Fair Well

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The Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden begins today and our Haflingers aren’t there on display.  I feel wistful as I wake up too early on a foggy Monday morning, remembering the twenty years where I would gather up our sleepy children and their friends and head into the fairgrounds to clean stalls, walk the ponies and prepare for the day.  We are no long “doing” the fair as a farm, and I’m just a little bit sad about that.

BriarCroft had been a consistent presence at this fair for nearly two decades, promoting the Haflinger breed in a well  decorated display, providing 24 hour a day coverage for the horses for the 6 days of the fair. We petitioned the Fair Board for 5 years in the late 1980s to allow us to display at the fair, and they finally said “okay, here’s the space, build it yourself” and we did! We were not there for classes, competition, or ribbons. We were there because people enjoyed our Haflingers and we enjoyed the people.

But our children are all grown up and moved away so are no longer available to help “man” the horse stalls.  Our other long term helpers are now adults with “real” jobs and obligations, and our faithful trick riders Kelsy and Chesna who performed daring feats on their Haflingers in front of the grandstand crowds have moved on to other careers.   I miss spending that intense one week time with all of the several dozen “kid” helpers from over the years, many of them now with children of their own.

Every year since 1992, we evaluated whether we had the energy and resources to do it  again–for the initial 6 years when Dan and I were the sole Haflinger farm doing the display, it meant a week of vacation from work, and very very long days, juggling our small children as well as several horses. Then, with the help of two other Haflinger breeding farms, we were able to rotate shifts, still work at our “real” jobs part days, share duties and expenses together. The older kids watched the younger kids, the in-between kids did most of the horse stall cleaning duty, and the adults sat and shot the breeze.

Did this help sell horses for us? Nope. But it sure did create good will for the fair visitors who depended on us every year to be there with horses that they and their children could actually pet (and sit on) without fear, who enjoyed our braiding demonstrations, and our various Haflinger trivia contests with prizes.

We continued to do this so long because our horses represented what dreams are made of.

Countless times a day there would be a bright eyed child who approached our stalls, climbed up on the step stools and reached up to pet a Haflinger nose or neck and looked deep into those big brown Haflinger eyes, and lost their heart forever to the breed. They will not forget that moment when a horse they had never met before loved them back. Haflingers are magic with children and we saw that over and over again.

Our first year, in 1992, a mom and her 6 year old son came up to our stalls, as do some  10,000 people a day, and spent a long time petting the horses and talking to them, and enjoying them. They walked off, with the little boy looking over his shoulder at the Haflingers until they turned a corner and went out of sight. An hour later they were back and spent more time with the Haflingers. I offered the little boy a chance to sit on a Haflinger, and he agreed readily, and sat and sat and sat, playing with the mane and petting the shoulder and neck and was simply in heaven, quietly dreaming his own dreams on the back of a horse. His mom told me that they lived in a suburb near Seattle, but always spent this particular week in August at a local beach cabin, and the fair was one of their favorite activities each year. Her son Gary had never had an opportunity to sit on a horse before.

Next year, they were back, and Gary was a little taller, but still a quiet boy, and he kept dragging his mom back to the Haflingers, and she’d sit and visit as he’d sit on the Haflingers. He watched as we watered the horses, or fed them hay, or cleaned their stalls, and pretty soon he was asking if he could do the scooping, or dump the buckets or brush the horses. So he became, out of his own initiative, a helper.

By the time he was 8, he was spending several hours at a time with us at the stalls, taking his turn at the chores, and his mom, trusting that he was in good hands, and that he certainly wasn’t going to wander away from the Haflingers, would check back with him now and then to see if he wanted to go on rides, or see a performance, and his response was always “no, I can do that anytime, but I don’t get to see Haflingers very often!” He would talk a little about his hope someday to have a farm where he could raise Haflingers, and one year even said that his folks were looking at property to buy with acreage, but apparently a job for his dad didn’t materialize, so he remained a city kid in reality, even if he was a future farm kid in his heart.

He was one of our regular kid helpers every year until he was 12 when he started turning out for junior high football, and the football summer camp coincided with our fair week, so we’d only see him briefly on Saturdays as he got into his teens. He’d stop by to say hi, pet the horses, catch up on the Haflinger news, and because he only had a few hours to spend at the fair, he’d head off to other things. I really missed him and his happy smile around the stalls.

When he was 15, I missed seeing him because I was working when he stopped by. When he stopped by at age 16, he strolled up to me and I found I was looking up at this young man who I had to study to recognize. I’m a tall woman of 5’10”–he was at least 4 inches taller than me! He told me he wanted to come by because some of his best summer memories were of spending time with the Haflingers at the fair and he wanted me to know that. He thanked me for welcoming him and allowing him to “hang out” with the Haflingers. He told me his hope and dream someday was to live somewhere where he could raise Haflingers, and he was working hard in school so he could make that happen. He was a  4.0 student and the first string quarterback on his high school football team. I was as proud as if he was my own son.

This young man received a full scholarship to play football at a major university, and over four years waited his turn to be the starting quarterback.  Once he had his chance, after only a few games of being the starter, he was tackled hard, sustaining a neck fracture which thankfully resulted in no permanent damage, but his college football career was suddenly over.

I hope someday to see Gary again–it would be great to see this tall accomplished young man who so recently was a shy quiet little city boy of 6, draped across the broad back of a Haflinger, and lost in his dreams of a “someday” Haflinger of his own. This is why we’ve done what we have at the fair all these years. It was for people like Gary who made a connection with a horse and never ever forget it. I’d like to think that a little bit of who Gary is is because he had a dream of a horse farm that he held onto all these years.

So on this misty foggy Monday morning, instead of heading to the fairgrounds to clean stalls, I’m going to turn our dusty, unbathed Haflingers out in the field as usual.  They don’t even know all the excitement they are missing.

I do hope the fair-goers will miss the friendly golden horses with the big brown eyes that help make dreams come true.

 

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thank you to Lea Gibson and Emily Vander Haak for many of these photos

 

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To Press Snowflakes in a Book

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I wish one
could press snowflakes
in a book
like flowers.
~James Schuyler from “February 13, 1975”

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…Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.

Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.
~Ted Hughes from “Snow and Snow”

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Out of the bosom of the Air,
      Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
      Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
            Silent, and soft, and slow
            Descends the snow.
         The troubled sky reveals
         The grief it feels…
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “Snow-flakes”
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There’s a certain Slant of light
On winter afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
of cathedral tunes.
When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows hold their breath —
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death.
~Emily Dickinson
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One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
~Wallace Stevens from “The Snow Man”

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The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
~Robert Frost from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

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Freefall

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,

as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,

so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,

knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
~Denise Levertov

This week three local families find themselves in freefall,
losing a child to mangled metal,
one moment so much alive,
the next irretrievably gone.

It must feel like solid ground has dropped away
like those dreams of falling
when wakened by startled thud
upon a pillow.

May God’s embrace
cushion their hard landing,
His unearned grace sufficient
to keep them afloat in a vast ocean of tears.

Lenten Grace — As His Flesh: Ours

photo by Emily Gibson
photo by Emily Gibson
facing east to the rising sun by Jim Randall
facing east to the rising sun by Jim Randall
photo of BriarCroft Sunrise Service 2013 by Emily Gibson
photo of BriarCroft Sunrise Service 2013 by Emily Gibson

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall…

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.
~John Updike from “Seven Stanzas at Easter”

Our flesh is so weak, so temporary,
as ephemeral as a dew drop on a petal
yet with our earthly vision
it is all we know of ourselves
and it is what we trust knowing
of Him.

He was born as our flesh, from our flesh.
He walked and hungered and thirsted and slept
as our flesh.
He died, His flesh hanging in tatters,
blood spilling freely
breath fading
to nought
speaking Words
our ears can never forget.

And He rose again
as His flesh: ours
to walk and hunger and thirst alongside us
and here on this hill we meet together,
–flesh of His flesh–
here among us He is risen
–flesh of our flesh–
married forever
as the Church
and its fragile, flawed
and everlasting body.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

A Destiny of Many Colors Tied Together

Let me say finally, that in the midst of the hollering and in the midst of the discourtesy tonight, we got to come to see that however much we dislike it, the destinies of white and black America are tied together. Now the races don’t understand this apparently. But our destinies are tied together. And somehow, we must all learn to live together as brothers in this country or we’re all going to perish together as fools. …Whether we like it or not culturally and otherwise, every white person is a little bit negro and every negro is a little bit white. Our language, our music, our material prosperity and even our food are an amalgam of black and white, so there can be no separate black path to power and fulfillment that does not intersect white routes and there can ultimately be no separate white path to power and fulfillment short of social disaster without recognizing the necessity of sharing that power with black aspirations for freedom and human dignity.
Martin Luther King,Jr.– in one of his last speeches, given at Grosse Point, Michigan high school (near Detroit) to a mostly white and often heckling audience, March 14, 1968

I grew up in Olympia, Washington, a fair-sized state capitol of 20,000+ people in the 1960′s that had only one black family.

One.

There were a few Japanese and Korean families, a few Hispanics, but other than the Native American folks from the nearby Nisqually Reservation, our community seemed comprised of homogenized milk. Pretty much plain white.

In 1970, the Caucasian Olympia High School graduation student speaker caused a controversy resulting in numerous parents walking out of the ceremony when in her speech she called our town a “white racist ghetto”. It was the first time I’d heard someone other than Martin Luther King, Jr. actually crack a previously unspoken barrier using only words. What she said caused much anger, but the ensuing debate in the newspaper Letters to the Editor, around lunch counters at the five and dime, and in the churches and real estate offices made a difference. Olympia slowly, in recognition at being called out for racism, began to open its social and political doors to people who weren’t white.

Heading to college in California helped broaden my point of view, to be sure, but in the 70′s there were few diversity admissions initiatives, so it was still a vastly Caucasian campus. When I went to study wild chimpanzees in Africa in 1975, I had the enlightening experience of being one of two whites traveling among hundreds of very dark skinned Tanzanians on trains and boats in the interior of the country. I became the one gawked at, viewed as an oddity, pointed at by small children who were frightened by my appearance, and so constantly felt out of place. I did not belong. Yet I was treated graciously, with hospitality, although always a curiosity.

Returning to the Northwest meant blending in with homogenized white milk again. Although there was some minimal diversity in my medical school class (even women constituted less than 25% of my class of 1980), it wasn’t until I was in family practice residency at Seattle’s Group Health Cooperative that I began to experience the world in technicolor. I joined a group of doctors in training that included a black activist from the east coast, a Kiowa Indian, several Jews, someone of Spanish descent, a son of Mexican immigrants, a daughter of Chinese immigrants, a Japanese American, and a Yupik Eskimo. Not only was I challenged to articulate how I perceived our inner city patients’ cultural and family context, but I witnessed how much more effectively my colleagues and teachers worked with patients who looked or grew up like them. It was such a foundational experience that I was drawn to a medical practice in a Group Health Rainier Valley neighborhood clinic. There I saw patients who lived in the projects that lined Martin Luther King Way, struggling with poverty and social fragmentation, clustered together in diverse little knots of extended family within a few square miles. There were many ethnic groups: African Americans, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees, Askenazi Jews, Middle East Muslims, Russian immigrants and some Catholic Italian families who spoke broken English. I delivered babies who would grow up learning languages and traditions from every corner of the globe. It was a wide world of color that walked into my exam rooms, enriching my life in ways I had never imagined. I found that white milk, nurturing as it was, didn’t hold a candle to some of the flavors I was discovering.

When I married, and later became pregnant myself, we made the decision to move north near my husband’s home community of Lynden, a town of Dutch dairy farming immigrants. We planned to own our own farm to raise our children in a rural setting just as both of us had been raised. There was significant adjustment necessary once again even though it was a primarily Caucasian community. I am not Dutch even though I am as white and tall as the Frieslanders (some of my ancestry is from Schleswig-Holstein in Germany, right across the Holland border).

I didn’t have the same cultural background to fit in easily in my new home. The color of my skin no longer was noticeable, but the difference in rituals, the language quirks and traditions stood out. In other words, the milk looked just as white, (maybe skim versus whole or 2%), but varied significantly in taste (were the cows just let out on grass??)

Even with those apparent differences, our rural community has transformed over the last twenty six years since we moved here. We have two growing Native American sovereign nations near by, the Nooksack and Lummi tribes, along with increasing numbers of migrant Hispanic families who work the seasonal berry and orchard harvest, many of whom have settled in year round. My supervisors where I work are African American. Our close proximity to the lower mainland of British Columbia has brought Taiwanese, Japanese and Hong Kong immigrants to our area, and East Indians are immigrating to our county in large extended families, attracted by affordable farmland. I was shopping yesterday at a new rural corner grocery only a few miles from our farm, built and managed by Sikhs who have stocked the shelves with the most amazing array of Indian spices and Mexican chili sauce, with Dutch peppermints and licorice thrown in for good measure.

Our children have grown up rural but, as adults, are now part of communities far more varied. Nate teaches multiracial high school students in Tokyo, Japan (and as of 2014, is married to Tomomi), Ben is a Teach for America high school math teacher on the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and Lea is deep in Spanish Education courses at college, hoping to continue her summer work in a local Migrant Workers’ Head Start program. They, as I have been, are privileged to work in a kaleidoscope of humanity and our family has become multiracial.

Homogenized can mean something other than just plain white. It can mean blending so there is no longer separation.

Martin Luther King’s term “amalgam” is apt. His well articulated hope and dream is happening within my life time.

A Special Place to See in the New Year

Nate's photo of the tree on the hill
Nate's photo of the tree on the hill

The past two weeks brought unusual snowfall to our part of the world.  Usually snow days in our county are blustery with the northeast wind causing bitter cold and snow drifts with horizontal snow blowing across the horizon–no lazy flat flakes slowly falling, no accumulation on tree branches,  plenty of sub-zero wind chill temperatures. But not this past week.  There were several  lovely wintry days with no wind whatsoever.

So we headed to our farm hill for sledding–a perfect way to end the year. In the past, on snowy New Year’s Eves we’ve had a bunch of families here to sled on the hill under a generator-lit light, then back to the house for soup and bread, hot cocoa and ice cream sundaes. Can life get any better than this?

Our hill is the highest point around for several miles and has been the scene of so many good memories over the years. It serves as observatory,  spectator point, a church without walls, a campsite, a place for quiet meditation, and maybe even a little romance now and then.

That lone fir tree at the top is a resting place for bald eagles, red-tailed hawk, and barn owls as they can scan for field critters easily from its branches. We find a treasure trove of feathers at its base and occasionally the furry carcass of a rabbit.

Each Easter we have dozens of neighbors and friends climb the hill very early on a sunny morning to sit on hay bales and celebrate our risen Lord. Birdsong blends with human song. The previous night a group of our childrens’ teenage friends gather on the dark hill around a bonfire in an Easter vigil, a tradition long observed in the early church, and something we find is a tangible reminder of our daily vigil waiting for the light.

Two months later we were on that same hill as part of a family hay crew, picking up the bales scattered randomly about the field. They were hauled down to the big red hay barn, and now we feed that same hay to our hungry Haflinger horses.

It is the training hill for our young Haflingers during the summer as they love to race up and down from barnyard to tree and back, strengthening their legs and improving their balance.

On July 4, a  gathering of families comes to our hill to watch the fireworks shot from the surrounding communities and homes up to 15 miles away.

We had a church picnic and wiener roast on the hill in mid-summer, followed by a worship service of song and devotions as the evening breezes cooled the fields around us.

Later in the summer, my sons watched a meteor shower with their friends in the middle of the night, and could actually see the Milky Way.  My daughter had a group of friends over to cook and camp out on the hill, somehow managing to stay up there despite loud coyote yips and whoops only yards away.

This fall, my husband and I climbed the hill to witness some incredible sunsets which seem to last forever when viewed from a high point, prolonging the dip of the sun below the horizon.

And two months ago, I was up on this same hill taking pictures of an amazing sunrise that was breathtaking and memorable..

This hill is meant to be shared, experienced, meditated about, prayed from, loved upon. We are grateful to steward it for these decades we are fortunate enough to dwell on this farm, and with that gratitude in mind, I share it with you, although you may live half a world away. There are times when I stand on that hill, when the air is so clear and the horizon so sharp,  I almost feel I can see half a world away.

If you look hard enough, you might just see me waving at you, wishing you well in a brand new year…

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