Willingness to Give Something

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For a long time
     I was not even
        in this world, yet
           every summer

every rose
     opened in perfect sweetness
        and lived
           in gracious repose,

in its own exotic fragrance,
     in its huge willingness to give
        something, from its small self,
           to the entirety of the world...
~Mary Oliver from “The Poet Visits The Museum of Fine Arts

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This time of year, I go out to our flower garden twice a week and pick several fresh rosebuds for the bud vase on our kitchen table.  This feels like a luxury to interrupt the natural unfolding of a blossom simply so it can be enjoyed indoors for a few days.  Yet “its huge willingness to give something” grants me permission to do this.  I am consoled that there will be more buds where those came from.  The blooms will continue to grace our table until October when the first hard frost will sap them of all color and fragrance, leaving them deadened knots of brown curled petals.  They give no more for seven long months.

I wait impatiently for that first spring bud to appear, forcing myself to wait several weeks before I begin rosebud harvesting.  Although roses from the florist may be perfect color and long lasting,  they are neither as sweet nor their scent as exotic as those growing in the soil right under our windows.

It is a wee joy receiving this humble gift from the garden.  It is enough that a rosebush in gracious repose gave its small self long before I was and will continue long after me.   I hope I am as willing to give something from my small self during my time here, and may it ever be as sweet.

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Berries as Big as the End of Your Thumb

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Blueberries as big as the end of your thumb,
Real sky-blue, and heavy, and ready to drum
In the cavernous pail of the first one to come!
And all ripe together, not some of them green
And some of them ripe!  You ought to have seen!

I wish I knew half what the flock of them know
Of where all the berries and other things grow,
Cranberries in bogs and raspberries on top
Of the boulder-strewn mountain, and when they will crop.
~Robert Frost from “Blueberries”

 

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We live in the middle of a county with bountiful berries this time of year, both wild and farmed.

Just as sweet cherries are disappearing from the orchards and strawberry harvest finished a few weeks ago, now raspberries are going strong for almost three weeks and blueberries are hanging in heavy branch-busting clusters begging for relief.  Domesticated marion blackberries are already in the berry stands, but the wild evergreen and Himalaya wild blackberries are about two weeks from harvesting.  Local currants are shiny and glistening.  There are only a few cranberry bogs left in our area, hampered by marketing issues that favor New England’s crop.

It is truly a miracle to live within a few miles of all this lovely fruit, with many of them growing wild in our own back yards and woodlands.

There are still wild strawberries in close-to-the-ground crawling vines with little roundish-shaped berries with a slightly tart taste, far more savory than the standard sweet juice laden market strawberry.  Thimble berries hang from wild bushes – salmon colored, red and black varieties.  Orange huckleberries grow wild in the low lands, and purple huckleberries are happiest up in the foothills, a great treasure find for hikers.  Most highly prized, however, are the sweet tiny wild blackberries that are ripening on gentle winding vines right now at the edges of the woods and fences, as well as in roadside ditches or around tree stumps.  They command huge prices per pound because it takes such effort to find and pick them.

As a child of the Pacific Northwest, growing up on a farm with both wild and domesticated berry vines and bushes, this was simply part of summer as I knew it.  I watched the blossoms, then the forming fruit, then watched as the color would get just right, waiting to pick until the precise moment of ripeness before the birds would beat me to it.  I also picked in the local fields as a summer job, including wild blackberries from our own woods, for 3 cents a pound.  For the sweet wild blackberries, a yield of 75 cents was an exceptionally great day.

I preferred blueberry picking most of all.  When I now put a blueberry in my mouth, I transport back to those summer days that started at 6 AM, walking down the road to the neighbor’s berry field with pungent smelling peat ground converted from swamp to productive berry farm before the legislation that now prevents messing with wetlands.  The bushes were tall, towering over my head, providing shade in the hot sweaty July  sun.  The berry clusters were easy to find, there were no thorns to shred sleeves and skin, and the berries made a very satisfying *plink* when they hit the empty pail.  They didn’t smush, or bruise, and didn’t harbor many bees, spider webs or ugly bugs.  They were refreshingly sweet and rejuvenating when a quick snack was in order.   I wasn’t even aware, as I am now, that blueberries contain anthocyanins and other antioxidant chemicals believed to be helpful in preventing the growth of cancer cells.   In short, blueberries were perfect then, and they are perfect now.

There are now so many raspberry and blueberry fields in our county,  the price per pound has dropped and the market is shaky.  A few years ago one farmer put a full page ad in the local newspaper today, begging the public to come pick his ripe blueberries at 99 cents a pound, just to get them off his bushes.  I stopped by another farm’s roadside stand and chatted with the Sikh owner and his three young sons as they measured out my 5 pounds of luscious blueberries.  He was philosophical about the low prices, explaining he was a patient man, and he hoped the bushes would yield blue gold for his family for a very long time, even if some years are low price years.

Some raspberry farmers aren’t feeling so optimistic this year as their primary corporate buyer backed out at the last minute, and the fragile berries are just falling off the bushes for lack of a place to be processed.  Sadly, it is possible some berry fields will be torn out and converted to some other crop with more certain market potential.

As a fellow farmer, I am aware of how one’s carefully tended crops can go to waste, whether it is due to weather or pests or the vagaries of the market.  I hope our berry farmers can persist through the hard times so the exquisite perfection of a local berry bounty can continue in such variety of colors, shapes and sizes, even some as big as the end of your thumb.

 

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A Residual Celestial Heat

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“Somehow the question of identity is always emerging on this farm. I found the body of a barn swallow lying just inside the barn the other day. There was no telling how it died. I noticed the intense particularity of its body, its sharply cut wings, the way its plumage seemed to glow with some residual celestial heat. But it was the particularity of death, not the identity of life, a body in stillness while all around me its kin were twittering and swooping in and out of the hayloft.”
~Verlyn Klinkenborg from “A Swallow in the Hand”

 

 

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Stumbling across death on the farm is always startling.  The farm teems with life 24 hours a day: frogs croaking, dawn bird chorus, insects buzzing and crawling, cats stalking, coyotes yipping, raccoons stealing, dogs wagging, horses galloping, owls and bats swooping.  Amid so much activity, it doesn’t seem possible that some simply cease to be.

An ancient apple tree mysteriously topples over one morning, a beloved riding horse dies of colic, another dies of lymphoma, an old cat finds her final resting place in the hay loft, another old cat naps forever under a tree,  a newborn foal fails to break free of its amniotic sac, another foal delivered unexpectedly and prematurely lies still and lifeless in the shavings of the stall, a vibrantly alive dog is put to sleep due to a growing tumor,  an old dog passes during an afternoon nap, a predator raids the dove cage and leaves behind carnage, our woods bears its own tragic history.

Yet, as often as it happens,  there is a unique particularity about the end of life.  The stillness of death permits a full appreciation of who this individual is, the remarkable care that went into creating every molecule of its being.

The sudden presence of absence is a stark and necessary reminder of what I myself want to leave behind.

In truth, we will glow with residual celestial heat, still warm even after our hearts cease to beat.  We are distinct individuals in our own particularity:  living and dying at a particular time and place as a unique creature, given a chance in the cosmos of infinite possibilities.  The Creator knit us together specially, every feather, hair, bone and sinew a unique work of His Hands, and what we do with what we are given is the stuff between our first God-given breath and our last, handed back to Him.

May we not squander our particular role in the history of the world.

 

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To Shut Out the Immensity

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He loved mountains,
or he had loved the thought of them marching
on the edge of stories brought from far away;
but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth.
He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.
~J.R.R Tolkien from Lord of the Rings 

 

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I am so high in the windy sun,
On the rock-boned back of the highest thing,
That the mountains under me, every one,
Are but wrinkled gestures …. westering.
~Thomas Hornsby Ferril from “One Mountain Hour”

 

 

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Surrounded as we are in the northwest by so much raw and rugged beauty, I’m easily overwhelmed.  My breath catches when I turn my face to these monoliths of stone and ice.

There is no sound up there except my heartbeat.  No birds.  Even breezes are silent with no trees or leaves to rustle.  Twenty foot walls of snow.

I am content to gaze at these peaks from afar, now and again to visit awed at their feet, to listen for their stories of near-eternity.

I always retreat back home chastened.

So infinitesimal among such immensity.

 

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Buttonholed

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The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   
The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   
The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   
I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.
~Naomi Shihab Nye “Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

 

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Detail from “Descent from the Cross” by Rogier van der Weyden

 

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 buttonhole
Here’s the truth of it:
I am the buttonhole lying in wait, hidden in the background – mere open space for locking in and securing the eye-catching button.
I’m neither decorative nor particularly noticeable yet chock-full of potential purpose even though empty.
A button without me is pure window-dressing, a flash in the pan, a bauble ready to loosen and fall off, easy to go missing.
Yet a button hole like me without a button to latch to is just plain and gaping and lonely and allows in drafts.
I never have forgotten what I’m meant to be and what I can do.  I only need the right button to fit me perfectly.
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Both Landlord and Tenant

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The frugal snail, with forecast of repose,    
Carries his house with him where’er he goes;    
Peeps out,—and if there comes a shower of rain,    
Retreats to his small domicile again.    
Touch but a tip of him, a horn, – ’tis well, –           
He curls up in his sanctuary shell.    
He’s his own landlord, his own tenant; stay    
Long as he will, he dreads no Quarter Day.    
Himself he boards and lodges; both invites    
And feasts himself; sleeps with himself o’ nights.        
He spares the upholsterer trouble to procure    
Chattels; himself is his own furniture,    
And his sole riches. Wheresoe’er he roam, –   
Knock when you will, – he ’s sure to be at home.
~Charles Lamb  — “The Housekeeper”

 

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I like to think of myself as carefully self-contained and safe from whatever threatens  – not dependent on others, able to bear my own burdens, completely sufficient unto today.

The reality is far different.  As sturdy and solid as I may seem on the outside, I’m nothing but soft and a bit mushy on the inside. And I have a tendency to retreat and hide inside my shell when the going gets rough.

Yet even shells can and will be broken.  I know it’s my home only for a little while.
So knock when you will:  I’ll be here.

 

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.  Hebrews 13:14

 

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Love on the Edge

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It is at the edge of a petal that love waits…
The fragility of the flower
unbruised
penetrates space

― William Carlos Williams from Spring and All

 

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It is too easy to look for love deep in the heart of things, up front and center, at once showpiece and show off.   We think of love as reverberating from within,  loud enough for all the world to see and hear and know it is so.

But as I advance on life’s road, I have found love is quietly waiting at the periphery of people: so fragile and too easily bruised and torn – clinging to the very edge of our lives.  It is ever-present as it protects and cherishes our core, fed by fine little veins of grace which branch out to feed our tenderest margins.

Love dwells on that delicate edge of us – that exquisite, ethereal and eternal edge of who we are.

 

 

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