunset521152

20120322-174455.jpg

sunset319141

To Be Wild and Perfect for a Moment

tennantpeony3

tennantpeony4

…and there it is again — 
beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open. 
Do you love this world? 
Do you cherish your humble and silky life? 
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden, 
and softly, 
and exclaiming of their dearness, 
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, 
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?
~Mary Oliver from “Peonies”

tennantpeony2

tennantpeony

White peonies blooming along the porch
send out light
while the rest of the yard grows dim.
Outrageous flowers as big as human

heads! They’re staggered
by their own luxuriance: I had
to prop them up with stakes and twine.
The moist air intensifies their scent,

and the moon moves around the barn
to find out what it’s coming from.
In the darkening June evening

I draw a blossom near, and bending close
search it as a woman searches
a loved one’s face.
~Jane Kenyon “Peonies at Dusk”

tennantpeony5

Year after year, I bring peonies to the graves
of those from whom I came,
to lay one after another exuberant head
upon each headstone,
a moment of connection between us
before it shatters,
its petals perfectly
scattered to the wind.

peonyheart

peonyrain

shatterpeony

We Are Bereft

rottenpunkins2

frostyweed2

Silence and darkness grow apace, broken only by the crack of a hunter’s gun in the woods.  Songbirds abandon us so gradually that, until the day when we hear no birdsong at all but the scolding of the jay, we haven’t realized that we are bereft — as after a death. Even the sun has gone off somewhere.  By teatime the parlor is as black as the inside of a cupboard.

Reading after supper on the couch, I let my mind wander to the compost pile, bulging with leaves and stalks.  I’ve turned it a few times since October, but the pile’s hard surface no longer yields to the fork.  Even the earthworms have retreated from the cold and closed the door behind them.  There’s an oven warm at the pile’s center, but you have to take that on faith.  Now we all come in, having put the garden to bed, and we wait for winter to pull a chilly sheet over its head.
~Jane Kenyon from “Good-by and Keep Cold”

frostyherb5

frostyherb3

sunrise113151

We Ate, Grateful

sunset95142

sunset97141

sunset97142

 

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire. So much
to be done—the unpacking, the mail
and papers … the grass needed mowing ….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.
~Jane Kenyon “Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer”

 

pears9614