To Muck and Shovel and Sing

“He (the professor) asked what I made of the other students (at Oxford) so I told him.
They were okay, but they were all very similar…
they’d never failed at anything or been nobodies,
and they thought they would always win.
But this isn’t most people’s experience of life.

He asked me what could be done about it.
I told him the answer was to send them all out for a year
to do some dead-end job
like working in a chicken processing plant
or spreading muck with a tractor.
It would do more good than a gap year in Peru. 

He laughed and thought this was tremendously witty.
It wasn’t meant to be funny.

~James Rebanks from The Shepherd’s Life
(how a sheep farmer succeeds at Oxford and then goes back to the farm)


In our barn we have a very beat up old AM/FM radio that sits on a shelf next to the horse stalls and serves as company to the horses during the rainy stormy days they stay inside, and serves as distraction to me as we clean stalls of manure and wet spots in the evening.  We live about 10 miles south of the Canadian border, so most stations that come in well on this radio’s broken antenna are from the lower mainland of British Columbia.  This includes a panoply of stations spoken in every imaginable language– a Babel of sorts that I can tune into: Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Hindi, Russian, French and of course, proper British accent English.  But standard issue American melting pot genetic mix that I am, I prefer to tune into the “Oldies” Station and reminisce.

There is a strange comfort in listening to songs that I enjoyed 40-50+ years ago, and I’m somewhat miffed and perplexed that they should be called “oldies”.  Oldies always referred to music from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, not the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s!   I listen and sing along with a mixture of feeling ancient and yet transported back to my teens.  I can think of faces and names I haven’t thought of in decades, remember special summer days picking berries and hear long lost voices from school days. I can smell and taste and feel things all because of the trigger of a familiar song.   There is something primordial –deep in my synapses– that is stirred by this music. In fact, I shoveled manure to these same songs 50 years ago, and somehow, it seems not much as changed. 

Or has it? One  (very quick) glance in the mirror tells me it has and I have.

YesterdayI Got You, Babe and you were a Bridge Over Troubled Waters for this Natural Woman who just wants to be Close to You so You’ve Got a Friend.  There’s Something in the way I Cherish The Way We Were and of course Love Will Keep Us Together. If You Leave Me Now,  You’re So VainI’ve always wanted it My Way but How Sweet It Is when I Want To Hold Your Hand.  Come Saturday Morning we’re Born to Be Wild.

Help! Do You Know Where You’re Going To?  Me and You and A Dog Named Boo will travel Country Roads and Rock Around the Clock even though God Didn’t Make the Little Green Apples.  Fire and Rain will make things All Right Now once Morning is Broken, I’ll Say a Little Prayer For You.

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction from the Sounds of Silence — If— Those Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My HeadStand By Me as It’s Just My Imagination that I am a Rock,when really I only want Time in a Bottle and to just Sing, Sing a Song.

They just don’t write songs like they used to.  I seem to remember my parents saying that about the songs I loved so well.  Somehow in the midst of decades of change, there are some constants.  Music still touches our souls, no matter how young or old we are.

And there will always be manure that needs shoveling.

In the Dark, Reconciled

sunset121173

 

I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.
~Rainer Maria Rilke from “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”

 

north12518

 

sunset125182

 

On Sunday evenings I often feel I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catch-up from what was left undone through a too-brief weekend and on the other side is the anticipated demand of the coming week. As I prepare to sleep at the end of a Sabbath day, I feel uneasily in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known behind.

This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and uncertain future, is my moment of reconciliation: my Sabbath extended.

This evening, I will allow myself a steeply sloping hour of silence and reflection before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes, yet beautiful nevertheless.

Even the least harmonious notes resolve within the next chord. I will move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life.

Trembling, still trembling, always trembling at what is to come.

 

419661_3133313644072_422257452_n
photo by Josh Scholten

 

392613_3049721161175_1428161787_n
photo by Lea Gibson

 

 

 

 

One Who Waits For Us

evening1151514

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why I was crying
I had no words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood
Why this is so

But there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.
~Anne Porter “Music” from Living Things. © Zoland Books, 2006.

evening1151513

One evening, when our daughter was only a toddler,
just learning the words to tell us what she needed,
I was preparing dinner, humming to
a choral music piece playing in the background.

She sat on the kitchen floor, looking up at me,
her eyes welling full with tears
like pools of reflected light spilling over
from some deep-remembered reservoir of sorrow.

At first I thought she was hurt or upset
but then could see she was feeling
an ache a desolation
deep as a homesickness
as she wept for wonder
at the sad beauty of the music
that spoke for her
the words she could not express:

Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows

Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.

pinkbaker1217

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand’ring far
alone
Of shadows on the stars.

Just Too Much on a June Morning

morningbird

Every spring
I hear the thrush singing
in the glowing woods
he is only passing through.
His voice is deep,
then he lifts it until it seems
to fall from the sky.
I am thrilled.
I am grateful.
Then, by the end of morning,
he’s gone, nothing but silence
out of the tree
where he rested for a night.
And this I find acceptable.
Not enough is a poor life.
But too much is, well, too much.
Imagine Verdi or Mahler
every day, all day.
It would exhaust anyone.
~Mary Oliver from “A Thousand Mornings”

birdonpostrodenberger
photo by Harry Rodenberger

 

What does it say about me that in the darkness of December mornings, I yearn for the early sunrises of June but once I’m firmly into the June calendar, it no longer is so compelling?  It confirms my suspicion that I’m incapable of reveling in the moment at hand, something that would likely take years of therapy to undo.  I’m sure there is some deep seated issue here, but I’m too sleep deprived to pursue it.

My eyes popped open this morning at 4:17 AM, spurred by vigorous birdsong in the trees surrounding our farm house.  There was daylight sneaking through the venetian blinds at that unseemly hour as well.  Once the bird chorus starts, with one lone chirpy voice in the apple tree by our bedroom window, it rapidly becomes a full frontal onslaught symphony orchestra from the plum, cherry, poplar, walnut, fir and chestnut.   Sleep is irretrievable.

I remember wishing for early morning birdsong last December when it seemed the sun would never rise and the oppressive silence would never lift.  I had conveniently forgotten those mornings a few years ago when we had a flock of over a dozen young roosters who magically found their crows very early in the morning a mere 10 weeks after hatching.  Nothing before or since could match their alarm clock expertise after 4 AM.  No barbecue before or since has tasted as sweet.

So I remind myself how bad it can really be and backyard birdsong is a veritable symphony in comparison.

Even so, I already need a nap.

sunrise63161

marshmallowmorning1

All the Things That Got in the Way

poliswaterfall2

In all the woods that day I was
the only living thing
fretful, exhausted, or unsure.
Giant fir and spruce and cedar trees
that had stood their ground
three hundred years
stretched in sunlight calmly
unimpressed by whatever
it was that held me
hunched and tense above the stream,
biting my nails, calculating all
my impossibilities.
Nor did the water pause
to reflect or enter into
my considerations.
It found its way
over and around a crowd
of rocks in easy flourishes,
in laughing evasions and
shifts in direction.
Nothing could slow it down for long.
It even made a little song
out of all the things
that got in its way,
a music against the hard edges
of whatever might interrupt its going.
~John Brehm “Passage”

mejierwaterfall

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.
~Wendell Berry “The Real Work”

waterfall

Who among us knows with certainty each morning
what we are meant to do that day
or where we are to go?
So we make our best guess by
putting one foot ahead of the other as we were taught
until the day is done and it is time to rest.

For me, I wake baffled each day
that I am allowed
to eavesdrop on heartbeats,
touch tender bellies,
sew up broken skin,
listen to tears.

I wake humbled with commitment
to keep going even when too tired,
to offer care even when rejected.
to keep trying even if impeded.

It is only then I learn
thing that get in the way
slow but cannot stop
the flow of time,
overflowing its banks with music
of uncertain certainty–
my real work and journey
through life.

May I wade in deep~ listening~ready to sing along.

sunrisepond22115

Needful Vanishing

sunrise1116151

vanishing

The mountain’s power
lies in the open secret of its remote
apparition, silvery low relief
coming and going moonlike at the horizon,
always loftier, lonelier, than I ever remember.
~Denise Levertov from “Open Secrets”

What does it serve to insist / … that its vanishings / are needful, as silence is to music?
~Denise Levertov from “Against Intrusion”

 

During these stormy autumn days,
the mountain vanishes and reappears
sometimes several times a day.
It peeks out from its cover of blankets
sometimes pink
sometimes gray
always a white comforter snugged to her shoulders.

Like a pause in a symphony overture,
the strings poised with bows above the instrument
the winds taking a breath,
we too all hold our breath,
waiting for the vanishing mountain
to reappear with the downbeat,
grand and sweeping,
ready to carry us away.

sunrise111615

rainbowfarm

Reconciled Trembling

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because Death’s note wants to climb over—
but in the dark interval, reconciled,
they stay there trembling.
And the song goes on, beautiful.”
Rainer Maria Rilke from “My Life is Not This Steeply Sloping Hour”

On Mondays I often feel I’m the spot in the middle between discordant notes. There is on one side of me the pressure of catch-up from what was left undone through the weekend and on the other side is the anticipated demand of the coming week. Before I arrive to work, I’m uneasily in dead center, immobilized by the unknown ahead and the known behind.

This moment of rest in the present, between the trembling past and future, is my moment of reconciliation, my Sabbath extended. This morning I allow myself an instant of silence and reflection before I surge ahead into the week, knowing that on my journey I’ll inevitably hit wrong notes, but it can be beautiful nevertheless.

Even the least harmonious notes find reconciliation within the next chord. I now move from the rest of my Sabbath back into the rhythm of my life.

Trembling, still trembling.