Suddenly it is August again, so hot, breathless heat. I sit on the ground in the garden of Carmel, picking ripe cherry tomatoes and eating them. They are so ripe that the skin is split, so warm and sweet from the attentions of the sun, the juice bursts in my mouth, an ecstatic taste, and I feel that I am in the mouth of summer, sloshing in the saliva of August. Hummingbirds halo me there, in the great green silence, and my own bursting heart splits me with life. ~Anne Higgins “Cherry Tomatoes” from At the Year’s Elbow
Is there another sensation as blissful as a cherry tomato bursting inside my mouth?
Yes, I can think of one or two.
But never like this, when restoration is needed in the middle of a sweaty hot day, in a garden that needs weeding, when all else feels lost.
The earth invalid, dropsied, bruised, wheeled Out in the sun, After frightful operation. She lies back, wounds undressed to the sun, To be healed, Sheltered from the sneapy chill creeping North wind, Leans back, eyes closed, exhausted, smiling Into the sun. Perhaps dozing a little. While we sit, and smile, and wait, and know She is not going to die. ~Ted Hughes from ” A March Morning Unlike Others” from Ted Hughes. Collected Poems. London: Faber & Faber, 2003
Spring emerged slowly this year from an exceptionally haggard and droopy winter.
All growing things were a month behind the usual budding blooming schedule when, like the old “Wizard of Oz” movie, the landscape suddenly turns from monochrome to technicolor.
Yearning for the annual greening to commence, I tapped my foot impatiently as if owed a timely transformation from dormant to verdant. We all have been waiting for the Physician’s announcement that the patient survived some intricate life-changing procedure: happy to say the earth is alive after all and restored, wounded but healing, breathing on her own but too dozy for a visit just yet.
And now her recovery has happened in an overwhelming rush — the colors, the scents, the bird songs, the softness more than overwhelming the sharp-edged bare barbed wire of winter.
I waited impatiently for her emergence and now celebrate my immersion in her healing.
She is very much alive, this temporary home of ours.
No invalid this patient.
She lives, she breathes, she thrives,
she is blooming with everything she’s got
and now so am I.
(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.
Support for the Barnstorming Blog
Your financial support keeps this blog a daily offering
and ad-free. A one-time contribution helps greatly.
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.