The Grass of Heaven

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Green hills, 
embroidered
mist, rich
rising ridge
fog filled
plunging fields
cattle, 
black, weightless
rise poised
from bare bank
grazing
the grass of
heaven
~Steven Federle

 

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May is always an overwhelming time of year – my senses work overtime with the feel of cool air mornings and evenings, the fragrance of blossoms everywhere, the dawn chorus of birdsong and the nightly coyote choir and peeper swamp symphony, the softness of mist rising from warm ground and the explosion of green – everywhere.

We are happily drowning in green – so much to be done quickly:  mowed, gathered, stored, treasured.

Surely heaven too is mostly green.  It can be no other.

 

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My Face Anointed

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I can see, through the rifts of the apple-boughs,
 The delicate blue of the sky,                               
And the changing clouds with their marvellous tints
 That drift so lazily by.
And strange, sweet thoughts sing through my brain,
 And Heaven, it seemeth near;
Oh, is it not a rare, sweet time,
 The blossoming time of the year?
~Horatio Alger, Jr.  from “Apple Blossoms”

 

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You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.
~Dana Gioia from “The Apple Orchard”

 

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The rain eases long enough
to allow blades of grass to stand back up
expectant, refreshed
yet unsuspecting,
primed for the mower’s cutting swath.

Clusters of pink tinged blossoms
sway in response to my mower’s pass,
apple buds bulge on ancient branches
in promise of fruit
stroked by the honeybees’ tickling legs.

Bowing low beneath the swollen blooms,
caught by snagging branches
that shower from hidden raindrop reservoirs
held in the clasp of blushing petal cups,
my face is anointed in perfumed apple tears.
~EPG

 

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To Dwell in Sovereign Barns

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

The grass so little has to do,—    
A sphere of simple green,   
With only butterflies to brood,
And bees to entertain, 
    
And stir all day to pretty tunes        
The breezes fetch along,
And hold the sunshine in its lap   
And bow to everything; 
    
And thread the dews all night, like pearls,
And make itself so fine,—            
A duchess were too common 
For such a noticing.   
    
And even when it dies, to pass    
In odors so divine,    
As lowly spices gone to sleep,        
Or amulets of pine.    
    
And then to dwell in sovereign barns,    
And dream the days away,— 
The grass so little has to do,
I wish I were a hay!
~Emily Dickinson

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This is the week of the year our barn is at its emptiest, right before it fills up again. There is something very lonely about a barn completely empty of its hay stores.

Its hollow interior echoes with a century of farmers’ voices:
soothing an upset cow during a difficult milking,
uncovering a litter of kittens high in a hay loft,
shouting orders to a steady workhorse,
singing a soft hymn while cleaning stalls,
startling out loud as a barn owl or bat flies low overhead.

The dust motes lazily drift by in the twilight, seemingly forever suspended above the straw covered wood floor, floating protected from the cooling evening breezes.

There is no heart beat left in an empty barn. It is in full arrest, all life blood drained out, vital signs flat lined. I can hardly bear to go inside.

The weather is cooperating so the grass was cut two days ago.  Today it will be tossed about on the field to dry in a process called “tedding”, then tomorrow raked into windrows and baled for pick up by our “family and friends” hay crew.

Suddenly, the barn is shocked back to a pulse, with the throb of voices, music blaring, dust and pollen flying chaotically, the rattle of the electric “elevator” hauling bales from wagon to loft, the grunts and groans of the crew as they heft and heave the bales into place in the stack. This often goes on late into the night, the barn ablaze with lights, the barnyard buzzing with excitement and activity. It almost looks as if it is on fire.

Vital signs measurable, rhythm restored, volume depletion reversed, prognosis good for another year.

A healthy rhythm is elusive in this modern age of full time jobs off the farm, necessitating careful coordination with the schedule of the farmer who cuts and bales for many neighbors all within the same window of good weather. The farmer races his equipment from field to field, swooping around with a goliath tractor taking 12 foot swaths, raising dust clouds, and then on to the next job. It is so unlike the rhythm of a century ago when a horse drawn mower cut the tall grass in a gentle four foot swath, with a pulsing shh shh shh shh shh shh tempo that could be heard stretching across the fields. It is an unfamiliar sound today, the almost-silence of no motor at all, just the jingle of the harness and the mower blades slicing back and forth as the team pulls the equipment down the field. We’ve lost the peacefulness of a team of horses at work, necessitating a slower pace and the need to stop at the end of a row for a breather.

The old barn will be resuscitated once again. Its floor will creak with the weight of the hay bales, the walls will groan with the pressure of stacks. The missing shingles on the roof will be replaced and the doors locked tight against the winter winds. But it will be breathing on its own, having needed only a short rest these last few weeks.

Inside, once again, filled to the brim, life is held tight by twine, just waiting to be released.

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Photo of Aaron Janicki raking hay with his Oberlander team in Skagit County courtesy of Tayler Rae

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Orchard Mowing

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The rain eases long enough
to allow blades of grass to stand back up
expectant, refreshed
yet unsuspecting,
primed for the mower’s cutting swath.

Clusters of pink tinged blossoms
sway in response to my mower’s pass,
apple buds bulge on ancient branches
in promise of fruit
stroked by the honeybees’ tickling legs.

Bowing low beneath the swollen blooms,
caught by snagging branches
that shower from hidden raindrop reservoirs
held in the clasp of blushing petal cups,
my face anointed in perfumed apple tears.

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Melt and Flow

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Light and wind are running
over the headed grass
as though the hill had
melted and now flowed.
~Wendell Berry “June Wind”

It will soon be haying time, as soon as a stretch of clear days appear on the horizon.  Today was to be cloudless but ended up drizzly and windy, not good hay cutting weather.

The headed grass is growing heavier, falling over, lodged before it can be cut, with the undulations of moist breezes flowing over the hill.   It has matured too fast, rising up too lush, too overcome with itself so that it can no longer stand.  It is melting, pulled back to the soil.  We must work fast to save it.

The light and wind works its magic on our hill.  The blades of the mower will come soon to lay it to the ground in green streams that flow up and down the slopes.  It will lie comfortless in its stoneless cemetery rows, until tossed about by the tedder into random piles to dry, then raked back into a semblance of order in mounded lines flowing over the landscape.

It will be crushed and bound together for transport to the barn, no longer bending but bent, no longer flowing but flown, no longer growing but grown and salvaged.

It becomes fodder for the beasts of the farm during the cold nights when the wind beats at the doors.   It melts in their mouths, as it was meant to.

Truly.

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Whispering Scythe

Winslow Homer’s The Veteran in a New Field

To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows…

The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make.
~Robert Frost in “Mowing”

I grew up watching my father scythe our hay in our field because he had no mower for his tractor.  He enjoyed physical labor in the fields and woods–his other favorite hand tool was a brush cutter that he’d take to blackberry bushes.   He would head out to the field with the scythe over this shoulder, grim reaper style.  Once he was standing on the edge of the grass needing to be mowed, he would then lower the scythe, curved blade to the ground, turn slightly, positioning his hands on the two handles just so, raise the scythe up past his shoulders, and then in a full body twist almost like a golf swing, he’d bring the blade down.   It would follow a smooth arc through the base of the standing grass, laying clumps flat in a tidy pile in a row alongside the 2 inch stubble left behind. It was a swift, silky muscle movement, a thing of beauty.

This work was a source of his satisfaction and “sweetest dream.”  I know now what he must have felt–there is a contentment found in sweaty work showing visible results.   I understand that “earnest love” that drives us to work, and tangibly leaves the evidence of our labors behind.

Harvest work is not for sissies.   I learned that watching my father’s continual sweep across the field and hearing his whispering scythe.

I wish I too could work with a whisper.

Mowing the Orchard

The rain eases long enough
to allow blades of grass to stand back up
expectant, refreshed yet unsuspecting,
primed for the mower’s cutting swath.

Swollen clusters of pink tinged apple blossoms
sway in response to the mower’s pass,
buds bulge on ancient branches weighted in promise of fruit
stroked by the hum of honeybees’ tickling legs and tongues.

Bowed low beneath the clustered blooms,  yet scratched by snagging branches
that shower from a hidden raindrop reservoir
held in the clasp of blushing petal cups–
my wounds anointed in trickles of perfumed crimson.

orchard photos by Lea Gibson (“after the rain”)