With what deep thirst we quicken our desires to that rank odor of a passing springtime!
Must you taste everything? Must you know everything? Must you have a part in everything? ~William Carlos Williams from “Smell”
I realize I am not so different than my dogs rolling happily in the stinkiest thing they can find – I want to taste and know and be part of everything whether it is good or not:
I tend to douse myself with whatever I wish to carry with me through the rest of my days, even if smelling like something just died repels others.
Maybe, like my dogs, it is to conceal who I really am.
Maybe, like my dogs, I would rather fit in with the barnyard than a palace.
Or maybe, just like my dogs, I simply like getting down and dirty and too proud of it.
Human nature being what it is — the desire to blend in with the world’s sordid and sin-ridden surroundings — this is why I, like my dogs, am in constant need of a good bathing.
It would be best to smell like that rank odor of too-swiftly passing springtimes – we all need a renewal and reminder of our rebirth rather than immersion in the stench of death.
May I, like my dogs,
recognize I must be cleansed –
again and again and again.
For some reason we like to see days pass,
even though most of us claim we don’t want to reach our last one for a long time.
We examine each day before us with barely a glance and say, no, this isn’t one I’ve been looking for, and wait in a bored sort of way for the next, when we are convinced, our lives will start for real.
Meanwhile, this day is going by perfectly well-adjusted, as some days are, with the right amounts of sunlight and shade, and a light breeze scented with a perfume made from the mixture of fallen apples, corn stubble, dry oak leaves, and the faint odor of last night’s meandering skunk. ~Tom Hennen from “The Life of a Day”
I am ashamed to admit I squander time shamelessly,
waiting for that particular day I always hoped for,
tossing off these mundane but precious hours
as somehow not measuring up or special enough.
The shock is:
there have been over thirty years
of such days on this farm,
one passing by after another,
emerging fresh each morning from the duff and stuff of life,
and every single one has ended up being exactly what I’m looking for.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.
~Richard Wilbur from “Year’s End”
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”
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.
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may): I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too.
I’m going out to fetch the little calf That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young, It totters when she licks it with her tongue. I sha’n’t be gone long.—You come too. ~Robert Frost “The Pasture”
We all need an invitation to work together about now. In these times when it feels like everything is going to hell in a handbasket, we all have some picking up and cleaning and clearing to do — and we can accomplish more if we do it side by side.
The world is continually trying to renew itself despite our attempts to destroy it so we need to pay attention. The air and water can clear if we put in some effort, there is new life all around us ready to thrive if we tend it lovingly like a mother.
Come with me to do what needs to be done. You are invited. We sha’n’t be gone long.
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A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world;
he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge.
Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry.
There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger.
But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion,
their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation.
I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad:
and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer
if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle,
to accept the warming rays of the sun,
and to report them, whenever,
and if ever, they happen to strike me. ~E.B. White (on writing)
It becomes tiresome always feeling angry about what it is happening in the world,
to read and write nothing but words of frustration,
to rail against the meanness that surrounds us,
to push back the bully and seek a balance of perspective and insight.
When I need to feel something other than mad,
I walk as far as I can go,
look up, revel in the light and bask in its warmth.
I seek to accept what the sun has to offer
and tell about it
and my anger drains away,
flushed down a pipe
never to be seen again.
“I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.” ~Margaret Atwood from “Variations on the Word Sleep”
For Dan’s birthday:
In this journey together,
we inhabit each other,
however long may be the road we travel;
you have become the air I breathe,
refreshing, renewing, restoring~~
you are that necessary to me,
and that beloved.
Straws like tame lightnings lie about the grass And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass The water in the horse-trough shines. Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.
A hen stares at nothing with one eye, Then picks it up. Out of an empty sky A swallow falls and, flickering through The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.
I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass, Afraid of where a thought might take me – as This grasshopper with plated face Unfolds his legs and finds himself in space.
Self under self, a pile of selves I stand Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand Lift the farm like a lid and see Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.
~Norman MacCaig “Summer Farm”
Most of my life, a barn has stood a few dozen yards from my back door. As a small child, I learned to ride a tricycle on the wooden planks of the chicken coop, sat on the bony back of a Guernsey cow while my father milked by hand, found new litters of kittens in cobweb-filled hideaways, and leaped with abandon into stacks of loose hay in a massive loft.
As a young girl, I preferred to clean stalls rather than my bedroom. The acoustics in the barn were first rate for singing loud and the horses and cows never covered their ears, although the dog would usually howl. A hay loft was the perfect spot for hiding a writing journal and reading books. It was a place for quiet contemplation and sometimes fervent prayer when I was worried: a sanctuary for turbulent adolescence.
Through college and medical training, I managed to live over twelve years in the city without access to a barn or the critters that lived inside. I searched for plenty of surrogate retreats: the library stacks, empty chapels within the hospitals I worked, even a remote mountainous wildlife refuge in central Africa.
It is hard to ignore one’s genetic destiny to struggle as a steward of the land through the challenges of economics and weather. My blood runs with DNA of wheat and lentil growers, loggers, cattle ranchers, dairy farmers, work horse teamsters, and flower and vegetable gardeners. A farm eventually called me to come back home and so I heeded over thirty years ago, along with a husband from a dairy farming background himself, and eventually there followed three children, now grown and flown far from the farm.
Like a once sturdily built barn now sagging and leaning, I too am buffeted by the gales of mid-life. My doors have been flung open wide, my roof/lid lifted and pulled off, at times leaving me reeling. More and more now I need restoration, renewal and reconciliation. And so I set to work to fix up my life with all the skill I can muster: setting things right where they’ve been upended, painting a fresh coat where chipped and dulled, shoring up rotted foundations.
If only I can get it done well enough, with sufficient perseverance, I surely can recover from the latest blow. But my hard work and determination is not enough. It is never enough. I am never finished.
The only true sanctuary isn’t found in a weather-beaten barn of rough-hewn old growth timbers vulnerable to the winds of life.
The barnstorming must happen within me, in the depths of my soul, comforted only by the encompassing and salvaging arms of God.
There I am held, transformed and restored, grateful beyond measure.