The Dying of the Year

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Now winter downs the dying of the year,   
And night is all a settlement of snow; 
From the soft street the rooms of houses show   
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,   
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin   
And still allows some stirring down within. 
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.   
We fray into the future, rarely wrought 
Save in the tapestries of afterthought. 
More time, more time. Barrages of applause   
Come muffled from a buried radio. 
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
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The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,
Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.
Heaped in the hollows of the grove, the autumn leaves lie dead;
They rustle to the eddying gust, and to the rabbit’s tread.
The robin and the wren are flown, and from the shrubs the jay,
And from the wood-top calls the crow through all the gloomy day.
~William Cullen Bryant from “The Death of the Flowers”

 

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These dark, icy,  and sodden days are scarcely recalled while basking in the lightness of June when the sun shines 19 hours a day.

There is no way to cope with such overwhelming darkness except by adding in a few minutes more a day over six months, otherwise the shock of leaving behind the light would be too great.  Howling wind knocks and batters, freezing rain beats mercilessly at the window panes to coat everything with a 1/4 inch of ice,  puddles stand deeper than they appear, mud sucks off boots, leaves are thoroughly shaken from embarrassed branches.

We have no remnant of summer civility and frivolity left; we must adapt or cry trying, only adding to a pervasive sogginess.

Nevertheless, these melancholy days have their usefulness — there are times of joyful respite from frenetic activity while reading, snuggled deep under quilts, safe and warm.  Without such stark contrast, the light and bright time of year would become merely routine, yet just another sunny day.

That never happens here in the Pacific northwest.

We celebrate the emerging light with real thanksgiving and acknowledge this encompassing darkness makes our gratitude more genuine.

We are privileged to live within such a paradox:  there is, after all, a certain gladness in our sadness.

 

 

 

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When the Storm Passes

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This has been a wild weather month on the outside:

heavy winds at times, damaging hale storms, snowfall covering the foothills, sweaty sunny middays, torrential unpredictable showers, ankle-deep mud.

And inside my cranium:

words that flew out too quickly, anxiety mixed with a hint of anger, too easy tears, searing frustration, feeling immobilized by the daily muck and mire.

The unpredictable month of May needs no explanation for acting like October, December and August within a span of a few hours.  I am not so easily forgiven or unburdened.  I end up lying awake at night with regrets, composing apologies, and wanting to hide under a rock until the storm blows over.

But in the midst of all the extremes, while the storm is raging, a miracle takes place:
it can only happen when brilliant light exposes weeping from heavy laid clouds, like the rainbow that dropped from heaven last week to touch the earth right in our backyard, only a few feet from our barn.

God cries too.  His wept tears have lit up the sky in a promise of forgiveness.
He assures us: this storm too will pass.

He assures us because He knows we need it.

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Turn Aside and Look: To Laugh and To Cry

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It is in these afflictions, which succeed one another each moment,
that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself,
mysteriously bestowing his grace in a manner
quite unrecognized by the souls
who feel only weakness in bearing their cross…

~Jean Pierre du Caussade from The Sacrament of the Present Moment

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The past few mornings have been unveiled in snow flurries, mist and fog, tentative spring dawns of freezing air and warming soil trying to break loose from the vise grip of a tired and dying winter.

I am struggling under the load of 14 hour days working with despairing and suicidal people,  in addition to keeping a barn clean and animals and humans fed.  Even sleep is not restful when there is so little time to quiet myself in reflection and gratitude.

I am keenly reminded of my weakness as my strength wanes at the end of a long day, having slipped in the mud while trying to gain traction unloading a couple hundred pounds of manure from the wheelbarrow.  Landing on my backside, my pants soaking through,  I can choose to laugh or cry.

I choose to see the baptism of mud as a sacrament of the present moment,  reminding me of my need for a cleansing grace.

I laugh and cry.

Though obscured from view, God is nevertheless revealed in these moments of being covered in the soil of earth and the waste of its creatures.

He knows I need reminding that I too am dust and to dust shall return.

He knows I am too often wasteful and a failed steward,
so need reminding by landing me amidst it.

He knows I need to laugh at myself,
so puts me right on my backside.

He knows I need to cry,
so sends me those with the saddest stories and greatest needs.

He knows I need Him, always and ever more,
to restore a sacrament of grace evident in the present moment
and every moment to come.

To be known for who I am
by a God who laughs with me,
weeps for me
and groans with pain I have caused~
I will know
no greater love.

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When Jesus wept, the falling tear
in mercy flowed beyond all bound;
when Jesus groaned, a trembling fear
seized all the guilty world around.
~William Billings

 

Savoring the Gray

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I like these cold, gray winter days.  Days like these let you savor a bad mood.
–  Bill Watterson in Calvin and Hobbes

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After too many days of very cold crisp northeast wind and bright sun, I’m looking longingly for a weather prediction for rain later this week.  I want to be back to gray, wet and miserable, right where we were for most of December.

What a relief that would be.

There has been too much perfection for too long:  360 degree views of snowy mountains and foothills that gleam in the sun, glistening crystalline fields of frost, sparkling clear waters in Puget Sound,  and bright blue cloudless skies is hard for any northwest native to tolerate.    It is hard work keeping up the smiles and general good humor that goes with excellent weather.   There is always a clear expectation that one must be outside enjoying the rare sunny day, when it is far more appealing to curl up with a good book and a warm dog by a roaring fire, pretending not to notice how nice it is out.

We native Washingtonians are congenitally grumpy people, born to splash through puddles and lose our boots in footwear-sucking mud.    We don’t carry umbrellas because they are useless when our horizontal rain comes from the side, not from the top.   We wear sunglasses on mid-winter sunny days because we can’t possibly get our eyes to adjust to so much brightness.   We wear hoods, sometimes even when we are indoors, just in case,  because you never know.

Gray is preferred.   Gray with wet and cold is even better.   No one even questions a bad mood on days like this.   A good mood would be highly suspect.

So I savor the opportunity to be disgruntled with such obvious justification as a rainy evening.

Downright crabby.  No apologies needed.  No excuses given.

It’s almost enough to put a smile on my face.

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A New Soul

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The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year.
It is that we should have a new soul.

– G.K. Chesterton

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Mt. Baker in December

We have had considerable winter already in the northwest with a white Christmas that soon melted away and then snowfall again on New Year’s Eve. It has been beautiful – a welcome change from our typical winter rain and mud-fest. It is natural to desire an overnight transformation of the old and dirty to something new and beautiful:  an all clean pristine white cottony sheet covering thrown over everything making it look completely different than before.

Similarly, at the tick of the clock past midnight on New Years’ Eve, we hope for just such an inner transformation as well, a fresh start, a leaving behind of the not-so-good from the past and moving ahead to the surely-it’ll-be-better in the future.

But it usually doesn’t stick, despite a flurry of good intentions and a skiff of newness plopped down here and there.  Even if we find ourselves in the midst of blizzard conditions, unable to see six inches ahead and immobilized by the furious storms of life,  that accumulation eventually will melt, leaving behind even more mud and raw mess.

It isn’t how flawless, how clean, or how new this year will be, but rather how to ensure our soul transformation stays whole and pure, unmelting from within, even when the heat is turned up and the sweat drips.  This is not about a covering thrown over the old and dirty but a full blown overhaul in order to never to be the same mess again.

I lift my eyes to the hills where the snow stays year round: sometimes more,  with a few hundred new inches over several weeks, or sometimes less,  on the hottest days of summer.  Our new souls this new year must be built of that same resiliency, withstanding what each day may bring, cold or hot.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…transformation that sticks within my soul.

 

Whiter than snow, yes, whiter than snow.
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
~James Nicholson (hymn chorus)

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Mt. Baker in August

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A Search for Solid Footing

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A few days of heavy rain have transformed our farm to mush. Puddles are everywhere, the ground is saturated and mushrooms are sprouting in the most unlikely places. Slugs are seeking out mushrooms for refuge from the deluge. It’s even too wet for the trumpeter swans and Canadian geese who glean in the nearby harvested cornfields, filling up on dropped corn kernels. They now are flying overhead to head south to drier places, noisily honking, their wings swooshing the air as they pass over.

The wet weather means chores are more challenging on our farm. Some of the stalls in the barn have flooded so moving the horses out to pasture for the day means braving wind and rain and soppy footing. At the end of the day, they eagerly walk back to the barn, soaked and dripping, diving into fresh shavings for a good roll and shake. I can appreciate the relief they feel as I like getting back to solid footing too at the end of the day. Much of my day also seems to be spent navigating slippery slopes and muddy terrain, both real and figurative.

It isn’t always apparent what ground is treacherous from appearance alone. The grassy slope heading down to the barn from the house looks pretty benign until I start navigating in a driving rainstorm in the dark, and suddenly the turf becomes a skating rink and I’m finding I’m picking my way carefully with a flashlight. The path I seek is to find the patches of moss, which happily soaks up the water like a sponge carpet, so not as slick to walk on. Even if moss ordinarily is not a welcome addition to lawn or pasture–I do appreciate it this time of year.

Another challenge is pushing a wheelbarrow with two 60 pound bales of hay back up that slope to our largest paddock for the day’s feeding. There is no traction underneath to help my feet stick to the ground for the push uphill. I can feel particularly foolish at this futile effort–my feet sometimes slide out beneath me, landing me on my knees down on the ground, soaked and humiliated, and the wheelbarrow goes skidding right back down to the barn door where it started.

Trusting the footing underneath my feet is crucial day to day. If I am to get work done most efficiently and make progress, I must have solid ground to tread. But the stuff of real life, like our farm’s ground, doesn’t come made to order that way. Some days are slick and treacherous, unpredictable and ready to throw me to my knees, while other days are simple, easy, and smooth sailing. Waking in the morning, I cannot know what I will face that day–whether I need my highest hip boots to wade through the muck or whether I can dash about in comfy house slippers. My attitude has something to do with it–sometimes my “internal” footing is loose and slippery, tripping up those around me as well as myself. That is when I need most to plant myself in the solid foundation that I know will support me during those treacherous times.

I need my faith, my need to forgive and experience forgiveness, my people holding me when I fall, and to help pick them up when they are down. Without those footings every day, I’m nothing more than a muddy soiled mess lying face down on the ground wondering if I’ll ever walk again.

There is good reason I end up on my knees at times. It is the best reminder of where I should be full time if it were not for stronger hands that lift me up, clean me up and guide my footsteps all the rest of my days.

 

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Puddle-wonderful

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The world is mud-lucious and puddle-wonderful.
~e.e. cummings

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…he sought the privacy of rain,
the one time no one was likely to be
out and he was left to the intimacy
of drops touching every leaf and tree in
the woods and the easy muttering of
drip and runoff…
~Robert Morgan from “Working in the Rain”

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There is plenty of muttering, both private and public, since the rain started yesterday.  And not all of it is from dripping and runoff into puddles.  Anytime a holiday weekend is predicted to be rained out, plenty of people mutter too.

I’m celebrating as it has been weeks — no, months — since we have had a decent rain and everything, including me, has been far too tinder-dry.

Rain is what makes this part of the world special, but like Camelot,  most would prefer it never fall till after sundown.   To them we live not in a more congenial spot — than Camelot.

I may be an oddity, though somewhat typical of northwest-born natives.  I celebrate rain whenever it comes, whether before sundown or after sunrise, as I grew up working outside in the intimacy of a drenching shower.  Yet rain, this falling weather, gives me an excuse to stay indoors to putter around instead of mutter.

He could not resist the long
ritual, the companionship and freedom
of falling weather, or even the cold
drenching, the heavy soak and chill of clothes
and sobbing of fingers and sacrifice
of shoes that earned a baking by the fire
and washed fatigue after the wandering
and loneliness in the country of rain.
~Robert Morgan, conclusion of “Working in the Rain”

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