A Sigh of Relief

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sunrise827It was not so much a modification of the darkness, as a sigh of relief, a slight relaxing of tension, so that one felt, rather than saw, that the night had suddenly lost a shade of its density… ah! yes; there! between these two shoulders of the hills she is bleeding to death.
~Hope Mirrlees

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The Autumn Wind

photos of Mt. Baker and cornfield in Whatcom County by Josh Scholten

The old man does believe what the child believed; but how different it is, though still the same. It is the field that once held the seed, now waving and rustling under the autumn wind with the harvest that it holds, yet all the time it has kept the corn. The joy of his life has richened his belief. His sorrow has deepened it. His doubts have sobered it. His enthusiasms have fired it. His labour has purified it.
~Phillips Brooks

I don’t consider myself “old”, at least not quite yet, although my college age patients might look at the graying me, almost three times their age, and think “old.”   Nearing the end of my sixth decade,  I feel the seeds of the younger Emily still within me.   I am the same field, now with soil plowed thoroughly, seed planted deeply, weeds and rocks winnowed regularly, harvest anticipated gratefully.

No one else can do the work of my field in my place.  I am the one who must be willing to get up early, believe in what I need to do every day, exercise flabby muscle, sprinkle with shed tears, fertilize with inspiration gleaned from others’ experience.

The harvest will be sweet when work is purified by blood, sweat, and tears.   Even the younger me understood and believed.

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.

Reckless Blooming

“Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

A rainy summer yields abundant shade-loving blossoms.   Continuous cloud cover and plenty of moisture may subdue a summer mood but not in the case of begonias, fuchsia, and impatiens.  Their vivid colors are happily chanting playground rhymes, when not singing arias, reciting epic poetry, and laughing uproariously while partying hardy into the night.

If they were fragrance instead of colors, they would be a perfume shop full of perfectly coiffed matrons who trail scents behind them.  If they were tactile instead of colors, they would be plush velveteen cushions topped with purring cats with switching tails.   If they were taste instead of colors, they would be spice and pepper-hot to the point of tears.

Their reckless blooming abandon is enough in itself to make me weep, without noisy parties,  chilis, heavy scents, or ruffled cat fur needed.

No sun required.  No tropical temperatures.  No promise of 18 hours of daylight.

They simply have enough of what they need to give all they’ve got.   All I need to do is show up, open my eyes and believe.

Gernumbli gardensi Infestation

She lingered in that charming little garden to say hello to the gnomes, such a glorious infestation!  How few wizards realize just how much we can learn from the wise little gnomes-or, to give them their correct names, the Gernumbli gardensi.
‘Ours do know a lot of excellent swear words,’ said Ron…
J.K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

It is hard to say exactly when the first one moved in.  This farm was distinctly gnome-less when we bought it, largely due to twenty-seven hungry barn cats residing here at the time,  in various stages of pregnancy, growth, development and aging.  It took awhile for the feline numbers to whittle down to an equilibrium that matched the rodent population.  In the mean time,  our horse numbers increased from three to seven to over fifteen with a resultant exponential increase in barn chores.   One spring over a decade ago,  I was surprised to walk in the barn one morning to find numerous complex knots tied in the Haflingers’ manes.  Puzzling as I took precious time to undo them, literally adding hours to my chores, I knew I needed to find the cause or culprit.

It took some research to determine the probable origin of these tight tangles.  Based on everything I read, they appeared to be the work of Gernumbli faenilesi, a usually transient species of gnome preferring to live in barns and haylofts in close proximity to heavy maned ponies.  In this case, as the tangles persisted for months, they clearly had moved in, lock, stock and barrel.   The complicated knots were their signature pride and joy, their artistic way of showing their devotion to a happy farm.

All well and good,  but the extra work was killing my fingers and thinning my horses’ hair.  I plotted ways to get them to cease and desist.

I set live traps of cheese and peanut butter cracker sandwiches, hoping to lure them into cages for a “catch and release”. Hoping to drive them away, I played polka music on the radio in the barn at night.  Hoping to be preemptive, I braided the manes up to be less tempting but even those got twisted and jumbled.  Just as I was becoming ever more desperate and about to round up more feral cats, the tangling stopped.

It appeared the gnomes had moved on to a more hospitable habitat.   I had succeeded in my gnome eradication plan.  Or so I thought.

Not long after, I had the distinct feeling of being watched as I walked past some rose bushes in the yard.  I stopped to take a look, expecting to spy the shining eyes of one of the pesky raccoons that frequents our yard to steal from the cats’ food dish.  Instead, beneath the thorny foliage, I saw two round blue eyes peering at me serenely.   This little gal was not at all intimidated by me, and made no move to escape.   She was an ideal example of Gernumbli gardensi, a garden gnome known for their ability to keep varmints and vermin away from plants and flowers.  They also happen to actively feud with Gernumbli Faenilesi so that explained the sudden disappearance of my little knot-tying pests in the barn.

It wasn’t long before more Gardensi moved in, a gnomey infestation.  They tended to arrive in pairs and bunches, liked to play music, smoked pipes, played on a teeter totter, worked with garden tools, took naps on sun-warmed rocks and one even preferred a swing.  They are a bit of a rowdy bunch but I enjoy their happy presence and jovial demeanor.   I haven’t yet heard any bad language as we have a “keep it clean” policy about bad words around here.  They seem quite hardy, stoically withstand extremes in weather, and only seem fearful when hornets build a nest right in their lap.

As long as they continue to coexist peaceably with us and each other, keep the varmints and their knot tying cousins away,  and avoid bad habits and swear words, I’m quite happy they are here.   Actually, I’ve given them the run of the place.  I’ve been told to be cautious as there are now news reports of an even more invasive species of gnome,  Gernumbli kitschsi, that could move in and take over if I’m not careful.

I shudder to think.  One has to consider the neighborhood.

Imparting Quiet

photo by Josh Scholten

Surely there is something in the unruffled calm of nature that overawes our little anxieties and doubts: the sight of the deep-blue sky, and the clustering stars above seem to impart a quiet to the mind.
Jonathan Edwards

There is much about farm chores that is good for the troubled heart. When the stresses of the working world amass together and threaten to overwhelm, there is reassurance in the routine of putting on muck boots, gloves, jacket, then hearing the back door bang behind me as I head outside. Following the path to the barns, I open wide the doors to hear the welcoming nickers of seven different equine voices. Just as in the house, I am anticipated–truly wanted and needed here.

The routine reassures. I loosen up the twine on the hay bales and open each stall door to put a meal in front of each hungry horse, maneuver the wheelbarrow to fork up accumulated poop, fill the water bucket, pat a neck and go on to the next one. By the time I’m done, I am gratefully calmer, listening to the rhythmic chewing from seven sets of molars. It is a welcome symphony of satisfaction for musicians and audience.

The horses are not in the least perturbed that I may have had a challenging day. Like the dog and the cats, they show appreciation that I have come to do what I promised to do–I care for them, I protect them and moreover, I will always return.

Outside the barn, the wind blows gently through the tree branches, although at times with a fierce bite to remind me who is not in control. I should drop the pretense. The stars are covered most nights by cloud cover, but when they show themselves, glowing alongside the moon in a galactic sweep across the sky, they exude the tranquility of ever-presence over my bowed and humbled head. I am cared for and protected; they are always there.

The balance of ordinary and extraordinary within the routine of farm chores: it is equilibrium delivered, once and ever after, from a stable.

photo by Josh Scholten